Ten years ago today, people from across the country and from all walks of life came together to mourn the loss of Jack Layton.
The outpouring of grief was a testament to both the love and personal respect Canadians felt for Jack, as well as the deep loss his passing meant to the country. It was a moment of sadness, but also of extraordinary unity. In Jack’s life, we saw ourselves at the best of ourselves – hopeful, loving and optimistic.
Ten years later, a lot has changed in Canada and around the world. But the message of Jack’s life lives on. In a world where people lose confidence and where some politicians fuel cynicism by making promises they have no intention of keeping, he was the anticynic, the happy warrior, the tireless optimist. But Jack was far from naive. He knew that the lost cause of today might be the conventional wisdom of tomorrow, but only through hard work and determined local organization – the kind of politics that takes place away from the cameras.
And no one worked harder than Jack. He was a whirlwind of activity, ideas and enthusiasm, and was constantly on the move. When I was a young lawyer working on human rights issues in the Sikh community, Jack came to our events unannounced and without fanfare, just because he wanted to show his support. It impressed me. It touched me. It was not what I expected from a politician.
Later, when I was a new candidate in Brampton – long considered impossible to win territory for the New Democrats – Jack pulled me aside and said, “Jagmeet, don’t let them tell you. that it cannot be done ”. Jack has said these words a lot. But at that moment, one on one, I could hear the sincerity in his voice, and I knew he believed every word. It inspired me. It motivated me. And it changed what I expected from politics.
And so it was thanks to Jack’s example and optimism that I entered public life. I think about Jack a lot. I am touched and honored every day to be part of the pursuit of a political approach that lives up to the possibilities he saw for our country – a Canada strengthened by a collective instinct for compassion, love and empathy.
Now, as we celebrate Jack’s passing and celebrate his life and legacy, I always turn to him for advice. How would Jack react to a climate emergency that has only worsened since his death? What would he say about the growing cost of economic inequality, systemic racism and the genocidal legacy of colonialism? How would he see a world threatened by authoritarianism and the kind of politics that goes against everything he stood for?
I’m pretty sure I know it: my fellow Canadians, Jack would say, don’t fall into cynicism and despair. Keep on fighting. Keep believing. Keep working as hard as you can for the country and the world you believe is possible.
For me and for so many others – in politics and beyond – this is the legacy we carry with us every day. It is the voice that speaks of our higher purpose, that asks us first to look after one another, and calls us to do our best in the service of a better, more humane and healthier world. It is the voice of reason, laughter and love – a deeply human voice that Jack has exemplified in his life and work.
On this tenth anniversary of Jack’s death, I ask Canadians around the world to reflect on his legacy and, whatever our differences, remember that what unites us is much stronger than what divides us. And I ask people across Canada to rethink the power of what Jack told me when I was a young man running for public office for the first time. This is the same message he had for our country: whatever challenges we face, don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
A virtual celebration of Jack Layton
Tonight, August 22, 2021 at 8 p.m. EST, Layton’s legacy will host a free virtual event in honor of Jack to celebrate our collective love, hope and optimism. They have an incredible lineup of advocates, artists and special guests to inspire and entertain us. You can RSVP here.