On a beautiful, sun-drenched, Saturday afternoon a nation bid farewell to NDP boss, John Gilbert "Jack" Layton... the Leader of her Majesty's Official Opposition laid to rest with all the pomp and pageantry that a state funeral offers.
While there were those who felt that Jack wasn't deserving of such a send off, an honour normally reserved for prime ministers, cabinet ministers and governors general, the vast majority of Canadians thought otherwise. According to an Angus-Reid poll, released just prior to the event, a full 81 per cent of us supported the idea!
In waving the qualifier for Jack, it was obvious the prime minister had made the right call. He saw a country in shock, mourning the loss of a popular politician... a man who was liked, and highly respected.
Even though our politics didn't jive, Jack, well to the left, and me, to the far right on many issues, I'm one of the great many who did like the man. As an open-line host, half of the talk team, "The Motts," I had the pleasure of dealing with Jack over the years... and locking horns from time to time.
Jack Layton had strong beliefs, fought hard for them and was always available to do battle. The man made the phones ring... he was great radio!
I don't believe Jack feared taking anyone on, with maybe the possible exception of his wife, Olivia.
A number of years back, we were broadcasting from a cultural event in downtown Toronto and Jack was booked to join us for a few comments. Shortly after rolling up on his beloved bicycle, he took me aside and asked, "Paul, could I bum a cigarette?"
Noting my surprise at the discovery Jack Layton smoked, he quickly explained that it wasn't a regular habit, but something he did enjoy every now and again. He added, even more quickly, that he'd appreciate it if I didn't mention it on the air... that if Olivia found out, he could be in for some grief!
I gave him my word that I would treat it as an "off the record" smoke, adding that as a married man myself, I fully understood not wanting to rile "she, who must be obeyed."
I'm not a big believer in this whole "afterlife" thing, but this, I'm sure of. If Jack is someplace where a voice can be heard, his will be.
He'll make the phones ring!
Bon voyage, Jack.
A lot has been said about the kind of grief Canadians have been showing. Is it contrived? Why such public spectacles? Is it a true outpouring of emotion? For some it seemed clear they wanted their 15 minutes of fame and would grieve publicly and put on a performance for the cameras.
But most seemed deeply touched by a man they had never met, who most in this country had never voted for, and, had he achieved the heights of prime minister of the country, many would have been worried. They want to be close to celebrity such as Jack Layton and touch the aura that surrounds him.
My heart broke for his wife, Olivia Chow who stood with others and yet seemed so alone. She took comfort from the people who made the trek to pay their respects as did his children. It seems to me that Olivia has been the epitome of stoicism and dignity, comforting others.
Jacks' was a voice that we all needed to hear, even for those who fought so hard against him. Eventually he tried to bring his party closer to the centre realizing the far left would never appeal to the majority.
Watching what transpired through the week and culminating in what was a very motivating, touching send off, I couldn't help but think that if that were for almost any other politician people would be claiming it was crass politicism. But unless you were over the top in your admiration you were attacked.
As I think more about some of the reaction we've seen, it seems a little sad. So much plays out on the public stage now. Years ago grief was a more private thing with family and friends supporting each other. Today this is how many people connect, at public events, or on Facebook or Twitter.
But to say you can't go on. That all hope has been lost. Really! That was one of the headlines. Give your head a shake! Although Stephen Lewis may have set him up for sainthood with his eulogy, he was a man, a good one, a passionate one, with a certain vision for the country, not a God.
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