A Year On

Tommy Douglas. David Lewis. Jack Layton.

Something didn’t quite sit right with me when Olivia Chow talked about the giants of this country’s progressive movement while discussing her husband on the first anniversary of his death today with Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway. Sure, Layton took the NDP to political heights it had never achieved before. The outpouring of grief, admiration and outright love toward him in the days leading up to his funeral was immense. It was hard to fathom such a positive reaction to a politician in these our cynical times.

But, Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Jack Layton?

Now, I’ll grant you the problem of perception could very well be my own. I was much younger during the twilight of Douglas and the Lewises. Everything seems bigger seen through youthful eyes. Politics and politicians operated on a grander scale. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Arguably the last successful politicians that swaggered onto the stage, full of big, world changing ideas were conservatives, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney. Think about their respective successors. Tinkerers. Technocrats. And much, much worse.

Yeah, and the music, movies [fill in the blank with whatever cultural reference] were all better back in the olden days too, right old man?

No. But here’s the thing.

The last of the big politicians with their big ideas brought with them the one big idea which would diminish future big ideas and big politicians. That was the triumph of the free market. The abstract, Milton Friedman theory of unfettered capitalism that, if untouched by the soiled hands of regulation, would float all boats. From which sprang the sentiment of government being the problem not the solution. Or, “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.”

Everybody for themselves. Success measured not by contribution to the greater good but by accumulation of stuff. The triumph of the private over the public sphere.

Ironically, this political-economic philosophy supposedly based on the centrality of the individual actually reduced the majority of people to little more than supporting roles. They became merely part of the process rather than the focus of it. In the parlance of our times, we aren’t viewed as citizens but consumers or taxpayers. The strength of our neighbourhoods, communities, towns, cities, countries is now measured by the health of our healthiest members not by that of our weakest.

That is where Jack Layton comes in.

His big idea was really quite simple and revolutionary too, when it was introduced more than 2000 years ago. When we turn our backs on the welfare of others, we turn our backs on the very thing that makes us human. Thatcher’s notion that there is no such thing as society is total revisionist bunk as anyone who takes even a moment to glance through our history can see.

We did not prosper as a species because of herculean individual efforts or personal feats of wonder. Left alone to fend for ourselves, we would’ve been picked off one by one on the savannah. Humans succeeded through a group effort. The group is only as strong as the health of each member.

In fact, we are at our worst when we idolize the individual. Such idolatry leads to demagoguery. Clans clash with clans. Tribal warfare brings out the most inhumane in us.

It’s not lost on me that I write this in praise of, well, a particular individual. But Jack Layton was one who dedicated his life to public service in pursuit of bettering the lives of all and not just the few with the vain hope that the benefits would rub off or trickle down. This is what unites him with past leaders of his party, his movement. Strengthening society by strengthening the opportunities and possibilities of every member of it.

If we strive to achieve in spite of others, the benefits are of limited value. To strive to achieve because of others, with the help of others, that creates a lasting ripple effect that outlives any one individual. A year on, and that is Jack Layton’s continuing legacy.

humbly submitted by Cityslikr

With Admirers Like These…

In the week between Jack Layton’s death and his funeral, I heard a lot of ‘While I disagreed with his politics, I admired the man’ sentiments. A nice — generous even – way of saying that you could like a person without ever agreeing with them politically. The much sought after bipartisanship in a time of official mourning.

Watching the proceedings on Saturday and digesting all that was said over the flag draped casket on stage at Roy Thompson Hall, I began to wonder about the above view. I admired the man but disagreed with his politics. What was there to disagree with?

Yes, yes. There’s always a reflexive dismissal of the concept of redistribution of wealth, fear of the cessation of mindless tax cuts, class warfare in a real pinch. All those left wing bogeymen that are dragged out from under the bed to scare us with. Slogans most but even those with a modicum of truth to them are simply means to an end, processes toward a goal. That goal sits at the heart of a person’s ‘politics’.

And Jack Layton’s politics?

Reading his letter to Canadians and listening to the words spoken in eulogy, his politics sought ‘a more inclusive and generous Canada’ with ‘greater equality, justice, opportunity.’ According to Stephen Lewis, Jack Layton wanted ‘an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity.’ Jack Layton represented the ‘politics of respect for all, respect for the earth, respect for principle and generosity.’

Again, what’s not to agree with?

I guess there are those out there who dismiss all that as pie-in-the-sky fantasy, naïve, granola crunchy utopianism. Pure sophistry in some cases. For them, inclusiveness, generosity, equality, justice, fairness and respect are all either not achievable or desirable. Thus, they disagreed with Jack Layton’s politics.

I could be wrong and simply give my fellow Canadians too much credit but I assume that those holding such beliefs are in the minority. That most of us, ultimately, see such things as respect, fairness, justice, equality as not only desirable in theory but absolute necessities for a society to function at its highest level. When we say that we disagreed with Jack Layton’s politics, what we mean is that we disagreed with the methods of achieving all those lofty goals.

Fair enough. But I think it’s well past high time that those disagreeing with the politics of Jack Layton start laying out their plans on how to create a more just, equal, fair and inclusive society because, after nearly 30 years of decidedly non-Jack Layton politics, we are further from those qualities than we have been in a generation. We’ve been told how tax cuts create jobs which, in turn, increases government revenue. We’ve been told how open and unfettered global markets create increased opportunities both at home and abroad. We’ve bashed unions as obsolete. We’ve been assured that a rising tide will raise all boats.

Looking around at the evidence, I’d suggest we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The global economy teeters on wobbly legs sinking into part two of what could be a double dip recession, brought on by unregulated financial behemoths run amok. Income concentration is at the highest it’s been in some 80 years. We’ve gutted our manufacturing sector and, not coincidentally, our middle-class, exchanging good paying jobs for cheap consumer goods. Yet, household debt is perilously elevated. University education – the cornerstone of our future well-being, living as we are in the information age – is becoming more and more of a luxury item. Even our public school system is creeping toward a have versus have-not status. Pensions, once a rock solid contract between employee and employer, are now viewed as relics of past prosperity, unaffordable in these days of austerity.

We live in society that has become less generous, less fair, less equal with fewer opportunities for fewer people. Pretty much the exact opposite of everything Jack Layton stood for. So it’s all well and good to wrap yourself in the admired the man, disagreed with his politics warm and fuzzy coat but it’s ultimately facile to the point of meaninglessness. By disagreeing with Jack Layton’s politics, you are, in fact, in agreement with systemic unfairness and inequality, injustice and a blatant disregard for the well-being of your fellow citizens.

So admire away. But it would be better for all of us if you put more thought into your politics.

submitted by Cityslikr


If I were the God fearing type, I just might have to conclude that the Man upstairs is displeased with us progressives. Maybe it’s because we’ve turned our backs on the teachings of His one and only Son who He sacrificed to atone for our sins or whatever that was all about. Or maybe He is actually that Old Testament God, Yahweh let’s call him, who makes side bets with Satan to test our faith mettle. “Who are you to question Me?” Yahweh thunders from the whirlwind in response to Job’s seemingly fair question of what was up with all the pain and suffering and pestilence brought down upon him. “Have you ever created an earth, Mr. Too Big For Your Britches?”

Whatever the reasons, supernatural or not, it’s been a rough ride recently for those of us perched left of centre. The latest blow came with the death of Jack Layton on Monday. Just months after the NDP’s historic (if qualified) breakthrough on the national scene, and freshly installed as Leader of the Oppostion, Mr. Layton was gone. A party full of new faces is now leaderless, as is the 3rd place Liberals, leaving the field wide open for the Conservative majority government to conduct its business with even less parliamentary oversight.

It is the latest in a string of blows to the progressive cause, municipally, federally and internationally that leaves one wondering what other misfortunes are lurking. How bad can this get? Radical right wing ideology has seized the agenda, its adherents control city halls, state and provincial houses and national parliaments world wide, their thoughts and words propel shocking outbursts of hatred and division. The narrative has been recalibrated to one of backward rather than forward looking. Reason is suspect. Compromise is derided as little more than a sign of weakness.

And now we have lost someone who had dedicated his life to contesting that pre-Enlightenment push of anti-modernity. The ascendancy of the Old Testament mindset over its more humane companion book, jettisoning forgiveness for retribution, inclusiveness for tribalism, compassion for anger. What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding? Well, for starters, it all sounds so 1960s (where everything went so horribly wrong to the conservative mind). Hopelessly naïve. You want to teach the world to sing too while you’re at it? In perfect harmony?

It’s enough to make you throw up your hands, declare no mas, and walk away to a more quiet life of personal introspection and disregard for the world around you. We failed to beat back the tide. Sorry about that, folks. Having benefitted greatly from post-war advances, we can sit back and tell our kids and grandkids that it’s just not in the cards for them. You’re on your own now. We got ours… Jack.


My thoughts immediately turn to The Clash, the only band that matters.  For many of us fortunate to come of age in the late-70s, we found ourselves surprisingly politicized with our healthy does of The Clash. Somehow it seems fitting that the last time I reacted so viscerally to the death of a public figure as I have with the news of Jack Layton was back in 2002 when I heard Joe Strummer died, similarly gone far too early.

The words that come to mind:

We gonna march, a long way/Fight, a long time/We got to travel, over mountains/Got to travel, over seas/We gonna fight, your brother/We gonna fight, ’til you loose/We gonna raise, trouble/We gonna raise, hell.

My sincerest condolences to the Layton family.

Let’s honour them by not retreating on the political fights that Jack Layton dedicated his entire public service in fighting and allow his death to have been in vain. He kept the progressive torch burning even in the darkest of times. It’s up to us now to not let it go out.

submitted by Cityslikr