Torontonians gave Jack Layton a fine sendoff, after a week of him being lionized in newspapers and on television screens across the country. I gather that about twenty thousand mourners visited his casket in Ottawa and Toronto. Not anywhere near the tens of thousands who paid their respects to Pierre Trudeau at his state funeral in 2000, but impressive nevertheless.
I was surprised, though, at the sheer number of negative reactions to the former NDP leader I saw on the Internet. While the mainstream media was overflowing with praise for the man, the Internet had more criticism—some very harsh—than I would have expected to see within mere hours of his death.
What I found so surprising was the number of conservatives who seem to have such a visceral dislike—some might say hated—for Jack Layton. Of course, there was his obvious socialist beliefs—anathema to conservatives. And many had been offended that he would cheat on his wife and family by patronizing a house of prostitution, which masqueraded as a massage parlor—it’s, understandably, a question of family values for many conservatives.
I’ll bet the unrelenting/unrepentant partisanship of the NDP leaders throughout Mr. Layton’s public mourning period also went against the grain for many. Even at the very end, Mr. Layton singled out the Conservative Party of Canada in his “letter to Canadians” writing:
“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.”
And who could miss the slap in the face of the Conservative Government when he wrote in his letter: “We can restore our [Canada’s] good name in the world.” Besides being factually wrong (Canada already has a “good name”), the comment is an insult to many of the 70 per cent of Canadians who are not followers of the NDP. So why address such a partisan comment “to all Canadians?”
Moreover, the clumsy attempt to use Mr. Layton’s death to financially kick-start the New Democrats’ propaganda arm, the Broadbent Institute, was like a final straw for many. How crass was that? Or how about New Democrat MP Pat Martin comparing Mr. Layton and his death to the 1960s American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King? How dare he?
On the one hand, Martin Luther King was a great man who led a peaceful revolution against the richest most powerful nation on earth, and won. He did this at great personal risk to his life—and finally died for his beliefs, while in the prime of his life. On the other hand, Jack Layton led a rather tepid socialist movement without apparent risk to his life. Until May 2, he was mainly a marginal player in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada, with his party seldom gaining more than 15 to 18 per cent of the vote in general elections.
Jack Layton was no Martin Luther King and Pat Martin’s ludicrous attempt to compare the two men was unseemly, inaccurate, and just plain unfair.
But can the forgoing fully account for the strong feelings conservatives have about Jack Layton? I don’t get it. Mr. Layton accomplished a lot for his party, but he never became prime minister and so really did nothing of lasting value for Canada. In fact, none of his policies were ever accepted by Canadians, so what real harm did he ever do? Sure he and the NDP took full credit for every social program we have, but that was just old-fashioned politics. It was always some other party that actually implemented our social programs.
Even in the case of publicly-funded health care. Does anyone really believe Tommy Douglas or anyone in the NDP/CCF “invented” the concept? Publicly-funded health care existed elsewhere in the British Commonwealth—poor little Caribbean islands had Publicly-funded health care years before Douglas introduced it to Saskatchewan. It was a program whose time had arrived in Ottawa and was inevitable. The NDP support of the concept was helpful, but little more than that.
The constant claiming of every good idea in Ottawa is galling to many conservatives, and liberals, for that matter.
Jack Layton may not have deserved the worst that has been said of him in the past few days, but he was far less the legendary figure he’s been painted on page and screen. That, I believe, has irritated many of his conservative detractors and raised their ire. And, I suppose, the NDP has alienated far too many conservatives over the years to expect then to join the celebration of their late NDP leader’s life.