It was a year ago (July 25), that Jack Layton’s cancer battle caused him to step aside from politics. Less than a month later, he was dead.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Layton’s family a state funeral, which was accepted.
There were a number of unusual factors connected with Layton’s death that are worth noting, not the least of which was Harper’s gracious – and appropriate – recognition of his political opponent’s substantive contribution to Canadian life.
In addition to his use of his office to provide a state funeral, Harper quietly and without fanfare did two other things that bespoke a sense of statesmanship.
Instead of staying planted in their seats when leftist orator and social activist Stephen Lewis lauded social democracy, Harper and his wife, Laureen Harper, joined the standing ovation.
And, in an interview around the time of the funeral, the prime minister spoke movingly about visiting across the Commons aisle with Layton during the Canada Post back-to-work legislation filibuster a few weeks before. He referred wistfully to the musical jam session that they had talked about, but was never to be. And he hinted that they apparently congenially discussed the pressures of political and family life in a way that put them – as adversarial politics will never permit – on the same side of the table.
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Now, one year later, the left-leaning think tank, the Broadbent Institute (sort of a mirror-image of the slightly-to-the-right Manning Centre) is asking Canadians to take to social media to comment on Layton’s final message.
People can go to a site called DearJack.ca, posting their comments in response, particularly, to the final words of that message: “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.”
I am enough of a social media luddite to decline –graciously, I trust – that invitation. But I would like to offer some comment in this space.
First, a disclaimer: I fully recognize that some NDP partisans will interpret Layton’s dying letter as having been directed at those wicked Tories who get so angry as to deserve everyone’s highly-articulated hatred.
From this corner of the parliamentary perch, I would suggest that Layton was speaking, just as much, maybe more so, to some of his own followers. Particularly, I think he might have been addressing those who would consider it a sin to ever admit to liking or even semi-agreeing with someone a little more conservative.
What is my evidence for such a contention?
It is a body of House of Commons work that I believe showed, on one side, Harper and Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, and on the other, Layton and his filibustering NDPers, at their best.
It was the NDP’s first test as official opposition after last year’s federal election.
The issues were dear to the hearts of parties on both sides of the house.
Raitt made her mark by continuously emphasizing the considerable conciliatory capacity that would enable both unions and management to resolve their dispute. And that enabling, she suggested, could ward off wrecking a fragile economy or, more significantly perhaps, poisoning labour-management relations well into the future.
The left was able to use the filibuster to keep the feet of government to the fire, with respect to its own collective motivations. Their spokespersons were able to make their points repeatedly and with eloquence.
But at some point, the signal went out. Whether Layton actually spoke the words, or whether his wish was simply understood, we will perhaps never know. But it is fair to say that, even then, Layton was somehow communicating to the more cantankerous of his followers what would become more obvious after his death: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”
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One of my professors at Tyndale Seminary recommended that, prior to embarking on the research for my thesis, I should take a look at a tome entitled Made in Canada Leadership: Wisdom from the Nation’s best and brightest on Leadership practice and development (Wiley 2007), authored by Amal Henein and Francoise Morissette.
For my faith-based readers, some interpretation is helpful. If there is any “faith” in the book, it comes out of the co-operative movement. Much of the funding for the studies from which it resulted came from The Desjardins Group, a large and historic Quebec-based credit union and co-operative consortium.
While the authors acknowledge the role of faith and political ideology, it keeps its terms in this regard quite generic. “The force”, for example, is sometimes used to define what more religious types might describe as “divine calling.”
Woven throughout the book are references to what the co-operative movement can bring to the larger issues of Canadian leadership. Chapters 10 and 11 particularly summarize that part of Made in Canada’s thesis.
One rather surprising point is their suggesting (p. 299) that, in order to “improve the brand” of Canadian leadership, “we need to follow in the footsteps of former prime ministers (Lester Bowles) Pearson and (Pierre Elliott) Trudeau.”
Pearson, the authors suggested, “represents the wisdom and knowledge of the scholar: statesmanship, diplomacy, decency and guidance. He left us with a tradition to maintain.”
With respect to Trudeau, they say, “he represents the assertiveness, courage and force of the warrior: protection, affirmation, confidence and boldness. He left us something to aspire to.”
Regarding Pearson, I could find some resonance. Like Harper, he had five years presiding over a minority government. And it could be logically argued that Harper’s time in minority was quite Pearsonian.
But, having lived most of my life in the west, where Trudeau was often viewed as an arrogant and destructive pariah, I have to confess that I would have to adjust my thinking to see him as a profile in courage – someone that Harper should try to emulate.
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All this brings us to the consideration of this question: Is it possible that our own biases can discolour and misrepresent the characteristics of our political or religious enemies?
Just asking, you understand!