The Commons: Mourning Jack

If Layton’s lying-in-state was without precedent, it is now not without justification


Here lay Jack Layton. Here where he basked in the warm glow of the television lights and held forth each afternoon. Here before the grand door to our grandest room. Here where you can turn your gaze just slightly upward and see the Prime Minister’s office. Here a few flights of stairs below the ornate office that Mr. Layton was to occupy for the next four years. Here between the portraits of Borden and King, surrounded by carved sandstone, underneath a ceiling of decorated glass. Here wrapped in our beautiful flag.

Down the hall and around the rotunda and down another flight of stairs and then outside and along the path that leads to the magnificent Centre Block, a thousand people made their way to his casket. In Toronto, a thousand words written in chalk in a public square. On the lawn of Parliament Hill, probably several thousand millilitres of orange soda mixed in among the flowers and notes and balloons.

This is how we mourn and remember and mark and honour.

Inside the House of Commons foyer, they filed up to where he lay. Four guards stood in dress blues and white gloves, their backs turned and their heads down. Nine Canadian flags stood with black ribbon. To the right, a black and white portrait of Mr. Layton, framed by black curtains.

Some crossed themselves, others bowed their heads as if in prayer or mouthed a few words. There were deep breaths and watery eyes. One woman sobbed, another blew a kiss. People in all manners of dress from however many walks of life. A man on crutches. A woman holding a baby. Children looked overwhelmed. A mother tried to explain the scene to a daughter who clutched a small bouquet of flowers.

Except for the shuffle of feet, the click of heels and the periodic squeak of a door, it was quiet.

This is possibly—depending on which facts of history one chooses to apply—without precedent. Jack Layton was not a prime minister, nor a governor general, nor a cabinet minister. He was not a war hero. He was not a father of confederation. But if it was somehow without precedent, it is now not without justification. Because here they came. Because here they stood and waited to have a few seconds—maybe 10, if they lingered despite prompting from one of the attendants—in front of a flag-draped casket.

This is how we show people they mattered to us. No matter how small the service, no matter how grand and public the ceremony, we go and we take that moment to show ourselves. None of these people necessarily had to be here, but here they were. If there was necessity it was only in that some might’ve felt they needed to be here. They wanted to be here. They wanted those few seconds. No matter how fleeting or distant or indirect their relationship to the man, he mattered to them. He represented something.

How recently would this have seemed astounding? A year ago? Less? Maybe Jack Layton was always a remarkable fellow. But for so long he was, to put this bluntly, an also-ran: the leader of a party that was never going to matter as much. His was the third-most-important campaign plane. He was not going to be prime minister. Someday the numbers might give him a chance to be the kingmaker, but that was about as much as anyone—save, of course, for him and his team—could imagine. And then this spring happened. And suddenly, even if he was the same person, he was something else entirely.

It’s probably true that nothing can truly be appreciated until it’s gone. But he was also ascendent. And maybe that explains what has followed his death. Or maybe it’s those words—”Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”—and how he seemed to be a face for those ideals. Maybe people just liked him.

In truth, the why doesn’t matter. Because here are all these people. And in Toronto are all those words.

Shortly before four o’clock here, Olivia Chow emerged to greet those waiting outside. Tiny and solitary, dressed all in black, she walked along the barricades, shaking hands and talking and smiling. She stopped to accept a flower from a young woman and was soon consoling a small group in orange Jack Layton buttons.

She greeted a few more mourners and then slipped into the passenger seat of a waiting car. The crowd applauded as she left. People stood and waited, the line running down Parliament Hill, around East Block and out of sight.


The Commons: Mourning Jack

  1. So basically, Aaron is saying that even though this was without precedent, Stephen Harper was right in making this happen.

    Good to know that Aaron agrees so well with Harper’s judgement.

    • It’s at the govt’s discretion, offered by the GG

      Amazing how popular a ‘leftie’ is eh?

    • Jack Layton’s death was also without precedent.  No Leader of the Official Opposition who did not also serve as PM at some point in his life has EVER died in office.  No Leader of the Official Opposition period, has died in office since Laurier in 1919.  And I would never name names, as I have no problem whatsoever with any of the Cabinet Ministers who have received state funerals after dying in office having received said state funerals, but there is CERTAINLY precedent for according a state funeral to figures who made less of a contribution to Canada and Canadians than Jack Layton did.

      I think Stephen Harper was absolutely right in making this happen.

      • Agreed: Because here are all these people.

    • You need to convince Barbara Kay.  She is one unhappy Con.

  2. While I am sad on a personal level that Layton lost his battle with cancer which resulted in his timely death I am not impressed with the way the media, both print and electronic have covered this sad occasion. It is way over the top in my estimation.
    Yes Layton was a likeable man and had a ready smile. Yes he spoke of social justice issues constantly but in a number of elections until May 2nd Canadians soundly rejected his policies. Unfortunately I have to agree with Christie Blatchford of the National Post. We have turned his passing into making the man something he wasn’t. 
    He was an ambitious politician who promoted himself and his party above all else. We want to believe he did great things for Canada. However, as leader of the fourth party in the House he had little influence.
    Let us mark his passing with dignity but turning his funeral into a dvd and promoting “the movement” goes too far.
    Go for it lefties. 

    • OK, but I am still more partial to LKO’s point than to yours.  And I even stooped to “strategic voting” against the NDP at the last election.

      Canadians are lining up in large numbers, in affection and appreciation.  I believe Harper got this one right, whether out of appreciation for a political foe, a good finger on the pulse of the people, or sheer dumb luck.  But he got this one right.

      • If Harper’s intention was to show how strong and popular the ‘left’ is in Canada, he succeeded admirably.

        • It would take a special category of stu– uh, misinformed — to equate the current national expression of grief and affection for Jack Layton with a show of strength and popularity of the ‘left’ in Canada.  I hold out the hope most Canadians will steer clear of such a silly mistake.

          • If Harper had a heart attack and croaked, there would be no such outpourig of national grief.

            Outside of Alberta anyway.

          • And it is just that sort of nonsense that made me decide to just ignore anything from Emily months ago.  It’s pathetically mean-spirited, probably untrue, and even if true it says absolutely nothing about “the strength and popularity” of the left in Canada, anyways.  Sum total of sub-zero redeeming features to the comment.

            It’s a shame I had to relearn my original lesson, but re-learn it I have.

          • Typical nasty left winger. Hypocrit.

          • @hollinm:disqus 

            No, made-you-look is a Con kool-aid soaker

            So reality always comes as a shock

          • Emily, that may be your personal sentiment, but evidence suggests otherwise.  Under Harper, the CPC has received much more support in votes and money than the NDP has under Layton, and there definitively are Canadians who are very strongly supportive and admiring of Harper.  I’m not one.  You’re not one.  But that doesn’t negate those who are. And, no, they do not all live in Alberta.

          • @usedtobecatherine:disqus 

            60% of Canada didn’t vote for Harper…that pretty much speaks for itself.

          • What does 60% not voting for Harper have to do with how people who react if he died in office?  70% didn’t vote for Layton – so what are you implying and how does that speak for itself??

          • OriginalBigot#1   

            OK Madam bigot.

          • @google-27871c9b658439ecb5eed6723725949e:disqus 

            LOL you don’t even know what the word means.

            Gedouddahere with the kidstuff.

          • @made_you_look:disqus 

            Oh….is that a promise?

            Pretty please?

          • I accidentally ‘liked’ the MYL comment above.  I intended a reply – there there seems to be sense of jealousy that someone not of the Conservative persuasion could attract this much attention and affection. 

          • @JanBC:disqus 

            Yeah, the last few days must have been hell for them.  LOL

          • @usedtobecatherine:disqus 

            We were talking about Harper’s popularity as compared to Laytons.

        • PLENTY of people publicly mourning Jack Layton are not a part of “the left”.  Hell, plenty of them are adamantly OPPOSED to “the left”.

          There are many reasons one might ascribe to the Prime Minister according the honour of a state funeral to Jack Layton.  I happen to believe he genuinely liked and admired the man, and felt that it was the right thing to do, and also that most Canadians would agree with that assessment.

          However, I see no Earthly reason why Harper would want to “show how strong and popular the ‘left’ is in Canada”.  More importantly, I don’t think the outpouring of grief over Jack Layton’s death actually shows that!  I think this might be the least likely argument as to the PM’s reasoning that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen some whacky and disturbing rationales bandied about!).

          • Well you can ‘believe’ what you like, but that doesn’t change reality.

          • You are correct that LKO’s opinion is not going to change reality, but at least LKO can see reality! 

          • @usedtobecatherine:disqus 

            On rare occasions…this isn’t one of them. LOL

          • Oh, I agree that my supposition as to the Prime Minister’s motives could very well be incorrect (which is why I presented it as my belief, not as fact) but your suggestion doesn’t even conform to basic logic.

          • I don’t know what supposition you think I made, beyond my sarcastic remark.

      • Harper had everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose in going for the State Funeral. Just a strategic political decision.

    • ‘He was an ambitious politician who promoted himself and his party above all else. ‘

      Yowch. Better cancel all future state funerals then, ESPECIALLY for Prime Ministers. That description you can pretty much slap on all of them.

      • Of course it can be said of many politicians. However, Layton had a uniqueness about him. He loved the camera. He loved to be the centre of attention. He knew he was going to have a problem getting his message out so he needed to be flamboyant in order the get the attention.  I don’t think that can be said about the present incumbent sitting in 24 Sussex.

        • Goodness no!  Harper is a shrinking violet as a politician. We all know that.

          • The man says very little. He should say more. However, everything that happens you attribute to Harper. That shows his strength as a leader. He doesn’t have to say anything but he gets the glory and the crap. Enjoy the next four years Emily. Maybe the next 8.

          • LOL 60% of this country knows what Harper is, and it’s not pretty.

            So give the John Wayne hype a rest…Harp looks absurd in cowboy duds.

            PS…don’t even count on 4

          • Well, SOMEONE’S in love….

        • I don’t think Layton ever loved the camera to the point of producing a Christmas card with an image of himself admiring images of himself; or a calendar with images of himself for each month, except for May which was reserved for an image of the Queen.

          Did Layton travel with a personal groomer, travelling expenses paid by the citizens of Canada?

          • Oh we are desparate aren’t we?

          • It’s that casting the first stone thing.  You seem to have dropped it on your toe.

          • I thought he’d dropped it on his head, JanBC.

          • That pretty much comes with the territory for a national party leader who isn’t PM. Try again.

          • Leroy_Mouchelette
            Try what again?  Responding to the previous post about Harper’s travel expenses by pointing out Layton’s travel expenses were high as well?

        • The current incumbent – the one with the photo gallery dedicated to himself?

    • I can see how maybe the media coverage comes off as a bit over-the-top, but I just think this is mostly how we’re SUPPOSED to mourn people.  We focus on the good and try to ignore the less good, or the bad.  We focus on accomplishments, not failures.  We focus on what we admired, not what we disagreed with.  This is how we celebrate the lives of those who have passed.  Long-term, Jack Layton’s accomplishments and failings will receive a fair hearing, and we’ll develop an impartial assessment of his impact on the nation.  I think we can take a week to leave that aside and celebrate the man though.

      As for the media coverage being over-the-top, fair enough, but here too I’d cut them some slack.  No Leader of the Official Opposition has died in office since 1919, and Jack Layton is the first LOO to ever die in office having never been PM.  Only two GGs have ever died in office, the last 44 years ago.  Only two PMs have ever died in office, the last in 1894.  Jack Layton’s NDP received more votes than any second place party in the history of Confederation with the sole exception of Trudeau in 1979, who actually WON the popular vote that year (Layton’s NDP did receive more vote than Joe Clark did in 1979, and he became PM).  People at this level of national politics don’t die in office very often.  These things don’t happen everyday, and are therefore accorded a fair amount of coverage.  This will only be the third state funeral in Canada in the 21st Century, and only the 8th in the last 30 years (the 20th since the end of WWII).  The last state funeral was for a man who had been out of office for a decade.  So, I guess I agree that the coverage is a bit over-the-top, I just really don’t have any problem with that.

      • Frankly….you can try and justify the over the top coverage if you like. I call it hypocrisy. Most of us did not give a second thought to Jack Layton and his party until the May 2nd election which was in my opinion an anomaly. In fact Canadians consistently rejected his party and his policies despite the fact that Layton came across as friendly with an engaging smile. 

        The media did not pay attention to Layton and his policies believing most of them sounded good but he would never get a chance to implement them. When they needed an interview or a sound bite they knew Layton was their man. Now the man passes away and it is as if they want to elevate him to sainthood. That is hypocrisy and it should be called out.

        Now a state funeral is not enough they want to give him the title of The Right Honourable. Layton was a crafty politician who was all about self promotion for himself and his party. The fact that he passed away does not change the historical facts.

        • How hard it must have been for you to keep your dignity for those 72 hours.

          • Not at all. I have no problem with my dignity. It is those that are making fools of themselves that should try and show more dignity.

            Layton was a man like many others with strengths and weaknesses. He was not a saint. He was not Martin Luther King Jr. as that foolish man Pat Martin suggested.
            I am of course sad that a person so young has met his untimely end. That’s where it stops. His family, his collegues and his friends have a right to grieve. The rest of us can feel sadness but this over the top coverage and feigned emotion is just too much.

          • Feelings of others that you don’t share are “feigned”?

            How small.

          • Jealousy and insecurity.  Very unattractive.

        • Now, as to the “Right Honourable” notion, I’m not sure how I feel about THAT.

          For me it comes down mostly to Don Mazankowski and Herb Grey.  How close are Layton’s contributions to the nation to those of those two men, and is it close enough (or exceeding them) to be worthy of that honorific?  Ironically, even though it’s “free”, I think I might be more conservative in the distribution of that honorific than I am about the granting of a state funeral (in part because I see the state funeral being almost as much about US as it is about Layton, whereas the honorific is just about Mr. Layton).  I think I’d place Mr. Layton’s contributions to the nation below Herb Grey, but I’m not sure about Mazankowski.

          I’ll have to give that notion some more thought.

          • Now would you mind specifically listing the accomplisments of Jack Layton. Not what he tried to do but a list of his actual accomplishments for the country.

        • There’s that jealous raising it’s ugly head again. 

          • Jealous of what? You are not making any sense.

          • Jack Layton was very popular.  No amount of attacking and bullying is going to make Harper that popular.

          • JanBC…when will you lefties get it. This is not about Stephen Harper. This is about Jack Layton and the over the top coverage of his untimely passing.
            By the way I would not be so sure about Stephen Harper. He may not have the personality of a Jack Layton but people are looking for leadership rather than a guy to have a beer with when it comes to running the country.

            I am not attacking Layton I am just trying to draw attention to the hypocrisy of the media and many people across the country who really had not much use for the NDP even though they liked Layton very much.

    • Over the top? srsly?

      I’m not a Dipper by any means, but I think the public (and media) reaction has been just about right in the sweet spot.

      • You are entitled to your opinion just as I am. We do not have to agree.

  3. I don’t have a problem with the state funeral. It is appropriate. I don’t think Harper did this for any reason other than political however. He knows NDP – specifically Jack Layton himself – gained a ton of support from Canadians and if he doesn’t show sympathy or regard for those Canadians, he has zero chance of them ever hearing his party. This is politics, nothing more. 

    It’s interesting that Layton handed Canada to Harper yet Harper is not present to pay respects in person. That says a lot.

    Regarding the media coverage of Jack Layton’s death….this has been the hardest thing to witness and stay quiet about. As a non-NDP voter, I wish that “letter” had not been released until next week or even this coming weekend. It angered me for it’s partisan basis and did not allow people like me to process this loss. And it is a significant loss for sure.  But it wasn’t until today that I could be in a place for that, because the letter was a slap in the face to me as a voter. THAT I will never forget and it does not endear the NDP to me. For as much criticism as has been hurled at those who spoke against the “letter”, those same judgments could be made for those who used death to play politics. That’s what it feels like and that’s a shame. 

    • I understand this sentiment, and it’s very respectfully put, so thank you for that (some of the comments over at the NP are downright disgusting).

      That said, regarding the letter, I really didn’t see it as all that partisan.  Yes, there’s some politics here and there, but I really didn’t see it as over the top in any way.  To me, most of the criticism of the letter comes off sounding like “How dare Jack Layton fill his last deathbed message to the Canadian people with the opinions, beliefs and hopes of Jack Layton!!!”.

      To me, most of the criticism of Jack’s death, and of honouring him with a state funeral come off as petty.  A lot of critics seem to be saying that they’d be more impressed by Jack Layton’s last days if he’d taken the trouble to stop being Jack Layton just before he died.

      • Nicely put, LKO.

        If ever we were to expect something from Jack – a man who chose to live his life in public because that was part of his mission – it was that his passing would also be public.

        Overall though, the public response – from citizens and media alike – has been overwhelming. Petty criticisms from the hard-hearted and ideologically opposed have been very, very limited.

        Canadians loved Jack. We saw it on May 2nd and, tragically, we’ve seen it again since Monday.

        Vive le bon Jack!

      • Well said. I don’t even care about anything else Layton did…the fact that he delivered the death blow to the Bloc Quebecois, one of the most divisive political forces in our time, is maybe the most positive development to happen in Canadian politics in recent history. In my mind he deserves the Order of Canada for that reason alone. I don’t have one iota of problem with the over the top positive coverage.

    • Careful…you will hurt the left wing sensibilities on this blog.

  4. Beautifully written Aaron. Your mastery of the written word isn’t always immediately apparent on this blog, but when you choose to show it, it’s magnificent.

    • You should read his daily round-ups of the House of Commons when the House is in session.

      They are brilliant. (If you’re reading this, Aaron: Thanks and keep it up.)

  5. This is how we avoid political backlash for not reading properly into the public mood. Di’s death taught the establishment that “something must be done” to assuage grief.

    Personally, I think our national outpouring of pain and sadness over Layton’s death is a bit maudlin. Yep, Canadians loved Jack. They loved him so much they never made him Prime Minister.

    • I think it’s fully possible to respect and admire someone to the fullest extent, while simultaneously reserving judgement on that person’s particular viewpoints and suitability for running a national government.

      Jack Layton had a passionate vision, and managed to pursue that vision without indulging his lesser angels.   I’m a bit prouder of my country for recognizing why that made him great, particularly in an era where cynicism and nihilism are too frequently our habitual starting points.

      The loss so many of us feel is not misplaced, regardless of the (nevertheless impressive) vote tallies we bestowed his party.

      • Well said! 

      • >>I think it’s fully possible to respect and admire someone to the fullest
        extent, while simultaneously reserving judgement on that person’s
        particular viewpoints and suitability for running a national government.<<

        Then I expect cracking thunder, shaking walls and national wailing on an epic, nay, biblical scale, they day Mr. Harper goes to the great beyond.

        • I’d suggest you get out of your house that day then.

  6. So who had 3 days in the “When-Will-Our-Conservative-Friends-Feel-Comfortable-To-Start-Slagging” pool?

    • I had 12 hours. Ms. Blatchford made me a winner.

      • Pretty sure it was less than 12 hours.  Personally, I put it at around the time the letter was released, at which point the letter, rather than the dearly departed among the ranks of its authors, was subjected to some reasonable slagging.  

        On the other hand, the “anti-anti-Jack slagging by the proggies” pool was measured in microseconds.

      • Was it that long before Krusty crawled out?

  7. Olivia looks so sad, my heart goes out to her!

    It was IMHO a good call by the PM to make it a State Funeral, we all are deeply  shocked by his passing, it is so sad, this should have been his time for joy and celebration and hard work for his vision of a better Canada. I did not agree with his vision but that didn’t stop him for being one great and proud Canadian, I personally will miss him!!

  8. Layton to get a musical sendoff … IMAGINE THAT!   

    Imagine if war monger Jack Layton had voted with the Liberals in April of 2007 and we had brought our troops home from Afghanistan in February of 2009 and the 49 men and women listed below [who had more reason to receive a state funeral then Layton ever had] were not killed in Afghanistan after February 2009. 

    Kenneth O’Quinn, Danny Fortin, Dennis Brown, Marc Diab, Scott Vernelli, Corry Haines, Tyler Crooks, Jack Bootheiller, Karine Blais, Michelle Mendes, Alexandre Peloquin, Marin Dube, Charles-Philippe Michaud, Nick Bulger, Marin Joannette, Patrice Audet, Sebastien Courcy, Christian Bobbitt, Mathieu Allard, Yannick Pepin, Jean-Francois Drouin, Patrick Lormand, Jonathan Couturier, Justin Boyes, Steven Marshall, Andrew Nuttall, Kirk Toylor, George Miok, Zachery McCormack, Garrett Chidley, John Faught, Paul Frank, Joshua Baker, Darren Fitzpatrick, Tyler Todd, Craig Blake, Kevin McKay, Geop Parker, Larry Rudd, Martin Goudreault, James MacNiel, Andrew Miller, Kristal Giesebrecht, Brian Collier, Brian Pinksen, Steve Martin, Yannick Scherrer, Karl Manning and Francis Roy. 

    I wonder if war monger Jack Layton even attended one of their funerals or even understood the role his petty political machinations directly played in their deaths?

    Has the whole of the country turned hypocrite?

    • What are you talking about – the NDP did not vote to extend the mission. 

      • Did Mr. Layton whip his caucus vote to bomb Libya? 

  9. That’s a nice piece of writing.  Thank you.

  10. That’s a nice piece of writing.  Thank you.

  11. Public mourning has become so ritualized.  We see the same thing everytime someone famous dies.  But we are seeing some spontaneous expressions like the chalking tributes to Jack at Toronto City Hall.  It is ironic that Jack was a socialist but the current mayor is a conservative.  But I think it is more than politics at work.  When Jack appeared at that press conference people were shocked at how sick he was.  Despite his positive talk it was obvious that he was losing his battle with cancer.  His death came as a surprise to many no doubt.  Death also changes how we see people.  The compassion and the outpouring of feeling for Jack and his  family has been quite wonderful to see.  His achievement during the last election was unprecented.  He and his party did something remarkable.  There has also been a change in how media covers the death of police and politicians.  I’m not sure which drives it but there is greater attention being paid to deaths.  TV coverage brings out a collective response.  We grieve more publicly as a result.  As Canadians we should honour our great politicians and Jack definitely was a great politician and a very colourful personality.

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