Today is Thursday, and this is supposed to be the day where I bring up a video or arcade game to discuss, and bring up a memory or a discussion surrounding said video or arcade game.
This week, I've decided to turn off the game console. Spent my last quarter. Used my last token at Chuck E. Cheese.
Because some things are just more important than playing video games. Sometimes an event will inspire one to write a commentary on something that comes to the mind, and it bugs you until you get it out. Or sometimes, something will happen in current events that causes you to speak out about it, regardless of the circumstances behind it.
Today just happens to be one of those times, and fair warning to all of you, this could happen sporadically as events of the world take place.
Above is the image of Canadian politician Jack Layton. Earlier this week, he passed away from cancer at the age of 61. With his death came an outpouring of affection and grief from Canadians everywhere. Memorial sites were set up where people could leave behind messages of condolences in books, and where people left behind messages on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. His funeral is scheduled for August 27, and it is expected that millions of people will pay their respects to the man by either attending memorial services, or watching the state funeral on television.
But to anyone who may be reading this and living outside of Canada, who was Jack Layton, and what impact did he make on Canada to cause so much outpouring of emotions from Canadians?
I can't and won't speak for other Canadians, but my honest assessment of Jack Layton was that unlike a lot of politicians who shouted and screeched demands and promises that may or may not have been fulfilled, he at least tried to back them up. In fact, I think he was one of the few Canadian politicians to have the cojones to stand up to fellow politicians to speak for the average Joe Canadian. That I found to be very refreshing, considering the toxicity and vitriol that have plagued election campaigns in the past.
I'm not going to go into rich detail about his political history, because in all honesty, I am not the type who gets quite into heated political debates. If anything, I'm the type of person who tries to avoid such debates. How ironic that in this blog entry, I could potentially be starting up such debates by having my own thoughts here.
But what the hell, I like a challenge.
The summarization of Jack Layton's political career is this. In 2003, after serving years on various positions within the Toronto City Council, he was elected as the leader of the New Democrats Party (NDP). But before we get into this, let's go back a few years to the year 1982, when his political career effectively began.
Back in 1982, Jack was 32 years old, and when he won the election for the Toronto City Council that year, it was a massive upset against opposing candidate Gordon Chong. Right off the bat, his outspoken nature was quite noticeable, and he immediately became one of the most vocal and loudest serving council members. He tackled issues such as the building of the SkyDome (which he opposed), and was a firm advocate for rights for patients who were diagnosed with AIDS. There were some blips along the way but he did his job well enough and served the city of Toronto for many years. In 2003, he was elected as the leader of the NDP, and stayed in that position until his death. On May 2, 2011, Jack Layton became the official leader of the opposition, and he lived long enough to see a huge surge in NDP seats gained in the House of Commons. I'd like to believe that a part of the reason for the gain was because of his leadership qualities and his larger-than-life personality, but I am well aware that there are other factors that were likely behind the gain (dislike and distrust of the other party leaders influencing their decision, Layton's strong performance in the 2011 debates pre-election, and the sudden switchover in Quebec, for example).
And certainly, Layton's political record isn't exactly flawless. It's hard to overlook the fact that he was involved in that ridiculous Liberal/NDP/Bloc-Quebecois coalition idea. And certainly, he has had his name linked to some political scandal over the years. But, I'm not gonna talk about those here. If you're really interested, you can Google it, but this blog has never been one to humiliate public figures, especially after their death, and it never will be used for that purpose.
No, this blog entry I've decided won't be about politics. Aside from the brief bio I posted, that's all I plan to discuss.
Instead, I'd rather talk about the man himself, and why Canadians seemed to look up to him, and why so many are saddened by his loss.
Doing some research on Jack Layton, it's interesting to note that he wasn't always the polished leader that most of us saw him as. During the late 1980s, it wasn't all that uncommon to see Jack Layton report to council meetings in blue jeans and messy hair. Which would have been a great look for a high school sophomore reporting for chemistry class, but not for an elected official. He changed his image in 1991 when he attempted to run for mayor of Toronto, ditching the jeans for suits and looking more polished in appearance. Still, this should have been an indicator that he was not just any ordinary politician.
Rather, we all got to see the more human side of him on more than one occasion, and often we laughed with him when he got into embarrassing situations. When he first began dating his future wife, Olivia Chow (who also happens to be in the political arena herself), her mother was a bit wary of the union, partially because she disapproved of his race, as well as his occupation. Nevertheless, Jack wanted to convince her that he was good for her daughter, so when he was invited to dinner, he accepted. During the dinner date, the group played Mahjongg, and while they were playing, Jack really wanted to impress his future mother-in-law by thanking her for the meal in Cantonese.
What Jack didn't realize was that unlike our own English language, in Cantonese, depending on the tone in which you say it, the meaning could be completely messed up. What Jack thought he was saying was 'thank you for the good meal.'
Instead, it came out as 'thanks for the good sex.'
Yeah, that's not awkward at all.
But it was a humourous moment that broke the ice, and ultimately welcomed Jack into the Chow family. Jack and Olivia would later get married in 1988.
That's probably what I remember most about Jack Layton. He was human, and he made mistakes. And made no excuses for it.
I think part of his appeal was his laid-back type personality away from the House of Commons. In parliament, he was mouthy, opinionated, and outspoken. Outside of the office, he was quite the opposite. He was known for playing music and singing songs at party gatherings, and had no shame in proclaiming his love for everything Star Trek. He even has his picture taken in a Star Trek costume at a convention in 1991! He even got up at the 2005 Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner to parody popular songs by creating his own humourous lyrics to the melody.
(Considering that I have a habit of bastardizing Christmas carols, this was a man after my own heart.)
Ultimately, his main goal as a politician was to fight for Canadian rights, and I feel that out of all the leaders out there, that he really tried to listen to all the prospective voters. He may not have had the solution to a problem, or even had the right answer to fix it, but at least he tried to listen to the voters (which may explain his party's gain of popularity in the 2011 Canadian elections).
So, it's only fitting that some of his final words were expressed in a letter to the Canadian public just two days before he passed away. Now, I won't post the letter within the body of this blog, but I will post the link to it. Regardless of what you thought of him or his politics, it is worth the read, especially for the last paragraph.