By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
There is nothing else on television that compares with politics. Nothing in sports or entertainment comes near to matching the humanity, ego, power, celebration and conflict of it. As drama, it is perfect. Not only because there is so much at stake for society, but because there is so much at stake for the principal participants. How we govern ourselves is both our most fundamental construct and our greatest spectacle.
The latest attempt to make a film of this real show is Jack, a fine rendering of Jack Layton’s life, love, last campaign and final days. As much as can be conveyed in 88 minutes about a life spent practicing politics is neatly laid out. Rick Roberts does an admirable and impressive job in the title role, particularly in his grasp of Mr. Layton’s inherent goofiness. Sook-Yin Lee is quite good as Olivia Chow. Mr. Layton’s faithful aides—Brian Topp, Brad Lavigne, Anne McGrath and Karl Belanger—are well drawn. (Although it’s easy to quibble with the depictions of people you’ve actually met and spoken with at length—Brian Topp is more interesting a personality than is shown here—I’ll say that there is some real semblance of them on the screen.)
There seem to be some concessions made to dramatization—the Ottawa bar where New Democrats tend to hangout isn’t quite as nice and spacious as depicted—but the essence of Jack Layton is there. In some cases explicitly. After Mr. Layton’s defeat in Toronto’s 1991 mayoral election, he is consoled by Ms. Chow, who hugs him and says, “It’s not personal, Jack. It’s politics.” Mr. Layton quickly corrects her. “No, no, no, it is personal,” he says. “Win or lose, it has to be.” Later, in the hospital, dying from cancer, he explains to an admiring nurse that politics is just a trade like any other. I don’t know whether those conversations happened precisely as portrayed, but they might as well have. Jack Layton was thoroughly and entirely a politician. And so here is a movie about a politician.
Is it perhaps too soon for a movie about Jack Layton? It might feel that way. Pierre Trudeau was dead two years and it had been 18 years since he last held office when the CBC portrayed him in a miniseries. John A. Macdonald had been dead for 120 years when the CBC gave him a movie. For the most part, a certain period of time must pass before we feel it safe to pay tribute to a politician. They are not to be admired until we feel we can do so without thinking about all of the things we thought were silly and despicable about them. It has only been a year and a half since Mr. Layton passed and he had only just stepped away from politics. But then his passing was remarkable in that it showed we were still able to admire and respect a politician. And not just a politician, but a man who was so completely political. So perhaps here we should allow ourselves to appreciate a politician we knew so recently, even if everything about our evolutionary cynicism tells us not to.
For sure, there is much to appreciate: good causes and important efforts and, over the course of a lifetime, a commitment to the practice of politics. There are no doubt aspects of representative democracy that are grubby and selfish, but then such is life. Politics may not be noble, but it is important. We should not naturally despise it. Or, if we do, we should we still hope to find some good. Jack Layton did some good and found some success as well. Even if some of the appreciation of his life is a result of the tragedy of his death, he is still possibly one of the this country’s great politicians. Or at least one of this country’s great political stories. And in his life are reasons to see the good that can be (and is) in politics.
There are a few moments that might seem hokey—and, yes, not one, but two appearances of Parachute Club’s Rise Up—but the film is not too overly earnest. It is, of course, a bit odd to see an acted account of events you (in this case, me) actually witnessed. Admittedly, I enjoyed a privileged seat for that particular show. The scrum at which Mr. Layton announced he would not support the budget was, if memory serves, approximately twice as crowded as the movie depicts—Mr. Layton looking pale and hobbling to a lectern that was swarmed by reporters. The first week of the NDP campaign was as dismal as the movie suggests—in reality, the quibbles from reporters over the size of the crowd in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia resulted in a rare public flash of anger from Mr. Layton.
It is easy to forget now, but for a brief moment in the late stages of that campaign, it was possible to believe that Jack Layton might become the next prime minister of Canada. And it is important to remember how truly preposterous it all was. Even after the NDP surge seemed to level-off in the final days, there was something surreal about that final stretch: everything Mr. Layton had spent the previous eight years talking about while the rest of us scoffed seemed suddenly to be happening. And Ruth Ellen Brosseau was about to become an MP. The film skips entirely the final weekend, including the report from Sun News of a massage Mr. Layton received 15 years earlier that seemed momentarily to imperil everything, but also the heady bus ride from Montreal to Toronto on the last day, when the crowds that greeted him made it obvious something was going on and he and Ms. Chow kissed upon his arrival in Toronto. The campaign officially ended in a packed gymnasium in Scarborough. The next day, that riding, where a New Democrat had never finished better than third, went to the NDP by 5,000 votes. To watch the returns come in that night was to laugh—I believe I might have—at how much orange there suddenly was on the map. It was an incredible show to behold.
Less than four months later, Mr. Layton was dead. That was tragedy. And the outpouring that greeted his death was redeeming. And it could all easily be described as cinematic. But then it was all something like real life.
For more on Jack Layton’s life and death, see Maclean’s on Jack Layton featuring our best stories covering the former NDP leader’s remarkable decade on the Hill. This collection of in-depth profiles and short features delivers a portrait of the man. There’s also a behind-the-scene’s look at the crafting of Layton’s last letter to Canadians, and the influence it had on the nation. Olivia Chow also shares her thoughts on what inspired her late husband.
By Mitchel Raphael - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:54 PM - 0 Comments
Mitchel Raphael celebrates the season with the Opposition
The NDP held their annual holiday party in the Hall of Honour. Great lighting, booze bars, an oyster bar and food stations were spread over the Hall and and adjoining meeting rooms. It was one of the best parties held on the Hill.
By Mitchel Raphael - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 5:01 AM - 0 Comments
A star-studded photo gallery by Mitchel Raphael
The 2012 Press Gallery Dinner was a night of glamour and mock awards.
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM - 0 Comments
The square in front of Toronto’s city hall was packed for Dear Jack, a tribute to the late NDP leader
The square in front of Toronto’s city hall was packed for Dear Jack, a tribute to mark the one-year anniversary of NDP leader Jack Layton’s death.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 20, 2012 at 5:05 PM - 0 Comments
For my piece in this week’s magazine, I spoke with Olivia Chow, Anne McGrath and Brian Topp about the writing of Jack Layton’s last letter, as well as Marna Nightingale and Jennie Worden, who were the first two people to put chalk to concrete at Nathan Phillips Square after Mr. Layton’s death.
Below, several excerpts from those conversations. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 26, 2012 at 5:19 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Olivia Chow stood and bestowed her blessing upon him. A Conservative backbencher, Jeff Watson, stood and recited the talking points. And then the Speaker pronounced the time for oral questions and called on the honourable leader of the opposition to stand.
Thomas Mulcair rose and so did the entirety of his caucus, his colleagues sounding his arrival with a great “Woooo!” The Liberals and, eventually, the Conservatives stood too, the House of Commons offering its unanimous regards to the newly delivered leader of the NDP.
The press gallery was filled nearly to capacity. Sitting in the opposition leader’s gallery across from him watched his wife, a few of his aides, former MP Bill Blaikie, newly elected MP Craig Scott, Jack Layton’s former chief of staff, Anne McGrath, and Paul Dewar’s wife and two teenage sons. And also, apparently by some mistake, Arlene Perly Rae, wife of the interim Liberal leader.
When the House had quieted, Mr. Mulcair began. Continue…
By John Geddes - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 8:20 AM - 4 Comments
There’s a notable shortage of populist flair in the NDP leadership race
How the NDP rank and ﬁle might have reacted had they been able to take a look inside the first big fundraiser of Brian Topp’s bid for their party’s leadership is fun to imagine. The soiree, which one senior NDP official said raised about $20,000, was hosted by actress Wendy Crewson—who has appeared on TV shows like 24, with Kiefer Sutherland, and in movies like Air Force One, with Harrison Ford—at her home in Toronto’s pricey Rosedale neighbourhood. On hand were actors, directors, and even the high-rolling film industry executive Paul Bronfman.
This to fuel up the campaign of the man who wants to lead a party that’s always professed to stand for rural and blue-collar voters? Actually, Topp’s close ties to the Toronto showbiz crowd have a defensible NDP basis—he’s been executive director of ACTRA Toronto, the union for the city’s TV and film workers. Still, the combination of entertainment industry glamour and establishment money prompted one New Democrat organizer, who is leaning toward another leadership contender, to sniff that Topp wasn’t exactly showing a “grassroots touch.”
What Topp has displayed, though, is organizational reach on a standard that makes him, beyond any real doubt, the man to beat. It wasn’t supposed to be so obviously his race to lose. When the former NDP president and top campaign strategist declared his candidacy early last month, the widely held assumption was that Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair would soon throw his hat in the ring, too, and the two men would vie for front-runner status out of the gate. But while Mulcair was taking a few weeks to lay the groundwork for his candidacy, which he formally announced this week, Topp began assembling, piece by piece, a machine that gives him the clear, early edge.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Anne McGrath, Jack Layton’s chief of staff, talks about the NDP leadership race.
“As we search for a new leader, we are not going to get Jack Part II,” McGrath said in an interview. “What we’re going to get is a new leader who will have their own ideas and their own vision, but my hope is that it will be a vision and ideas that will carry on from the legacy that has been built up under Jack . . .
“It would be foolish to discard what we have built and I think our members and our voters who support us will be looking for us to continue to present a positive, forward-looking, progressive alternative to this government,” said McGrath.
The Star’s Joanna Smith comes away with the understanding that Ms. McGrath hasn’t ruled out running to be that next NDP leader.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 9:15 AM - 8 Comments
A sense of solidarity unites the NDP caucus
After Jack Layton had departed Parliament Hill for the final time last week, his flag-draped casket loaded into a waiting hearse and driven away as a large crowd applauded, those NDP MPs who had gathered to see him off fanned out to greet and thank the well-wishers and mourners. “What I kept on saying to people over and over again,” says Libby Davies, one of Layton’s two deputy leaders, “without even thinking, it was just instinct, was, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to keep working.’ ”
While they mourned their leader, New Democrats could hardly ignore the many questions left in his absence: about their viability, direction and meaning as a party without the man who seemed to define them. But if, in the wake of Layton’s passing, there was a certain fear for the future of the NDP—raised by any number of pundits who now deem the party doomed—New Democrats themselves claim only resolve.
“There isn’t any fear of the future in the caucus—from the new members through the experienced ones,” says Joe Comartin, the veteran MP from Windsor. “And in fact, I’ll say there is some resentment to the pundits and commentators who are tending to write us off. I think there’s a bit of a level of resentment because of that determination, because Jack wouldn’t let us not carry on. So we’re going to carry on.”
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 4:31 PM - 7 Comments
Jack Layton didn’t want a funeral. He wanted a “celebration of life.” And so that’s what it was. Not just a celebration of a life—though it certainly was that—but a celebration of life.
As the Reverend Brent Hawkes—our guide for this afternoon—said at the outset: we would cry together, but we would laugh together. And so everyone, together, did just that. They cried and they laughed. But not just that: they also cheered and they sang. They prayed and they mourned. They stood and they applauded.
“Jack was so alive,” said Stephen Lewis, the first of four to eulogize the man.
And so was the celebration that brought an end to this remarkable week. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:36 PM - 1 Comment
The NDP has released the full details of Saturday’s “celebration of life” in honour of Jack Layton. The public visitation at city hall in Toronto will conclude at 11am Saturday morning. The procession to Roy Thomson Hall will begin at approximately 1:15pm, followed by the service at 2pm, with an overflow area outside Roy Thomson Hall and four video screens set up in David Pecaut Square, to the west of the hall.
The service will proceed as follows. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 22, 2011 at 9:03 AM - 11 Comments
A statement issued this morning by the family of NDP leader Jack Layton.
We deeply regret to inform you that The Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today, Monday August 22. He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones. Details of Mr. Layton’s funeral arrangements will be forthcoming.
9:36am. NDP deputy leader Libby Davies talks to reporters in St. John’s.
“He was a great Canadian. He gave his life to this country. His commitment to social justice and equality and a better Canada in the world and at home and I think that’s how people saw him,” Davies told reporters. “They saw him as someone who deeply, deeply cared for people. And they saw that in the campaign and all his work. They saw the courage that he had. He faced cancer and he kept on working, doing his job, because he felt so strongly about what he believed in, so I think people think of him as a great Canadian and we think of him as a great leader, in a political sense but (also) in a personal sense.”
He was a believer. He made that clear in the first sentences of “Speaking Out Louder:” ”Politics matters. Ideas matter. Democracy matters, because all of us need to be able to make a difference.”
9:54am. Mr. Layton’s Facebook page has become a makeshift memorial.
9:59am. Greg Fingas marks the NDP leader’s passing.
After spending a decade laying the foundation, Jack Layton has tragically died before getting to complete the house that so many said couldn’t be built. For now, there’s little to do but to offer condolences and grieve the loss of a great Canadian and friend. But hopefully Layton’s inspiration will only encourage us to finish what he started.
10:01am. A statement from the Prime Minister. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 8, 2011 at 11:52 AM - 0 Comments
From this week’s print edition, a behind-the-scenes look at Jack Layton’s announcement last month.
The story is primarily based on interviews with Mr. Layton’s chief of staff Anne McGrath, his press secretary Karl Belanger, his principal secretary Brad Lavigne and MPs Libby Davies, Thomas Mulcair, Joe Comartin and Paul Dewar. Martin Patriquin, our man in Montreal, spoke to Nycole Turmel (note: that conversation took place before her membership in the Bloc Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire were reported). Cathy Gulli in Toronto sought out medical advice. The result is something like 3,000 words that hopefully shed light on the month leading up to Mr. Layton’s announcement and the immediate aftermath.
By Aaron Wherry, Cathy Gulli, and Martin Patriquin - Monday, August 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 132 Comments
His confidants and caucus colleagues recount the difficult days before and after his shocking announcement
Jack Layton died after a months-long battle with cancer in the early morning hours of August 22, 2011. He was 61. Below is Maclean’s cover story on the charismatic NDP leader, originally published on August 4, 2011. To read Maclean’s definitive profile of Jack Layton’s life in politics, click here.
He had started complaining of pain and stiffness in late June. He was perspiring a lot, and found it hard to stand for long periods of time. His chief of staff, Anne McGrath, who first worked with Jack Layton when he ran for the NDP leadership nine years ago, thought maybe he’d over-compensated for his surgically repaired left hip and injured the right one. She wanted him to take the summer off anyway. It would have been a deserved respite after a remarkable 18 months that began with a diagnosis of prostate cancer and climaxed with him hobbling to an unprecedented election result.
Tests were scheduled. But then he also started losing weight. McGrath prepared herself to find out what was happening on July 25, when a significant test was to take place, but that test was moved up five days. With those results came a diagnosis and on the evening of Wednesday, July 20, two days after his 61st birthday, Layton called McGrath to tell her it was cancer. “He’s so upbeat,” she says. “He really is. It’s so funny. I don’t get it sometimes myself.”
He told her to tell him that she was going to keep working. “ ‘We started this journey together…and look at how far we’ve come and look what we’ve done,’ ” she recalls him saying. “And he starts going through the things that we’ve been through and everything. He says, ‘And we’ve got more to do.’ He was talking to me about fundraising, about increasing the party’s membership. This is on Wednesday night, you know?”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 9:15 AM - 8 Comments
Joanna Smith looks at the advisors that have surrounded Jack Layton over the last nine years.
That vision, from the beginning, was called “The Project”, says Brad Lavigne, who is now principal secretary to Layton after having served in a number of senior positions. Nine years ago, Lavigne was part of a team that set out to make Layton leader of the federal New Democrats, meeting in his Toronto kitchen on evenings and weekends one summer to reach out to contacts nationwide.
“That was the code name for transforming the party into a modern party with broad support, where we would build the infrastructure of the party so that it could compete and eventually beat the main parties,” says Lavigne. “We understood at the time that this would be a long game. We would realize success if we were to see this as a long-term project and not one that would come within a year or within an election or even two elections, that it would take much more time, and seeing that project through is something that drives me.”
There is a parallel to be drawn here between Mr. Layton’s rise and that of Stephen Harper: think of the roles played by Doug Finley, Patrick Muttart and Ian Brodie and the similar objectives. Even if the formal line-up in the Prime Minister’s Office has understandably changed over the last five years, there remain individuals like Ray Novak and Jenni Byrne, who have served alongside Mr. Harper for years.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 12:46 PM - 20 Comments
It is now down to this.
The fate of the 40th Parliament hangs on whether this week’s Conservative government announcement on employment insurance reform is enough to win the support of at least one opposition party.
Yet the NDP says an email sent last week to Mr. Giorno by NDP Leader Jack Layton’s chief of staff, Anne McGrath, has so far been ignored. “It is telling. It is their modus operandi,” NDP spokesman Karl Belanger said. “They don’t want to work with other parties and they’re trying to minimize the contact with other parties. That’s been the case with the Prime Minister and his team since they got into power.”
When Mr. Harper and Mr. Layton met face to face in the Prime Minister’s office on Aug. 25, both Ms. McGrath and Mr. Giorno were in the room.
The Prime Minister’s Office has yet to respond to questions about the email today, however Mr. Belanger says Ms. McGrath’s email was an attempt to follow up on issues raised during that Aug. 25 meeting. “During the meeting, they, the Tories were asking questions about some of our proposals,” Mr. Belanger said. “And we said we would follow up. And McGrath did try to follow up last week by sending a note – it was an email – and never heard back.”