Jack Layton: ‘The Ordinary Man’

If you and I should chance to meet,
I guess you wouldn’t care;
I’m sure you’d pass me in the street
As if I wasn’t there;
You’d never look me in the face,
My modest mug to scan,
Because I’m just a commonplace
And Ordinary Man.

Robert William Service

Jack Layton’s secret weapon in the May 2 federal election was that he was Jack.  Jack was an ordinary man.  He was a Quebec anglo from Hudson but Jack was alright with ordinary Quebeckers.  He was also alright with ordinary voters across Canada.  For he was Jack.

Jack Layton’s party could not win the federal election but he took second prize with obvious delight.  He earned it.  The fates then conspired to rip that prize from his weakening hands.

Americans would see it as Jack being Mr. Smith, the ordinary man storming the gates of Congress.  In Canada, he was that quiet guy from down the street who was there to help his neighbours. The reality was that in the 2011 election he was every professional campaign manager’s dream, the perfect candidate: who could only do as he was told.

It will be extremely difficult to replace the mix that was Jack.  Here was a political science professor talking the talk of the ordinary man.  Here was a municipal pothole fixer discussing federal government issues.  Here is that regular Joe, married to a Chinese-Canadian lady who is also a Member of Parliament.

Jack was one of the toughest opponents you could ever face in an election campaign simply because he could look so innocent.  There was a very telling camera shot of Jack in the English-language television debate with the other leaders last April.  The camera angle was high and it looked as though he was looking up at Prime Minister Harper with a slight smile on his face.  It was the kind of smile that on a politician says somebody is going to get nailed.  Surprisingly it was not Harper but Michael Ignatieff Jack went after.  It was an attack on Michael’s attendance in the House of Commons that Jack knew was a cheap shot.

The willingness Jack showed in doing that told us he was not running his own campaign.  He had to agree with his team that he could not beat Harper but he could beat Ignatieff.  The fact that Michael Ignatieff did not respond told insiders even more.

Jack’s only problem was his party.  His illness shielded him from the worst attacks of his political enemies.  His illness meant props were used to help him through the ardour of the campaign.  It kept him free of the minutia demands of the party and its candidates.  And the strategy worked.

Canada will miss Jack Layton.  The New Democratic Party will miss him much more.  Without that ordinary man perspective, the party will slide back to its third party status.  Even when the Liberal Party moves more convincingly to the political left, there is little likelihood of a merger of the parties.  Jack Layton never seemed to want to preach the collectivism that the NDP represents.  It was because he was unique.  He was the ordinary man.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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