Jack Layton died Monday, in the early hours of the morning. A giant, his fall was felt across the country.
Canadians nationwide poured out their grief for Jack. The widespread admiration felt for him – some because of his views, some despite them – is among the man’s finest legacies.
He is widely remembered as a fighter, a man of strong ideals, and a person you’d be happy to call your neighbour.
Outside his home in downtown Toronto, where he lived and died alongside his partner Olivia Chow, orange flowers quickly piled up. In Ottawa, people gathered to pay tribute on Parliament Hill, where the Peace Tower’s flag had sunk to half-mast.
Politicians of all stripes recalled their fondest memories and favourite qualities of the NDP leader, a true achievement in a climate pock-marked by partisanship.
Though he couldn’t keep his promise to return to the House of Commons in September, he made another pact in his final message to us. In Parliament, it will be as powerful as presence as his empty seat.
By crowning a decades-long political career with the landmark success of his New Democrats in the May 2 election, Jack secured his status as that party’s greatest leader. But it was in his final letter that his great spirit shone brightest.
For almost 30 years, from Toronto City Council to Parliament Hill, he chose his battles with his heart and fought them with limitless guts. Optimism and integrity are remembered as hallmarks of his career.
It was with words of hope, however, that he chose to make his exit.
In a letter to Canadians published hours after his death, Jack wrote that hope is a precious commodity in our world, and promised us we can change the world, if only we believe in its power.
Those who “are on journeys to defeat cancer and live their lives” must maintain their hope and determination, he wrote. “Don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped.”
Those in his party, and those in his caucus, he implored not to lose faith in their cause, but to recommit to it with even greater energy and determination.
And to those young people, who look out at their futures and see an array of overwhelming challenges, who are more and more engaging in politics with their dreams and frustrations, he implored them not to lose hope that they have the power to change the world for the better.
But it was his final words – powerfully capped with the inclusive “We” – that touched so many, and will keep his spirit alive and fighting for years to come.
“My friends,” Layton wrote. “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.”
As the day approaches where 307 members will enter a House of Commons that feels remarkably empty, let us not forget Jack’s great spirit, that bridged political chasms and stared cancer, humanity’s great leveler, square in the eyes.
And let’s not forget Jack’s great hope: that we can make the world – in which “life’s highs and lows are inextricably linked,” as he once prophetically wrote – a better place.