A book of condolences was made available to the public in honor of Jack Layton
NPD leader Lorraine Michael made a brief visit Thursday, August 25, to meet with the mayors of Labrador City and Wabush, but also took the opportunity to share on the passing of a dear friend.
Layton’s passing has a very personal side for Michael.
“I first met jack in ‘91, so I’ve known him a long time. I’m going to miss him, as a friend, as a colleague and as a mentor. We would swap emails with one another and have phone conversations. If we were both in Toronto we’d get together. I really respected him highly. I miss him. I will miss him.”
The impact of Layton’s death across the broader community has also had an affect on her, Michael said.
“I’m overwhelmed by the respect and love that’s being poured out, not just by the people in our province but in Canada, towards Jack, and their recognition of the role that he played as leader of the NDP. It strengthens one’s own sense of loss.”
Layton’s legacy will not easily be forgotten, she said.
“It makes one proud that you had a leader like he was. But it also gives one a sense of responsibility to not let him down, or let down in any way what he was there for. There were principles and values that people responded to.”
Michael compared the response of the country to that of the response it gave to the passing of Tommy Douglas, former premier of Saskatchewan and the first federal leader of the NDP.
“You will get people from all parties talking about Tommy Douglas with respect as well. Because they recognized the role he played in this country with regard to some of the major programs like Medicare and our pension program. Tommy Douglas pushed all that. I firmly believe history will present Jack on the same plain as Tommy Douglas.”
He worked hard and played hard
Layton was known for his playful side, Michael said.
“He loved having a good time, and to the same degree he absolutely believed in his work and his work vitalized him. Both his play and his work vitalized him.”
Layton was also playful in a mischievous way.
“In the summer of 2010 when he was in the battle with prostate cancer and on a very strict diet, he was running around the regatta grounds in St Johns, trying to sneak a hot dog at one point, and French fries in another without Olivia knowing he was doing it. One point he said he wanted to have a hot dog and asked where Olivia went. I said she’s on a conference call, and he said okay, and went off and got a hot dog.”
He had a special charisma, she said.
“He was a like a little boy in some ways, yet he was a very brilliant man as well. And he was brilliant. And not just because he was educated. He had a great intelligence and great sensitivity and warmth. You don’t always get all of that in one package in one person, and he had it.”
Layton was always full of surprises, she said.
“We had the honorary dinner for Jack Harris when he was stepping down as leader of the provincial party, and it was the weekend I was going to be elected. We had a dinner to honor Harris, and Jack Layton was there and to all of our surprise he gets at the piano and starts thumping, “hit the road Jack, and get yourself to Ottawa.” So he began his public campaign then to have Jack run as MP and he just had a ball doing that. The place went up, we just had a roar laughing.”
Michael has many memories of Layton, but she will hold onto one in particular.
“The one I’ll really hold is the rally in St Johns in April this year, that east part of the federal campaign. To see him so alive a short while ago, and in this room in St Johns, Newfoundland, with almost a thousand people in the room. I never felt so proud before as an NPD as I did that day. I just looked at him and thought, ‘Buddy, you’re fantastic. This is just great.’”
The show must go on
Though Canadians still mourn, the country must move forward, Michael said.
“We’re all going through the formal grieving, but I know once we bury Jack the normal life has to go on. That doesn’t mean we won’t be grieving, but the formal grieving will be over and people will have to put their minds to the tasks ahead.”
And with a new election soon approaching the NPD needs to work fast, Michael said.
“Whether it’s federal or provincial, we all have work to do. All the federal MPs will be in the House of Commons in a matter of a few weeks, so they have a lot to prepare for. At the same time as a party they have to prepare for the new election. They have to prepare for a permanent leader.”
In a letter Layton wrote two days before he died it indicated he felt the NDP party should act quickly to give the new leader time to get him or herself into the position and to be ready to work on the next election. Michael agrees.
“Time goes quickly anyway, but believe me, in politics it goes by very quickly. And he was very right; they need to do that very quickly.”