What if Jack Layton Knew All Along?

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


This blog is not intended in any way to be disrespectful or unsympathetic to Jack Layton. It attempts to go a bit beyond politics - honest, and I doubt Jack would be offended by it.

However, prior to the recent Canadian election campaign, and after Jack’s previous cancer treatments, when his hip ‘spontaneously shattered’ very many people suspected that the NDP Leader’s illness had spread (though he denied it). Now, in retrospect, we know several things. That Jack ran an outstanding, historic campaign that was based on optimism and hope, a constantly positive demeanor and respect for everyone including his opponents, and a straightforward determination to stick to his principles. And that people across the country responded spontaneously and enthusiastically, and very many voted for Jack’s approach as much as anything – not because (and perhaps sometimes unaware or regardless) of his policies. And of course we know that, whatever the timing, Jack Layton’s health issues have broadened gravely.

Layton’s campaign was completely different, contrary to all current wisdom and practice: We all know that while everyone hates ‘attack politics’, nobody wins unless they embrace it without compromise. Every party consistently practices the nasty stuff, federally and provincially, including the NDP.

Except, of course, that’s not what happened here. I watched the debate. I watched Layton stick it to the others, but he wasn’t just factual, respectful and polite about it, he was downright cheerful. (It drove me bananas.)

And so it just occurred to me: Is it possible that the mortal life challenge Jack was facing affected his entire view and his approach? Is it possible that it sapped his anger and negative side, and facilitated (enhanced?) a more positive and optimistic view of everything? And perhaps gave him the complete freedom to live and campaign in a way that was true to that more generous and cheerful outlook, without compromising his beliefs?

It would mean of course that Jack was fibbing about why he needed that cane (now one of the most famous props in Canadian campaign history). But what a huge success, and just perhaps something for the rest of us to think about, regardless of our health, vocation, or competitive circumstance.