Jack Layton has died

Just months after leading his party to an improbable second-place finish in Canada’s general election, and weeks after taking “temporary” leave as Leader of the Official Opposition, NDP leader Jack Layton has died.

Quite apart from his politics (which I generally, but not always, agreed with), he was a political leader I admired. This is very sad news.

6 thoughts on “Jack Layton has died

  1. I’m with you Matthew. I generally liked his politics too, and I very much admired him personally, coming from a conservative family myself (though an American one). He will be dearly missed. I just hope we don’t hear some Faux News talking head say that he could have lived if he had been treated in the US. Given the general lack of coverage given Canadian politics it’s unlikely but possible.

  2. I agree with the above. Layton was a remarkable man. As for the US media, they will pay the same amount of attention to this event that they do to anything that happens in Canadian politics.

    I have a somewhat irrelevant question. What would have happened if the NDP had actually won the election earlier this year? Who would now be Prime Minister of Canada? Long ago, when a head of government died suddenly under a parliamentary system, the head of state would appoint a new head of government immediately, after sounding out senior members of the ruling party. However, in recent decades, parties in parliamentary system have switched to American-style primaries and conventions to choose their leaders, which can take a long time to organize. The Canadian leadership process now takes months. If it had been Stephen Harper who had died a couple of weeks from a cancer that he thought he had beat, who would be Prime Minister while the Conservative leadership selection process was getting organized?

    The only recent case of a Prime Minister dying in office that I can think of was that of Olof Palme in Sweden, and it appears that in this case the Deputy Prime Minister replaced him. But I don’t know the details of the Swedish Social Democratic selection process. If this is the standard practice, it would seem to give a huge advantage to the Deputy Prime Minister in the next leadership election. And what if there is no “Deputy Prime Minister”, or the office is held by the leader of a minor party which is part of the ruling coalition?

    Again, if it hadn’t been for the presidentialization of the Prime Minister’s role, no doubt following the American model, this problem wouldn’t occur. But maybe the contingency of PMs dying in office suddenly has been provided for, but in ways that just haven’t gotten much publicity.

  3. It is so sad that he died, Jack Layton is one of the best Social Democratic leaders the Western World has seen in a long time, a superb party leader.

  4. Jack Layton’s final “letter to Canadians” is, as far as I know, unique in the history of politics. It was read in full numerous times on television on the day of his death, and has already worked its way into our national consciousness. It’s too long to quote here, but is worth reading in full. Its final paragraph, best read in context, is fast becoming an extended cliche:
    “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.”

    The outpouring of tens of thousands of mourners across Canada, and the scene of thousands of chalked messages in Toronto’s main square, must be inexplicable to anyone outside Canada.

    On another topic, as to your question about interim prime ministers, there is no question. If Jack had died in office as Prime Minister, the caucus would have chosen an interim leader (just as they will do now) to serve until the leadership convention, and that person would have become Interim Prime Minister (just as she will become Interim Opposition Leader). Of course that assumes a one-party government; in a coalition the question would have been more complex.

    • I agree with Wilf. The letter to Canadians is a masterpiece. Very inspiring.

      On replacing a PM, even in a coalition, in most countries, I believe, the process would be more or less as Wilf sketches. Of course, if a coalition partner was unwilling to work with the new PM chosen by the party that had the rights to the top post under the coalition agreement, it could always pull the plug on the whole deal.

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