Sunday, 28 August 2011

What political change can we expect after Jack Layton?

Stephen Lewis: Jack Layton's last letter as a "manifesto"

Jack Layton's State Funeral

by Tom Thorne
Jack Layton's public lying in state and funeral were very moving this week. The public outpouring of affection for Jack Layton is in many ways unprecedented for a Canadian politician. The respectful lying in state at the House of Commons in Ottawa and later at Toronto City Hall demonstrated that Jack Layton touched Canadians of all political stripes.
Jack Layton died too early at 61 and part of the tragedy of this event remains that we will never see him in the role of Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. I was looking forward to that experience and now it will never be. Nycole Turmel will have the job as the New Democratic Party (NDP) looks for a new leader.
Then on Saturday we had the funeral. The body was moved through the streets from Toronto City Hall to Roy Thomson Hall for the funeral. The Layton family and his wife Olivia Chow walked behind the hearst. Again a moving experience as the public got to show their respects.
Then we got to Roy Thomson Hall and the celebration of Jack Layton's life and accomplishments began. Speakers related his time of on Toronto City Council, his work with public housing, gay rights and HIV-AIDS and finally as a member of federal parliament and Leader of the NDP.  A sterling record of public service by any standard and all interspersed by excellent choices of music. Very fitting for the man.
Stephen Lewis and the "manifesto"
The highlight of the celebration was a speech by Stephen Lewis, an old NDP stalwart and Canada's former UN ambassador and later special UN ambassador for HIV-AIDS in Africa.
Lewis is probably the best public platform speaker in this country at the moment and we were treated to vintage Lewis as he put the English language to work not only in Jack Layton's behalf but also for social democracy and the work of the NDP.
Lewis called Jack Layton's last letter to Canadians and the New Democratic party faithful as " a manifesto" which made the Conservatives in the room squirm, I am sure, since Prime Minister Stephen Harper had agreed to a state funeral for Jack Layton not fully realizing perhaps that that meant a lot of airtime on all TV channels for the NDP to shine in public. Jack Layton would have loved this irony.
This may seem hard but Jack Layton's death has raised the awareness of the NDP in the public mind. First during the last federal election Jack was the incarnation of the NDP. His charm and charisma made an otherwise dull election into a useful event. The NDP moved to Official Opposition status, rolled up the Bloc Quebecois with 59 NDP seats in Quebec and in the process built the NDP in the public mind across Canada.
Jack Layton's death and subsequent very public funeral has as Stephen Lewis said candidly provided a stage for Jack Layton's last letter to be considered a manifesto for political change in Canada. 
Prime Minister Harper still has an advantage
Prime Minister Stephen Harper now faces two main federal political parties without permanent leaders. Perhaps he thinks that by agreeing to a state funeral with all the air time that gives to his NDP opposition it is balanced out by the NDP's need to get a new permanent leader capable of capitalizing on Jack Layton's considerable popularity and charting their way to government.
Layton's death also provides the Liberal Party with an opportunity during the current four year mandate of the Conservatives, to fully ready themselves with a new leader and policy book that can appeal to Canadians. But this remains very much an uphill battle for the Liberals. They seem to be in the doldrums.
We are in a state of political transition because of Jack Layton's unfortunate death. That transition may now begin a process of polarization of central left and left parties in this country to counter the right wing agenda of the Harper Conservatives.
The Liberals and the NDP still need to think about  a merger. It is now possible because of the situation created by Jack Layton's death opens an opportunity. If both the Liberals and the NDP go their separate ways, then we are destined in Canada to continue having majority Conservative governments elected by less than 40 percent of voters.
Perhaps that is what Stephen Lewis was appealing to at Jack Layton's state funeral when he referred to Jack Layton's death bed letter as a "manifesto". It was clear to me that it will take more than the NDP alone to bring about what Jack Layton asks Canadians to do in his letter.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved
For the text of Jack Layton's last letter go to this CBC website:

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