On Monday, I was struck by the news that Jack Layton – leader of the New Democratic Party, recently elevated to Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – had died. The next day, an earthquake hit DC – a poor echo of the violence with which the news of Jack’s passing had shaken me.
In March 2003, the Debates Committee planned a formal debate on the possible invasion of Iraq. We invited the brand new leader of the NDP to address the question of whether the Canadian left should support an American foray into that region. Forty-six hours before the debate, the Bush administration set a timeline. The invasion was set to begin just as our little discussion would break up.
I remember that Jack Layton kept his commitment to us, and defended Canada’s decision to stay out of Iraq, even as he had to rush away afterward to speak to the press. And I remember standing in the Bickersteth Room after the debate, a glass of port in my hand, when someone came in to tell us that bombs had started falling in Iraq.
“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’s final letter to Canadians
Staying out of Iraq was a controversial and critical decision for Canada. And Jack took the time to defend it to a hundred university students on the very night that it took effect. It was that sort of engagement with Canadians and commitment to the issues that made Jack succeed as a leader. And as Canada began to take Jack seriously, I began to take myself so. I began to reject caricatures of my ideals – ones that painted me as naive or out of touch. And I also began to realize that there was simply too much work to be done for me to waste time being jaded and afraid.
On Saturday, as we awaited a hurricane, I watched Canada celebrate a man who had devoted his life to service. I watched Canada thank him for his earnest lectures and passionate rallying cries in the name of equality and justice and integrity. And my cheeks were flooded with tears.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”