Why do politicians have to die before we say good things about them?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

17 comments

jacklaytonimage.jpg
Jack Layton died at the young age of only 61

Earlier this week former NDP Opposition Leader Jack Layton passed away after a relatively brief battle with cancer.

On Monday morning the nation found out that he would not be returning to politics as he died with his family at his bedside. After having delivered the biggest win in the NDP’s history only a few months ago, it was certainly a tragic loss.

In the hours that followed his death, friends and former political foes began heaping praise on Layton. “He was a champion of various social causes” said one supporter. “He was all about the politics of hope” said another.

I must admit that Layton’s death did not surprise me. When I saw him at his last news conference, I told my wife that he likely only had a few weeks to live. I didn’t base my opinion on any medical training, but rather, on the fact that he had the same look as my grandfather just before he succumbed to colo-rectal cancer.

The loss of a major political figure on the national scene and the kind words that streamed out about him over social media got me thinking. Why can’t we say better things about our elected officials while they are still alive? Why must we either run them down, or run them out of office in order to feel like we’ve accomplished something as an electorate or member of the media?

While I didn’t always agree with Layton’s politics, I found him to be an honest and sincere man. I met him only once during the time I worked as Chief of Staff to former Mayor Sam Sullivan. Despite his hectic schedule, he spent almost an hour talking with us about the need for a national housing strategy and a plan to eradicate homelessness.

So just why is it that we have to wait for our politicians to die before we can heap praise on them for their accomplishments?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but I must say I get frustrated at times when I see politicians vilified in the media on a nightly basis. Having worked with so many of them over the years, I can attest that the vast majority of them are very much like Jack Layton. They are not only committed to making their community a better place to live, but they often sacrifice precious time with friends and family to do so.

Whether it’s Gordon Campbell, Glen Clark, Bill Vander Zalm, Mike Harcourt, Sam Sullivan or a host of other politicos, I believe they got into politics for the right reasons. Yet all too often in BC and elsewhere, we can’t seem to send off our politicians into the sunset with any kind of grace.

If we can learn anything from Layton’s short 61 years on this planet, it’s that we shouldn’t have to wait for our politicians to die before we celebrate their contributions.

Politicians may not be perfect, but then again, who amongst us can lay claim to that title? Therefore, perhaps we can save a few kind words in the months to come for a few other politicos before they too are gone from our midst.

All these kind words may not translate into good theatre, but they would be clearly the politics of hope that Layton espoused.

Jack…may your soul rest in peace. But most importantly, thank you for all your contributions to public life that helped to make Canada a better place to live.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Or you can "like" us at Facebook.com/CityCaucus.

17 Comments

Thanks for a good post and kind words about Jack Layton.

All political commentators are challenged by the dichotomy of opposing policies without invoking ad hominem condemnation.

Remembering times like these and good people like Jack can only help.

Thanks for this well-reasoned article. Leading our country is undoubtedly one of the toughest and most important job in the country -- and comes with very little appreciation.

Respectful and strong debate is the hallmark of a healthy democracy, but the villainization and cynicism is not.

It is sad to say that one day after Layton's death -- after he encouraged Canadians to be loving, optimistic, and hopeful -- there is still some acrimony from commentators from both sides of the spectrum.

However, I truly think we will see in the coming months, politicians toning down their rhetoric and acting like statesmen.

In a past life, when Jian Ghomeshi was in the a capella band Moxy Früvous before his current gig hosting on CBC, Jack made a grand entrance at one of their gigs.

Before they came on stage, a wave of commotion and cheers was heard moving about the audience as Jack, an alderman at the time, was noticed parading up and down the aisles, marching with an open umbrella overhead.

As a young teenager then, I was aware of whom he was and thought to myself at the time,

...what a narcissistic showboat. :-)

Several years later back in Canada after working in the US, I discover Jack is now on the federal stage but I see someone who now appears more even-keeled, and smooth around the edges, as compared to the younger radical scrappy Jack I was used to, but with no less wear for the time that passed.

On the contrary he got better with age, and as he did, so did Canada, which perhaps underscores the tragedy that resonates most now that he's gone.

People will mock politicians, give thanks, criticize them, donate money to their campaigns, point out their weaknesses, praise them, make them the butt of jokes, show admiration. But none of that should be seen as trade for personal sacrifice.

Sometimes the public or the media criticizes its political leaders, harshly, personally, when it's felt to be warranted, if only because there is freedom to do so without recrimination. A small demonstration to contrast against states where people aren't as free to do so under threat.

For a man who never had a real job, who had a lip lock on the public teat his whole life, Jacko turned out OK.

The best memory I will always have is the final 2010 Gold Medal hockey game and Jack giving that poor girl the elbow to the head so he would be front and center in the TV picture from the bar.

The look on her face and the big smile on Jacko's . . . pure, beautiful politics.

Heaven can now finally be a socialist marxist nirvana with Jacko as Mayor.

Fred, not quite an elbow to the head, but Jack did want to make sure he was on TV for all Canadians to see him. In life Layton was a self-promoter like so many people in public life.

http://torontoist.com/2010/02/jack_layton_wants_you_to_make_sure_you_see_him_celebrating.php

"but I must say I get frustrated at times when I see politicians vilified in the media on a nightly basis"

Is this a joke? It sure sounds like one.

Well, he was a very effective politician. He succeeded in selling the NDP brand much better than anyone before him. But don't we always say nice things about the recently departed. When was the last time you read an obit that observed that deceased person was a liar, a cheat, and a scoundrel?
Maybe the first one will be mine.

Jack Layton at CUPW rally in Vancouver's Libray Square, Friday, June 17, 2011.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=VCVTV+JACK&aq=f

Speaking of jokes.

Okay boohoo, you' opened the door on this one. You just can't help yourself can you. Pathetic.

Working as a politician is a real job, and I say that as someone who has run my own companies scince I was 26. And it is an important job. Any of the senior politicians in Canada could make a lot more money with less stress and abuse in the private sector. I would be glad to be able to hire people with their abilities. I hope CityCaucus is planning to extend this civility to Suzanne Anton and Gregor Robertson. I disagree with many of their policies, but respect both for having the courage and commitment to run for office. Something I am too private and selfish to do.

Although i despised his policies and the sense of entitlement that the 'upper echelon' of his constituency felt (yes...a backhanded compliment), I will say this;

Stephen Harper was often quoted about how much he respected Jack (long before his passing). The context was that he was trusted to do what he said he would. He allowed his counterparts to know where he stood in a appropriate, respectful way. He really was a good politician (not meant as an oxymoron)

This may have been why a guy like Ignatieff failed so miserably. He didn't have friend on either side of the isle.

I don't think Harper ever hid the fact that although they were political enemies, he considered Jack a personal friend.

To answer your question, I think the reason is because we tend to see them through rose coloured glasses when they pass away.

The Thought Of The Day

"Jack Layton... The Best Opposition Leader ever!"

Now... this Thought will self destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0... and rearrange itself at the top of the comments list...

Also, after thinking for a while,I strongly believe this tune would please Jack tremendously:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8Tiz6INF7I

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

"but I must say I get frustrated at times when I see politicians vilified in the media on a nightly basis"

Coming from this blog, that is the most hilarious thing I have heard all day.

Higher up a majestic yours Adam!

Me thinks Adam sounds a lot like Quinlan. You may want to confirm that with his IP address. Can you do that? Or do you care?

The Thought Of The Day

"Jack Layton... The Best Opposition Leader ever!"

Now... this Thought will self destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0... and rearrange itself at the top of the comments list...

Also, after thinking for a while,I strongly believe this tune would please Jack tremendously:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8Tiz6INF7I

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.


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