What memories do we have to share about Jack and his legacy?
In my mind Jack Layton will forever be remembered for the election campaign of 2011.
In Montreal, his hometown, an NDP rally in a Saint Catherines club was jammed with supporters. There was a line-up down the street. Chantal Hébert wrote about his speech that night: “Jack had perfect pitch.”
I called him the next day to congratulate him. I was thinking about the homeboy, the Montrealer triumphing in his city, the sweetness of it. This was the Jack Layton who had invited Francophones to a party at his sailing club in Hudson Quebec (and been expelled for doing it). There he was speaking from the heart in Montreal about his country and what its citizens needed to see done, and something was happening: the orange surge in Quebec. Nobody saw it coming, and yet I got a call in Vancouver from a Montreal Francophone friend -- totally non-political -- who told me the NDP were going to win Quebec. "You mean Outremont, your riding" I said. "No," she said, "Quebec, the whole province." Sure, I thought. A few days later the NDP were at over 30 percent in the polls. Then Duceppe called upon Parizeau to come out on behalf of the Bloc, and the next thing you knew Jack and the party shot up above 40 percent.
The NDP rolled out its brilliant French language television ads featuring Jack. During the campaign, the hip Radio-Canada Sunday night tv talk show Tout le Monde en Parle invited him twice onto its platform, where Jack charmed a viewing audience of a couple of million. In the leaders debate, Jack turned the tables on Gilles Duceppe, who claimed to have stopped Stephen Harper. Jack fixed his gaze on Duceppe: “He is still there, he is still there! ”
Election night Jack applauded the election of 59 NDP members from Quebec. The sweetness of becoming leader of the official opposition was tempered by the knowledge that the Harper majority meant grief to come for so many Canadians.
Tonight Radio-Canada TV is just starting a two special on the main network. Jack made his mark on his home province. I would like to think his work in the last election and before could change the political direction of the country, bringing Quebec back into its progressive leading role in Canadian politics.