Yesterday morning, I woke up to fantastic news. It looked like the Gaddafi regime was finally falling, and Libya could expect to be free — whatever that looks like — very, very soon.
A few hours later, I had news that suckerpunched me. Jack Layton — a man I had never met — was dead.
Layton was something rarely seen in politics. The longer he was in the spotlight, the more times he ran for office, the more press conferences he held, the more I admired him. There are some politicians that you admire when you first hear their pitch, but over years the mere playing of politics cannot help but taking even the most admiration-worth of them down a peg or two.
Somehow this did not apply to Layton.
When he came on the national political scene in Canada, as leader of the NDP, I immediately thought he was a vast improvement over his predecessor. But I also wondered how somebody who gave off a bit of a used car salesman vibe would ever find success. I was not the only one to increasingly respect him over the following eight years — his party went from 13 seats when he was elected its leader, to 103 at his death. There are, as always, a myriad of reasons for this, but Jack Layton himself was no small factor.
Three days ago — two days before his death — Jack Layton wrote a letter to Canadians. With the knowledge that death was imminent, he reached out to let people know his vision for the future of his political party and the country he lived in. It can be read in full elsewhere, but I’d like to share the final paragraph here:
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
All my very best,
At a time when we see political leaders in the Arab world clinging to power through the brutalization of their own people, shortly after American politicians showed that they believe in scoring points via political brinksmanship over the well-being of the nation, and as British politicians all point their fingers at their pet causes in the wake of riots, it is easy to become cynical, to believe that politicians are only in it for themselves.
So remember Jack. Remember that there are people out there who believe we can be better, are clear about what “better” looks like, and will fight to the death for it.
Whatever your political stripe, here’s hoping that the people you vote for are a bit more like Jack Layton, and a bit less like those politicians who fill our daily newspapers with the material that turns us into cynics.
We could use more like him.
Rest in peace, Jack.