So where are we? What are we doing? Where are we going? Where is this going?
Strictly speaking, we are in Courtenay, British Columbia. And Jack Layton is on a platform in the middle of a high school gymnasium. And he is claiming that “change is possible.” “We can do better,” he says. “We do have a choice.” He is surrounded on all sides by people holding signs that read “Together” and “We Can Do This.”
At present, it is 6:40pm by Pacific Standard Time on Friday evening. Polls here will open in 60 hours and 20 minutes. They will close 12 hours after that. And maybe a few hours after that we will know what is. But right now we can only know what might be.
And right now, anything is possible.
Specifically, two things are possible. It is possible that Stephen Harper will emerge from this campaign with a majority government. And it is possible that Jack Layton will emerge from this campaign with the words “prime minister” in front of his name. Different people for different reasons will find one or both of these things inconceivable, but both the former and the latter are, at this moment, entirely possible. Neither may come to pass, but either could happen. And so one must conclude that everything is possible.
And so here is Jack Layton, standing outside that high school, surrounded by microphones held by people who want to know about what might have happened 16 years ago and what it might mean. He looks disappointed. He pauses to make sure everyone is ready for him to say what he has to say and then he speaks. He looks forward, but he does not look at any of the people in front of him.
“It’s unfortunate to see the smear campaign starting in these last few days of the campaign,” he says. “Absolutely nothing wrong was done, there’s no wrongdoing here, but yet the smears start. You know, this is why a lot of people get turned off politics and don’t even want to get involved. And I think it’s very unfortunate.”
Outside, it’s cold and windy and grey. Inside, there is a crowd waiting for him.
“What we’ll do is we’ll keep pressing ahead with calling for real change in Ottawa. Because frankly, this is the kind of thing that a lot of people say is wrong in Ottawa politics today,” he says. “So we’re just going to keep up the campaign right through to the end and call for that change. Merci beaucoup.”
The questions start before he has finished. He turns and walks away, still hobbling on his cane, the pack following him, a cameraman tripping and falling to the ground in a heap. Inside the school, Layton turns down a hallway, doors closing behind him, separating him from the crowd. An aide hooks him up to a wireless mic and he stands and waits for his name to be called and his time to come.
Maybe five minutes pass and then the doors swing open. A supporter shouts a greeting and Layton smiles. Indeed, here is that smile. He strides forward now, still hobbling on a cane, and that smile fills his face. That smile underneath that moustache—the former as much a trademark as the latter. Staring into the camera lights he disappears into the crowd and the fiddle music.
A moment later he is on that platform. And here he gives what is, either figuratively or literally, either in the context of this moment or in the broad sweep of his constancy of message, the speech of his life.
He stands here on his own, no cane, no lectern, no tie, blue shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. A giant Canadian flag is spread out behind him. “It has been an amazing campaign,” he says.
“Do you think it’s time for some change in Ottawa and to fix Ottawa?”
The crowd cheers its approval.
“Do you think it’s time for some leadership you can trust?”
The crowd responds in the affirmative.
“Try this one. Can you feel the winds of change blowing here on Vancouver Island?”
The crowd roars.
He enthuses about these winds and everywhere they are blowing. (They are, by his reading of the weathervane, sweeping over the nation.) He goes on about what’s wrong, about scandals and division and neglect and corporations put before families. “And what’s worse than any of this my friends, is that for far too long, leaders have told you that this is the way it has to be. That you can’t make change. It’s the best you can do. That at the end of the day you have no choice,” he charges. “Well, in this election, Canadians are saying that’s wrong. We do have a choice. It is time for change.”
The crowd cheers and then begins to chant. “Jack! Jack! Jack!” they call. “Jack! Jack! Jack!”
“Thank you, my friends. Thank you so much,” he responds.
“Just don’t say ‘Hi Jack’ in an airport. You have to be formal there or something. Or say it in French,” he jokes.
He laughs and they laugh and then he proceeds. Canada, he says, was built on the principle that together there is nothing we can’t do. It’s time, he says, for Ottawa to live up to that ideal. “We can do better. It doesn’t have to be this way,” he says. “In this election, we do have a choice. Change is possible.”
On the prepared text this finishes with an exclamation point, but here Mr. Layton is talking too fast to pause.
Canada, he says, want better. And now, he says, the “old parties” are on the attack. But now, he says, he is ready to attack other things: doctor shortages and unemployment and retirement security and environmental hazard. “But,” he says, “in these last few days, bringing change to Ottawa actually isn’t up to me, it’s up to you. And it starts with your vote, my friends … My friends, you can send a powerful message on May 2nd.”
Here he strays for a sentence from his text and his teleprompter.
“A message so powerful,” he muses, “nobody predicted it would be possible.”
“Jack for prime minister!” yells an elderly man standing by the TV cameras, but Mr. Layton doesn’t pause to take it in.
There is a choice, he says. And he enthuses about everything that Canadians can choose.
“You know where I stand,” he says. “You know I’m a fighter. And. I. Won’t Stop. Until. The Job. Is Done.”
The crowd says these last words with him.
“Let’s go out there,” he cries by way of conclusion, “and make it happen!”