Monday 22 August 2011

Jack Layton

We here at the Peanut are sorry to learn of Jack's demise. Jack was a dynamic figure in Canada's political scene and as leader of the NDP he provided an important counter-balance to the traditional governing parties.

I certainly feel for Olivia and the rest of Jack's friends and family, but I am not going to pretend now that I have any particular personal attachment to Jack simply because he has passed away. And though I regret his passing, it is certainly no surprise. My mother, like Jack, won a battle with cancer but lost the war. I know others who have fallen to cancer's sword as well, including both parents of a family that I am acquainted with. In both cases cancer struck with shocking speed, taking both parents (years apart) in less than one month from their initial diagnosis. Once cancer grips your body there is little than can be done to stop it.

That is why, when Jack appeared in his press conference, suddenly frail and weak, less than a month ago, I feared the worst. I was not one of those who optimistically predicted that Jack would be back in September or even that he would be back at all. I knew he would not. I suspect most people knew as well, but did not want to face reality. I read all of those tweets and commentaries that said Cancer better watch out because it doesn't know who it's dealing with and other silly things, and I shook my head. Sure, hope for the best, but if you convince yourself that he's going to beat it, it will only hurt more when he does not. It may be a blessing for the NDP and its supporters that the end came as quickly as it did, rather than stringing them along with false hope of a return of Jack.

On a personal level his death is no more or less tragic than any other, but it has great significance to the country on a political level. With his loss, we have not just a rudderless opposition party, but an extremely inexperienced rudderless opposition party. It is a party that has a lot of work to do just to sort itself out. There will be a leadership race that could potentially become nasty, having recently adopted a lopsided Quebec-oriented posture but with most senior MPs coming from other parts of the country. When at one time the NDP knew what it stood for and had a small but solid base under a charismatic leader, it is now spread thin, with no leader and a suspect agenda.

I don't know if there has ever been a time in Canada's history when a national government has ever has so much leeway. There have certainly been larger majorities, but as far as I know there was typically some sort of effective opposition to hold them to account. (Mind you, I am no political scholar.) But here we have a situation where Harper is faced with a full term of majority rule, and every opposition party is in complete disarray, with the exception of the Green Party which only has one seat.

Layton was a remarkable man, and the rise of his party to official opposition status under his leadership was stunning. The void that will be left by his departure will be equally remarkable. The NDP was over-achieving with Jack at the helm, and now that he's gone and Nycole Turmel is temporarily in charge, the party is completely out of its league. In retrospect, the rise of the NDP may have been more of a victory for the Conservatives than it was for the political left. In any case, the man went out on top and had an impact on the nation, and that is something to be remembered.


Anonymous said...

How about one of Jack's greatest hits:
When every other party in the House allowed a 'free' vote on gay marriage, Jack said no. Everybody in the Party must vote yes.
And what happened to Bev Desjarlais who defied her 'leader'?
The NDP shunned her ( back row, traitor ) and basically destroyed her political career.
That's a nice counter-balance, eh?

reedsolomon.matr1x at said...

I'd say even the Green Party is having problems.. latching on to "science" that "proves" wifi signals are somehow deadly.

The View from Seven said...

A good, frank, thoughtful post.

While it has been a long time since an opposition was in such disarray at the federal level, there is a provincial precedent where there effectively was no check on an elected government: Frank McKenna's 1987-91 first term as Liberal New Brunswick premier.

The Liberals had no opposition in the legislature, having won all 58 constituencies in a backlash against Richard ("Disco Dick") Hatfield's scandal-plagued 17-year-old Conservative government.

They seemed to have a dynasty going after winning two more landslides in 1991 (46 Liberals, 8 CoRs, 3 PCs, 1 NDP) and 1995 (48 Liberals, 6 PC, 1 NDP in a smaller house).

Then, in 1999, the public suddenly decided that electing a 34-year-old named Bernard Lord, who had won a Tory leadership that others thought to be a thankless job, looked like a better bet than re-electing the aging Liberal administration.

Public opinion is too fickle and too complex to allow a void to go unfilled permanently.

A similar thing happened in Saskatchewan in the early '90s, when the Romanow NDP government had little to worry about from the Conservatives (down to 10 seats and facing the prospect of former cabinet ministers and possibly the former premier going to jail) and the lone Liberal MLA.

When the Liberals won 11 seats to the Conservatives' five in the 1995 election, it looked as though a realignment was taking place; but it was illusory. Eventually the Conservatives and right-leaning Liberals merged to form the Saskatchewan Party.

Once again, just when it looked like there would be nothing but a token opposition, the void was filled. The same will happen at the federal level in due course.

cherenkov said...

@anon: I won't defend that, but every party does that to some extent on different issues.

@Reed: Def. problems with with their policies, but there is no question about their leadership. I have a feeling that Liz is going to punch well above her weight in the coming years.

@Vf7: Thanks. I am sure you're correct, that the void will be filled before long. It's amazing how quickly things can change. I remember when the PCs and Reform were split and Martin was on a stage with Bono and it looked like there would be another decade of Liberal rule. Still, the next few years should be as close to a free ride as Harper could ever hope to get.

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