The Globe thinks it’s too soon to give Jack Layton the honour of a movie

But it actually should have been a more political project


The Globe’s editorial board extends its collective thumbs downwards.

The concept for a biopic on Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, was a dubious one from the start. Why add to the eulogies now? Why not let more time elapse, to see whether he could be cast as an enduringly significant historical figure, as was the least the case with another recent, flawed CBC biopic of another New Democrat, 2006’s Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story?

New rule: you must be out of office 27 years before a true assessment of your political career can reasonably be hoped to be made.

Why not allow the myth to take shape organically, instead of trying to shape it? In the case of Jack, it is heavy-handed on the part of the CBC. Canadians don’t need the public broadcaster to decide which of its recently deceased politicians merit a mythology.

New rule: there should be a referendum every four years to determine which politician is next portrayed in a CBC movie. Campaigns for potential subjects would have to register as political parties. Attack ads would be encouraged. We could basically re-run entire elections of the past.

It is good that the CBC is supporting Canadian dramatic productions and presenting Canadian stories. This is part of the corporation’s mandate, to tell Canadians about Canadians. The filmmakers should also be lauded for portraying the often overlooked good sides of politicians. They would find the same if they did a biopic of most Canadian federal and provincial politicans of any stripe. Generally speaking, they are motivated by good intentions, even if the policies don’t always match them. They care about their fellow citizens and want to do good things for the country.

New rule: scratch those first two rules and make a movie about every politician who passes away.

So what was the CBC thinking? Jack is a varnished view of Mr. Layton – that is, beyond a few scenes that showed how Torontonians rose up against his welfare-state approach to homelessness and housing generally, when he was a municipal politician. He was resoundingly defeated when he ran for mayor, as the film briefly shows.

But NDP strategists loved the drama, and little wonder, the portion spent on Mr. Layton’s federal legacy is a hagiography, and given how recent many of the events it portrays are, it was an unpaid political advertisement. For example, the biopic offered no hint of his deplorable play for sovereigntist votes by offering Quebec more seats than its population warrants in any redistribution. It was political cynicism at its worst, but Mr. Layton knew what he was doing; it was a tactic to win over voters from the Bloc Québécois, which he succeeded in doing, at least temporarily. The recent defection of one NDP MP to the Bloc suggests the party may regret the strategy in the fullness of time.

As I wrote last week, I think the idea that it was too soon to do a movie about Jack Layton is inherently flawed (and a bit silly). I’m not sure, for instance, if the Globe editorial board would have said it was too soon for The Deal (or its two follow-ups). (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen The Deal. I raise it not to comment on its quality, only its existence.)

The Globe is on more reasonable footing when it argues about what kind of movie Jack turned out to be. Essentially, it seems to me, the editorial board is arguing for a more political movie: a more thorough and thoughtful look at his political career. That’s a fair point. The movie could have, for instance, referenced his suggestion in 2004 that Paul Martin was responsible for the deaths of homeless people (and his subsequent regret about that comment) or the decision to support the Liberal budget in 2005 or the decision to bring down the Liberal government later that year (and the criticism that drew) or the attempted coalition in 2008 (and the controversy that created). It could have explored in detail what led up to the 2011 campaign and then how that breakthrough was executed. That movie might’ve had to be a bit longer, but I would have been very interested to see it. (John Doyle makes a good argument that the political content was far too over-simplified.)

But then that, I think, is actually an argument for more movies about politics, not less: or at least more politically focused movies. A movie probably isn’t made about Jack Layton if his political career doesn’t become a grand human drama that many people found captivating, or at least more interesting than they might otherwise have considered politics to be. And, in that regard, it’s probably not surprising that the movie ended up being written the way it was. If there’s a lost opportunity here, it might be in that the movie wasn’t more focused on the political machinations of its hero’s life and career. Regardless of how his myth might have developed over the next 25 years, I would argue, his career as punctuated by the events of 2011 is worthy of a dramatic rendering: regardless of how you feel about the man, it is an interesting story about politics.

We could probably stand to have more such movies (something on the Martin-Chretien wars, perhaps?). We could just generally benefit from a wider and more varied airing of politics and political stories in general. And any impulse that such subjects are not to be broached around the national dinner table should be overcome.


The Globe thinks it’s too soon to give Jack Layton the honour of a movie

  1. Mr.Layton was just another politician. Don’t know why he’s considered to be so different from any other Canadian politician. Hey, it is easy to proclaim anything while not forming government, and since Jack had never even come close to forming government, he could have promised anything and everything.

    Layton supporters are mainly dreamers. The reality of forming government would have changed Layton and the way he was seen. No doubt about that. Since he never really had to prove himself, I don’t understand what the movie sets out to prove to Canadians.

    • After watching some of that Manning festival of conservative ideology, it is hard to argue the NDP have a monopoly on dreaming.

      • I don`t know if you have noticed, but the conservative ideology started by Manning has resulted in six plus years of steady Conservative government and probably followed by many more..
        The culmination of the NDP dream was in 2011, when promises made to separatists in Quebec resulted in 60% of their seats.

        • With two successive progrations under its belt, mostly to avoid a vote of confidence, one could hardly describe the past 6 years under this government as “steady.” Really.

  2. The Globe is, like most other things in this country, behind the times.

    • Do you think Macleans is, like most other things in this country, behind the times?

    • As are you, my dear.

      • Do Cons have anything to say beyond tea party gossip and backbiting?

        • That reply is as sensible as “I like pizza” would have been.

          • Don’t any of you have anything better to do than attack other posters on here?

            Like…you know…address the topic?

          • Wow, that’s rich coming from you. I may have to go lie down.

          • Please do. Hopefully it’ll clear your mind.

            And restore your literacy.

          • As opposed to, you know, groundlessly attacking someone else, like the Globe and Mail.
            That would really be `backbiting’.

          • Perhaps you could look up the word ‘backbiting’, instead of misusing it like that.

            Also you could check your use of ‘groundlessly’.

            The movie is already made….it’s out….people have seen it! It’s certainly behind the times to run an editorial disagreeing with the idea of making one NOW.

            Crikey, some Canadians have more snark than sense.

          • *Perhaps you could look up the word ‘backbiting’, instead of misusing it like that. also you could check your use of ‘groundlessly’.*
            Really, is that necessary?

          • I get tired of snark for snark’s sake.

  3. I thought the movie was alright. For my tastes it leaned to much towards the man and not enough towards the politician. The lack of any real coverage of his federal career until 2011 hurt, because I think what he did over those eight years allowed the orange crush to happen. Perhaps that’s just personal tastes, but if CBC is going to be making movies, one wonders whether it should be done to tell our stories, and if the Layton story merits consideration in our national consciousness it seems to me that the political side is of more importance than the personal one.

  4. They gave Olivia’s mother the best lines … should have had more.
    The lady has a future.

  5. I kind of agree. Jack was a guy who gave Canadians four chances to make him Prime Minister and was rejected each time. A few years from now I could look back a wonder about the what ifs, like many do with Robert Stanfield. It seems too close to the multiple rejections to lionize him. At least if we pretend to have any respect for those voters who chose other paths. Including those who kept him from the T.O. Mayor’s office.

  6. Why not allow the myth to take shape organically, instead of trying to shape it?


    Coming from any large media outlet, that is somewhat rich. The Globe knows it’s actions will shape as much as the CBCs.

  7. Yeah, let`s have more movies of the week CBC—just like that gem you made about Jack.

    Why wait until your lefty friends die—How about one about Lizzie May—you could just have her speak for two hours—now that would be exciting.

    And Justin deserves a movie—just show him brushing his hair while giving a speech to a Grade Six—for a fee.

    Oh, and that retired PBO guy—Page, I think—a movie about him would be every bit as spine-tingling as Jack.

    • Poor widdle Conservative victim…is that nasty CBC out to get you?

    • All Canadians should read this comment. Then they would realize how nasty most Conservatives really are — and would never vote for them again. Unfortunately, Preston Manning tells them to shut up, and Harper does it for them: ensuring they never speak to the press unless they read a scripting message. What do Conservatives have to hide? Everything.

      • Take a pill, friend. A bit of ribbing is not `nastiness’.
        You want to see real nasty, go over and read all the `Harpercon’ critics – like nommymouse – over the Full Comment blog. To give you a taste, this particular individual, completely unprompted, libellously stated that I am subscriber to the NAMBLA newsletter. And under the cover of anonmymity, of course.
        But I guess that they don’t count in your universe, because they aren’t `Conservatives.’

  8. Considering the Globe`s attitude towards Mr. Layton while he lived, this complaint borders on a conflict of interest.

  9. The G&M is a right-of-center, pro-business publication. Anyone familiar with it gets they don’t think too highly of the NDP.

    But the reality is Jack Layton inspired voters like no other politician has done in a long time. He defeated the Liberals and Bloc when no one seen it coming running on a positive campaign. If Canada had a democratic voting system, Layton would’ve become PM in a NDP-Liberal coalition comprising 50% of the vote and 53% of the seats (according to the G&M using a runoff voting simulation.)

    Instead, we got a Harper fake majority a super-majority was opposed to because a 40% minority of right-leaning voters feel the NDP leading a minority government is equivalent to Armageddon.

    • *But the reality is Jack Layton inspired voters like no other politician has done in a long time. He defeated the Liberals and Bloc when no one seen it coming running on a positive campaign.*

      Let’s have none of this hagiography about `positive’ campaigner Jack Layton.
      He once stated that the Liberals were responsible for the `murder’ of homeless people, and in a survey done in 2010, I believe, measuring incivility in the House of Commons, Layton came in first.

      I’m sorry that Layton succumbed to a disease the character of which, still isn’t being made public.

      However, he was a politician just like any other – and from objective measures – was worse in terms of uncivil rhetoric than all others.

      Note on the `democratic voting system’: we actually do have one, newsflash;

      second, whose to say if all those who voted for the Liberals and NDP in 2011, would have voted that way if they believed that Jack Layton would be made PM?
      Many would not have, and parenthetically, your `democratic’ voting system – even exclusing the above certainty (ie. Liberals voting conservative due to the threat of Layton becoming PM), it would have seen Layton as premier with 30% of the vote.
      That’s some `democracy’ your touting there friend.

      It turns out that the so-called `Orange Crush’ was purchased almost entirely through Layton and the NDP’s pandering to Quebec nationalist voters.

      Which makes your version of the `democratic voting system’ even more pathetic: a Layton premiership with a plurality of NDP in just one province – Quebec (not even a majority of votes there, mind you, just a plurality, 43%).

      • “Let’s have none of this hagiography about `positive’ campaigner Jack Layton.
        He once stated that the Liberals were responsible for the `murder’ of homeless people, and in a survey done in 2010, I believe, measuring incivility in the House of Commons, Layton came in first.”
        Bingo. Layton accused Paul Martin of murdering homeless people. Layton was a sanctimonious, self-righteous windbag. Now, Layton’s hoovering acolytes are doing to Jack exactly what Jack would have wanted for himself — elevating him to sainthood via a TV hagiography. It was one thing for Layton to be so incredibly sanctimonious — it’s quite another for his followers to have bought so heavily into it.

  10. I don’t have a problem with Layton’s politics (or at least not enough of a problem to hate the guy like some), but I do have a problem with political hero worship like this. So, when I heard this flick was coming out, I cringed — and I certainly had no intention of watching it. But, you make a good point: there should more movies about Canadian politics (though as a political junkie I might be biased on that point).

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