In the week between Jack Layton's death and his funeral, I heard a lot of 'While I disagreed with his politics, I admired the man's sentiments. A nice -- generous even -- way of saying that you could like a person without ever agreeing with them politically. The much sought after bipartisanship in a time of official mourning.
Watching the proceedings on Saturday and digesting all that was said over the flag draped casket on stage at Roy Thomson Hall, I began to wonder about the view stated above. I admired the man but disagreed with his politics. What is there to disagree with?
Yes, yes. There's always a reflexive dismissal of the concept of redistribution of wealth, fear of the cessation of mindless tax cuts, class warfare in a real pinch. All those left-wing bogeymen that are dragged out from under the bed to scare us with. Most are slogans but even those with a modicum of truth to them are simply means to an end, processes toward a goal. That goal sits at the heart of a person's 'politics'.
And Jack Layton's politics?
Reading his letter to Canadians and listening to the words spoken in eulogy, his politics sought "a more inclusive and generous Canada" with "greater equality, justice, opportunity." According to Stephen Lewis, Jack Layton wanted "an economy that would embrace equity, fairness, balance and creative generosity." Jack Layton represented the "politics of respect for all, respect for the earth, respect for principle and generosity."
So, what's not to agree with?
I guess there are those out there who dismiss all that as pie-in-the-sky fantasy, naïve, granola-crunchy utopianism. Pure sophistry in some cases. For them, inclusiveness, generosity, equality, justice, fairness and respect are all either not achievable or desirable. Thus, they disagreed with Jack Layton's politics.
I could be wrong and simply give my fellow Canadians too much credit but I assume that those holding such beliefs are in the minority. That most of us, ultimately, see such things as respect, fairness, justice, equality as not only desirable in theory but absolute necessities for a society to function at its highest level. When we say that we disagreed with Jack Layton's politics, what we mean is that we disagreed with the methods of achieving all those lofty goals.
Fair enough. But I think it's well past high time that those disagreeing with the politics of Jack Layton start laying out their plans on how to create a more just, equal, fair and inclusive society because, after nearly 30 years of decidedly non-Jack Layton politics, we are further from those qualities than we have been in a generation. We've been told how tax cuts create jobs which, in turn, increases government revenue. We've been told how open and unfettered global markets create increased opportunities both at home and abroad. We've bashed unions as obsolete. We've been assured that a rising tide will raise all boats.
Looking around at the evidence, I'd suggest we've been sold a bill of goods. The global economy teeters on wobbly legs sinking into part two of what could be a double-dip recession, brought on by unregulated financial behemoths run amok. Income concentration is at the highest it's been in some 80 years. We've gutted our manufacturing sector and, not coincidentally, our middle-class, exchanging good paying jobs for cheap consumer goods. Yet, household debt is perilously elevated. University education -- the cornerstone of our future well-being, living as we are in the information age -- is becoming more and more of a luxury item. Even our public school system is creeping toward a have versus have-not status. Pensions, once a rock solid contract between employee and employer, are now viewed as relics of past prosperity, unaffordable in these days of austerity.
We live in society that has become less generous, less fair, less equal with fewer opportunities for fewer people. Pretty much the exact opposite of everything Jack Layton stood for. By disagreeing with Jack Layton's politics, you are, in fact, in agreement with systemic unfairness and inequality, injustice and a blatant disregard for the well-being of your fellow citizens.
So admire away. But it would be better for all of us if you put more thought into your politics.