One year later: Remembering Jack Layton

Before former NDP Opposition leader Jack Layton died, he wrote Canada an inspiring letter – urging us to bring more love, optimism and hope into our lives each and every day. That message will be the overriding theme at the celebrations on Wednesday to honour Layton one year after he succumbed to cancer.

The marquee event will be held in his home city of Toronto at Nathan Phillips Square where after his passing, mourners covered the City Hall exterior in chalk with messages about how much he meant to them.

The event will begin at 6:00 pm, when the letter will be read and musicians such as Ron Sexsmith, Jason Collett, Lorraine Segato and Raffi will perform. His widow, NDP MP Olivia Chow will attend, along with his children and other family and friends.

“It’s going to be quite a celebration, not just about Jack but all those people who believe we can make a difference based on the values of hope and optimism,” Chow said in an interview.

The gathering is taking place just a few days before his son – Toronto city councillor Mike Layton – is to be married.

“It will be nice to have an opportunity to remember my dad and to reaffirm our commitment to the love, hope and optimism that he wanted us to continue to bring to the world,” he told CBC. “And to do that with friends, with music, with the arts, these are all things that my dad really loved and he would have appreciated.”

Other events will take place across the country to mark the day, including Thunder Bay, Ottawa, Calgary, Regina, Sudbury, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Montreal, Brampton, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, and Vancouver.

A recent poll conducted by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press, shows how strongly most Canadians still feel about Layton, one year after his passing.

The survey took on a few claims by critics at the time of his death that the massive outpouring of grief that occurred wasn’t genuine, but a maudlin spectacle that would soon be forgotten.

The results showed that 12 months later, the majority of Canadians still view his legacy in high esteem. More than 75 per cent of respondents said they felt it was appropriate to hold a state funeral for Layton, with over half of them feeling that such an honour should not be given to all leaders of the Opposition. State funerals are routinely only given to current and former prime ministers, governor generals, and sitting members of cabinet.

An overwhelming 91 per cent said they felt he made a positive contribution to Canada, with 33 per cent describing it as “very positive.” The last time Canadians were so moved by the death of a politician was in 2000, when former prime minister Pierre Trudeau passed away. He had been prime minister for 15 years, and contributed to the historic patriation of the Constitution with a Charter of Rights.

Layton never made such concrete impacts on Canadian history, yet his death brought on a similarly emotional response. Chow summed up the reasons she believes the country felt her husband’s death in such a deeply personal way: “Jack is Jack, he’s an ordinary guy, he’s one of us and, gosh, look what happened to him,” noting how he was always referred to by his first name, an anomaly among politicians.

She mentioned that most people have been touched by cancer in their own lives, and while he managed to accomplish “some small things, not great things,” the optimism and determination he displayed throughout the 2011 election – despite his health issues – inspired many Canadians.

The Broadbent Institute has set up a website,, where Canadians can post their memories of Layton as well as express how they are bringing his message of hope, love and optimism to their daily lives.

A made-for-TV-biopic entitled “Smilin’ Jack: The Jack Layton Story”  is currently shooting in Winnipeg, documenting the final chapter of his life from the moment when he refused to support the Conservative budget through the Orange Crush that saw his party taking official Opposition for the first time in history to the public grief that followed the news of his death.

Canadian actor Rick Roberts is portraying Layton, while Sook-Yin Lee is playing Chow. The film is being produced by Pier 21 Films and Eagle Vision Inc, and is set to air next year.

Sources: CTV, CBC, City News


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