Sitting in the iHub in Nairobi on Monday, I looked around to see if there were any other Canadian faces that looked as shocked as mine at the news of Jack Layton’s death. I was the only Canadian in the room at the time. I don’t normally write about Canadian politics, but this particular moment in time has caused me to reflect on how my views of politics and politicians have evolved over the past 6-8 years.
Like most young Canadians, my personal politics followed closely those of my parents. Growing up in a small rural community on Vancouver Island, I didn’t have much awareness of or exposure to the implications of voting for one party or another. On my 18th birthday (national voting age in Canada) my mom encouraged me to register as a voter and participate in National and Provincial politics. And so I did. And I voted NDP. It seemed like the right thing to do – Jack Layton was a charismatic politician, his party supported health care and equality and many other things that my young, left-wing mind found appealing.
As I studied for a degree in Health Geography at McGill, I became more convinced about the need for strong legislation that supports a healthy social environment and that reduces constraints in terms of access to healthy living spacing (prevention) and treatment (access to care). As the party whose founding leader introduced free, universal healthcare to Canada, the New Democrats have been consistent in their commitment to safe and equitable conditions for all Canadians, at work and at home.
I was fortunate to see Jack speak together with Thomas Mulclair at an NDP event at McGill in September 2007. I remember leaving the event confident that I was well represented, should his party ever become the Government of Canada.
Now that I live in a country whose public health legislation and health care provision is weak if not in crisis – I am ever appreciative to the legacy of Tommy Douglas and the leadership of Jack Layton in fighting for medicare, and a better Canada. A Canada that we can be proud to call home.
The loss of such a strong, charismatic and honourable leader is ever more tragic in light of the crisis of leadership facing the African continent. I am not one to make generalizations, and surely the Canadian government of late has not made me so proud – however the hold that some longstanding African “leaders” have over their crumbling economies and social institutions (Mugabe, or “Bob” in Zimbabwe, Gaddafi in Libya to name only a few) makes the loss of a young, but well respected politicians even more of a tragedy. A loss for Canada, and the world – which could really do with more politicians like Jack.
Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians is a reflection of his wisdom, integrity and strong leadership ability. Although he leaves behind large shoes to fill, the challenge will be for the NDPs to hold onto the support of the young Canadian voters like myself. I look forward to the changes the NDP may still make on the Canadian political landscape.
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”