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Posted by on Aug 23, 2011 in International | 1 comment

Canada Mourns Opposition Leader Jack Layton

There was something about Jack Layton’s optimism which caused you to believe he would beat cancer. After all, he had done it once before. His passion for life and for social justice seemed like the perfect antidote. But, of course, cancer can only be held at bay. While it may retreat, it never really leaves the field.

What was shocking was how quickly Layton’s cancer returned — and how quickly it ravaged his body. But it did not ravage his spirit. In the letter he wrote to Canadians two days before he died, he addressed his fellow citizens who also bore the burden of cancer:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

He then turned his attention to the young, who form a large segment of the 40% of Canadians who chose not to go to the polls in the last election:

All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

The last lines of the letter should serve as Layton’s epitaph:

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.

Jack Layton entered politics to find solutions, to find homes for the homeless, to fight for the underdogs. Only rarely do we get a chance to watch someone connect so easily — in both English and French — with ordinary citizens.

May he rest in peace.

Owen Gray grew up in Montreal, where he received a B. A. from Concordia University. After crossing the border and completing a Master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, he returned to Canada, married, raised a family and taught high school for 32 years. Now retired, he lives — with his wife and youngest son — on the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This post is cross posted from his blog.