Feast of Jack Layton (August 22)   3 comments

Jack Layton Button

Above:  A Campaign Button

Image in the Public Domain



Canadian Activist and Federal Leader of the New Democratic Party

The process of researching this post entailed, among other activities, watching certain videos at YouTube.  In one of them Ezra Levant, a Canadian pundit, mocked adulation of the recently deceased Jack Layton.  Levant, who had mourned Layton’s passing just a few days before, showed a faux icon of Layton and derived attempts to depict him as a saint.

With this post I declare Layton to be a saint.

Jack Layton came from a family with a history of service to Canada and vulnerable people.  His great-great uncle on his mother’s side was William Henry Steeves (1814-1873), a Father of Confederation, a member of the Senate (1867-1873) as a Liberal, and an advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.  Our saint, on his father’s side, was a great-grandson of Philip E. Layton, a blind organist who advocated for disability benefits and founded the Montreal Association for the Blind and the Philip E. Layton School for the Blind, Montreal, in 1908.  Philip was the father of Gilbert Layton (1899-1961), a Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec and cabinet minister in the provincial government in the late 1930s.  Gilbert was the father of Robert Layton (1925-2002), a Liberal Party activist who switched to the Progressive Conservative Party and served as a Member of Parliament from 1984 to 1993, as the Minister of State for Mines from 1984 to 1986, and as the Party Caucus Chair from 1986 to 1993.  He retired from politics in 1993 to focus on his recovery from prostate cancer.  Robert had married Doris Elizabeth Steeves.  Their firstborn son was John Gilbert Layton, born at Montreal, Quebec, on July 18, 1950.

Layton, who graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from McGill University, Montreal, 1970, embarked upon an academic career and a political vocation.  In 1971, he graduated from York University with his Master of Arts in Political Science.  He became a professor at Ryerson University then at York University, and completed his doctoral program at York University in 1983.  He, married to Sally Halford from 1969 to 1983, became an activist and councilman in Toronto in the 1980s, continuing the good work into the early 2000s.  He was especially passionate with regard to homelessness (favoring public housing as an alternative to incarceration), an issue he addressed locally and on which he wrote two books.  Layton also worked proactively on issues such as HIV/AIDS, recycling, renewable energy, and violence against women.  In 1988, he married Olivia Chow (b. 1957), who served as a councilwoman in Toronto from 1991 to 2005 and as a Member of Parliament from 2006 to 2015.

Layton grew up in The United Church of Canada and acted upon socially progressive Christianity.  Among his heroes was Tommy Douglas (1904-1986), Baptist minister and federal leader of the New Democratic Party.  Our saint, a member of the Bloor Street United Church, Toronto, also attended services at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, whose minister was his friend.  Layton, who had run for Parliament in 1993 and 1997, became the federal leader of the New Democratic Party in 2003 and finally won a seat in 2004.  He led his party, increased its number of seats, and retained his seat in the elections of 2006, 2008, and 2011.  In the House of Commons he opposed the war in Iraq, favored peacekeeping and reconstruction (as opposed to combat) in Afghanistan, and favored a plan to cap interest rates on credit card debt.  He also read scripture at the annual National Prayer Breakfast and taught a Bible study class for youth at Wynan United Church, Hudson, Quebec, in which he had grown up.

In 2011, the New Democratic Party, with Layton as leader, won 103 seats in the House of Commons and became the official opposition for the only time so far in Canadian electoral history.  (The Liberal Party, which came in third place in 2011, won a majority in the election of 2015.  The Conservative Party, which had formed minority governments in 2006 and 2008 before winning a majority in 2011, became the largest opposition party.   The New Democratic Party returned to its usual status as the party in third place.)  In May 2011, Layton became the Leader of the Official Opposition.  During the campaign he had used a cane, due to his recent hip surgery.  That cane, his smile, and his enthusiasm had become his trademarks.  The future seemed bright for Layton and his party.

In 2010, Layton had announced his diagnosis of prostate cancer.  He had sought and obtained treatment for it.  He had been vigorous during the federal campaign of 2011.  There had been no outward indication of disease as of election day 2011.  On July 25, 2011, however, Layton, looking and sounding seriously ill, announced that he had another cancer and that he was stepping down temporarily as party leader.  On August 20, he issued his farewell letter, which concluded with these words:

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Layton died at home in Toronto on August 22, 2011.  He was 61 years old.  The outpouring of grief came from across the political spectrum.






O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


3 responses to “Feast of Jack Layton (August 22)

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  1. Pingback: A Prayer for Constructive and Faithful Living | GATHERED PRAYERS

  2. Pingback: A Prayer for Constructive and Faithful Living | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

  3. Pingback: Happy Canada Day! | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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