Surprise, shock, and great sadness.
That was the reaction of Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP John Rafferty upon hearing that federal NDP leader Jack Layton passed away early Monday morning at the age of 61 after a second battle with cancer.
“I fought three elections with Jack as a leader, and one of the things that I know is that he’s a fighter,” said Rafferty.
“So when he had his news conference last month, I just assumed he’d be back [in Parliament] on Sept. 19 because he is a fighter.
“But this got the better of him, and that’s not just sad for me, being a friend of Jack’s, and for the party, but for all Canadians,” Rafferty added.
“I think it’s a great loss.”
“He’s somebody who believed very strongly in a society that is more equal, more fair, and more just,” reflected Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton, who is set to retire after 24 years at Queen’s Park.
“I think you can actually say that he spent virtually his whole life fighting for that.”
Hampton knew Layton for almost 30 years—first when Layton was a city councillor in Toronto in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and then as he moved into the federal arena.
“Jack always argued his points of view very strongly,” Hampton recalled.
“I didn’t always agree with him We weren’t always on the same side of issues,” he noted.
Hampton said that if his phone rang at 11 p.m. and it was a long-distance number, nine times out of 10 it would be Layton.
“He was somebody who would be calling all hours of the night because he wanted your opinion on something, he wanted to know what you thought,” Hampton explained, saying this willingness to listen was one of the most
memorable things about Layton.
“He was always seeking other people’s opinion, always wanting to know their views rather than necessarily trying to expound [his] views,” Hampton stressed.
“It’s a lesson a lot of us could learn something from.”
Rafferty, meanwhile, hopes everyone has the opportunity to read the final letter which Layton penned to Canadians, and which was released following his death.
“It was a wonderful letter, full of hope and optimism,” Rafferty said. “It’s the way he always was.
“I can see him actually—if he dictated or actually penned it—those are definitely his words.”
“It’s Jack,” agreed Hampton. “This letter was Jack.
“Here’s a guy who literally, to the very last, fought for what he believed and we’re all better off because of that.”
Layton has left behind a “big, good, solid foundation on which to build,” said Rafferty about the NDP. And when it comes to the future of the party, Rafferty pointed to Layton’s letter, where he outlined that he hopes to see a leadership convention early in the New Year.
“He had great hope that the foundation that’s been built, that we’ll continue to build on it.”
Rafferty noted that when people met Layton, “you felt instantly that you had a friend; you had a friend in Jack.”
“I think that was part of his charm, part of his appeal, and that certainly is a legacy to leave behind, too,” added Rafferty, reflecting on the first time he met Layton—early on before the 2004 election when the NDP leader was visiting Northern Ontario.
“It’s not a specific memory, but just a feeling I had when Jack came up that he loved Northern Ontario and he loved northerners, and he loved rural Canadians,” he remarked.
“And so here was a city slicker who had a great affection and love for the people of Northern Ontario.”
As for Layton’s impact on Canada’s political landscape, Rafferty cited how Layton was able to grow just a handful of NDP seats before the 2000 election to 103 following the May 2 election.
“That’s quite remarkable in anybody’s political books,” he said.
As well, it was the “orange crush” which sprung up across Quebec—unseating the Bloc Quebecois and reducing them below official party status.
“A number of people [in the riding] remarked after the election, ‘You know, I didn’t vote for you and I didn’t vote for Jack, but boy, thank you Jack for getting rid of the Bloc,’” Rafferty recalled.
“[Layton] persuaded a lot of people to leave, to abandon separatism,” agreed Hampton.
“I think that was the real story of this last election—that all kinds of Quebecers said, ‘I’m not going to vote for the Bloc anymore. I’m not interested in separating from Canada, I’m interested in being part of Canada.’
“And I think that was a huge, huge contribution to Canada.”
For those wishing to extend condolences to Layton’s family through cards or letters, Rafferty said they are welcome to drop by his constituency offices, where staff will make sure that these items get to the family.
As well, people can extend their condolences online at www.ndp.ca
In lieu of flowers and other such things, Rafferty noted Layton also requested that people send support to the Broadbent Institute.