Jack Layton’s Death Means Vitriol Lives On

Leader of the Opposition was last hope in Canada’s deteriorating political landscape

By: James Di Fiore

This is not your mother’s Canada anymore.

All across the country, from conservatives to socialists, the apathetic to political junkies, the universal response to Jack Layton’s losing battle with cancer was unmistakable. Not surprisingly, his supporters were quite emotional, tearing up on live television as they reminisced about their leader, their mentor. Liberal party members were next, echoing the sentiment and paying their respects, calling Layton their friend and a worthy adversary. Conservatives also showed the kind of class we should expect from our leaders, telling stories of battles waged in the House of Commons with a man they held in high regard. It was as if Layton’s passing could serve as a watershed moment of sorts, breaking down barriers between people or at least slowing down Canada’s slide into the depths of polarization. Liberals and Conservatives were certainly not about to trade in their red and blue for bright orange, but for once they were able to speak with civility about someone who they disagreed with politically.

‘Not so fast’, said the loudest, most ignorant and most extreme voices in the country.

In a surreal display of cowardice, and a testament to the internet’s greatest misgiving, up popped the lunatic fringe who expressed glee over the death of their socialist enemy. Sure, there are crazies everywhere, and the internet is crawling with them, but what once seemed like a tiny minority is now appearing to become a growing phenomenon. These aren’t your typical nut-jobs, pranksters or mentally disturbed people – they are regular, every day folks who have decided that since they no longer believe in evil concepts such as political correctness, they are now free to kick a man on the day he dies, especially if that man disagrees with their point of view.

The comments from these regular folks reflect a new way of interpreting the now omnipresent political battlefield. Canada is experiencing a variety of social symptoms where the fabric of decency is being unraveled and restitched with ideological threads once seen exclusively during campaign season. Journalists like Dave Naylor and Christie Blatchford, desperate to differentiate themselves and provide an alternative perspective, tweeted jokes about Layton’s death or penned long winded columns about how the coverage (on the very day our Leader of the Opposition died, no less) was over the top. And while Blatchford has had a wonderful career and is a magnificent writer, her need to appear original and crafty actually made her look petty and amateurish.

Amazingly, and it is worth repeating, it was politicians who showed true leadership when the news broke. In fact, these moments in history often produce an ethical hubris where politicians act like statesmen while bias media organizations and maverick journalists take on the role of children, championing the classic public relations strategy of personal exposure through controversy instead of simply writing and reporting. Opinion news, the new and oxymoronic method of ideologues and partisans, has morphed from a watered down version of journalism to a full time, hatchet wielding concept meant to assimilate people into specific political philosophies. The aforementioned mainstay issue of those with opposite views of Layton is now political correctness. By hiding behind free speech, far right radicals are convincing regular folks to feel infallible if they cheer the death of someone they disagreed with.

Jack Layton’s passing is a stark reminder of how our leadership can sometimes shine, even if some of the people they are leading distort its reflection.

No sir, this is not your mother’s Canada.



  1. I’m actually part of the “not so fast” crowd, but not because of anything to do with Layton as such. It has to do with the kneejerk emotional reaction on the part of all sides related to his passing and the lack of understanding of the current Canadian political climate.

    We have a “leader” who “stepped down” officially but appeared to believe that still had some influence over his party, enough at least to consider the idea of crafting a deathbed letter to posthumously influence the future NDP direction.

    We have groups of people from all political walks of life (left, right, libertarian, authoritarian, and all points in between) who cling to the archaic notion that party politics exist and that those presented to us as party leaders are the respective visionaries of each party. There are no real party politics anymore, there haven’t been party politics for quite some time, and the leaders are for all practical intents and purposes talking heads.

    We have a group of ardent and somewhat thin-skinned supporters who have already anointed Layton as a saint when he was merely one of the talking heads. Yes, he was a friendly, intelligent man. I will grant him that. But he was also first and foremost a politician, and his basic operating premise as such was to tell as many of us as possible what the NDP thought we wanted to hear, as is the case with all “leaders” of all “parties”.

    We have a right-wing group of extremists and anti-NDPers who would automatically reject any left-wing argument as socialist dogma. In fairness to them, many of the arguments are presented in an elitist, holier-than-thou fashion, so they do project a negative air as a result.

    We have a subset of Layton supporters who automatically view conservative viewpoints as heartless and calculating, with many references to Fox News and Ann Coulter thrown into play.

    And no one can seem to see the bigger picture. If we want to move forward as a nation, we’re not going to do it with people like Harper or Layton or May or (insert next permanent Liberal leader puppet or Justin Trudeau here) apparently steering the ship. The only way it will happen is if people learn to stop automatically assuming one side or the other is wrong and spitting angry rhetoric toward one another and work toward the common goal of running this country as a player on the global stage. A lot easier said than done, I’ll admit, but that’s the real problem here.

    This is one of the reasons I have consciously chosen to reject any ballot presented to me since 2006. I don’t have a choice, in the most literal sense of the term.


    1. The vicious ‘angry rhetoric’ mentioned in the above reply is generated from the right. There is no equivalency relationship between the kind of factless viciousness on the right and the same appearing on the left. There simply is not. It is a common tactic on the right to claim so, as well as the overly conciliatory Neville Chamberlains in the center. “Oh this kind of ugly speech is on both sides” No it’s not. If Harper had died instead, what well known ‘leftie’ journalist in a major news publication would have written the kind of classless nasty piece of work that Blatchford penned? Mere hours after the man’s death no less. The Fox News mentality and extreme partisan politics has come from the right and has dragged the rest of the country down with it. The sick-making political landscape in the U.S. is brought to us exclusively by the far right and that same political insanity is starting to seep into Canada.

      It’s not a difficult argument to make that when the ultra wealthy and large corporations see total control within their grasp, that they will use whatever means at their disposal to achieve their ultimate pathological goal. Hence the political landscape is progressively fueled by these interests and the anger, fear and ignorance of an increasingly stressed common man appears to be all too easily manipulated.

      We saw this in the rise of Fascism and we are seeing it now.


  2. First of all, I think that by definition, emotion is knee-jerk and it seems bizarre to critcize individuals or the zeitgeist for feeling what we feel. And then I must take issue with your characterization of Jack’s letter as audacious for having the nerve to write a letter to Canada. He was the party leader who stepped down – in his hopes, temporarily – so that he could recover from his illness and then take up the helm again when the session started.

    I am a Liberal who’s worked tirelessly on campaigns since the 2008 election. Before that I was an NDP supporter with an immense respect and admiration for Jack and his ideals, but though I changed party stripes my admiration for Jack never changed. In the May election, I worked for a Liberal candidate in Olivia Chow’s riding, knew all along the Liberals would not form a government and in my heart of hearts hoped for Jack Layton to form a minority government.

    I don’t think anyones trying to anoint Jack a saint, and I’m sure more indepth coverage of his political career is forthcoming and will be interesting to see. People are remembering him and how they impacted him, and I haven’t yet seen anything less than genuine.

    I also want to say to the blogger – I’m surprised by this post because the only negative sentiment I’ve seen was Christie Blatchford’s article and Dave Naylor’s possibly funny but clearly ‘too soon’ and inappropriate tweet. Oh and one weird guy on my facebook feed, and one woman who criticized Bob Rae whom I ultimately unfriended due to the quality of the thread she inspired.

    Jack Layton was not a saint, but he was more than ‘just a talking head.’ His presence will be missed in Canada and I do hope that his love for this country will inspire the next generation, the large proportion of youth who have become engaged because of him and his party in the last election.


  3. You’re right. There is a lot of vicious angry rhetoric from those who think they represent the right wing of the political spectrum. I won’t disagree with you on that.

    It is on both sides, though, and you just illustrated that. You’re obviously a Layton supporter and would therefore be presumably either left or at least centrist in your thinking. You have every right to that opinion. That’s fine.

    But in the same reply, you have managed to turn the phrase “the right” into a pejorative term, along with references to US politics and Fox News. This is a common tactic among the left and the center. That’s angry rhetoric as well, no matter how anyone chooses to spin it. Whether one side is “angrier” than the other, or whether there’s an “equivalency” factor involved really doesn’t matter….people involved at all points of the political spectrum do it, and it’s counterproductive regardless of who’s responsible.

    As far as manipulation goes, you’re right…people are suggestible. But that doesn’t just include the right, some of whom will turn around and canonize Harper as soon as he dies for the nothing he’s accomplished…that includes the center and left as well.

    Layton, as is the case with the NDP in general, promoted a feel-good message. We can get along. We can work together. We can have affordable housing. People can live as humans. And we’ll have a wonderful utopian society. It was an unsustainable message, but he promoted it because he knew that quite a few people would buy into it. He might have even believed it himself, although I tend to doubt that.

    Harper promotes stable economics and long-term fiscal growth and focuses on a more business-like approach, which also resonates with some people, and then tries to counterbalance it with increased spending on social programs and greater focus on areas such as immigrant services. But does he believe it? I tend to doubt that.

    May is a former Reformer turned hippie poser. There’s no way she ever bought into the Green Party message, and she’s a major step down from Jim Harris. I’ve met Harris on a few occasions and is a humble, decent man. I didn’t even know he was the Green Party leader the first time I met him. I just thought he was a really nice, friendly man and we talked for a good 20 minutes about various topics.

    The Liberal party will do anything to tell people what they think we want them to hear.

    And it’s all backed by corporate greed on some level (since all major parties receive some form of corporate funding). This is where the divide and conquer mentality comes into play. All of these so-called visionary leaders and the political parties they represent have us fighting and arguing from all sides over what amounts to mediocre cookie-cutter politics and token leaders. And we’re all biting on the hook like a bunch of idiots. Why should we swallow crap from any of them?

    Again, this is where progressive thinking will truly come into play…by the summary rejection of parties that are all basically the same in favour of legitimate and varying opinion.

    One other thing…while I’m not a big fan of the US political climate either, mentioning it does tend to cast some aspersions on the US population in general, and that’s a little bit unfair as well. I do business on both sides of the border, and my American customers are very nice, friendly, intelligent people.


  4. Bobbilou,

    I wrote this post after spending hours online looking at self proclaimed libertarians and conservatives express relief that Layton was dead. I chose not to provide links to these posts (most were on Facebook) because I felt they did not deserve a wider audience. Are you really surprised people like this exist? Go to the Sun News Facebook page and dig around to see what I mean.

    The bigger idea here is the irony that politicians were for once setting a great example, while the media and regular folks (I refuse to call them nut jobs because I happen to feel that being an outspoken asshole seems to be in style right now) spit venom at a man who died on that very day, all because his politics were different from theirs.


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