Sunday, August 28, 2011

Canada's Leader of the Opposition

Sadly Jack Layton, head of the NDP (New Democratic Party), died shortly after leading the party to its first election victory winning official standing as the opposition party. This victory un Layton is a bit like Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the shore of the river Jordan but not being able to lead the Israelites over. Instead, he was felled by cancer just months after his party's victory.

At the state funeral, here is the bit that I found to be the most moving:

Oddly, I think this Leonard Cohen song is very appropriate. It is a strangely politically appropriate song for a funeral for Canada's most successful democratic socialist politician. Layton won't replace Tommy Douglas in the hearts of Canadians. Douglas fought and won the battle for Canada's health care system. But Layton died as a great leader and will be beloved.

Leonard Cohen's oddly religious, sexual, poetic, and triumphant lyrics for Hallelujah seem appropriate for a normally a-religious socialist political funeral burying a leader who fell before he reached the mountain top of politics. It is a nicely "inclusive" Canadian compromise choice for a eulogistic musical tribute. Triumphant, but not bombastic. Hopeful, and decent. Reflective, but inspiring.

I do hope the NDP survives the loss of its leader. But even more, I want to see Canada continue with its three party politics. That puts the centre party in a position to cushion wild divergences to right or left, unlike the crazy politics of the US. I want to see Canada continue its history of compromise, pragmatism, and decency.

Sadly our political right party lost its "progressive" label (it was called the Progressive Conservative party, i.e. centre-right on social issues and hard right on economics and foreign policy). I fear that Canada is slowly drifting toward the US model of a two party system. That isn't good.

Update 2011aug29: And here is a bit from an opinion piece by Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Sun that highlighted the very un-Canadian moment when Stephen Lewis stuck it to the Prime Minister:
Allowing Layton a state funeral was probably Stephen Harper’s most generous prime ministerial act. But it led to a nationally televised scene that will likely haunt him and surely inspire progressives for years to come: Stephen Lewis, the iconic elder statesman of Canada’s social democratic movement, standing in front of Canada’s most right-wing prime minister ever, speaking truth to power.

Determined that the event be more than just a tribute to the goodness of one man, Lewis used the heft of the occasion, as Layton would have wanted, to drive home Layton’s social democratic vision for the country.

With the Conservatives’ new hammerlock on power — accomplished with a mere 40 per cent of the national vote — here at least was one joyous moment in which we could watch the country’s most powerful orator confront a prime minister who had no choice but to stand every time the rest of the room rose in rapturous pleasure at Lewis’s inspiring call for a more equal and generous Canada.

That message is exactly what those on the right have been trying to deny — that there is an alternative to the grim, slash-and-burn policies of austerity they want to foist on us, making this an ever more unequal society.

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