By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, April 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
Within the Palais des congres de Montreal, a complex series of boxes, decorated with brightly coloured glass and perched above the freeway, where Stephane Dion once became Liberal leader and where, if memory serves, Michael Ignatieff blew kisses from an escalator to supporters below, the president of the NDP called the meeting to order. And with that there was a complaint. It was in the opinion of a man referred to as Barry, apparently a fellow from the socialist caucus, that the 30 minutes set aside on Saturday afternoon to hear from an organizer of the Obama campaign be allotted, instead, for policy discussion. Barry seemed rather unimpressed with policies of President Obama’s administration.
“We don’t need Jeremy Bird to lecture NDPers on the virtues of the American bipartisan political system,” he ventured. “Labour and the NDP aren’t here to take instruction from political operatives of the White House. But we do have some good advice for our American sisters and brothers, for our fellow workers in the United States. Follow the example of the NDP, form an independent political party based on your unions, break with the Democratic party.”
Joe Cressy, a Toronto organizer who has worked for Olivia Chow and Paul Dewar, stepped forward to speak against Barry’s proposed amendment. “Friends, we have had a great start to this convention already and let’s keep this positive energy going,” he said. “We must build on our momentum by maintaining a packed agenda that has everything from learning how to organize and fundraise better to hearing from our leader, Tom Mulcair, to, yes, learning from the Obama team on how to mobilize those who…”
His final words were drowned out in applause. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 2:58 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair’s leadership has been endorsed by 92.3% of delegates at the NDP leadership.
For the sake of comparison, Jack Layton received 92% in 2006, 89.3% in 2009 and 97.9% in 2011.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 5:19 PM - 0 Comments
But it hardly matters whether the dance was a candid moment or not. Certainly, as many (including the Globe’s Jeffrey Simpson) have noted, Trudeau understands that politics is very much about the art of performance.
His critics, of course, might offer the photo-op as further evidence that Trudeau is strong on style and light on substance. But at this point in the race, the dance music is drowning them out.
The fact that the NDP Leader decided to go through an electoral campaign while recuperating from cancer and a broken hip brought him a lot of sympathy. His strong performances at the televised debate in French and during a popular talk show on Radio-Canada showed him as someone committed to social justice, close to ordinary people and equipped with a good sense of humour.
Suddenly, Quebeckers began referring to the NDP Leader as “Jack.” In Quebec, people calling a politician by his first name means that he has struck an emotional chord. These days, Quebeckers don’t say they’ll vote for the NDP or for candidate so and so. With an air of defiance and fun, they announce they’ll vote for “Jack.”
Defiance and fun. Fun. If there is anything Mr. Trudeau might be able to project more easily than Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair it might be that.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 9:14 AM - 0 Comments
First, here is how Mr. Layton began his concluding remarks to Canadians.
Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment.
And here is how the proposed new preamble begins.
Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. New Democrats are Canadians who believe we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build sustainable prosperity, and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment.
Here is what I wrote last year about the drafting of that final letter.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 5:21 PM - 0 Comments
The Globe’s editorial board extends its collective thumbs downwards.
The concept for a biopic on Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, was a dubious one from the start. Why add to the eulogies now? Why not let more time elapse, to see whether he could be cast as an enduringly significant historical figure, as was the least the case with another recent, flawed CBC biopic of another New Democrat, 2006’s Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story?
New rule: you must be out of office 27 years before a true assessment of your political career can reasonably be hoped to be made.
Why not allow the myth to take shape organically, instead of trying to shape it? In the case of Jack, it is heavy-handed on the part of the CBC. Canadians don’t need the public broadcaster to decide which of its recently deceased politicians merit a mythology.
New rule: there should be a referendum every four years to determine which politician is next portrayed in a CBC movie. Campaigns for potential subjects would have to register as political parties. Attack ads would be encouraged. We could basically re-run entire elections of the past.
It is good that the CBC is supporting Canadian dramatic productions and presenting Canadian stories. This is part of the corporation’s mandate, to tell Canadians about Canadians. The filmmakers should also be lauded for portraying the often overlooked good sides of politicians. They would find the same if they did a biopic of most Canadian federal and provincial politicans of any stripe. Generally speaking, they are motivated by good intentions, even if the policies don’t always match them. They care about their fellow citizens and want to do good things for the country.
New rule: scratch those first two rules and make a movie about every politician who passes away.
So what was the CBC thinking? Jack is a varnished view of Mr. Layton – that is, beyond a few scenes that showed how Torontonians rose up against his welfare-state approach to homelessness and housing generally, when he was a municipal politician. He was resoundingly defeated when he ran for mayor, as the film briefly shows.
But NDP strategists loved the drama, and little wonder, the portion spent on Mr. Layton’s federal legacy is a hagiography, and given how recent many of the events it portrays are, it was an unpaid political advertisement. For example, the biopic offered no hint of his deplorable play for sovereigntist votes by offering Quebec more seats than its population warrants in any redistribution. It was political cynicism at its worst, but Mr. Layton knew what he was doing; it was a tactic to win over voters from the Bloc Québécois, which he succeeded in doing, at least temporarily. The recent defection of one NDP MP to the Bloc suggests the party may regret the strategy in the fullness of time.
As I wrote last week, I think the idea that it was too soon to do a movie about Jack Layton is inherently flawed (and a bit silly). I’m not sure, for instance, if the Globe editorial board would have said it was too soon for The Deal (or its two follow-ups). (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen The Deal. I raise it not to comment on its quality, only its existence.)
The Globe is on more reasonable footing when it argues about what kind of movie Jack turned out to be. Essentially, it seems to me, the editorial board is arguing for a more political movie: a more thorough and thoughtful look at his political career. That’s a fair point. The movie could have, for instance, referenced his suggestion in 2004 that Paul Martin was responsible for the deaths of homeless people (and his subsequent regret about that comment) or the decision to support the Liberal budget in 2005 or the decision to bring down the Liberal government later that year (and the criticism that drew) or the attempted coalition in 2008 (and the controversy that created). It could have explored in detail what led up to the 2011 campaign and then how that breakthrough was executed. That movie might’ve had to be a bit longer, but I would have been very interested to see it. (John Doyle makes a good argument that the political content was far too over-simplified.)
But then that, I think, is actually an argument for more movies about politics, not less: or at least more politically focused movies. A movie probably isn’t made about Jack Layton if his political career doesn’t become a grand human drama that many people found captivating, or at least more interesting than they might otherwise have considered politics to be. And, in that regard, it’s probably not surprising that the movie ended up being written the way it was. If there’s a lost opportunity here, it might be in that the movie wasn’t more focused on the political machinations of its hero’s life and career. Regardless of how his myth might have developed over the next 25 years, I would argue, his career as punctuated by the events of 2011 is worthy of a dramatic rendering: regardless of how you feel about the man, it is an interesting story about politics.
We could probably stand to have more such movies (something on the Martin-Chretien wars, perhaps?). We could just generally benefit from a wider and more varied airing of politics and political stories in general. And any impulse that such subjects are not to be broached around the national dinner table should be overcome.
By Emily Senger, Ken MacQueen, and Manisha Krishnan - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Peter MacKay makes the Forces fitter, Romney reminisces, and will Bieber head to space?
Out with a bang
The now former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is known for being a bit eccentric—a reputation he upheld on his way out. “After 4½ intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today,” Mason wrote in a letter to staff last week. “I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey,” he added. But don’t cry for the Groupon founder. Getting fired made him $34 million richer this week—Mason owns seven per cent of Groupon’s stock, which rose five per cent in the days following his exit.
David Beckham bragged about doing all of his own stunts for his action-packed H&M commercial, but when it came to flashing a close-up of his bottom, he let a body double take over. The soccer star repeatedly denied using a stand-in for the Guy Ritchie-directed underwear ad—which shows him sprinting, swimming and jumping hedges, all in his gitch—but H&M ﬁnally came clean last week: “Due to the tightness of Beckham’s schedule, a body double was used in parts of the video.”
Out of this world
Having conquered Earth, at least in the eyes of his fans, Justin Bieber shared his next ambition with his 30-million-odd Twitter followers last week: “I wanna do a concert in space,” he wrote. The space agency NASA was quick to tweet a reply, referencing one of his hit songs: “Maybe we can help you with that. All Around the World, next off it?” Whether the Bieb gets to be an astronaut or not, he’s clearly training for something. After a concert in Birmingham, England, last week, he bee-lined to his hotel to change for his 19th birthday bash. He just happened to strut into his hotel with his shirt off, displaying an impressive ab six-pack.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 9:13 AM - 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 Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 14, 2012 at 2:38 PM - 0 Comments
I sat down with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in the leader of the opposition’s office yesterday. Here is a transcript of our conversation, slightly abridged and edited.
How do you see the last year for you and the NDP? Do you feel you’re winning? Do you feel you’re getting somewhere?
We’re doing well. And the Abacus poll was confirmation of that … I dare say that we’ve been through a rough 18-month cycle. I mean, we started off in 2011 with a huge high, May 2. We realized then … It was interesting. I don’t think I’ve told too many people this story. I sat down with Jack shortly after, like two, three days after the election and when we became official opposition, he was asking me to become opposition House leader, it was a great feather in my cap. And then he said something to me that was quite interesting, he said, you know, this is a huge challenge. And I was just expecting him to be so effusive with the breakthrough and everything and he said, no, no, this is going to be a huge challenge. So then the huge challenge became all the bigger with his loss. And then we had to really work hard through a long, seven-month leadership where we were missing a lot of our frontbenchers who were in the campaign and then we had to rebuild.
When I held the little press conference up in Toronto after the leadership, the next day, I used an expression that came to spontaneously, I said, we’re going to have a cascading transition under the sign of continuity. So I was so lucky, like somebody like [chief of staff to Jack Layton] Anne [McGrath] stayed with me long enough to hand off to [current chief of staff] Raoul [Gebert], overlapped with Raoul … So a couple of the other changes that took place were like that. We brought in a few people, the core team you still recognize when you see them around us. And so it’s been a huge challenge in terms of the structure and the organization, but some of the good points for me after becoming leader: in August I was doing my parish visit in Quebec, I would be in places like Vercheres—Les Patriotes, where Sana Hassainia is our MP, and be in a community hall on a Sunday morning with several hundred people who had all paid as part of a fundraiser, but she had municipal officials there, you know the mayors and the councillors, she had community groups, she had the schools and stuff like that. They’re getting settled in, they’re putting down roots. The same day I was at a corn roast for Helene LeBlanc and she had about 600 people and a lot of the cultural communities, so they’re setting down roots, they’re doing their fundraising, they’re getting well known in their communities, they’re in their local papers, so that part’s coming together.
Come this spring, we’re pivoting, right? We’re going to be entering the third year. And so the consolidation phase has to be finished. We’ve got to start the preparatory phase for the next campaign. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 1, 2012 at 3:48 PM - 0 Comments
“If I was Mr. Harper, he would be gone, out of the Conservative Party in a heartbeat. That kind of attitude, that kind of comment, that’s insane. That is a disgrace to not only Mr. Mulcair but to the legacy of Mr. Layton. Think about how Olivia Chow must feel. That is just absolutely cold-hearted … I could say it stronger than that, but what a complete dickhead. He should be removed from Parliament altogether,” Stoffer said.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 1, 2012 at 10:07 AM - 0 Comments
In an interview with iPolitics, the Conservative MP decides he is both an NDP insider and a doctor.
“I actually think one of the great stories that was missed by journalists was that Mr. Mulcair, with his arm twisted behind the scenes, helped to hasten Jack Layton’s death,” he said. “It was very clear to me watching the two of those gentlemen in the front benches, that Jack Layton was ill and that Mr. Mulcair was making it quite obvious that if Jack wasn’t well enough to fight the campaign and fight the election that he should step aside, and that because of that, Mr. Layton put his life at risk to go into the national election, and fight it, and did obviously an amazing job considering his state of health, and that he did that partly because of the arm-twisting behind the scenes by Mulcair and then subsequently died.”
Question: So you think that if that hadn’t existed, Layton would have taken a back seat, rested in some way? “He would have taken more heed of his health. He might not have rushed into that election campaign with somebody with a knife in his back.”
Unless Mr. Anders knows something we don’t, the known timeline is as follows: Jack Layton was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2010. He underwent hip surgery to repair a small fracture on March 4, 2011. Three weeks later, in the lead-up to the 2011 election, he pronounced himself fit for a campaign and said his PSA level was “virtually at an undetectable level.” He proceeded with that campaign and seemed to improve as it went on. The vote was held on May 2. In late June 2011, he began to feel sore and stiff (see this story for details). On July 20, 2011, he was diagnosed with a new form of cancer.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman says Mr. Anders’ comments do not reflect the opinion of the Prime Minister or the Harper government.
Update 12:35pm. And here is the apology.
By Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press - Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 6:57 AM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Last year’s state funeral for Jack Layton came with a sizable price tag, newly released figures show.
OTTAWA – Last year’s state funeral for Jack Layton came with a sizable price tag, newly released figures show.
The late NDP leader’s final farewell last summer cost taxpayers $368,326 — more than the total bill for the recent state funerals of two former governors general.
The Department of Canadian Heritage released the full cost of the funeral to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act — one week after Canadians gathered to mark the one-year anniversary of Layton’s death.
Layton’s untimely passing mere months after leading the New Democrats to the official Opposition benches unleashed a torrent of public grief rarely seen in Canadian politics.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the unusual offer of a state funeral to Layton’s widow and fellow New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, which she accepted.
Such an honour is normally reserved for current and former governors general, prime ministers and sitting members of cabinet.
Days after his death in the early hours of Aug. 22, 2011, thousands of mourners filed past Layton’s flag-draped coffin in the foyer of the House of Commons. The scene repeated itself days later at Toronto City Hall, where Layton served as a city councillor before jumping into federal politics.
More than 1,700 people attended the funeral at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, which featured an emotional rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah” by former Barenaked Ladies frontman Steven Page, and a spirited performance of the 1983 Parachute Club pop hit “Rise Up” by band member and close Layton family friend Lorraine Segato.
Among the mourners in attendance were Harper and his wife, Laureen; Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife, Sharon; ex-prime ministers Paul Martin and Jean Chretien; and a host of current and former leaders from all political parties.
Until now, the cost of Layton’s state funeral has been kept under wraps. At least one columnist was pilloried for asking whether public money ought to have been spent on a ceremony that at times took on the appearance of a partisan political rally.
A single page released to The Canadian Press provides few details about the costs associated with Layton’s funeral. The expenditures included:
- $133,211 for “exposition and related services”;
- $62,603 for land and building rentals;
- $54,208 for conference and hospitality;
- $35,613 for business services;
- $12,963 for travel;
- $41,297 for “other services”;
- $10,468 for printing services.
Smaller sums were spent on postage, interpretation and translation, communications and machinery and furniture rentals.
“The Layton family and all New Democrats are grateful to the prime minister for granting this honour to the late Jack Layton and thank Canadian Heritage employees and other government officials for their work during this difficult time,” NDP principal secretary Karl Belanger said in an email.
In a Harris-Decima poll conducted earlier this month for The Canadian Press, more than 75 per cent of respondents said they considered it appropriate to hold a state funeral for Layton.
Participants were split, however, on whether such an honour should be routinely extended to all leaders of the Opposition.
The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted Aug. 2-5 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
The dollar figure released to The Canadian Press is the total combined cost borne by every federal department and agency involved in the nearly week-long event, not just the amount paid by Canadian Heritage, the lead department for state funerals.
Layton’s state funeral cost more than recent state funerals for former governors general Romeo LeBlanc and Ray Hnatyshyn.
LeBlanc’s 2009 state funeral in Memramcooke, N.B., cost $214,000, Canadian Heritage said. It involved lowering flags at federal buildings to half-mast, two-days of lying in repose, a church service, a private interment and full military honours.
Hnatyshyn’s 2002 state funeral in Ottawa cost $137,193. He lay in state for two days in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill while flags stood at half mast across the country. That was followed by a church service and interment in Beechwood Cemetery. He also received full military honours.
Former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s state funeral in 2000 cost $650,000, according to Canadian Heritage.
His coffin lay in state for two days in the Hall of Honour in the Centre Block before it was loaded onto a train to Montreal, where a church service and private interment were held.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 24, 2012 at 3:48 PM - 0 Comments
Gerald Caplan considers the late NDP leader’s legacy.
It seems to me that Jack Layton’s enduring legacy is twofold. First, he set a standard of doing politics that, if followed by others, would change the entire tone of public life for the country … Jack regarded those he disagreed with as democratic opponents, not as dishonorable, even treasonous enemies to be destroyed. For him politics was not the brutal, no-holds-barred permanent war being waged against all comers by the governing party. He rarely attacked motives or personalities. He treated his opponents with respect and civility. He stuck to the issues, about which he felt passionately and which he pursued forcefully…
Mr. Layton’s second great legacy was to change the mindset of the NDP from being permanent losers to becoming potential governors. I plead guilty here: I was among those whose views he changed most and who needed changing most.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 24, 2012 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
Let’s consider what’s followed from the point where we all saw people like Stephen Lewis give blatantly partisan comments, referencing the letter, only days after Layton’s death. Fine for him. But from that point on, Wherry seems to argue, it has technically been up to us as to whether to allow the party spinners to dictate how we use those words. But, quite frankly, this is why people invented propaganda: to make sure words are no longer just words, and to make sure the spin sticks.
Consider, for example, the story Paul Dewar told Wednesday on the Hill — the one I quoted about how Jack Layton was one of those rare politicians who, unlike others, sincerely believed in optimism or hope. Dewar still used the words as if they were still abstract, shared notions, rather than the blatantly partisan terms the party had specifically designed them to be a year before. This is where the sleight of hand happens – and, again, I doubt Aaron would argue with me here. This whole time, the NDP has held up these words as if they were truly non-partisan and apolitical – just wonderful words – but at the same time used them in their intended form, as NDP slogans. So yes, they are sincere, in that they are sincerely tools for the financial and political gain of the party…
Fundamentally, I think Aaron and I agree. But maybe this is the difference: Wherry allows for the possibility that one can believe in love and hope and optimism even if you aren’t an NDP supporter. While I agree in part, I tend to think if that is the case, even if you do, you’re going to use different words to describe these sentiments because the NDP already owns those ones. And as soon as that’s the case, you’re losing, and the propaganda is eating you alive from the inside out. They have you by the balls.
I think if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have included the last paragraph of what I wrote yesterday. I think it muddled my argument. (In the coming days I will be unveiling a seven-point plan that renders that paragraph null and void and will, in future, object to anyone who attempts to reference it.)
Maybe there are two separate discussions here: one about Jack Layton’s letter and its inherent politics and another about how the letter’s words have been used since. Continue…
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 - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 9:43 PM - 0 Comments
The CBC has uploaded video of Jack Layton on the National in 1985.
The Globe and Mail editorial board considers his legacy.
With public cynicism running high, the chord that he struck with many Canadians in his final months and in his passing was a reminder that – with the right combination of decency, optimism, perserverence and grace – it is still possible for our politicians to inspire. Without painting over the more worrisome aspects of his record, that is well worth remembering.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 5:12 PM - 0 Comments
Politics relies on heroes and the deluded support of its partisans, of course, but we shouldn’t cheer each new delusion. The NDP are not fighting for John Lennon’s dream world. They’re fighting for the prime minister’s office by moving to the centre — a process Layton spearheaded.
He wasn’t a hero, wasn’t a saint. He was an uncommonly skilled retail politician who gained respect for practicing a brand of politics that was less greasy and vulgar and off putting than his opponents’. That’s not nothing. It’s quite a lot, really. I don’t begrudge anyone a good vigil. But ringing bells in towers for a nice guy and and a very good politician just seems a bit … much.
My contribution to the discussion is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 4:10 PM - 0 Comments
A few minutes before 11, the Parachute Club’s Rise Up began playing over the speakers that had been set up in front of the steps that lead to Centre Block and the Peace Tower. A poster of Jack Layton—leaning forward, looking out intently, shirt and tie, but with the top button of his shirt undone—had been set up on an easel. A small crowd had gathered, some wearing orange shirts or carrying orange signs or clutching orange flowers. Two smaller photos of Mr. Layton adorned the steps, each adorned with a bottle of Orange Crush.
The song ended and the Peace Tower clock rang 11 times for 11 o’clock and the crowd of 200 or so got quiet and a fellow from the Broadbent Institute stepped to the microphone. “We were all moved by the outpouring of affection that followed Jack’s passing last year,” he said. “There was something comforting about so many people talking openly about love. But that was Jack’s greatest strength, his ability to pull people together.”
Next was Nycole Turmel, the Hull-Aylmer MP who stepped in for Mr. Layton last year. “On the first anniversary of Jack’s death,” she said, “we remember him as an exceptional man who fought with hope, love and optimism to make life for every Canadian.”
Finally, Paul Dewar, the Ottawa Centre MP who ran to succeed Mr. Layton as NDP leader. “I remember last year … talking to a couple of young people who had read the letter and then decided that they would leave their imprint. And they put in chalk, just across the way, because security wouldn’t let them do it here, the last paragraph of the letter. And it remained there for a couple of days, just by the bus shelter. And I thought, you know, that’s really what Jack was about, inspiring young people. And talking about, yes, love in politics. Talking about hope and optimism. And it’s really difficult to find politicians who talk about those ideas and sincerely mean it. Jack meant it.”
Love, hope and optimism. These are matters of faith. Which might make them hard to fathom in this context. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Brian Topp considers the last 12 months for the NDP and looks ahead to the next three years.
Which gets us to a final point: what to do about the federal government’s crisis of relevance? Recent Liberal and Conservative governments have worked together on a common agenda to make Canada’s national government largely irrelevant to the daily lives of most Canadians. Today’s federal government is a Parliament, it is a public service, it is an army and police force, and it is a largely unconditional bank machine for provinces.
Small wonder that Canadians increasing tune federal politics out. Small wonder Parliament in recent times has been about embarrassing squabbles over trivia. What else was there to talk about? Here is the fundamental mission of the New Democrats: to demonstrate that the Liberal/Conservatives are wrong, and that there are indeed important projects and priorities that Canadians can and should work on together. Not symbolic issues, designed to get us angry and to divide us from each other. The real stuff: Equality. Jobs. Health care. Economic security. The environment. Reclaiming our good name in in the world. New Democrats need to find a way to give Canadians hope that we are more than the sum of our parts, and that there is much we can do together to make a good country a much better one – carefully and prudently, one practical step at a time, without reigniting the old federal-provincial wars that separatists and conservatives build on, each in their own special way.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Helen Branswell notes that the public doesn’t know the precise details of the cancer that killed Jack Layton and considers whether Canadians need more disclosure from political leaders.
Dr. Lawrence Altman has explored the health of U.S. political candidates for decades as the medical reporter for the New York Times. He says it’s surprising that at this point in history a political leader could die of an undisclosed illness — and says it is unlikely American media outlets would have let the issue go easily. ”I think the Times has taken the position that this is information the public is entitled to know,” Altman says of the general issue of leading politicians’ health. Altman is researching a book he hopes to write about political leaders and their health status disclosure.
“My position is that there should be transparency,” adds Altman, who while still writing for the Times is also a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. ”There’s no reason any illness should keep somebody from running for office. It’s up to the public to decide whether that illness interferes with the ability to carry out the functions of office or whether that person should be elected. But that’s up to the electorate. The issue to me is that the electorate should be fully informed.”
A few notes on the timeline in Mr. Layton’s case. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2010. He underwent hip surgery to repair a small fracture on March 4, 2011. Three weeks later, in the lead-up to the 2011 election, he pronounced himself fit for a campaign and said his PSA level was “virtually at an undetectable level” (see also this transcript of John Geddes’ conversation with him). He proceeded with that campaign and seemed to improve as it went on. In late June 2011, he began to feel sore and stiff (see this story for details). On July 20, 2011, he was diagnosed with a new form of cancer. On July 25, 2011, he announced he was stepping aside. On the morning of August 22, 2011, he passed away.
There’s an argument to be made that all party leaders facing an election should, like American presidential candidates, be expected to release some amount of medical information. (American presidential candidates, mind you, are also expected to disclose information about their tax returns.) Here is what Lawrence Altman wrote about candidate disclosures in 2008. I’m not sure I agree that the public needs to know the details of a party leader’s health, but any such practice would obviously have to be applied to all leaders equally.
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, August 20, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Olivia Chow talks about carrying on. Brent Hawkes reflects on his eulogy. Thomas Mulcair salutes his predecessor. Joan Bryden considers the public’s reaction to Jack Layton’s passing. And Tobi Cohen considers the state of play for the NDP.
In the current issue of the magazine, I have a piece about Mr. Layton’s last letter. That piece, plus an essay from Ms. Chow, can also be found in a new collection of this magazine’s writing on the late NDP leader.
Commemorations this week will include a memorial celebration at Nathan Phillips Square on Wednesday evening.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 1:34 PM - 0 Comments
Aaron Wherry on why the words still hold weight
Marna Nightingale, a 42-year-old Ottawa housewife, freelance copy editor, part-time roller derby referee and card-carrying New Democrat, awoke on the morning of Aug. 22 last year to learn that Jack Layton had died. She was staying with a friend on Toronto’s east side and the pair read his final letter together and “sat and had a little cry.” Word began to spread, via email and Facebook, that people were going to gather at Nathan Phillips Square, the concrete expanse that stretches out in front of Toronto’s modernist, eye-shaped city hall, and the two decided to join the other mourners there. That’s when Nightingale went looking for chalk. She checked a dollar store, a drugstore and a local boutique, but couldn’t find any. Finally, she found some at a hardware store and bought two boxes—nearly 50 pieces in all.
She took the subway downtown and arrived at the square in the early afternoon. A sizable crowd had already gathered. She walked over to the ramp that runs along the east side of the square and there, on the concrete, she wrote in neat, capital letters: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.” Lastly, in big block letters she added, “And we will change the world.” She used up three pieces of orange chalk in the process.
Nightingale felt the attention of news cameras behind her as she committed the final paragraph of Jack Layton’s last letter to that wall. A CBC report would later credit her as the first person of many that afternoon to put chalk to concrete.