The loss of Jack Layton at 61 to cancer early Monday morning struck many of us as we turned on the news, came to work and went about our workaday lives.
That’s what the federal NDP leader would have wanted us to do: keep moving forward, continue working toward something.
There no doubt will be discussions about Layton’s place in Canada’s history, and the implications of the NDP’s comprehensive defeat of the Bloc in Quebec earlier this year.
For now, what we know for sure is that we have lost an important Canadian far too soon.
He was the rare politician who belonged to all of us, which is clear as soon as the discussion moves beyond politics.
At a time when our federal government is distancing itself from the people, Layton did his best to get closer to people. During his stops in the Capital Region – and he came here a lot, it seemed, for an Ontario politician – he was never surrounded by bodyguards or an entourage. He wanted to engage with people, hear them and not simply speak at them.
To put Jack Layton in the same leadership category as a Pierre Trudeau, John Diefenbaker or Mackenzie King is conjecture at best. Layton never had the chance to reach those heights.
His party has never come close to victory in a federal election, and that will be reflected in how Layton is treated in the history books.
But let’s not forget that in the last election, he was consistently the leader most trusted by Canadians in opinion polls. That says something about not only his charisma, but his leadership style and the way he connected with the public. He also was the first leader of the NDP to help the party earn the status of Official Opposition. Layton was known as a fighter, always willing to step up – whether it was against a majority government or the very illness that took his life.
Above all, no matter how you voted, Layton reminded all of us that politicians can find success by taking the high road. By doing so, he also gave many Canadians a renewed hope that democracy is still alive in this country and worth fighting for.