I started writing a column the other day on a flight to Ottawa. I was heading there to take part in a National Defence Committee meeting about the situation in Libya. I put it on the back-burner once I arrived and tried to resurrect it again a week later before heading out on a four-day riding tour, which included stops at Alexandra Bridge, Cache Creek, Lillooet, Pemberton and Gold Bridge. It didn’t get done. I opened up the file again after getting home from Pemberton on Monday night and I realized it just wasn’t going to happen.
The column I had started seemed unimportant on a day when I woke up to learn that Jack Layton, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and long-time leader of the NDP had passed away too soon and following too closely on the heels of his finest political hour. It was as shocking as it is sad.
The outpouring of emotion from across the country was immediate and cut across political party lines. In addition to his supporters, others who opposed many of Jack’s policies and would have never considered voting for his party still liked him on a personal level. Even now, I find myself referring to him as simply “Jack”, as though we were personal acquaintances. It isn’t out of disrespect, but rather out of respect for the type of person he was that I refer to him in this way.
I only had the opportunity to speak with Jack once during the spring session of Parliament, before his revelation that he would need to step aside to deal with cancer once again. I happened to be leaving the House of Commons at the same time as he was after some late night votes. He was at the Members’ Entrance – with his signature cane and signature moustache – and I took the opportunity to introduce myself. Even at that time it was clear that he wasn’t feeling too well, but he flashed his signature smile, gave me a strong handshake and welcomed me as a new MP. He shared with me his fondness for my Dad, wished me the best and asked me to pass along his regards to Chuck. I said that I would, wished him well and we parted ways. It was a short, but meaningful personal encounter and I think that’s what made Jack successful as a politician. He no doubt had many meaningful, personal encounters with hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast, and like me they probably were left with a positive impression. And like me, Canadians couldn’t help but find inspiration in his desire to continue to live life to the fullest, continue to take on new challenges and continue on to greater success even after his cancer diagnosis.
Just down the hall from that entrance where we shook hands in the House of Commons is the magnificent Confederation Hall, which includes an intricate stone carving of the Canadian Coat of Arms. It includes the Latin words desiderantes meliorem patriam, which means, “they desire a better country”. Jack Layton desired a better country. And even if you disagreed with his policies, you knew he loved Canada. As we’ve seen this week, Canada loved him back.
It was an honour to serve with Jack Layton in the 41st Parliament. I sincerely regret that it was for such a short time.
MP Mark Strahl