Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Layton's Legacy

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.


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Jack Layton was certainly a moralist. Without regard for political consequences he was quick to rise to confront a injustice when he sees it. He was early to support the gay community's efforts for recognition and its rights. I was particularly impressed that he supported the white ribbon campaign against abuse of women.

If I were all powerful I would like to see Stephen Lewis become the party leader. I envisioned him Prime Minister years ago. Sadly he is too old to rise to a ten year challenge, if he could be convinced to stand. There is lots of capable people within the NDP even among the Quebec newbies.

Owen Gray said...

A really interesting suggestion, Philip. Years ago Stephen Lewis came here to address a small group of teachers.

I was impressed that he had time for us. I was more impressed with him.

You're right. He has the right to enjoy his later years. He does not need the rough and tumble of politics.

But he certainly has the gravitas -- and his father's gifts.

Anonymous said...

I must admit that I was shocked by Layton's death. I had thought that people in his position (the powerful, the prominent, the wealthy) wouldn't have to worry about death at Layton's age. Perhaps he wasn't powerful or prominent enough? Hasn't Steve Jobs stayed alive with pancreatic Cancer since 2003? Hasn't Dick Cheney been clinically-though not brain-dead since the Nixon years? Didn't he say once that his wife liked the comparison between him and Darth Vader, because it "humanized" him?


Very shortly after I was told that Layton had passed away, I wondered about Ed Broadbent as a successor... then thought about his age. I'm surprised to see now that Broadbent and Lewis are about the same age. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was first elected as president. So I don't think age itself is a problem.

Betty White hosted Saturday night live recently at the age of 88 after a "grassroots" campaign on facebook.


Owen Gray said...

Layton's death seems to be another injustice -- of which there are many. Job wondered centuries ago while the vain and the powerful prospered.

He really didn't get an answer. But sometimes what appears to be an injustice makes a person more powerful in death than he or she was in life.

That may be the case with Layton. Whether or not that happens, it is certain that Jack raised us all up to more than we can be.