Jack Layton looked a little underslept. For sure, fundamentally altering the political reality of a country over the course of a couple weeks can be tiring. And there’s no telling how late he had to stay up last night sorting out who all he had managed to get elected in the process. (Those undergrads in Montreal are probably going to need notes from their new boss if they hope to be excused from their next four years of classes.)
“We’ve been given a job to do by Canadians,” he said, “which is to drive home the notion that politics has to be done differently in Ottawa. And that the interests of families have to be put first. We have some very particular goals that we have established through this campaign that we now have a very significant mandate to pursue.”
He looked more serious than he had a day before, or maybe it’s just that we are now compelled to take him more seriously. Indeed, here the questions came furious and insistent and nagging.
What, for instance, of those students who now have seats reserved for them in the House of Commons?
“Yes, we have some young people,” he conceded. “But you know young people got involved in this election in an unprecedented way. I think it was very exciting. And the fact that some of these young people have now been chosen by the members of their constituency to be their voice, I think we should see that as something to celebrate, not something to criticize.”
All right, but what of Ruth Ellen Brousseau, the waitress now elected as the NDP member for Las Vegas?
“I know Madame Brousseau is going to work very hard,” he said. “And, look, I respect the decisions of the people of Quebec. They have chosen these people to be their representatives. And we should all respect that. I certainly do.”
He was ready for these questions. Whether he and Ms. Rousseau are ready for these next four years remains a matter of some debate.
Indeed, the light of day has really only exposed the questions raised by the night before.
The Liberal party seems somehow even more doomed. Without it, the middle of the nation’s politics, as Michael Ignatieff observed on bidding adieu this morning, has dropped out, taking the Bloc Quebecois with it. Only polar opposites remain. And while the uncertainty of minority government is gone, the pitched disagreements and questions of principle remain unresolved. If Mr. Harper is barely more popular than he was three years ago, what does it mean that he is now profoundly more powerful? Mr. Layton may be wildly more popular, but to what end? For all of his talk of a mandate, what has he won and what will he be able to do with it?
“It’s a question of working with people all across the country,” he said, “to apply as much pressure as we can to the Harper Conservatives.”
“I said that I was going to work to try to make politics different in Ottawa,” he explained.
Meet the new NDP, a lot like the old NDP, only a little harder to ignore now.
“We’re a 50-year-old party that has served this country well over decades. We have served in government right across the country in different provinces and I think we’ve demonstrated that we’re a serious, long-term contributor to the wellbeing of Canadians. We wouldn’t have medicare if it hadn’t been for the CCF/NDP. We wouldn’t have had the Canada Pension Plan if it hadn’t been for our political movement,” Mr. Layton ventured. “And so I’m thrilled about the opportunities that now are before us with this very significantly larger caucus.”
This caucus-measuring contest aside, the moment is ripe with both opportunity and heavy with responsibility.
“I gave my granddaughter Beatrice a big hug,” he said of what he’d done when it became clear what his party had achieved. “This is really all about her and about the future generations. It’s what motivates us all, no matter what party… we really are going to try to make a better world for our kids and our grandchildren. So that was very close to my heart when I saw those results. And I take it as a huge responsibility, just like any parent or grandparent would.”
He best go get some rest.