Oh Jack. What now?

August 22nd, 2011

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There are a lot of people more eloquent than me expressing their feelings about this tragically unfair loss to Canadian politics, and summarizing the remarkable career of this mould-breaking politician.

My way is to keep busy instead. So in that light, allow me to look back and look forward in the Pundits' Guide kind of way.

Jack Layton's federal political career began in 1993 – the NDP's worst federal election in my lifetime – when he ran in the old Toronto riding of Rosedale, placing fourth and earning 11% of the vote, then not even enough for a candidate rebate.

Jack ran again in 1997, placing second, this time in the riding he would go on to win as party leader in 2004, Toronto-Danforth. He was re-elected there for the third time this past May with 60% of the vote.

Jack Layton's Federal Electoral History

Elec Riding Rank Votes % Vote
1993 GE Rosedale 4 5,937 11%
1997 GE Toronto – Danforth 2 13,903 32%
2004 GE Toronto – Danforth 1 22,198 46%
2006 GE Toronto – Danforth 1 24,412 48%
2008 GE Toronto – Danforth 1 20,323 45%
2011 GE Toronto – Danforth 1 29,235 60%

In 2003, Layton won the party's first one-member-one-vote leadership convention on the first ballot with 53.5% of the vote, placing ahead of such party stalwarts as Bill Blaikie, Lorne Nystrom and Joe Comartin, but also Québec newcomer Pierre Ducasse. His leadership campaign became a blueprint for his strategic approach as party leader: he caught people's attention with a surprising endorsement from former leader Ed Broadbent, signed up thousands of new party members, and continued to phone canvass identified supporters of his opponents right up till the last week of the campaign.

Layton promised his party a 10-year plan for Québec during that campaign, and the fulfillment of that promise will be remembered as one of his greatest accomplishments, though his record as leader was stellar by any measure.

Jack Layton's Record as Federal NDP Leader

Measure 2000 2004 2006 2008 2011
Seats 13 19 29 37 103
Seconds 25 51 53 67 121
Rebates 57 195 214 243 306
Votes 1,093,868 2,127,403 2,589,597 2,515,288 4,512,411
% Vote 8.5% 15.7% 17.5% 18.2% 30.6%

So, what now, Jack? While we were waiting for his Letter to Canadians to be released, the airtime was filled with recollections of his life in politics, some of them warm and personal, and some the warmed-over sentimentality of those who smeared him short months ago. The punditocracy who completely missed the strategy he was developing and the possibilities for the NDP, will now try and write the party's future, no doubt with plenty of help from its opponents.

For one thing, there will be a by-election in his downtown Toronto seat, that could be called as early as 11 days from the day the Speaker notifies the Chief Electoral Officer of the vacancy, but must be called within at least 180 days.

Then there will be a leadership convention to schedule and conduct, while parallel contests unfold in two other political parties, and the coverage of those contests will become a major focus of this website going forward.

Layton recommended the NDP leadership race be conducted early in the new year, which would place it after the scheduled Bloc Québécois leadership campaign this fall (assuming it's not further postponed), and prior to the planned Liberal Party leadership campaign in 2013.

But, for now, let's all try and remember the challenge he's given us, whatever our political stripe:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

NDP Leader Jack Layton campaigning in Courtenay, BC, April, 2011

19 Responses to “Oh Jack. What now?”

  1. Wilf Day says:

    In the 2003 leadership campaign, when pundits asked if a Toronto politician could ever become prime minister, he would reply “I’m not from Toronto, I’m from Montreal.” Some laughed. They didn’t laugh May 3.

  2. David Young says:

    To me, Jack Layton represented courage, hope, and optimism for the future, qualities that so many of our so-called leaders today lack.

    R.I.P. Jack

  3. inge says:

    Jack’s constant reference to dealing with his cancer as a battle/fight/struggle has been a significant disservice to people diagnosed with cancer. The implication is that death results because one did not fight hard enough. Rather, it is a disease with which one copes and sometimes the best response is to prepare for and accept death. That is not “giving up”, but being realistic.

  4. Inge, we have all dealt with the cancer around us in our own ways. I think for Jack the idea of being a “fighter” was important to him and pre-existed his own cancer, and was his way of dealing with it. I know many others share your point of view. Thank you for your perspective.

  5. Shadow says:

    Today I saw Libby Davis say something to the effect of ‘he gave his life for this country’.

    The meaning is double. In the first sense there was a life of service.

    But her words also hinted at something that had been nagging at me and many, many others – was Jack Layton devoting enough time to his health ?

    There is an unfortunate tendency to trivialize politics and to scorn those with principles as “idealogues”.

    Is politics worth dying for ? The easy answer is to say no. But if you love your country as much as Jack Layton perhaps its more complicated than that.

    And perhaps it wouldn’t have made a difference either way. Sometimes the body does was it does.


    Alice do you think it possible that a by-election could be pushed off to the last possible moment in favour of keeping an open seat for the new leader of the official opposition given the possibility that a non-MP wins the leadership ??

    The Liberals are going to fight with everything they have to win this seat. It will be a key test of whether the party is doomed or not.

    It would be nice if some time was allowed to pass before that bloodbath, respecting the need for T-D residents to have resprentation of course.

  6. Well. It would be surprising, and probably not turn out well for anyone, if people were seen trying to game the timing of this while feelings are so raw (at least those who have feelings). So, I think your inclination to not rush into things is quite reasonable, Shadow.

    For another thing, there is an Ontario provincial election on this fall, which would be another distraction.

    As to what the law says, it says that the by-election must be *called* within six months, but it doesn’t say when the Election Day should fall, except that it has to be on a Monday (or Tuesday if the Monday should be a stat holiday). So, it could be called in February for May or June or something (although, the spending limit would have to last that entire time as well).

    The NDP’s Federal Council will have to meet to set the schedule and rules for a leadership contest, which will be a one-member-one-vote affair, open to party members of probably 90 days standing or so, and likely with a common schedule of all-candidate meetings and modest spending limits. I suspect there will be a number of candidates from various parts of the country, some of whom could be guessed at now and others of whom will be surprises.

    One of them may need a seat. So, you’re probably right. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Juliet O'Neill says:

    Alice. He left such a beautiful challenge. Glad you quoted it. His legacy to me is to guard our idealism no matter what happens, no matter how old we are.

  8. Thanks Alice for putting the numbers that showed how much Jack rocked – party leader to official opposition leader and Prime Minister in waiting.

    Still feel like I am going to throw-up! J

  9. George Pringle says:

    His son could run for his seat, he is in Jack’s old Council seat.

    A byelection will not be delayed since the riding will not have a MP for the bulk of a lot of Bills that will come this Fall, starting just after the ON election is likely.

    A leadership has to be held quickly or Turmel will be there for far too long damaging the party but since the convention fees were wrongly declared as donations by Elections Canada, they cant’ go until january to move it into next year.

    It has to be Mulclair as they don’t have anyone else really, Nash will try but putting in a non-Quebecer will doom their QU seats as it would be seen as a slap to the face to QU.

  10. Biaced says:


    The so-called “tolerant” left reveals its true meaning of tolerance in so many ways: your side swipe and attribution of motive is just another example.

    “the airtime was filled with recollections of his life in politics, some of them warm and personal, and some the warmed-over sentimentality of those who smeared him short months ago”.

    Moments like Jack’s death have revealed so many biases in those that claim not to be biased, especially the institutional left.

    God bless your soul Jack, rest in peace!

  11. I’m surprised at some of the reaction. One of my NDP friends on facebook has said that he thinks it is wrong for people to say “I didn’t vote NDP but…”

    I am proud to say that I am a card-carrying Liberal who will go down to city hall when Layton is to lie in state. Why? Because I am clearly stating that I like the man. It is Layton I respect. I respect him for who he was, and what he did, and what he tried to do. I am not just going because he agreed with me, but rather, because he was able to disagree with me respectfully.

    To hear people get defensive about saying such things or to attack his battle with cancer seems odd to me. I really don’t understand it.

    I suppose someone who dredged up so much powerful emotion while he was alive will continue to do so forever.

    As I told my roomate, Jack Layton is a name that students in Canada will be learning for at least the next 50 years. Weather in 2061 the NDP is in government, or in last place matters not. Layton had a huge impact on the Canada of today, and that will forever be a part of our common history.

  12. Shadow says:

    Teddy I just think its silly to say “I didn’t vote NDP but …”

    Why does it need to be said ?

    People of all stripes are allowed to share their memories and pay their respects. Even his former political enemies.

  13. Thanks for quoting me, Teddy. I think it is offensive for people just make a statement of sympathy but add that they didn’t vote for him. It’s rather insensitive. As I said, it’s thinly veiled politicking.

    Now, your comments are ok, because it’s not just a quick one liner i.e. “I didn’t vote for him, but RIP”, but rather a discussion about how much he means to Canada and to you yourself, despite your differing political views. But then again, I know you were an NDPer once! ;-)

  14. George Pringle says:

    A little shift about the future of the NDP. If they really want to build roots in Quebec rather than just be a flash in the pan, it is essential to start a full provincial ND party and run a full slate of candidates.

    Since it seems that Mulclair has a lot of enemies in his own party and and race between him and Topp could get very dirty and have the implication that the NDs rejected a Quebecer – he should move back to provincial politics to be leader.

  15. DL says:

    FYI: In the hypothetical situation you describe, you should know that Brian Topp is also a Quebecer. He grew up outside Montreal, his family and his wife’s family are all in Quebec, he worked in the office of Phil Edmunston – the first ever NDP MP from Quebec and speaks perfect French.

  16. Remember though Earl, I also once was a Conservative :P The only party I’ve been a member of more than once though is the Liberals (4th time now, and I plan to stick with it)

    On the NDP leadership, I really think the only person who can beat Mulcair is Ducasse. As another put it “the implication that the NDs rejected a Quebecer” will do the party in, and I can’t see the membership allowing it. Only a Quebecois can defeat Mulcair, and the only one that I can see, is Ducasse.

  17. Shadow says:

    What’s with the all the identity politics ?

    An anglo from Montreal isn’t fooling anyone, even if they are bilingual.

    French Quebec voted for a smile and social democratic (and nationalist) policies that fit with their cultural beliefs.

    Ask Dion, ask Duceppe how much mileage you get out of being a native son. And they were actual Quebecois.

  18. George Pringle says:

    It was said the Mulroney gained the support of the Quebecois as an anglo because he was Irish and the French saw a people who had been discriminated against more than they thought the French has been discriminated against.

    Ducasse could not even win a seat so he is a non-issue.

    Only an MP or someone who could run in Jack’s seat will be a serious candidate. I bet they put a really high entry fee to keep out the wingnuts, egoists and profile builders. I doubt there is more than 3 candidates.

    Mulclair as the Quebec candidate.
    Julian as the left candidate
    Topp as the party establish candidate.

    Dewar is possible but he and others should look and see the unpaid debts of the last Lib Ldrship race. Does he want to be a Dryden?

    Anne McGrath who is pushed by the Women’s Commission ran for the Communist Party of Canada in 1984.

  19. for old times sake, I reread your post of that fate-filled day Alice. You know, Jack sure kept his leadership bid promise – Quebec NDP strategy for 10 years out – amazing. He didn’t stop until he/we got the job done. I’m glad, it was like a dying wish fulfillment although I’m so loath to say that.

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