Jack's legacy, our challenge

Posted 08.17.11

The massive and very public grieving in Canada over NDP leader Jack Layton's death, and the very quick growth of a myth around him, tells us less about Jack than it tells us about ourselves.

Had Jack not died so suddenly, and in the freshness of his spectacular electoral achievement, it's not likely we would be this enthusiastic over one more politician. If Jack were still with us, true to form we'd likely be finding fault that he wasn't holding the majority government as tightly to account as we may soon be wishing.

But he could not overcome his second cancer's onslaught, and he fell leading us and leading his troops, his band of young novices and political veterans combined. Many of us, including those with other political allegiances, both mourned Jack's death and also set about creating the Jack Layton myth. That myth sees Jack as a David battling an American-inspired Goliath, painting Jack as honest, compassionate, principled, ethical, and clear-headedly realistic.

This myth reveals our desperation.

Canadians so desperately want good leaders; we've sought them for years. Have we re-cast Jack as all that we have been seeking? Decade after decade, we've not had exemplary leadership, except in instances. While we bow our heads in memory of Jack, the other politicians who have not had to battle on all fronts as did Jack, should bow their heads -- in shame. They have not fallen; they have, so far, merely failed.

The more we magnify Jack's qualities, the stronger we express our frustration with the leaders we still have. It doesn't matter if our memories are real; this is a wish list we are creating.

Who will step up and fill Jack's shoes, not within his own party, but within all government? Who on city council will pursue Jack's honesty and focus? Who, in the grandstanding and pomposity that passes for leadership in Quebec City, will exhibit the thoughtfulness and principled approach to compromises that Jack so often displayed?

Who in the House of Commons can and will rise above the pettiness and partisanship of that once-honourable institution?

Who among us in the media will put in the hours of work our profession demands of us, as did Jack? Which journalists and commentators will discard the old canards and focus on the heart of the issues, on people's issues, eschewing the entertainment and trivialization that has taken over our for-profit media?

What we see today in Jack is what we have not been getting in our leaders. So who among us will hold our candidates to account? Who will insist on real solutions and on long-term vision?

Jack may have left us a great legacy, but he has also left all of us a challenge that is both magnificent in its promise and overwhelmingly difficult, given our national propensity for the quick, cheap and thoughtless?

Are we big enough to rise to the challenge this myth has left to each of us?

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/08.11