Fifth anniversary of death of Hudson son and former NDP leader Jack Layton


PHOTO COURTESY JAMIE NICHOLLS

The late Jack Layton and his NDP party would win 103 seats in 2011 to form Canada’s Official Opposition.

It was five years ago this very week - on August 22 to be exact - that Jack Layton, who was raised in Hudson and who led the New Democratic Party (NDP) to its most successful result in the party's history in 2011, died after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

In a moving tribute to his fellow Hudsonite and former 'boss', Jamie Nicholls - NDP MP for Vaudreuil-Soulanges for four years before losing his seat to Liberal Peter Schiefke in the last federal election - told Your Local Journal in an exclusive interview this week, “For me personally, Jack Layton was a shining example of compassion. Both in his public life and in politics. He really cared about people and this is what set him apart from so many politicians on Parliament Hill.

“And when he took up a cause, he did so because it was in his heart, not just a strategic game to win votes. He was acutely aware of how political decisions affect real people and their families. With Jack, it was always a case of integrity, care, and compassion, something extremely rare in the world of politics.”

Asked for one of his favourite memories of Layton, Nicholls didn't think twice. “A dinner I shared with him on Sparks Street in Ottawa just around the corner from the Parliament Buildings. There was just the two of us and I don't really recall us talking about politics all that much. Instead, we spoke at length about us both growing up in Hudson, attending what was then Hudson High albeit about 20 years apart, and now representing that wonderful and very special community. Me more directly, of course, as the local MP, but he as the leader of our party.”

Added Nicholls, who would go on to be appointed Deputy Critic Transportation, Infrastructure and Communications, “Later, I would come to learn what a great leader he really was. He was definitely the captain of the ship. But a captain who worked very closely with the crew to ensure that the ship sailed smoothly.”

As a former Toronto councillor, one of Layton's long-held objectives was to empower municipalities with tax dollars that had been raised in those very municipalities, said Nicholls. And when once asked what he would do about developers whose bread and butter was municipal politics, Layton is on record as saying, “In Ottawa, the citizenry is nowhere to be found. That's why there's the possibility that public goals may be achieved in localities that may never be achieved through centralized decision-making structures. Ultimately, you have to trust the local citizens to get it right.”

Said Nicholls, “Jack told me that, in this regard, his favourite example was the fight to ban pesticides in Hudson back in 1991 when Michael Elliott was mayor. He said it was a classic example of local democracy trying to do something for their own health and safety and going right up to the Supreme Court against a multinational corporation and being supported by towns and cities all across the country.”

In Hudson, there is a lasting tribute to Layton, who was elected leader of the NDP in 2003 on the first ballot of the convention, and who would win 103 seats in 2011 - including a staggering 59 out of 75 in the province of Quebec - enough to form Canada's Official Opposition.

A beautiful pesticide-free park named in his honour overlooks the Lake of Two Mountains and is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike from throughout the region and of all political stripes.

Jack Layton would be proud.

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