Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Open Letter from Jack Layton to Canadians

This week I am mourning the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton. For those of you outside of Canada, here are a few things you should know about this great man: like me, he grew up in a suburb outside of Montreal and came to call Toronto home; it was here that he sat on City Council and first let his left-wing voice be heard. Almost ten years ago he made the move to federal politics, quadrupling the number of votes for the NDP in that short time. I believe he presented the New Democrats as a real alternative to the Liberals and PCs in part because he was the kind of person that the average Canadian could relate to. He cared about families, fighting for important issues like job creation, affordable housing, education, public transit, health care wait times, and action on climate change. In other words, he fought to make Canada a better place to live for all of us. It comes as no surprise, then, that tributes to Layton have been popping up everywhere, notably at Toronto City Hall with chalk messages all over the outside of the building as well as flowers at his residence and office. Canadian or not, I urge you to read his open letter if you have not done so already. He made the effort to write to us at a time when he was probably enduring the pain and suffering associated with a failed cancer treatment; Jack Layton was, to the end, a man of the people.

August 20, 2011, Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don't be discouraged that my own journey hasn't gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we've done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let's continue to move forward. Let's demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus
: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada's Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world's environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don't let them tell you it can't be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.

All my very best,
Jack Layton


  1. There are images on the news of the massive chalk art and quotes at Toronto city hall, commemorating him. Have you seen it? I am sure it is a sight to behold.

    He was an inspiration for so many people, and will be greatly missed. I hope Canadians take pause and reflect on his words. We can make this world a better place, it IS possible.

  2. I haven't seen the chalk messages yet, though pictures are everywhere online and in the news. I will be going to his funeral on Saturday and plan to swing by City Hall afterwards to take it all in.

    I, too, hope Canadians reflect on his words. It would be nice if those who don't vote NDP pay attention and realize his values can be embraced across party lines.

  3. I freely admit that I'm still in shock. There's just a part of my brain that refuses to acknowledge that this has happened.

    I'm hoping that attending the funeral on Saturday will help with that.

  4. I'm lucky, very few of my loved ones have passed away. I've been sheltered from experiencing grief. In this case, I find myself going about my usual day-to-day activities until something reminds me that he's gone, and I just stop dead in my tracks when the heartache hits. I never thought I'd feel this way about someone outside of my family and circle of friends.

  5. I am also surprised how much it has affected me, I just feel really sad and deflated. It seemed like he was our last hope, our one chance for change at the national level, our silver lining against the conservative majority - and now that it all has vanished. I guess it is up to all Canadians to pick up where he left off. I just love how he was the real deal, a sincere leader in an insincere world.

  6. I feel really sad and deflated, too, but don't tell yourself he was our last hope. That goes against what he wants us to believe. Although the future looks bleak, we have to be strong, and a new leader will emerge.