“But you’ve become what you used to oppose, you’ve changed in some way… Mr. Harper, what happened to you? What changed?”
Late NDP leader Jack Layton, in his usual, candid style, threw down the gauntlet when he posed the above question to the prime minister in a 2011 federal not-quite all candidates debate (Harper, in his usual style, blamed Layton and the NDP for forcing an election). Perhaps a greater concern for Canadians was how Harper appeared to be changing the country. On the global stage, under the Harper government, we’d gone from a purveyor of peace to a country complicit in the torture of Afghan detainees. We’ve been lambasted for our lack of leadership on climate change issues (even by our country’s own environment commissioner). We have seen the exponential growth in the division between rich and poor, with the richest one per cent of Canadians now paying a lower tax rate than the poorest 10 per cent.
Meanwhile, a toxic, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude seemed to permeate public political discourse across the nation.
But Jack Layton showed the world that, while we may have had the Harper government, it was not Harper’s Canada. In the 2011 federal election, Layton’s honest, up-beat approach helped the NDP sweep 30.62 per cent of the vote, behind the 39.62 per cent majority of the Conservatives, making him head of the Opposition.
After having beaten prostate cancer in 2010, and following the success of his recent campaign, Layton announced in July he would be taking a temporary leave to fight cancer once more. This time, however, it was a battle he could not win.
On Aug. 20, two days before his death, Layton wrote a letter to Canadians, encouraging us to keep our heads up high and never give up hope.
“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,” wrote Layton.
We thank you, Jack Layton, for always believing in us, and reminding us of our ability to effect positive change.