By Terrance Gavan – Editor
NDP leader Jack Layton is not well. The pictures are distressing.
Mostly because the Jack Layton we all know is enduring, endearing and indelible.
Etched upon my own memory banks the picture of Jack Sprat – with that cane- bounding up steps to a dais or a podium in Calgary, Quebec City and Toronto; his battle with a hip replacement and prostate cancer just a seeming blip to a comely climax; Jack Layton pulling off one of the greatest phoenix rising political coups in recent memory.
Better than Mulroney, more stunning than Chretien and surely a meteoric rise that hearken back to party roots and the Tommy Douglas revival.
Jack Layton’s campaign more big top than meager meander with the stats boys in the backroom.
He placed one leader in a dusty dustbin – Gilles Duceppe – and he schooled the neophyte – Mike Ignatieff.
It led a lot of pundits to reassess this Canadian body politic.
Because Layton certainly proved that in a day and age where poop ads reign; and backroom schoolboys pull puppet strings; Layton showed that one man can place his own imprimatur upon the stage.
So when I looked at Jack today.
Struggling on the dais.
Trying hard to command his speech.
Standing up unsteadily.
And most distressing perhaps? That suit coat hang on a thinning frame?
But let’s put that away for the nonce.
Because I heard in Jack Layton today; the feisty leader who dared to eschew the backroom for the hustings this year.
A man who took a non-descript party from the shadows to the sunlight.
The national press asks whether this party could survive a Layton-less parliament.
In today’s Globe and Mail the cogent questions were summed in an article by Adam Radwanski.
Even at the time, given his recent health problems, it was impossible not to wonder if this would be the final time we’d see one of this country’s very best campaigners hit the hustings. But nobody had expected that question to be thrown into such sharp relief, so quickly, as it was when the distressingly gaunt NDP Leader announced on Monday that he’s temporarily stepping aside to fight what appears to be a very serious new occurrence of cancer.
It would be a mistake, as anyone who has watched him over the years could attest, to count out someone as determined as Mr. Layton. But there is another and even more uncomfortable question that politics watchers cannot help but puzzle over: What is the New Democratic Party of Canada, what are its identity and its image and its limitations, if Jack Layton is not at the helm?
The fact that so many rookies and so many neophytes inhabit the NDP benches right now should not concern the orange faithful.
It could indeed work some magic, if, and only if, these young members grab some cohunes and settle in as the voice of their ridings.
Let’s remember that Stephen Harper does not own a majority.
He owns a majority of seats in the House, but he does not stand for a majority of Canadians.
So with or without Jack?
It’s up to these young upstarts to keep the government of the day honest. They are the official opposition after all. They are our opposition. They will be representing the majority of voting Canadians over the next four years.
That’s the way it works. Doesn’t matter who you voted for. Green or Liberal. Your hat must now hang with the NDP.
They’re young. And they’re not lawyers these NDP MPs. We won’t know how these guys and gals are going to handle all that pressure until parliament resumes.
Hopefully a few of them will hearken the yip-yap and clatter of the Liberal backbench, back when Brian Blarney held sway.
The mid-80s when John Turner was opposition leader and a group of his MPs, Sheila Copps, Don Boudria, John Nunziata, Brian Tobin and Jean Lapierre were labeled the Rat Pack for chewing the ass off the Mulroney Tories.
That mad as hell barking five came to Parliament each and every day with purpose, dedication and a complete lack of decorum. Yippeeeee for that!
We hope that theseQuebecrookies come prepared to entrench theirQuebec mandate, because Quebec needs to reinvigorate itself as a valid piece of the Canadian puzzle.
Here’s hoping that some of the NDP Quebec MPs unite with their compadres under some Brat Pack rendition.
May they form a coalition of purpose and chew the fucking arse off John Baird, because there’s a guy that needs some downsizing.
There is a question right now, given Layton’s presser, whether the leader will be back after this setback.
Cancer treatments take their toll.
We remember Jack today and in the following days of his recovery and treatment with fondness, respect and love.
Get better first Jack; and then return to the wars.
We’ll all be here when you get back.
But for chrissakes Jack. Heal thyself!
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