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.