I was worried that your cancer battle would prevent you from forcing the election this past spring. Even though the outcome was horrible (a harpercon majority, which is an abomination no matter the silver lining of the NDP's becoming the official opposition) I am so glad that both you and Ignatieff and Duceppe stood up for the integrity of our parliamentary system. And, therefore, I salute your courage Jack. You were fighting cancer and you were recovering from hip surgery and you consciously decided to subject yourself to the rigours of the campaign trail to tell harper that altering documents, lying to Parliament about it, withholding basic financial information about proposed government policies, is unacceptable.
You didn't know it at the time, but it seems that you gave your life to preserve what integrity our political system has, against this symptom of the late-capitalist malaise, stephen harper. It's too bad that collectively, your fellow citizens failed you, failed our ancestors who fought for democracy, failed the coming generations who need to respect democracy, and failed Canada, by rewarding the anti-democrat with a majority government.
[My brushes with greatness: In 1993, I was eating lunch at the now departed "Lickin' Chicken" at Brunswick and Bloor and I recognized Jack Layton from the news. He had a quiet, confident little smile. Years later, as NDP leader, he was in Hamilton, sans moustache. I saw him walking down King Street across from Gore Park with some local NDP activists. If it hadn't been for their presence I wouldn't have even noticed him. I told him he was barely recognizable without the moustache. He had no clue who I was, or that I knew the people he was walking with, and noncommittally thanked me for my input.]
You were never a hero to me Jack. I don't have many heroes and it's also the case that I often feared you were too ready to compromise for political gain. Of course, I've accomplished absolutely nothing with regards to building the kind of world that I want to live in, whereas you (I have since found out) achieved numerous important victories. Even though you never had actual power, you were fast enough on your feet to leverage the power you came in contact with, to win things or build things which, while small at the beginning, have come to have enormous consequences.
Here's a timeline of your career, and I'll point out some highlights in greater detail:
When I arrived outside Roy Thomson Hall for your funeral, they were playing a little film about your career. There was a scene where, as a city councillor you were saying that homosexuals shouldn't be discriminated against when it came to housing (or anything else). There was an eruption of enthusiastic, sustained applause from hundreds of people around me. You were more than just a city politician. You were acting like a leader. A statesman. I truly believe that the strength of Toronto's LGBT community gives courage and strength to similar communities across Canada. And your heroic defence of PRIDE, and gay rights in Toronto helped to make that a reality. In the face of ignorance and insults you stood up for what was right and there are hundreds of thousands of individuals who will never forget you for that, and millions more who are grateful that you helped make Canada a better place.
1989 Pushes mayor Art Eggleton to declare Gay And Lesbian Pride Day.
• In the 80s, serves as chair of Toronto Board of Health and wins the first funding for HIV/AIDS programs.
1990 Argues against Olympic bid on the grounds that there’s no cash to make the Games socially responsible.
That's something. The whole "Bread Not Circuses" movement is always vastly unpopular. But just as the mainstream always embraces stupid ideas ("Let's kill and die for the Karzai government to keep the US-Americans happy!") and the leftists minority gets mocked and derided only to later get back-handedly acknowledged for being correct, the Olympics are always touted as a boon for a city by the "serious" people, the bulk of the population cheers mindlessly, and then, at the end of the day, the elites have made out like bandits, the taxpayers are faced with a massive bill, and the poor and the homeless have been made to suffer, suffer, suffer. By being one of the few voices of sanity, you have my admiration for your intellect and courage.
• Co-founds the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, presaging the climate change movement and laying the basis for the successful Enwave deep water cooling operation.
• Establishes Green Catalyst Group Inc., an enviro consulting business.
• Helps establish the White Ribbon Campaign, offering to mortgage his home to fund it. Now operates in more than 60 countries.
Climate change is possibly the greatest threat to human civilization that human civilization has yet to produce. Even nuclear devastation was somewhat under our control. But we may have already put in motion forces that will, slowly at first, but inexorably and with increasing force, completely undermine our planet's ability to support the human population. You were on the ball twenty years ago, and you were doing something about it!
Violence against women is still treated as a joke in this country, but far less than in 1991. You have done more than most men to try to do something to bring necessary change about.
2000 Writes Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis
Homelessness exploded under Mulroney, Chretien - Martin, and Mike Harris. While lazy-minded people were complaining about them, and pundits were blaming the homeless as the architects of their own misfortune, you, with the limited power available to you, stood as an advocate for justice. You tried to fight back against neoliberal inhumanity and mainstream bullying.
2001 Elected president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, where he negotiates the transfer of a portion of federal gas tax for public transit.
Hugely important. I have personally benefited from this as have millions of other Canadians.
2005 Backs Paul Martin’s Liberal government in exchange for $4.6 bil for transit, affordable housing, job training and foreign aid, some of which is never delivered. Called “first NDP federal budget in history.”
An excellent tactical response to make the NDP relevant for Canadians who weren't even born the last time the NDP had any influence.
2006 Presses for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the start of a peace process.
• Urges a moratorium on tar sands development.
I've always been greatly relieved to know that there is one party in this country that hasn't been swept away by the excitement of sending our soldiers to fight, kill, and die to impose a corrupt puppet government on poor brown people somewhere. I'm glad that there is a party that doesn't think the Tar Sands are "awesome" and that adding massively to the destructive process of global warming is unproblematic. For that, I thank you.
The rest of the country seems to find no problem with US soldiers, victims mostly of the US-American "poverty draft" being forced to commit war crimes and risk death in a war of aggression. They seem to think that was all part of their oath to defend the United States. And when some brave souls fled rather than be murderous chumps for Dick Cheney, these fine Canadians wanted to send them back. The NDP resisted this tide. The NDP spoke for those of us who wanted to welcome these people and provide a safe-haven. For that I thank the NDP.
2008 Olivia Chow introduces a motion for asylum for U.S. war resisters fleeing the Iraq war.
• Layton develops an accord with the Liberals, with Bloc support, to establish a coalition government, to the howls of the national media; Harper prorogues Parliament.
And thanks for proposing that coalition Jack. Thanks for standing up for parliamentary democracy. Thanks for putting the fear of democracy into harper's empty brain. If not for the stupidity of Michael Ignatieff, harper would be out grazing in the pasture right now, and you would have been forcing sensible, social-democratic policies on your Liberal colleagues and making this country a better place. As it is, you continued to fight the good fight. And, when your country needed you (even though most of us didn't realize it) your rose to the call and challenged harper's brazen assaults on democratic legitimacy. Perhaps at the cost of your own fight with cancer.
Pretty impressive Jack. You are a bit of a hero of mine now.
Your last words, sadly, remind me of the empty pap of the "Hope and Change" of Barack Obama's public relations snow job of the US American people. But then I realize that you were penning your absolutely last words to the Canadian people and, unlike Obama, you had no immediate tactical gains to worry about with your choice of words. You were speaking as much from the heart as anyone can, and your words are much more sincere, and therefore powerful, than a cynical age had allowed me to imagine them.
All that having been said, I'm an angry guy. I'm angry all the time. And while I won't argue that love is better than anger, I think I'm more useful angry. And that's why I'll be back to my whole negativity scene tomorrow.