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The Commons: Jack Layton doing as Jack Layton does

In all sorts of ways, it’s difficult to imagine him ever stopping


 

It was perhaps a bit odd that Jack Layton’s disclosure last week that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer would be cause for consideration of his political career and public life to date. He is by no means doomed and is entirely likely to make a full recovery. But perhaps we in this culture crave any opportunity to pause for reflection.

As it is, Mr. Layton seems more inclined to carry on, showing up this afternoon to explain how and why the next session of Parliament should be dedicated, sort of like the Titanic, to putting “women and children first.” Here was Jack Layton as he is, and seemingly as he always has been: insistent and demanding and righteous and demanding, for the most part, to be greeted without irony.

There are, of course, those who do not take Mr. Layton all that seriously. He does, if nothing else, seem to occupy a particular status all his own. (As tangential as it may seem, consider that no one refers to the Liberal leader as Michael or the Prime Minister as Stephen, but that the NDP leader is known almost universally as Jack: a first-name basis that is only otherwise ever bestowed upon female politicians and is often viewed, in those cases, as somewhat demeaning.) Perhaps it is his self-seriousness and indignation or his eagerness to claim, with a straight face, a consistent purity of purpose. Maybe it is his party’s insistence that it is and will be, against all conventional wisdom and historical result, something more than Parliament’s fourth party. Perhaps, it is simply that he is a bald man with a moustache.

Whatever it is, there is something a bit funny about Jack Layton. And yet, however that may be, he carries on, seemingly without concern: a talented and dogged politician, who, two weeks ago, celebrated the seventh anniversary of his winning the NDP leadership.

“Recently, the Prime Minister indicated a newfound interest in maternal and child health in developing nations. Well, I’m going to take Mr. Harper at his word and encourage this initiative,” he said this afternoon. “But if Canada is going to lead, then we’ve got to be credible. And that means the government cannot continue to overlook the worsening plight of women and children right here in Canada.”

He sketched out an agenda of employment insurance reform, pay equity, a full inquiry into the 520 missing or murdered Aboriginal women, nutrition, early childhood learning, student debt relief and job training, much of it tied to the theme of economic recovery and restructuring. He was equally wonkish and folksy, serious and hopeful. He strained for eye contact with the smattering of reporters present and periodically stared into the cameras at the back of the room. In a big blue tie and a suit jacket that seemed a bit roomy, he leaned forward and engaged in a sort of sign language puppet show meant to better convey his verbs and metaphors. He called, by name, on his fellow party leaders to join him.

“Mr. Harper, Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Duceppe, there’s no shortage of good ideas here. If Canadians are tired of the old politics, and I think they really are, the old politics of division, let’s see if we can’t find common ground to get something done,” he said at the close of his prepared remarks. “Let’s give the new politics a fair shot and let’s put women and children first in the next session of politics.”

Even if it you’re tempted to dismiss the man, it is difficult to take issue with the words.

Reporters had been told beforehand that he might not be terribly interested in answering questions about his health. The questions came anyway. “How are you feeling?” one member of the gallery asked.

“I’m feeling good,” Layton said, grinning. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” he added, laughing.

Would he be carrying on with his typical schedule and workload?

“I certainly hope so. That’s the plan.”

It was wholly odd to see Mr. Layton expressing himself so succinctly. When the questions returned to his preferred topic for the day, he once more burst forth.

“I would say that the credibility of Canada is at stake,” he ventured. “When we put an issue such as maternal and children’s health on the table in the global sense, I think that in order to have some credibility we have to show that we’re taking action at home. So with the poverty rate that we have, with the inequalities that exist here, it’s very difficult to show that we practice what we preach … Mr. Harper has to establish this credibility because it does not exist as we speak.”

He was asked if he doubted the Prime Minister’s sincerity. He said he did not and was, in fact, eager to work with him.

He was challenged on this. Surely, it was suggested, just by making this announcement he was implicitly casting doubt on the Prime Minister’s sincerity. “No, what I’m doing is saying that if we want to demonstrate that he’s serious about this issue and that it’s more than just a press release, then we’ve got to take some action here,” Mr. Layton said. “And what I’m doing is extending the hand and the ideas and saying, ‘let’s work on this together.’ ”

Someone wondered aloud what hope he could possibly have that the country and its leaders were ready to deal seriously and sincerely with child poverty. “Well, we keep pushing and we keep advancing our ideas,” Mr. Layton responded. “It took Tommy Douglas a couple decades to get medicare into Canada and we’re not hesitant to keep bringing ideas forward.”

In all sorts of ways, it’s difficult to imagine him ever stopping.


 

The Commons: Jack Layton doing as Jack Layton does

  1. Good for Jack. He's a tough fighter and I'm sure he'll win his battle with prostate cancer.

    • Actually he has to do this until June. That is when all those NDP members who were elected in the last two elections finally qualify for their parliamentary pensions.

      • I don't think as many MPs as you would like are losing sleep over a potential spring election.
        I've seen that come up a few times, and when I saw some of the names on that list, I decided to check what the election results were.
        Here is what I came up with: http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B-DsnvriOQk4Z

        It shows the percentage of the vote and the spread in percentage points to the runner up. For convenience, I bolded the MPs who won with less than 10 points ahead of the runner-up.

  2. Good for Jack, and good for all of us. He's absolutely right, and this is exactly what I would want the NDP to be doing right now.

  3. Jack vs. Cancer… my money's on Jack.

  4. Well done, Jack. He's right that we're tired of divisive politics. Good policy ideas are just what we need right now.

  5. Let me try to say it another way:

    Good for Mr. Layton. He's a tough fighter and I'm sure he'll win his battle with prostate cancer.

    Good for Layton, and good for all of us. He's absolutely right, and this is exactly what I would want the NDP to be doing right now.

    Mr. Layton vs. Cancer… my money's on Layton.

    Hmmmm. Just. Doesn't. Feel. Right.

  6. I have nothing but well wishes for Jack Layton, but lets not frame cancer as a disease that the more tenacious among us can somehow prevail over through sheer will alone. It's something of a disservice to the many stong individuals who succumb to the various killer strains of cancer.

    Yes, mental attitude is important, but a lot of survival comes down to baseline health, stage of detection, and some degree of chance (or unknowns).

  7. Id rather be called "Jack" than "Iggy." I guess I'm just funny that way.

    • Clearly Mr. Haper prefers to be addressed as Prime Minister and thankfully enough Ccanadians seem to agree to keep it that way for the spring session at least :)

  8. Perhaps, it is simply that he is a bald man with a moustache.

    Cruel, Wherry. Funny, but cruel.

  9. "a full inquiry into the 520 missing or murdered Aboriginal women"

    Oh great. Indians hate us enough as it is and already, thanks to the media and Liberals/NDP, think we committed genocide against them, now Jack wants to take race hustling to a new level.

    The Indian on other crime rate in Canada is orders of magnitude higher than the reverse. This proposed inquiry would float the fantasy and give the false impression that Indians are largely victims of crime, rather than deal with the reality that is extremely high levels of crime perpetrated by Indians against non-Indians.

    For example, while Indians make up only 11% of Saskatchewan residents, they make up over 80% of incarcerated inmates, and that's with "two-tiered" sentencing guidelines by judges which divert Indians from prison sentences, keep in mind. From a gender perspective, men are still far more likely to be victims of homicide and violent crime than women, contrary to the impression Jack Layton wants to give you.

    So here's my suggestion: a Royal Commission on the Systemic Use Of Violence And Crime By Indians To Terrorize Non-Indian males In Canada. If Layton wants to race and gender hustle I say we up the ante and do this.

    • Do you even realize how racist you are?

  10. Mr. Layton seems to equate the battle to survive cancer with the political battle to win an election. He states dogmatically with reference to his prostate cancer, "I'm going to beat this."
    With all due respect to Mr. Layton and with sincere wishes for a complete recovery, how can he be certain that he is indeed going to beat this?
    Having a positive attitude to illness is certainly commendable but a little humility is in order in a situation like this, is it not?
    Do I detect a touch of arrogance here or is this just a misdirected attempt to prove how tough or "macho" he thinks he is?
    He takes apparent comfort in the fact that his father "beat" prostate cancer. All well and good, but he neglected to mention that his dad died of another illness.
    Mr Layton comes across as thinking he is in complete control of his destiny. He is not.

    • Yes. Hope certainly is a major character fault.

  11. "Let's give the new politics a fair shot and let's put women and children first in the next session of politics.”

    I'm completely in agreement on this…but isn't it kind of sexist? Where's the feminist outrage at such outdated notions of chivalry?

    • Heh, I'll be really mad if he just means open doors and such for me, won't I?

      • Just for some perspective, imagine what would happen to a politician who said something like "Let's put men and children first in the next session of politics."

        Even considering that male employment was disproportionately affected in the current downturn, I don't think any politician would dare to utter such a statement. But switch it to "women and children" and it's a political winner!

        • 'imagine what would happen to a politician who said something like "Let's put men and children first in the next session of politics."'

          It would be a non-sensical statement, as it would be, oh, every session of Parliament ever. (Especially if we said, "let's put white, anglo men and upper-class children first.")

          • Well, it would have the benefit of novel honesty going for it.

  12. We all wish Jack Luck.But lets not make this another great prorogue story this cancer strikes every day along with many other types.the trouble with the media they dote over a story until it becomes a pain in the ass.Good luck to Jack and any other person in this unfortunate state.

  13. Good on ya, Jack. We're all behind him, and wish him a speedy recovery.
    On the tangent, it makes one wonder- Tommy Douglas will always be, in my mind, 'Tommy Douglas'- not Mr. Douglas- but at the same time, the other politician I hold in the highest esteem, Lester B Pearson, I would never think of as 'Lester'. I suppose, then, that what we address politicians as has less to do with our opinions of them and more to do with their approachability.

  14. Good on ya, Jack. We're all behind him, and wish him a speedy recovery.
    On the tangent, it makes one wonder- Tommy Douglas will always be, in my mind, 'Tommy Douglas'- not Mr. Douglas- but at the same time, the other politician I hold in the highest esteem, Lester B Pearson, I would never think of as 'Lester'. I suppose, then, that what we address politicians as has less to do with our opinions of them and more to do with their approachability.

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