It has only been a few short weeks since the tragic death of Jack Layton. Jack wasn’t just the leader of our party he was like a member of our family. And as we grieve, we find ourselves thrust into the media glare of a leadership race. It is a race that will have profound consequences for Canada’s political landscape. The next leader will need the vision and political “chops” to carry out Jack’s mission to form a social democratic government in the next election.
The papers have been rife with names of potential leadership candidates. Amidst the growing speculation, people have been calling and e-mailing asking me to run. It is a request that I haven’t taken lightly. In fact, a key group of political organizers – people for whom I have always had the greatest respect -- have come forward to put a team in place.
Nonetheless, after much deliberation, I have decided not to participate in this upcoming race.
The process of choosing a replacement for Jack Layton will come during our first term as official opposition. Canadians are looking to us to continue our work of holding the Stephen Harper government to account. We are facing the most militant and divisive government in Canadian history. They have no intention of giving us time to grieve or rebuild. We will need experienced MPs willing to take the fight to the right wing agenda. This will free up other MPs to participate in the leadership race.
To this end, I have pledged my full support to interim leader Nycole Turmel and her team to play whatever role is needed to support the caucus through this upcoming session of Parliament.
One more thought: the leadership campaign is taking place amidst an unprecedented level of media scrutiny on the New Democratic Party. When a new leader is chosen, they will no doubt be judged by some as not being “Jack” – a mere mortal filling the political giant’s shoes.
Filling Jack’s shoes is certainly a mighty tall order. And yet, Jack would be the first to tell you how much growing he did in order to be able to fill those shoes. The difference between the party that Jack Layton took command of in 2003 and the party that will be handed over in March 2012 is a difference of immense magnitude. Jack spent his years as leader building the foundation for today’s success. He encouraged people to get involved in the party as candidates, activists and staff. It was a faith well-founded. None of us are going to let Jack down.
Jack Layton trusted Canadians. He knew they would choose the politics of hope over the politics of division and smear. The result was the great Orange Crush of April 2011. Canadians sent an even stronger message when they took to the streets in their tens of thousands to bid farewell to Jack.
We all have a job to do. Canadians are looking to us to show unity, determination, practicality and optimism. If we carry on the path that Jack laid out, Canadians will respond by voting in the first social democratic federal government in Canadian history.
This is the house that Jack built.