I must confess that there was an awful lot about Canada's 2011 General Election I simply didn't "get." But I certainly didn't get why Michael Ignatieff, a perfectly ordinary if uninspired Canadian party boss, stirred such loathing his Liberals plunged to a historically unprecedented third-place standing. And neither, it seems, does he.
Jack Layton was a die-hard Trekkie, and had his own custom-made Trekkie uniform that he wore at conventions. He was a musician, and loved to gather his friends and colleagues, singing songs from the 1960s. He would encourage everyone to sing, even if you didn't know the words. He wore funky glasses and blue jeans. He kept his hair long.
The week Jack died, I watched in awe as Torontonians came together to share their love for Jack. Our famously cold, unfriendly city began to bare its soul in chalk messages written all over Nathan Phillips Square. When thunderstorms washed away the chalk, the people came back and filled the square with writing all over again. I have rarely seen something more beautiful than that.
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By sanitizing and canonizing Jack Layton, CBC's "Jack" biopic did a disservice to the man. And it was mediocre TV. Even the portrayal of the thrilling 2011 election campaign lacked tension and drama when in reality, the actual campaign was a wild and exciting ride. A missed opportunity for CBC.
Mulcair has made his party and himself invisible while moving his party so far to the right in the blind pursuit of power and it is becoming impossible to distinguish it from the Harper Conservatives. I bet Jack Layton would have been disappointed. For the late beloved leader, he would have settled for continuing to be the "Conscience of the House" rather than sell the soul of the party via a short cut to power.
Since the 1990s it has become less about who one's grandparents voted for and more about ideas and principles, what a party stands for, as a clearer left-right spectrum has emerged. Liberals can be the party that is not afraid to push the limits of political debate with bold ideas. It is a new political terrain for the party, one that will necessitate a greater need to define what exactly "Liberalism" is.
What Justin Trudeau brings to politics is a charismatic, genuine, energetic and trustworthy face. He can work a crowd like no other MP. Since announcing his candidacy, he has had no problems drawing full crowds at appearances ranging from rallies to talks on the role of social media in politics. Don't underestimate these traits. What the Liberal party of Canada needs is a young energetic leader who can reclaim the centre and encourage people who don't usually vote to do so.
Hardly a parade of Pravda puff pieces, much of the ink spilled during the recent flurry of Layton retrospectives has actually been fairly critical, skeptical, or at least measured in honestly assessing Jack's pros and cons. And if you thought the Canadian press' obsession with royalty was winding down just because we've gone -- what? -- six weeks without a royal visit, guess again! Several of Canada's leading papers felt inexplicably obligated to devote many inches of concerned columnspace to Prince Harry playing a particularly rousing game of, ah, Vegas hold-em.
Jack Layton is one the Canadian politician I respected most, yet never had a chance to support. I first met him at a charity event where he wrote out his private cell phone number. He asked me to call him anytime I wanted so we could have a conversation. I often felt like I was talking to Canada itself.
To me, the Romney versus Obama election looks like a dud -- boring, dull and simply, nowhere nearly as exciting as what's going on here in Canada. We have a PM who loves being the villain, a bulldog opposition leader, and a liberal willing to beat the crap out (literally!) of someone for political points.
For some politicians, smearing an opponent and telling lies is just another day at the office. Until the Canadian public declares that this kind of cheap and gutter politics is unworthy of those that offer to stand for office, it will continue. There is something that we need to do, and it's up to us, not politicians, to enact this change.
People who live 4,500k from the Toronto-Danforth riding read in the Vancouver Sun just last month that the Liberals were in a position to win; they'll now be reading about a "lacklustre, no name, uninspiring dud" candidate who blew the Liberals right out of the water. Imagine what that does for confidence in the Liberal brand.
Canadian political life in 2012 will be anything but dull: uncertain economic times that could either strengthen or weaken Conservative support; two opposition parties in flux, fighting for influence and voter support; and a new leader for the NDP and the Conservative political machine.
The thought seemed simple enough -- head over to Nathan Phillips Square and take some time to thank the people who were waiting in the long lines to say goodbye to Jack Layton. But the solemnity of the moment was overwhelmed by the enormity of the public outpouring.