Stephen Lewis’s eulogy to Jack Layton


Never in our collective lifetime have we seen such an outpouring, so much emotional intensity, from every corner of this country. There have been occasions, historically, when we’ve seen respect and admiration but never so much love, never such a shocked sense of personal loss.

Jack was so alive, so much fun, so engaged in daily life with so much gusto, so unpretentious, that it was hard while he lived to focus on how incredibly important that was to us, he was to us. Until he was so suddenly gone, cruelly gone, at the pinnacle of his career.

To hear so many Canadians speak so open-heartedly of love, to see young and old take chalk in hand to write without embarrassment of hope, or hang banners from overpasses to express their grief and loss. It’s astonishing.

Somehow Jack connected with Canadians in a way that vanquished the cynicism that erodes our political culture. He connected whether you knew him or didn’t know him, whether you were with him or against him.

Jack simply radiated an authenticity and honesty and a commitment to his ideals that we know realize we’ve been thirsting for. He was so civil, so open, so accessible that he made politics seem so natural and good as breathing. There was no guile. That’s why everybody who knew Jack recognized that the public man and the private man were synonymous.

But it obviously goes much deeper than that. Jack, I think, tapped into a yearning, sometimes ephemeral, rarely articulated, a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way, and from that difference would emerge a better Canada.

That difference was by no means an end to rancour, an end to the abusive, vituperative practice of the political arts. The difference was also, and critically, one of policy — a fundamentally different way of viewing the future of Canada.

His remarkable letter made it absolutely clear. This was a testament written in the very throes of death that set out what Jack wanted for his caucus, for his party, for young people, for all Canadians.

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With the death of Jack Layton, we have lost someone we could look to as a model of commitment to ideas and ideals. So few today can articulate a vision for Canada that transcends the short-term demands of politics and economics.

Jack was a man who lived his ideals. In Toronto, he was as green as they come, long before green came to mean a set of environmental assumptions. But Jack never forgot that justice and human rights were deeply embedded in issues of the environment. Today, too many of us act as if these are somehow separate, and so we are either environmentalists or workers for social justice. To Jack, they were a part of the same struggle for sustainable societies.

I didn’t always agree with Jack, and I told him so. But he never held our disagreements against me or pouted. He had a vision and he was working to achieve it. Too many people get caught up in a little niche, and if one disagrees in any way, they are written off for not conforming to a party line. Jack wasn’t like that.

Now Canada is at a crossroads. The world has changed enormously in the past half century, and we seem to be caught up in the belief that the global economy is the very source of our well-being and identity. But the economy is a means to some other end, not an end in itself, and Jack understood that. As with great people like Tommy Douglas, he kept reminding us of what he stood for.

In my last letter to Jack, after he had announced that he was taking time to fight his cancer, I assured him that his legacy was already assured and it was a proud one. But, I told him, no great movement is dependent on one or a few people. I wanted him to rest assured that there were many Canadians who would take up his cause. I hope that was more than just my hope for the moment as I felt the pain of his potential loss. To honour Jack, we need to see many people ready to take on his vision and his work.

- David Suzuki



All the available information, the numbers and research and chatter, tells us that we care less and less about them. That we don’t trust them. That they are generally considered among the lowest forms of human life.

Then one of them dies, and we go into a state of national mourning. A cynic would say that we only love our politicians when they’re gone – and even then, only when they’ve left us in heartbreaking and terrifying ways that remind us of human frailties. But in the spirit of optimism, which seems fitting given Jack Layton’s much-quoted final words, it’s possible to see something else in his posthumous status as a hero. Perhaps we’re not really so inclined to look down on our politicians; perhaps we’re eager to look up to them, to like and occasionally even love them, if only they’ll give us the chance.

…Short of leaving us the way Mr. Layton did, it’s very hard for our politicians to exit gracefully. Their own accumulation of mistakes, the impossibility of pleasing everyone, the limitations of government to fix all the world’s problems conspire to make us grow weary of them.

The optimists among us might wonder if, long after Mr. Layton has been laid to rest, politicians and the people who elect them might keep what happened this week in the backs of their minds. It needn’t be a relationship of unquestioning loyalty and admiration; far from it. But it’s not too late to save it from perpetual mistrust and resentment. If both sides are willing to treat politics like a noble calling, it just might become one again.