Bon Voy­age Jack


As I lis­tened to the ra­dio last week, I was over­whelmed by the emo­tion in my­self cre­ated by the emo­tion in the mes­sages of call­ers phon­ing in to speak about Jack Lay­ton.

It took me back 11 years to the death of Pierre Trudeau. Lisa and I were driv­ing from our home in Gatineau to a wed­ding in south­west­ern On­tario. Dur­ing the five-hour jour­ney, the ra­dio poured into the car a tor­rent of heart­felt mes­sages from peo­ple whose lives had been touched by that great man. The car filled up with them, and so did my eyes.

CBC Ra­dio in St. John’s had asked me to write a piece about Trudeau. I was hon­oured and over­whelmed. The in­spi­ra­tion of those call­ers helped me put to­gether a piece which I wrote long-hand in our mo­tel room be­fore putting on my jacket and tie and head­ing out to the wed­ding, my eyes sting­ing with tears.

Last week, I was in­flu­enced once again by ra­dio call­ers. There is some­thing al­most chem­i­cal about it. Lis­ten­ing to oth­ers ex­press in the most can­did and sin­cere terms their deep and par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for some­one and then hear them ex­plain why, can cause a re­ac­tion in you, all the more sur­pris­ing be­cause you never sus­pected that all the nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ents for that re­ac­tion were present.

It may be that gen­uine emo­tion, sim­ply-stated is the sharp point needed to ex­plode the bal­loon of cyn­i­cism.

It hap­pened to me once be­fore. When Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a hor­rific car crash in a Paris tun­nel, I felt a lit­tle sad. Peo­ple dear to me were huge fans of Diana. I noted her ra­di­ant beauty and her of­ten-charm­ing in­no­cence, but to para­phrase the Bea­tles in their ser­e­nade to her mother-in-law, I thought of Diana as a pretty nice girl, who didn’t have a lot to say.

It was not a view shared by the huge crowds out­side West­min­ster Abbey and through­out cen­tral Lon­don who were watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to her fu­neral ser­vice on giant screens. When Diana’s brother Earl Spencer fin­ished de­liv­er­ing the eulogy, as tra­di­tion dic­tates, there was si­lence in the abbey. But be­hind the closed doors and me­tres thick stone walls, the tele­vi­sion mi­cro­phones in­side the church picked up the roar of ap­plause from the tens of thou­sands out­side.

The tele­vi­sion pro­ducer had the wis­dom and sense of oc­ca­sion to switch to the out­door cam­eras, and view­ers were treated to a pro­foundly mov­ing dis­play of love as the huge crowd em­braced one an­other, clapped and cheered and wep t for t h e i r dead princess. I was moved. What the crowd un­der­stood and I hadn’t un­til that mo­ment was that they were proud of Diana. Her work for the sick and dis­pos­sessed around the world they un­der­stood as important work for Good with a cap­i­tal G. They loved her for it.

I have been aware of Jack Lay­ton from the time he en­tered fed­eral pol­i­tics, but like many other Cana­di­ans I was dis­tracted by the long­stand­ing tra­di­tion in this coun­try of fo­cussing on the two main par­ties, who have so far taken turns form­ing gov­ern­ment. Jack was a slick talker from Toronto and I sup­pose in a cer­tain way I re­sented that once again we were be­ing told what to do from that place.

When he hired Dr. Rick Smith away from his job as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare and gave him the job as his di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, I thought of Jack, “ here we go again, an­other lefty do-gooder who never saw a seal he didn’t want to save.”

Within weeks, Jack, to his credit, re­al­ized his mis­take and let Rick Smith go. But the impression had been made and it more or less stuck with me. How nar­row and petty I can be. As time went on though, I re­al­ized that Jack was stand­ing up for the important things in a Canada whose pol­i­tics were slid­ing slowly away from them.

His gutsy per­for­mance on the cam­paign trail lead­ing to the stel­lar re­sults in the May elec­tion achieved what no other politi­cian had. He brought Que­be­cois back to fed­er­al­ism wrapped in a so­cially just and eco­log­i­cally sound pack­age.

When I saw his pic­ture in the Globe and Mail in July, my heart sank. I was not sur­prised to hear the news last week. But I was buoyed by the ra­dio’s in­struc­tive mes­sage of the wide­spread out­pour­ing of love for the man. It is un­der­stand­able. He tells the truth: Love is bet­ter than anger. Hope is bet­ter than fear. Op­ti­mism is bet­ter than de­spair.

Bon voy­age Jack.

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