Jack Layton changed my life

Jack Layton changed my life

That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. Jack Layton inspired me to run for the NDP in the general election of 2004 although I had maintained for 25 years that I would never be a candidate. But run I did and when another election was called in 2006, I ran again. I was proud to carry the banner of a party with Jack Layton as its leader.

His optimism, energy, and commitment were compelling. He was always up to the challenge, embracing whatever opportunities came his way.

I first met him at a Leadership Debate that some of us had organized for London. Since London wasn’t on the “official” leadership tour, we had considerable leeway in the format. We decided that we would add interest to the event by asking each of the leadership hopefuls to entertain us after the debate.

Not every contender was enamoured of this; several found reasons to regretfully decline.

Not Jack, though. He used the occasion to demonstrate his auctioneering skills and to sell his book on homelessness as a fundraiser. Then he delighted us all by accompanying himself on a keyboard to a hilarious rendition of “Hit the road, Jack”. He didn’t take himself too seriously.

He did take the issues seriously, however, and wasn’t afraid to take some heat or cold when taking a stand. The second time I met him was on what was the coldest day in January of 2003, in front of the John Labatt Centre, rallying with others against the invasion of Iraq.

Then there was Jack, the family man, doting on his wife Olivia, cherishing his mother-in-law. At the leadership convention, I got to see Jack at a hospitality event, entertaining his supporters but immediately giving over the stage when Olivia joined him. The chemistry between them was palpable, each empowering the other, with not a hint of competitiveness. Later, after he had won the leadership of the party, Jack introduced with pride his mother-in-law who worked in the laundry department of the hotel where we were celebrating.

By then, I was thoroughly enchanted. With Jack at the helm of the party, anything seemed possible. He had a vision and a plan. It would take a while, but it would happen.

So I decided to run in 2004, and Jack came to campaign with me in Wortley Village. He was a great hit with the community; I was proud to be seen with him!

I didn’t win, not then, nor in January 2006.

But it made possible my successful run for Board of Control later that year. As the results came in on election night, Jack called to congratulate me. I treasure the memory.

Jack changed my life and he changed politics in Canada. He proved that nice guys don’t have to finish last, that courage, honesty and caring still have a place in the hearts of Canadians.

[Photo Credit: Ted Barber]

Gina Barber is a former member of London's Board of Control and a veteran NDP campaigner. You can read her London Civic Watch blog at http://ginabarber.blogspot.com/ Gina will be contributing periodic columns to The Beat Magazine.

[Editor's Note: Readers can share their condolences with the Layton family at http://www.ndp.ca/express_your_condolences]

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