Canadians were shocked to learn Monday morning of the passing of Jack Layton, federal leader of the opposition and longtime NDP leader, at the age of 61.
While many may have had a premonition that Layton would not be able to win his second battle with cancer, they were instinctively rooting for him. He was a genuine person whose likeability was a key factor in taking the NDP from 13 seats, when he became leader in 2003, to 103 in the May 2 election.
Layton was a man of conviction, but he was also practical. He took the NDP away from some of its more extreme positions towards a party that was more middle of the road, and was able to do so in such a way as to avoid internal splits that could have caused many divisions.
His recent runaway success in Quebec is proof of his ability. Quebeckers were clearly tired of the Bloc Quebecois, which for 20 years has harped on Quebec’s problems without presenting workable solutions. Layton, more than any other leader, sensed the void that was being created and made a direct appeal to Quebeckers.
As he grew up in Quebec, he had a natural connection, but it was his ability to convince Quebeckers that the NDP would represent their province well that led the party to win so many seats in the recent election.
It was truly a victory of breathtaking proportions, and the concurrent relegation of the Bloc Quebecois to just four seats was cheered by all those across the country who want Quebec to not only stay within Canada, but be an important and proud part of the country.
It is not insignificant that Layton rose from municipal politics to become NDP leader. He was a longtime member of Toronto city council and served as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The most successful municipal politicians are bridge-builders. They learn to work with people of differing political philosophies, because they know that they are all there for the greater good of the community.
Layton brought that kind of pragmatic approach to the national stage, and even when he disagreed heartily with his opponents, he never did so in a nasty, personal manner. He preferred to use his sense of humour. He was a class act.
The thoughts and prayers of people all over Canada are with his family at this most difficult time.