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September 5, 2011

NP's Christie Blatchford on Jack Layton

The Canadian Charger

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It tends to be human nature that we like those who embody our values and look less favourably upon those who don't. Thus it's not surprising that some on the right of the political spectrum, such as National Post columnist Christie Blatchford, wasn't pleased with Jack Layton's farewell letter to Canadians; or many of the causes he fought for during his 30 years in public life.

Don't expect Ms. Blatchford to be writing in support of the homeless anytime soon, but do expect her columns of fawning admiration for the struggles of the well-heeled felon Conrad Black.

Here is a telling example of the above-mentioned clash in values between Ms. Blatchford and Mr. Layton:

In 2006, Ms. Blatchford won the Ross Munro Award. Its selection committee singled her out from the other candidates based on her compelling work on the Canadian Forces, particularly in Afghanistan: “Christie Blatchford brings to the theatre of hostilities her keen eye and curiosity. She writes superb prose that conveys the experience of the Canadians’ war in Afghanistan. She obviously understands the soldiers and she has grasped the comradeship that binds them together. She not only informs Canadians of today’s military realities, but champions values such as honour and sacrifice. She is exceptionally evocative, superbly descriptive, and develops a compelling storyline.”

In other words, Ms. Blatchford whole-heartedly sides with the powerful, championing – as the National Post and it's like-minded colleagues on the right like to characterize it - “a more muscular foreign policy,”  while attempting to convince Canadians it's honourable for young Canadian men and women to sacrifice their lives in Afghanistan, while the taxpayers' foot the bill. 

Meanwhile at the NDP's 22nd Convention, held on September 10, 2006, in Quebec City, the NDP passed a motion calling for the return of Canadian Forces from Afghanistan. On September 24, 2006, Mr. Layton met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the NDP position. After the meeting Mr. Layton stated that Canada's role should be focused on traditional peacekeeping and reconstruction rather than in a front line combat role that was currently taking place.

Mr. Layton said: “We support the Canadian troops; we want to bring them home.” He explained that after a century of trying to bomb the region into submission a better strategy might be to open up a line of communication.

In response, the Harper government branded the NDP leader “Taliban Jack,” suggesting he was a big fan of the Taliban and their horsewhipping of women.

“Is it next going to be tea with Osama Bin Laden?” asked Peter MacKay. And his like-minded colleagues in the mainstream media were quick to join the chorus:  A Globe and Mail columnist indignantly wrote “Would he pull out the chairs for their representatives? Would he pour tea for those who have killed 23 Canadian soldiers this year?”

Now, five years and many deaths and injuries later, Harper is going to do just that. Making a complete about-face from his 2006 pronouncement: “We're not going to cut and run. That's not the Canadian way and that's not my way,” Harper and his U.S. allies are negotiating with the Taliban and ending Canada's combat role.

Is it any wonder those on the right found Mr. Layton and his policies threatening? He was not only undermining their cherished war effort,  that allowed corporations to make fortunes at taxpayers' expense, his calls for better pensions, ending poverty and homelessness, a greener economy and higher corporate taxes threatened the right with the scourge of higher taxes on their six- digit incomes, and for what? So that Canada could be a more generous and inclusive country. How vile!

There is a groundswell of support for Mr. Layton across the nation because he fought relentlessly for the less fortunate, against the powerful - whom people on the right like Ms. Blatchford and her colleagues at the National Post so admire – and he didn't let his tragic illness dim his eternal optimism, as he fought to the end for, what for him were, heartfelt causes.

While there is a great deal of truth to Ms. Blatchford's comments that flowers and notes of condolences have become commonplace upon the death of famous people, since the death of Princess Diana; and people routinely weep for those they have never much thought about before, and it's considered appropriate, it's not accurate to say we're witnessing the Dianafication of Mr. Layton's death.

While there may be some overlap in terms of mourners for the two, the admiration for Jack Layton is due to the passion he had for causes and compassion for people, while the attraction to Lady Diana was due to the passion and compassion she had for herself, representing diametrically opposed values in the two people and likewise, many of those who mourn for them.

Canadians' outpouring of emotion over the death of Pierre Trudeau in 2000 was, similar to that we're witnessing for Mr. Layton, also unexpected. The values Mr. Layton and Mr. Trudeau so passionately fought for – equality and justice for all - have long resonated with a lot of Canadians. In this regard, these two men stand alone amongst their peers.

Can anyone foresee this type of response upon the death of self-serving and opportunistic politicians like Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper for that matter?

It is fair to say of both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Layton, that Canadians know they'll not see their like again, while they can expect to see the likes of the others over and over again, ad nauseam.

Perhaps this explains the outpouring of emotion over the death of Jack Layton: On the political landscape, there was nobody quite like him and there won't be again.

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M. Elmasry

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