Like many others, I was shocked at how frail Jack Layton looked at the press conference when he announced he was fighting another form of cancer and would be taking leave from his duties as the leader of the federal NDP. My gut reaction was that he looked much like my father did in the final days of his battle with pancreatic cancer.
I think Mr. Layton’s physical deterioration stood out so starkly for most Canadians because of the obvious vigor with which he fought his last election campaign; he had turned his hip surgery cane from a liability (which the pundits claimed it would be) into an asset and a symbol of his perseverance and determination.
I can still visualize the well-publicized scene in the pub when Jack served beer to a raucous crowd wearing that trademark smile of his – a smile that allowed him to immediately connect with people from all walks of life and all political affiliations.
I met with Jack on a number of occasions over the past few years and was always impressed with his vitality and his positive approach to life in general and politics in particular. When he came to Quesnel for Billy Barker Days in 2006 I was in awe of his ability to work a crowd. He genuinely loved meeting new people, listening to their stories, and giving them a sense that things could be different if each of us put energy into finding solutions rather than simply rehashing the problems.
My staff and I still chuckle about Jack’s attendance at the Billy Barker Days Barn Dance. He’d outfitted himself at the Gold Dust Mall and mentioned he was going to the Barn Dance at all the public speaking events we did that day. When he got there (my young staffer took him) he danced up a storm and chatted with young people at the dance about politics and how they needed to get involved to change the system. Classic Jack Layton.
Jack and I also took a fly over of the mountain pine beetle impacted forests surrounding Quesnel and had long conversations about what we saw. He was a quick study and as a result of his direct experience the Federal NDP began to highlight our needs in Ottawa.
Jack Layton’s death this week to an undisclosed form of cancer was sad news. His passion and energy towards creating a better Canada for every Canadian will be missed.
Bob Simpson is an independent MLA for Cariboo North.