A makeshift memorial for Jack Layton was set up on the steps of Parliament Hill on August 22, 2012.
Credits: MARLO CAMERON/QMI Agency
Jack Layton was a great fellow. He was kindly, he was successful, he had a keen mind. He was much loved by his supporters and much admired by his political adversaries. That much we know.
It’s not possible to know what he thinks about things that happened after he died, however. For example, it’s impossible to know what Layton would feel about the willingness of those in his party — some, not all, but enough — to exploit his name for partisan advantage. He’s been gone a year, so we’ll never really know what he thinks about what has been done after the fact.
What has been done in Jack Layton’s name by New Democrats — again, not all of them, but enough of them — is pretty … well, you decide for yourself.
Take Dan Harris, for example (please). For now, he’s the NDP MP for Scarborough-Southwest. In last year’s Ontario provincial election, Harris recorded a robocall for Bruce Budd, a Toronto-area candidate for the provincial NDP. In the recorded message received by voters, Harris said: “This has been a difficult time for New Democrats everywhere with the incredible loss of our leader, Jack Layton. We shared sadness but we also shared a sense of renewed commitment, inspiration and hope. It’s up to us now! In just a few short weeks, we have an opportunity to meet Jack’s challenge. This is our chance to move forward in Ontario! Bruce Budd is your provincial NDP candidate here in Scarborough Southwest. Please join me in supporting Bruce!”
Harris’ robocall then went on to peddle — wait for it — NDP lawn signs. Presumably acceptance of a lawn sign was a way to express “commitment, inspiration and hope” and “meet Jack’s challenge.”
Another veteran New Democrat — Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue — did the same thing. Prue made use of virtually identical robocalls to voters in his East Toronto riding. The calls only stopped when the media took notice, and started asking the Ontario New Democrats’ leader, Andrea Horwath, about her candidates’ willingness to capitalize on Layton’s death just weeks after his passing. Reluctantly, Horwath said the robocalls should stop. Then she attended a Jack Layton concert in Toronto and let the media know all about it.
From Horwath’s party, there was plenty of willingness to make use of Jack Layton’s sad end. One vivid example came shortly after the NDP leader’s death. Another of Horwath’s candidates, Vrind Sharma in Toronto’s Etobicoke North riding, put together a “Tribute to Jack Layton Fundraiser” in which he expressed a desire that people be “loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” Sharma then went on to describe how the money obtained at his loving, hopeful and world-changing tribute would be used to “retain much-needed supplies and necessities for our office.”
That “tribute” came four days after Layton’s death.
The readiness to exploit Layton’s death didn’t just take place at the level of individual candidates, however. Horwath’s party issued a party-wide appeal for funds just three weeks after he was felled by cancer.
In the e-mail sent out across Ontario, one of Horwath’s lieutenants made an unabashed appeal for money by invoking the words found in Layton’s now-famous open letter to Canadians: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear …”
(And Jack Layton campaign buttons are better than none at all, apparently. That’s why, at the campaign office of Ottawa-Centre NDP candidate Anil Naidoo, you could buy buttons that said “DO IT FOR JACK.”)
And so on, and so on.
This kind of stuff went on across the country, and not just in Ontario. It’s still happening.
So, one year later, what would Jack Layton think about his partisans trying to make money, or grub a few votes, by invoking his name? We’ll never know.
But the rest of us, the ones still among the living, know it’s pretty sick.