In a letter he wrote just days before his death, Jack Layton reminded Canadians just how great their country was — and how we can make it better.
It’s that passion and dedication that those who worked with him and his party are remembering following Layton’s death early Monday morning from a second bout of cancer.
“I think everything Jack stood for is basically to better the lives of Canadians and being able to do it not one at the expense of the other, not jobs at the expense of the environment, just working together with industry and labour and to create a better country,” said Alex Atamenenko, MP for B.C. Southern Interior. “That was his vision.”
In a riding that has been held by either the NDP or Tories for decades, the news hit hard.
“It’s a great loss to all of us in the labour movement,” said Armindo Demedeiros, vice president of the United Steel Workers Local 480. “Jack was a real friend of the movement and a real fighter.
“We were all shocked here — we didn’t realize the extent of his illness. He will be sorely missed.”
Atamenenko said Layton was probably one of the best leaders he’s worked with and seen in his career; someone who was open to ideas, logical and willing to change his mind if it was the right thing to do.
“His ability to not only bring our party together, but to unite across party lines, to work with other leaders of the opposition, to work with the Prime Minister, build consensus … He was that type of person I feel would have made a very fine prime minister and really got Canada working not only internally for unity but also on the world stage.”
Even those who didn’t share similar political views with Layton were upset about the news, remembering him as a man who fought for what he thought was right.
Losing a leader like Layton always has an impact, but Atamenenko said the party will have enough time to continue building on Layton’s vision before the next election.
Demedeiros seconded that, saying he didn’t believe the relationship between local labour organizations and the party would change without Layton at the helm.
“Over the years they’ve been the one who has listened more to the working man, the blue-collar work. I think it will be hard to find a good replacement for him … But I don’t think the ties or relationship between the NDP and labour will change.”
The two also remember with clarity the personal side to Layton.
Demedweiros had the chance to meet Layton more than once and said people were naturally attracted to him.
“His charisma was like a light to me, when you saw him come into the room it was like a light went on. People were just attracted to him and he was full of energy all the time.”
Atamenenko recalled a time he was in Toronto supporting an initiative that was at the same time a local musician was playing in the city. He invited Layton to the concert, where the two hung out with some Nelson residents before heading to one of Layton’s favorite Greek restaurants in the riding.
“We sat there and talked about life and politics and I’ll never forget that evening because I had a chance to get to know him a little bit better.”