Canada's left mourns its leader

Jack Layton's death from cancer leaves the NDP, Canada's social democratic party, with no obvious re

Quicker than anyone expected, far more quickly than anyone wished, Jack Layton died of cancer today, aged 61.

Proud, principled, ambitious for his party, Layton was born into politics (his father had been a Progressive Conservative minister) in the Anglophone enclave of Hudson, Québec, in 1950 and remained a politician to the end, signing off with a moving Letter to Canadians two days before his death. An accomplished athlete at school (and urban cyclist later on), Layton undertook everything he did with the expectation of winning. He was driven and unrelenting in his championing of the poor and the marginalized, and a vocal defender of universal health care, better public transit and housing in Canadian cities. He made his mark in municipal politics in Toronto over two decades before, in 2003, successfully campaigning to become leader of the NDP, Canada's social democratic party. An actual MP's seat would not come until a year afterwards, in the 2004 election, after which the NDP won only 19 of 308 seats but held the balance of power and forced upon the Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's short-lived minority government what Layton called Canada's "first NDP budget."

Four years later, he was instrumental in a failed attempt to replace the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Québecois coalition and, come the 2011 election, Layton would have none of conventional truths suggesting that as the leader of a third party in a fiercely contested parliamentary election, the destiny of his was to be squeezed out. The unprecedented rise of his party to 103 seats and to the benches of the official opposition in May was unforeseen, and largely attributed to the zeal and persistence of the bilingual NDP leader in Québec, the historically dissatisfied province where he made a point of avidly campaigning. Layton sought amnesty for American Iraq War resisters, better conduct by Canadian mining companies and, in 2006, was nicknamed 'Taliban Jack' for arguing, well ahead of the 2010 London Conference, that members of the Afghanistan enemy should be invited to the table. He was, in Canada, alternative, and will be sorely missed - not just by a party that has, at the moment, no obvious replacement, but by a broad swathe of Canadians wondering now, what is their representation in Parliament.

Noah Richler's letter from Canada appears in the current issue of the New Statesman.

20th Century Fox
Show Hide image

The NS Podcast #150: Englishness, X-men and Equality

The New Statesman podcast.

This week, Helen and Stephen try their best not to talk about the EU. Instead they turn to Boris Johnson’s media strategy, MP’s expenses, and Labour and the idea of Englishness. They go down-the-line to the Lobby with George Eaton. Then Henry Zeffman joins to discuss the politics of the new X-men movie. You also ask us: what does the future hold for the Women’s Equality Party? (Helen Lewis, Stephen Bush, George Eaton, Henry Zeffman)

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed: http://rss.acast.com/newstatesman, or listen using the player below.

Want to give us feedback on our podcast, or have an idea for something we should cover?

Visit newstatesman.com/podcast for more details and how to contact us.