Hump Day: Jack Layton earned respect from the nation

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

It seems like even those who don’t like politicians agree on one thing. If there was one politician they could tolerate – even like and respect – it was Jack Layton, the affable and feisty leader of the federal NDP who led the party to historic election results on May 2 and became leader of Canada’s official opposition.

On July 25, when he announced that he was stepping aside from the party leadership – temporarily, he said – to fight a recurrence of cancer not related to his previous battle with prostate cancer, he appeared gaunt and his voice weak.

An interim leader of the party was selected. Nycole Turmel would lead the party until Jack received treatment and returned in the fall – likely September. Hopefully, by then, he would be back to his old self. Even if you’d never voted for him, Canadian politics without Jack Layton seemed unimaginable.

After going public with his prostate cancer on February 5, Jack didn’t seem to waiver. He still seemed strong. He still appeared virile and energetic. He went through the election campaign like a trooper, all while using a cane after undergoing hip surgery.

Prostate cancer and hip surgery could not keep him down. After leading his party to 103 seats in the election, he seemed unstoppable. This was his chance to shine. Canadians had given him the opportunity he had always dreamed of having.

Then, on July 25, he appeared at that fateful surprise news conference. The Jack Layton of old – physically unstoppable, athletic and strong – appeared weak and terribly thin, his jaw line looking razor sharp due to recent weight loss.

While his spirit was undaunted, the physical toll this new cancer had taken on him was clearly undeniable. He did not announce what kind of cancer this second bout was. Some have speculated it was bone cancer or pancreatic cancer, the latter being infamous for often being brutal, unforgiving… and fatal.

In the weeks after July 25, not many updates were given on his condition. In fact, the first real news anyone heard about how he was doing came on Monday morning in a shocking announcement from his wife, fellow NDP MP Olivia Chow, and his two children.

“We deeply regret to inform you that the Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 a.m. today, Monday, August 22. He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones. Details of Mr. Layton’s funeral arrangements will be forthcoming.”

When the news hit the media, it sent shockwaves throughout the country. News of Jack’s untimely death rocketed around the country through Facebook and Twitter. In fact, at one point on Monday afternoon, the term “RIP Jack Layton” was the second most popular trending topic on Twitter in the world.

It takes something pretty substantial to happen in Canada for it to trend internationally on Twitter. Other than Justin Bieber, the Canadian teen superstar who regularly trends on Twitter, it’s not often that a person or event from this country is mentioned so often on Twitter that the international community takes notice.

It’s a testament to the respect that Jack enjoyed from all Canadians that so many people were deeply touched by his death. Even for those who had not voted for him – and would never vote or him – many couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness upon hearing that he’d lost his battle with cancer. If cancer could beat him, it could beat anyone.

He represented hope, guts, tenacity. We admired that in him. He was unshakable. He seemed like the type of man who would stand before Godzilla and crack his cane across the monster’s kneecap and tell him to get the heck out of town.

We expected him to take on government, big business, anyone who he perceived to be hurting or doing injustices to Canadians – for whatever reason. He was that type of man – a defender. He exuded hope and optimism. Many Canadians disillusioned with the political process looked up to him as a politician they could admire.

But with all that said, Jack’s latest Godzilla monster would not be deterred by a smack across the kneecap from his well-travelled cane. Cancer came a-callin’ – and this time it meant business. Despite the fact that cancer is a far cry from the death sentence it had been years ago, sometimes it’s just a sad fact that some don’t survive.

That’s the terrible thing about cancer. So many people live long and happy lives after being diagnosed. They are successfully treated and live happily ever after. Others just don’t make it. It’s one of the great mysteries of life.

Jack Layton died too young. He was only 61. At one time that was old. These days, it’s still practically a baby.

I don’t mind admitting that I teared up when I heard he died. I liked him. I admired his courage. I admired the way he stuck to his guns on matters of principle. Many people felt like he had their backs – even those who’d never vote for him.

Canada needed Jack Layton. We weren’t done with him yet. May he rest in peace.

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