Jack Layton was a great Canadian leader in a dark time. He was going on for years about how the NDP was a “real” alternative to the Liberals for centrist and left leaning voters in Canada. I voted for them, but I can’t say I ever believed the dream. But in this last election, well, needless to say he showed the faithless faithful wrong – it is no longer trivial to declare an NDP government “impossible” – difficult perhaps, but not impossible.
Political discourse is about possibility – people’s dreams are constrained by turning them impossible. Zizek is good for talking about this – about how “possibility” has this double meaning today: on the one hand in the realm of technology anything is possible, but to raise the income tax one percent, this is impossible.
I didn’t always agree with Jack. When he spoke at UBC I was not impressed, he brought up the right points (climate change, bug kill pine, native rights), but I didn’t believe him. He’d spent the last minutes before the talk speaking with some local student politicians about electric solar panels on his boat, he came over all self-obsessed. And besides, wasn’t he convinced of something absurd, impossible – how could he ever become prime minister – we all knew that the best he could ever do was push the liberals a little to the left. Well, he showed us, enough said.
As for the middle east, I think the NDP gets it wrong (the occupation did start in 1948 – and we should be able to tell the truth while we support reasonable solutions for peace), but I can’t say I’d have a different position if I were Layton. Their position is grassroots (voted on at party conferences), and is much less pro-zionist than the positions of the other major parties. Layton may not approve of Israeli apartheid week, but he can hardly be called a zionist hack like Harper, or an opportunist turncoat and liar like Ignatieff.
The left needs leaders, whether we like it or not, and whether or not we constantly denounce them as patriarchs or monarchists. Canada is short on leaders who aren’t tyrants, who believe in something with their heart rather than their pocketbook. Jack Layton accomplished something significant during his time here, and we owe it to his legacy, as well as those he represented, not to let the NDP’s revival fall away or be captured by elite interest. This is a time for people to work to strengthen the NDP grassroot base, to organize and unionize, and to rally behind the NDPs next leader.