I met Jack Layton in 2006 when he came through town with MP Alex Atamanenko. If you would have told me then that I was shaking the hand of the man who would bring the nation together, I would not have believed you. I don’t think anyone would have.
In 2006, the NDP were still sitting over in the corner of the House of Commons and, despite their charismatic leader, they were not seen as front runners in the looming election or any election in the near future, but Jack Layton was about to change all that. Over the next few years, he led his small band of New Democrats from 19 seats after the 2004 election, to status as the official opposition with 103 seats in 2011, an election night that not only shocked New Democrats, but the country. Mr. Layton and his Orange Crush had taken the once untouchable Bloc Quebecois seats and brought Quebec back into the national political fold.
This may have been the highlight of Mr. Layton’s political career, but it is not necessarily what he will be remembered for. In death, Mr. Layton has done what few Canadians have done before him, brought the country together. People of all political stripes stood in shock on that Monday morning, as they learned that the spunky leader, who crisscrossed the nation only months ago with his cane in hand, was gone. It seemed like just yesterday that he had held a press conference telling us he had been diagnosed with a new form of cancer. Even though he looked frail, no one wanted to admit that this time it might be a fight that he may not win. After all, he had just beaten prostate cancer and taken his party from near obscurity to within arm’s length of the halls of power. Jack Layton was known for doing the nearly impossible, but it was true; Jack was gone.
It wasn’t until his death that I was truly moved by this political leader. I did not agree with everything Mr. Layton campaigned for. There were times I can honestly say I shook my head and wondered why I should vote for him or this party. As I watched pundits and reporters holding back tears, struggling to share his story with their audiences, it became more and more clear that Jack Layton was not just another politician. When the images of the makeshift memorials that popped up around the country started making it onto the airways and internet it really sank in; to many, Jack Layton meant hope. I was in awe when only moments after Mr. Layton’s letter was released people started quoting it on Facebook and Twitter. When my non-NDP friends started to post Jack’s last message as their Facebook status it became truly clear that Jack Layton was not just a politician. He was a beacon of hope to so many Canadians from all sides of the political spectrum. It was not so much what Jack Layton said but how he said it that made Canadians mourn his passing. He was a breath of fresh air in a political world that is full of anger and confrontation. He made people think that maybe tomorrow will be better.