Monday, August 22, 2011

Condolences for Jack

I was on the bus on the way to work when I first heard it. A Jamaican lady was talking on her cellphone. "What?! Oh no! That's horrible!" then through her thick accent I could make out her repeating: "Is it breaking news?"

I wondered what was considered "breaking news." Did her son just win a scholarship? Then: "I feel bad for Olivia" and "he had been fightin' his other cancer." By then some bells started going off. I put it together but just to make sure, once she got off the phone I had to confirm my fears: "Did I overhear you say that Jack Layton is dead?"

"It's very sad" she said. She didn't need to say anything more. We had one of those moments strangers rarely share, of taking pause and simply understanding what it's like not to understand -that something would change for everyone, albeit a little bit differently for each person. For some, it's just an ordinary day. But it's sad that the NDP leader of Canada passed away and ended his long battle with multiple cancers, one through which he continued, and no doubt will continue, to inspire optimism. Or is that "sad"?

It was only about a month ago when Jack Layton stepped down as leader of the NDP to focus on his health. He had fought prostate cancer so most figured he would do it again. It's hard to think of him as simply a human. His death came as an eventual expectation but also a devastating surprise. Yet cancer increasingly makes mortals of us all.

Not only is it sad for both Liberal and Bloc Quebecois who watched the way he charmed the country in this last election. Canadian politics were so long dominated by an almost tiring bandying back and forth between the Liberals and the Conservatives, with too many weak and confused minority governments, too many vague promises or partisan political trickery. People wanted an alternative, and suddenly they gained an "orange crush" for Jack Layton, who inspired an "orange wave" which rippled across the country, crested with the white whiskers of his whimsical smile, a smile and spine to back it up, which gained his party a spot as the official opposition to the Tories for the first time.

It will be sad for the NDP party, although I am sure it will only fill them with more determination. New leader Nycole Turmel will have a lot to live up to. Gaping shoes. They need someone whose disgust with the broken political system was matched by such a practical will to do something about it, even as rivals led smear campaigns against him.

He continued to fight for the country he saw Canadians wanting to see. Without disclosing what type of cancer had spread from his fight against prostate cancer, he wrote us a letter -to those battling cancer, to political parties, to young Canadians. The style of his letters are a reflection of the man himself, who didn't address himself to a select few behind closed doors but took the time to empathize with the regular man and the business woman and the struggling family member, the seniors and the poor.

Although I couldn't make it to the memorial at Queen's Park in Toronto today at 4pm, I thought of how far Jack took us ahead. Here's the last letter that he left behind:

August 20, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Feel free to express your condolences here

Or instead of sending flowers, donate to the Broadbent Institute

Friday, August 05, 2011

Ace of Base Up In My Face!

What a sign of resurgence! Since going on hiatus and splitting from their lead singer Jenny Berggren in 2003, Swedish band Ace of Base had fresh faces Clara Hagman and Julia Williamson in Toronto last night, performing at Queer Beerfest at Exhibition Place.

The energy was infectious and there was so much love to be shared! Julia kept forming her hands into a heart shape symbol sharing conceptual hearts with raucous fans, who reached and clambered over fences for a chance to literally connect with the stars. I was close to the front where I felt satisfactorily touched, just making occasional eye contact.

Since flipping the tape over in my walkman back when cassettes were the mode-d'ecouter, I have to admit I hadn't given Ace of Base much thought. Had the singer committed suicide? Where were they now? I was completely surprised by the fact that I would have ever gotten the chance to see them perform! But what is it about them and other Swedish bands like the Cardigans that I love so much? Original members Ulf and Jonas were rockin' out and there were amazing and hilarious doppelganger b-boy dancers to back them up. On top of that, the band was generous enough to do three encores, including an emotional moment where a fan was called up to help rally voices for Don't Turn Around, which was an fitting anthem to wind down to, considering nobody wanted them going anywhere.

It was a surprising end to a taxing week. Despite the global economic meltdown we're experiencing post US debt ceiling disaster, the song glossed over my petty worries with positive reminders like "no one's gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong. But where do you belong?" Perhaps that's a question we should ask AND prepare for more often. But in the mean (and I mean MEAN) time, you really did see and feel the love. It was a good sign. :)

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