Much will be written in the days to come about Jack Layton's legacy. Lawrence Martin writes that Jack Layton was "the left's great hope. The great hope is gone and the timing for the country's social democrats could not be worse." He may be right. He has written that Stephen Harper's political success has had a lot to do with luck. Certainly not having to face Layton across the House makes life a little easier for him.
But I suspect that Chantal Hebert is closer to the mark. She writes that Layton's
more lasting legacy to the federal NDP may be to have given it a taste of power and a renewed appetite for the chance to get things done.
Over its decades as a second-tier opposition party, the NDP had grown complacently comfortable with moral victories. Too many of its members equated parliamentary irrelevance with ideological virtue. But over his tenure in Parliament — and, in particular, in the last campaign — Layton showed the New Democrats that ideals and pragmatism need not be flip sides of the political coin.
He taught his party that it was possible to win like Liberals and still act like New Democrats.He also taught Canada's jaded chattering class that retail politics and the attending appeals to the lowest common populist denominator need not be the only route to victory.
When all is said and done, his greatest gift to the country may have been to restore a measure of humanity to its national politics.
While it is true that his party's success in the last election had more to do with Layton than the other candidates the party fielded, it is also true that those who voted for the NDP agreed with Layton that, "Politics matter. Ideas matter. Democracy matters, because all of us need to be able to make a difference."
Layton would be the first to say that the message is more important than the messenger. But he would not deny that the party has to choose the right messenger. The recent history of the Liberal Party has proved that point. It is too early to make predictions about the future of the NDP. But that future certainly depends on the man or woman who the party chooses as Jack's successor.