The Commons: To believe -

The Commons: To believe

Aaron Wherry on Jack Layton’s final day on the campaign trail


Just after midnight, at something like 39,000 feet—the reporters at the back of the plane, taken with the elation that comes as a long journey nears an end, having turned this cross-cross country flight into a giddy party—he danced to Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Eight hours later, having landed in Montreal six and a half hours earlier, Jack Layton boarded a bus that bears a gigantic likeness of his face and set off for a market downtown. Upon arrival he disembarked and was greeted by a man who proclaimed him the next prime minister of Canada and handed him two miniature flags. Strolling the scene, with Thomas Mulcair and the local candidate keeping close, he paused at a fruit stand and accepted a slice of watermelon. A woman stopped him and asked him to take a picture with her daughters and their dog. He cooed over an infant and purchased some dates. The proprietor of a cheese shop stepped outside to shake his hand.

Across the street then and into the middle of a mob that waited to hear him.

“You have an historic opportunity here,” he told them.


So how did we get here? What’s already happened and what happens now?

Three weeks ago, this endeavour seemed doomed—even more doomed that it has always seemed. This was a two-man race and neither of those men were Jack Layton. As he hobbled around the country on a cane, the end of his political career seemed to be coming into view on the horizon.

And then something happened. And even if we cannot know precisely what that something was or is, we can know it occurred. Because here we are. In a place that seems entirely different, entirely new.

Well, almost entirely. One thing seems not to have changed: Jack Layton. The crowds may be larger, the mood may be happier, the momentum may seem completely reversed. But here is Jack Layton, sounding pretty much as he always has.

Sure, his colour has returned and his weight seems mostly back and maybe the past year has aged him more than 12 months normally would. Maybe he looks wiser now. Maybe that cane gives him gravitas—that look of experience and injury and persistence. Maybe he carries himself now with a certain serenity. Or maybe that’s just perception. Maybe it’s just that the opinion polls seem to match his words and his smile. Because mostly this is Jack Layton, same as he ever was. Never mind who’s laughing now. Jack Layton has never not been smiling and laughing. He has never not been talking about some future, however far off, when he would have something to smile and laugh about. He has been building that damn house for eight years now.

And yes we all laughed. And surely this is all now a bit disorienting. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Not him. Not those believed in him. Not everyone else who never thought anything would ever change.

But everyone understands that something might happen. Something to make real the something that has already happened. And that is, well, something.


The crowd in Kingston filled the sidewalks on either side of the road and spilled into the street. The police had to clear a path for traffic. They chanted and cheered and awaited his arrival. They applauded a tour group’s passing bus, mistaking it for his.

When the bus with his face did arrive and he disembarked, he told them there was reason to believe, that a “spirt of hope” had taken hold across the country. “It’s our opportunity to do this,” he said.

To Oshawa then, where 200 people stood outside a campaign office in the rain. He was late, but they lingered. He stepped inside and told the crowd there that it was time to make a “real change” and then he stepped out and repeated his appeal for those waiting in the drizzle under umbrellas.

They waited in Toronto too, under the streetlights. He was late and they lingered. Another 200 people, standing around in the rain, spilling over the sidewalk. The bus with his face pulled up alongside and they pressed in close and he addressed them from the vehicle’s steps. “Are you ready to make some change happen?” he asked. “PM Jack! PM Jack!” they chanted. He pulled his wife on board and gave her a kiss.

Finally then, as the end of the 37th day neared, to Scarborough—now 12 hours and 500 kilometres removed from Montreal. Inside Emily Carr Public School, 600 people had filled a tiny gymnasium to its capacity. The local candidate introduced the next prime minister of Canada and Mr. Layton bounded on to the platform to a great roar.

He told this crowd what he has told anyone who would listen. About the winds of change that are blowing. About how Ottawa is broken. About the choice Canadians now realize they have. About hiring doctors and creating jobs and capping credit card rates and preserving retirement security and “leadership you can trust.” He joked and he laughed with a crowd that seemed to want to respond.

“But, my friends,” he said, “in these last few days, bring change to Ottawa isn’t up to me. It’s up to you.”

“Yes!” the crowd called back.

“It starts with a vote,” he said. “Your vote.”

He asked them to bring their friends and family and whoever else they can find. He reminded them of everything they can choose and then he made his pledge one last time.

“You where I stand. You know I’m a fighter,” he said, seeming to draw the moment out a bit more than usual. “And I won’t stop until the job is done.”

They roared again.

“So let’s get out there and make it happen,” he called, thrusting a fist into the air.

He leaned over to meet the out-stretched hands all around him. He appeared delighted with everything.

From the speakers blared Sloan’s Believe in Me. Really, it’s all he’s ever asked.


The Commons: To believe

  1. Could be the Flora Syndrome too, because as you say Layton hasn't said or done anything differently this time than he ever has.

    We may yet end up right back where we started from when the election was called.

    • I highly doubt that Quebecer's are going to flock back to the BQ tomorrow. I'd be shocked if the BQ ended up with much more than 20 seats.

      • They may never have intended to flock to the NDP in the first place….we won't know until tomorrow night.

        • I never would have taken you for a poll-denier, Emily. Do you really think that >40% of the Quebec population is lying to pollsters for kicks? Do you think they'll all have second thoughts the moment they reach the ballot box, even after they've confirmed Layton's numbers with the Leadership index?

          The BQ is getting creamed today.

          • There have been some curious shifts from the Quebec polls during past elections, but nothing of the scale contemplated here. I would very much like to see the Bloc get creamed, but it's true to say we'll have to wait to see what actually happens.

          • Denying which poll? They've been all over the map, so we have no idea which one ….if any….is accurate.

            If the BQ gets creamed today, I'll be very happy about it….but I'd never base it on the dog's breakfast the polls have turned into.

          • The polls have been eerily close when it comes to Quebec. The average of all the daily polls for Quebec is the NDP around 40% and the BQ around 25%. The spread appears to be between 13-17% over the past 48 hours, although some have it as high as 20%.

            It's the rest of the country that have had polls all over the place, although the national average has been pretty consistent for the past few days as well. Ontario polls have been so crazy that it's a complete unknown at this point.

          • Yesterday alone….

            Conservative-NDP gap narrows to three points in dwindling hours of campaign: EKOS
            •Final CP-Harris Decima poll: Tories lead by six per cent, majority possible
            •iPolitics-EKOS poll: CPC, 34.6, NDP, 31.4 … and a final forecast tonight at 10 p.m.
            •NDP, Tories in virtual dead heat, either party could form minority government, says Forum Research
            •Majority barely an option, Official Opposition up for grabs as final polls roll in
            •Abacus Poll: CPC 37, NDP 32, LPC 18
            •Gap between Tories, NDP narrows to 6 points in 11th-hour Nanos polling
            •Compas poll sees Tory majority, NDP official opposition
            •Nanos Leadership: Layton ahead of Harper on Index, Ignatieff a distant third

            Plus of course, it all depends on getting people out to vote.

          • The interpretations have been pretty crazy, no question. The headlines don't reflect that the actual results aren't too far off from each other. The problem is that the seat distribution is impossible to predict right now, so similar polling results give much different seat results in various projections. Which is why tonight is going to be so darned fun.

          • Yup…poll numbers and seat distribution are often two very different things.

            And really, in spite of all the talk and travel….the election is won or lost today by getting the vote out.

          • The pouring rain today in Ontario might not help things :(

            EDIT: Oops, that's only in Eastern Ontario. It looks like the GTA is pretty dry, so it might be a good turnout.

          • I was gonna say….! It's bright and sunny where I am in the deep south. LOL

          • Montreal is damp today, so if there was ever a set of circumstances in which the ground game might influence the vote, I suppose it would be there. However, I think the spread is still just too high in Montreal for the ground operation to influence it, even with rain.

            Quebec City looks to start getting wet around 7PM, but if it holds off for an hour longer it wouldn't impact much of anything.

          • People often need to be 'reminded' as well, with the offer of a ride, so it comes down to organization and volunteers.

          • Here's a summary of the problems the BQ will have with the 'ground game' in Quebec. This will be no different than other parties there as well. They'll all be giving NDP voters a reminder without even knowing it.

            In Quebec, the Bloc Québécois's lists of supporters now may be junk: The party canvassed to identify its voters before Jack Layton's sudden, surprising rise after the April 13 French leaders debate. Now, the party fears that if it urges those on its supporters' list to go to the polls, it will be getting out the vote for Jack Layton. The party has turned to the provincial Parti Québécois to help identify hard-core separatists who are more likely to stick with it, officials said.

          • Good point…but you run that risk in any election….you could be driving a vote for someone else to the polls.

            I wish we had enumeration again….the voting lists are a mess everywhere.

  2. " They applauded a tour group's passing bus, mistaking it for his."

    The NDP have had all the best lines up till now; the funnest anyway. Candidates on holiday, candidates missing in action and candidates running in Quebec who can't speak French[ apparently] The only way i could be happier is if the rhinos were this close…oh,and my own damn party of underachievers.
    It seems to be the dippers time to shine, and Duceppe can't seem to catch a break – he even had no choice but to take delivery of the only bus available to him[ so i heard second hand…is it true?] A bright orange
    My feeling is even the sordid bath house story is going to help Jack. CC check-up was littered with folks claiming to be tories who couldn't make up their minds before that broke…and they aint going to the libs.
    Guess i'll jump on board this bus if it's headed to reform land until my party heals or joins me…i just hope the wheels don't fall off?

    • Vote for who you think is right, not every passing bandwagon.

      • I'm voting strategically in my riding to keep the tories out. I'd love to vote for the lib. He's agood guy and particularly well qualified for the job. Dilemma! Luckily the incumbent is equally qualified and a dipper. What do you suggest i do?
        Thx but i wont take that advise – not in this particular election. I'll hold my nose and vote with my head. I'm not proposing to join the enemy party…er dippers in any case.

        • Strategic voting in Ont got us Bob Rae by accident in 1990, so I've been leery of it ever since.

    • Duceppe's bus was parked in front of my apartment yesterday afternoon (currently live in Laurier-Ste Marie) and I can confirm it was Bloc blue with a large image of Duceppe's face on the side.

      Now I'm just waiting to see if he will still be my MP tomorrow.

      Wow this is exciting.

      • TimesArrow is correct in that he was stuck with a 417 Bus Lines vehicle from Ontario for a few days, and it was NDP orange.

  3. Perhaps I'm just in denial, for they are not my party, and I still cannot fathom why the NDP are growing in popularity, but I remain convinced this surge will dissipate without achieving any of these lofty predictions being discussed, of placing first or second, in seats and/or popular vote. Needless to say, I will be watching the results either in the triumph of vindication, or shaking my head in amazement and disbelief.

    • Even if the orange wave doesn't break as high as it's predicted to – the political mold has likely been broken for good in this country. Or at the very least an electoral cycle or two. This is good for everyone. For young people and jaded ones like me. It's even good in a backhanded way for the LPC. Most of all it's a huge repudiation of the take no prisioners style of SH – it may even hasten the end of his career. Although i'll admit he's a pretty resilient guy.

  4. "So how did we get here? What's already happened and what happens now?"

    Are you with NDP now, Wherry? You must be more comfortable now, hanging out with the comrades and all.

    Today's the day when we find out whether Canadian electorate is Lucy, we have our football, and we are wondering if Charlie (NDP) can come out and play or will Canadians vote NDP for first time.

    Good luck NDP – hope you eat Libs lunch today.

    I predict Con majority – just maybe 167/58 seats – and NDP around 70 seats and Libs about 55.

    • Poor, conbots. Polish up that empty resume, conboys and congirls, you're going to be needing it very soon.

  5. He cooed over an infant and purchased some dates.

    no comment

    • This time he purchased the kind of dates you can eat. Oops, I mean he purchased the kind of dates that are edible….

  6. So, the choices are, when our pencils are hovering over the ballot today:

    A control freak, whose wife would be a more agreeable choice for the PMO. An economic sham-'stability' that cannotbe sustained over the next 4-5 years. A fiscally irrational commitment to an air defense that will be obsolete by 2020, and is a bad deal on the face of it. A fiddling with internal documents which nevertheless entail public policy and allocation of monies, that would be considered forgery at least, and certainly shows a culture of careless document management. A proroguing unwillingness to live within the just means of a minority government. There was a certain Austrian paperhanger with the same attitude. A willingness to abuse the name of the RCMP for the sake of party optics, to the smearing of Helena Guergis, who, along with us, deserved a complete explanation and was truculently refused even an apology.

    The we have an endlessly shape-shifting academic who wants to play politician, and refuses to be reconciled to his natural delivery: dry, leaden, recondite prose that would grace the delivery of a Conrad Black or a Henry Kissinger. Who takes no advice save that of his wife who, having no citizenship here, would tell her husband what she thinks Canadians want to hear, and how they would like to hear it. Simply not an option.

    Then there's Jack. And to paraphrase a famous statesman's assessment of democracy: It's a terrible system, except the alternatives are worse.

      So there's Jack, and that's all we have.

    • Pretty good until you referenced Godwin…stops me dead everytime…pity you can't edit it.

  7. This have been an incredible election campaign, and Aaron has proven to be the most unbiased of all Canadian journalists. (not to Macleans – no might be a good time to create an opening for a journalist who can, at the very least, once a month, write an article without a heavy slant.)

    Putting the leaders aside, as well as the "orange wave", has anyone looked closely at the NDP candidates that are running? Have the people jumping on the 'bandwagon' even looked at the NDP platform? If the NDP even comes close to the % of the vote that some are predicting, it will almost prove there are huge flaws in our democracy. It could only be more obvious if this were happening with the communist party, or something of that stature. Then it would be apparent.

  8. You can't discount the subliminal. The guy looks like a retired colonel of the Indian
    colonial police .. ramrod straight, profoundly cheerful in a pip! pip! sort of way, solid
    as a rock .. years of exposure to Masterpiece Theatre propaganda matters… and,
    of course, the cane.

    • I for one will raise a chota-peg to the colonel if he comes even close to what the pollsters predict.

  9. And that's the most delicious irony of all…Harper should win handily…he wont…the electorate don't care anymore. A good number – many more than he anticipated – are laughing at him.

  10. I am well aware of what democracy means. That is why I was commenting on how this shows it's flaws. Nothing to do with people voting for a party that I don't like, but to do with people voting with no idea of what or who they are voting for. There was a NDP lady who's manager at work didn't even know she was running, who went to Vegas during the election, and has now won. That is the flaw I meant.

    You don't have to take everything as a personal insult, that needs to be argued. I didn't say anything other than the truth.

  11. No, you didn't say the truth.

    The problem is with our voters who aren't taking the time to look at the candidates, and are instead voting based on party platform (unlikely) or simply on media hype.

    But it's not with democracy.. that's working just fine and we end up getting the government we deserve.