TheStar.Com: Jack Layton dead at 61

Jack Layton"Yes We Cane"OTTAWA–Jack Layton, the New Democratic Party leader who led his party to Official Opposition status in this year’s federal election, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 61. “Your support and well wishes are so appreciated. Thank you,” Layton, posted to the social media site Twitter in July after announcing he was battling a new form of cancer. “I will fight this and beat it.” It ended up being the last public announcement he would make in his long political career, which saw him evolve from campus activist to rabble-rousing left-wing municipal councilor to the most electorally successful leader of the federal New Democrats in history. Layton had been on a leave of absence as party leader since July 25, when he temporarily stepped aside to fight a second — and evidently much more serious — bout of cancer. It is cliché to say that a politician has politics in his blood, and yet there are few politicians who embody it the way Layton did, with his family involvement in the life reaching all the way back to the birth of the country. There was his great-grand-uncle, William Henry Steeves, a bona fide father of Confederation from New Brunswick who also served as a founding member of the senate Layton has long wanted to abolish.

 His great-grandfather, Philip Layton, came to Canada as a blind teenager and helped to found the Montreal Association for the Blind. He once threatened to march as many blind people as he could find to the steps of Parliament Hill to push for pensions for the visually impaired, the sort of attention-grabbing move that his great-grandson would use time and again.

Then his grandfather, Gilbert Layton, was a cabinet minister in the Union Nationale government of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, until he resigned in support of conscription for World War II.

His father, Robert Layton, an engineer devoted to the United Church, was chairman of the Conservative caucus under Brian Mulroney from 1984 to 1993 and served briefly as minister of energy, mines and resources.

“My dad taught me a lot of my values,” Layton told the Star in 1988. “I just don’t believe the party he chose is a vehicle for achieving those values.”

Layton looked to his father, who died in 2002, as a role model in his personal life too, especially when it became clear just how closely he was following in his footsteps.

“Like my dad, I am a fighter. And I will beat this,” Layton told reporters in February 2010 as he announced that he had been battling prostate cancer for the previous few months.

Layton grew up in the sleepy, affluent bedroom community of Hudson, Que., a mostly English-speaking enclave. He was president of the Hudson High School student council, and became prime minister of the Quebec Youth Parliament.

His yearbook predicted he would be a politician when he grew up, but Layton dismissed the idea that he—a jock who was hopeless at football but won a national swimming title at the age of 15 – was overtly political.

“I ran for student council president on a promise to get the Rolling Stones or an equally popular Montreal group called M.G. and the Escorts to play the dance. So no, I wouldn’t say I was political,” Layton told the Star in 1991.

Still, there were signs his political engagement – and a budding talent for procedural tactics – ran deeper than his ability to charm his peers into voting for him by promising to bring in Mick Jagger.

Layton noticed the French-speaking kids he played hockey with in Hudson did not enjoy the swimming pools and boat clubs alongside the richer English-speaking kids, having to swim in the polluted Ottawa River instead.

An oft-recounted anecdote that became even more prescient following the historic NDP breakthrough in Quebec in the spring election has a young Layton discovering in the rule book of the Hudson Yacht Club youth group that as junior commodore, he was allowed to invite as many guests as he wanted to the upcoming dance.

A hundred Francophone kids joined him at the dance that night and while what exactly happened next is unclear – the Hudson Yacht Club disbanded the youth group, or Layton quit in protest to their disapproval – the story of the progressive little guy taking on the right-wing establishment begins.

After graduation, Layton went to McGill University and, at 19 years old and against the advice of Robert and Doris Layton, married his high school sweetheart Sally Halford, with whom he had two children, Sarah and Michael.

Studying political science under philosopher Charles Taylor, Layton became enamoured with his theory of dialectics – the idea that change comes from the tension between opposing views.

“The reason I stick to a tough position on an issue is when I think there is still room for the conclusion to move. That’s from Taylor. He said it’s good to create debate because then you can create space within which new ideas can happen,” Layton told the Star in 1991.

“If you start with a compromise right at the beginning and no debate, you’re really only going with the status quote and buttering it up a little. No space is created for change to happen.”

The young couple moved to Toronto in 1972, where Layton began graduate studies at York University and began teaching urban politics at Ryerson two years later when he began his PhD. He would also teach at the University of Toronto and York.

His 1983 thesis, dedicated to Sally and his children, announced the family was about to embark on “the no-more-thesis era of family freedom,” but by that time another passion had already begun to consume his life.

Layton was first elected to Toronto city council in 1982, where he quickly made a name for himself as a brash left-wing reformer who relished the spotlight and knew how to seek it out.

The phone began ringing at home almost immediately, in the early morning hours after his first successful municipal election campaign.

It never stopped, although was later joined by the BlackBerry mobile device, which Layton used constantly to ask questions, give orders and develop strategy as quickly as his thumbs would allow.

“It’s mindboggling to me,” former NDP leader Alexa McDonough told Toronto Life in 2004, speaking of his work ethic after he succeeded her as leader. “People think I was a workaholic and I was intense, but I was nothing compared with this guy. He’s indefatigable.”

Layton and Halford separated and in 1985 he became involved with Olivia Chow, then a school board trustee who, like him, blurred the line between personal and political life.

They spent their first Christmas Eve together drafting a policy on school nutrition, and remembered that time fondly.

Even their 1988 wedding – on Algonquin Island, with the “horrendous harbourfront behind them,” recalled his mother – was as much about their commitment to Toronto, the environment and socially progressive causes as it was about their devotion to each other.

“We are the political partnership,” Layton told the Star in 2003, before they both became NDP MPs for downtown Toronto ridings. “No one has had more influence on the way I think and work than Olivia.”

Their chemistry was obvious. They finished sentences for each other, held hands in public, danced together at the biennial NDP policy convention in Vancouver in June like no one was watching, even while media and party faithful snapped pictures with their mobile phones and uploaded them to the Internet.

They sometimes rode a bicycle built for two.

They became a left-wing political power couple at city hall, twin rabble-rousers as known for their gimmicks as their causes, once wearing black gags to symbolize being silenced by other municipal politicians over their objection to a deal with Shell Oil.

They came under fire in 1990 when the Star reported they were living in subsidized co-op housing despite earning a combined annual salary of $120,000.

It was a mixed-rent building, they were paying market rent and the city solicitor cleared Layton of wrongdoing, but the story followed him around, another element of the image of Layton as a latte-sipping urban socialist who did not really practice what he preached.

“Jack once told me many years after that incident that it is the one thing he has never (been) able to purge or expunge from the public’s mind, this apparent contradiction,” his former council seatmate Brian Ashton told the Star in April.

Layton and Chow later bought an old Victorian semi-detached home on Huron St. in downtown Toronto, recognizable by the solar panels they put on the roof as part of a massive energy-efficient retrofit that allowed them to live nearly off the grid.

They were joined by Chow’s Cantonese-speaking mother, Ho Sze Chow, whose traditional cooking – along with the cleaning and the laundry – Layton talked about often, especially when his prostate cancer pushed him to eat more vegetarian fare.

“When I met Olivia, she told me that she was always going to live with her mother,” Layton, who spoke passable Cantonese, told Toronto Life in 2001.

She accompanied Layton, alongside his own mother, at a garden party for the press gallery held at Stornoway in late June, where the NDP leader, looking tired and weaker than he had been in months, held court at a corner table instead of mingling with the guests.

Chow showed off a dress she proudly proclaimed Layton had bought her as she flitted about the party, a red, white, beige and black sleeveless number she wore again at his side when he announced barely a month later that he was seeking treatment for a new kind of cancer.

It was the first night Layton and Chow slept at Stornoway, but it was not long before they were back in Toronto for tests at Princess Margaret Hospital after he complained of pain and stiffness.

Layton acknowledged there was something about him that rubbed some people the wrong way – he joked that it was his moustache – even though he believed it came from a misconception of who he was.

“People have a picture of me that’s a caricature,” Layton told the Star in 1991, during his unsuccessful bid for mayor. “Now, caricatures are always based on some element of truth – but they don’t give the whole picture.”

Layton nonetheless credited being faced with what others thought of him with helping him to evolve from protester to powerbroker, an epiphany that he said came as he introduced himself while speaking to a group of engineering students in the mid-1980s.

“Jack Layton? I thought your name was ‘But…,’ ” one of the students wisecracked, noting how the newspapers always included the line “But Jack Layton said…” in stories about a new development proposal. “I realized I was in the process of being typecast. I decided, ‘We’re going to switch from opposition to proposition,’ ” Layton told the Star in 2003.

It is a line Layton has used many times over the years, even trotting it out to describe how his supersized caucus of 103 New Democrat MPs would handle the transition from fourth-party status to Official Opposition.

It was his realization that he could get things done on a national scale that Layton said prompted his decision to run for the leadership of the federal NDP.

Layton said that moment came when, as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2000, he built a nationwide campaign on affordable housing that led the federal government to commit more than $1 billion to the problem.

For good measure, Layton always pointed out that while he spearheaded the campaign that got mayors of major Canadian cities to declare homelessness a national disaster, then prime minister Jean Chrétien apparently told him that after giving some money to the provinces, Ottawa had lost interest in the issue.

Layton, who wrote a book on homelessness, would repeat that anecdote throughout his leadership campaign.

The establishment did not care about affordable housing and Layton got results. Ottawa was broken, as he would say during his last campaign, and he was going to fix it. As some former city council colleagues – and his municipal constituents – would say, fixing potholes was never his thing anyway.

As was the case on city council, Layton immediately displayed an ability to get more media attention than his small party stature deserved, making sure to come to the microphone at the right time to make up for not having a seat in the Commons when he first took the helm.

Marilyn Churley, who represented Toronto-Danforth for the NDP in the provincial legislature, credited Layton with teaching her everything she knows about getting noticed by the media when she moved from community activism to electoral politics.

“He taught me how to focus, how to grab media attention on issues, so you don’t bury an issue in too much detail … When to be hot, when to be cold,” Churley told Maclean’s in 2005.

Sometimes he was too hot.

During the 2004 federal election, for example, Layton accused then Liberal prime minister Paul Martin of being directly responsible for the deaths of homeless people when he cut affordable housing while balancing the budget as finance minister.

He later admitted that had been a mistake.

But Layton was able to get much more than headlines.

He parlayed his party into powerbroker status by getting Martin to include $4.6 billion in NDP priorities – including affordable housing – in the 2005 federal budget in exchange for supporting the minority Liberal government through a crucial vote.

The idea of working together to get results later lost out to the fear that continuing to support the Liberals would mean losing some of that clout and, later that same year, Layton voted with the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois on a non-confidence motion to bring the government down.

The resulting election brought Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to power, but it also gave the New Democrats more seats.

Working together was back in style in 2008, when Layton and then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion agreed to form a coalition that, with the support of the Bloc, would govern after the three opposition parties toppled the Conservatives shortly after the election.

“For decades, New Democrats and their predecessors have helped to shape the direction of this country. Much of what Canadians are so rightly proud of – Medicare and pensions and old age security – are the result of our party working with others,” Layton said during a news conference announcing the proposed coalition that would have made him a cabinet minister. “We’ve accomplished much by influencing government with sound and progressive ideas over the years. Now we are ready to continue that legacy inside the Government of Canada.”

The deal fell apart.

Harper was granted a prorogation of Parliament, Dion stepped down and was replaced by Michael Ignatieff, who decided to support the Conservative budget.

“We could all tell you could almost taste it,” Star reporter Richard Brennan, often a thorn in his side, thundered when Layton held a news conference to react to the development. “You wanted the chance to get into cabinet probably for the only time in your life. Isn’t this more about your personal dissatisfaction in how things unfolded rather than Michael Ignatieff?”

Layton, as always, appeared unruffled. It was about helping Canadians, Layton responded, and Ignatieff had denied them help when they needed it most by propping up the Conservatives.

It worked the other way as well.

Layton and the NDP proudly voted against the Conservatives on motion after motion and bill after bill – including ones that would have toppled the minority government – while mocking the Liberals for not being strong enough to take a similar stand.

Then in September 2009, when Ignatieff was ready to go to the polls with his ill-fated “your time is up” shtick, the NDP was suddenly holding the balance of power and supported the Conservative through a confidence motion to pass a home renovation tax credit.

The jokes stopped.

It was a pragmatic move, and pragmatism was something Layton brought to the NDP as he guided the party away from the fringes and into the spotlight through boosting its organization, strategies, communications, fundraising and even its policies, a shift to the centre that allowed the party to broaden its appeal to non-traditional voters.

Sometimes that meant being different things to different people, which often resulted in some awkward tongue-twisting on issues like the HST – bad in British Columbia and Ontario but all right in Nova Scotia, where the NDP provincial government raised it – or the Clarity Act.

For all the contradictions in message, Layton was remarkably on message, all the time.

Layton was cast as the politician who Canadians – and especially Quebecers – would most like to have a beer with and yet, when you did have a beer with him, he was little different than he was before the cameras.

Layton said he resisted labels.

“I don’t go around sticking labels on myself,” Layton told reporters in June when asked whether he considered himself a socialist. “Lots of other people have done that. I’ll leave that to them. Social democrat, democratic socialist – can very many people describe the difference?”

Yet it was Layton and his team who were behind a controversial move to modernize the language in the party constitution by eliminating references to socialism, something that proved too much too soon for grassroots members still coming to grips with electoral success.

Still, Layton knew how important the labour movement was to his party, even though a ban on union donations ? something Layton said he was thankful for ? meant they were not as closely allied as they had been in the past.

His relationship with labour got off to a rocky start when the heads of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Labour Congress both criticized him publicly for bringing down the Liberals in 2005, but then his first feat as leader of the Official Opposition was to lead a marathon filibuster in the Commons to stall back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers.

The 58-hour debate, including an hour-long speech by Layton, who was still using a cane, ended up serving as a bonding exercise for the new caucus.

The NDP caucus became remarkably disciplined under Layton, with a media relations style that could be compared to a gentler version of what is employed by the Conservatives, especially after ranks swelled with 58 rookie MPs from Quebec.

After it emerged that Interim Leader Nycole Turmel (Hull?Aylmer) had been a card-carrying member of the Bloc for the five years leading up to her running for the NDP, one party staffer complained anonymously to RDI that there was a “profound unease” in the caucus.

The anonymous gripe prompted NDP insiders to joke the party had finally made the big time, a reference to how often unnamed Liberal sources air their dirty laundry to the media.

The result was that NDP MPs whose own views were scattered across the progressive ideological spectrum – from the left-leaning Libby Davies to the former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister Thomas Mulcair – tended to speak on every issue with one, upbeat voice.

As friends, supporters and colleagues were left reeling from the announcement in late July that doctors had discovered new tumours in his body, leaving him shockingly gaunt and hoarse, they all stressed that Layton’s optimism – the “they said it couldn’t be done” bravado that helped propel the party to ever greater success – was at the very core of his being.

Layton spoke of it too.

“If I’ve tried to bring anything to federal politics, it’s the idea that hope and optimism should be at their heart. We can look after each other better than we do today,” Layton said as he announced that he would be stepping down – temporarily, he assured everyone – to focus on fighting cancer.

“As I am hopeful and optimistic about all of this, I have to say I am as optimistic as when I started out my life in politics. And so I’m hopeful and optimistic about the personal battle that lies before me in the weeks to come,” Layton said. “I am very hopeful and optimistic that our party will continue to move forward, that we will replace the Conservative government in a few short years from now and that we will work with Canadians to build the country of our hopes, of our dreams, of our optimism, our determination, our values and our love. Thank you very much.”

Then, the man with the moustache and cane, still smiling, told everyone that he would see them soon.

Courtesy:–jack-layton-dead-at-61?bn=1   22-08-2011