Tag Archives: Jack Layton

Jack and John

Last Monday we got word of two deaths. Both men died of cancer. We first got to know both men in 2003. One was a person I never met but felt like I knew, the other one was someone I talked to on a daily basis but never really felt like I knew at all. The first was Federal NDP leader Jack Layton, and the second was our next door neighbour, John.

There’s not much I can say about Jack Layton that hasn’t already been said better by others elsewhere. Jack Layton was a fighter, and he fought for the very people who had the least power: the homeless, battered women, HIV/AIDS patients, the aboriginal community, the elderly, the poor. The list goes on. I’ll never forget his spirit of optimism.  Back in April, I wrote a post about the Vote Compass software and I called Jack Layton “trustworthy but delusional“.  It just goes to show that it’s a good thing that I don’t make my living as a political pundit. I was the delusional one. Not only did I not foresee the Conservative majority (or maybe I was just wishfully hoping it wouldn’t happen), the Orange Crush of the NDP and the destruction of the Bloc and Liberal Party weren’t even in my realm of contemplation. I’ll never forget watching Jack Layton’s victory speech, and the sense of optimism and hope I felt that night. To learn in late July that Jack needed to take a leave to fight another form of cancer, I wasn’t immediately worried. He’d been down this road before, and I knew he’d get the best care possible and that he wouldn’t, couldn’t leave us now, not at the very pinnacle of his career, at the cusp of making a real difference as the Leader of the Opposition. So it was all that much more hard news to receive when we heard on the 8 a.m. CBC news that Jack had passed away. The outpouring of grief across the country, the chalk memorials, the tributes,  matched my own personal grief and sense of loss. Through my tears, I said to Marla, “Isn’t this silly? I didn’t even know him.” “Sure you did”, she said. “We all felt like we did”.

"So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic, and we'll change the world." Jack Layton

Contrast this with our neighbour John. Our neighbour across the back called me over that night to tell me that our next door neighbour John had died while we were away on our vacation. Like Jack, John had battled prostate cancer the year before, and like Jack, it was generally thought the cancer had been beat. I knew something wasn’t right when John and his wife Marie had returned a month early from their winter holiday in Texas, but John wasn’t one to talk about his health directly to me, and I didn’t feel like I should pry. Our last conversation was in May when Marla’s Dad was parked outside of our house. His van and trailer were laden with things from my Mom’s old neighbour, and John was concerned that Marla and I were getting divorced or something. “I saw all that stuff, the mattress and everything, and I got worried you were moving out”. We had a little chuckle over it, and that was it. After that, his health took a turn and we never saw him out for walks or puttering in his yard. Soon, we only saw Marie out walking the dog, and then we didn’t even see her that much.

John and Marla rarely saw eye to eye. John would constantly spray his yard with harsh pesticides and herbicides, and Marla would rush inside and close all our windows. When Marla hung a bird-feeder in our yard, John hung over the fence and told her she’d never get any birds. The next day when I pulled into our parking pad, I thought I was coming onto the set of a Hitchcock movie, there was so much avian action. He was a gas lawnmower man, and I was electric. That pretty much sums up our relationship. There was a lot of “fence hanging” with John. He wasn’t a tall man, so he had a little step-stool he’d use when he wanted to talk. He was like a sitcom neighbour, really. When John asked me if he could store his trailer in our yard, I didn’t immediately give him an answer, so it took Marla to be the “heavy” and tell him no. When Marla had me dig a little garden the first summer we were in our house, John told her nothing would grow. I think Marla took some pleasure in bringing over some fresh cucumbers to him that fall.

Still, I feel like I’m not painting a balanced picture. When we first moved into our house, we didn’t have a lawn-mower, so he offered to lend us his spare one until we got sorted out. A year later, he wanted to replace the fence between our yards. I understand that it is neighbourly etiquette to pay 50/50 for a fence. John said, “No worries, I remember what it was like to be young and not have a lot of extra money. I’m the one that wants the fence, I’ll pay for it.” He even respected Marla’s wish that a tree that straddled our property be saved and built the fence around it. I saw a different side to him when his beloved dog, Sasha, passed away. It’s always unsettling to see grown men cry, and I was surprised a few weeks later when barking resumed next door. “Meet Sasha!” John shouted over the fence. “But, but, didn’t Sasha die?” I asked myself. From that day forward, Marla and I have referred to that dog as “Sasha 2”. It could bloody well be “Sasha 13” for all we know. Over the years, he would come over and warn Marla when he’d be spraying, so that she’d have time to close the windows or leave altogether. In the last year of his life, he built his own garage in the back, and offered to build us one too, if we paid for the materials. I was really thinking of taking him up on that when the cancer returned. Aside from our conversations over the fence, I never really knew him at all. In the eight years we’ve been neighbours, I’ve never been over to his house, and he never was in ours. When we first moved in, I had him pegged as the type of neighbour with whom I would have a beer on our deck. I guess I missed my chance. I’ll miss our chats as we both tried to have the nicer lawn, and struggle I had in finding common ground with him. There was no obituary in the paper and there was no service. I still imagine him puttering when I’m out BBQing.

Two deaths. One disease. Two very different men.

"Good fences make good neighbors". Robert Frost

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You can’t spell “Vote Compass” without “Ass”

“Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.” Mark Twain

Just like that, we’re into another Federal election. In my city, we will have had a civic, provincial and federal election within a 12 month period. I know a lot of my friends have become apathetic and disenchanted with our political system and it’s leaders. Everyone’s focusing on what’s bad about the other guy, rather than just telling us what’s good about themselves. A friend of mine has a theory that most people would vote “Green” if it was based solely on policies, but most people vote strategically. “Who has the best chance of beating the guys I hate the most?” It’s hard not to agree with the cynics, but I personally love election time.

First: it’s a relatively short period. Five weeks and its over. Not really enough time for voter fatigue to set in, not like the system our friends to the South employ. The 2012 Presidential election is still almost 2 years away, and there is already rumblings about who will run. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota announced that he is launching an exploratory committee into the feasibility of him running for President. He’s not even running yet, he’s just announcing to everybody that he’s checking out his options. That’s like me announcing in the morning that I kind of feel like an Arby’s Beef and Cheddar for lunch. There’s a slim chance I’ll actually eat one, but I want everyone to know that I’m thinking about one of those delicious sandwiches made up of an onion bun, lean shaved roast beef, Arby’s Sauce, and velvety cheese sauce…..where was I?

Jack Layton doing his best "Beef and Cheddar" impression.

Oh yeah, elections. The second thing I like about them is that the politicians are out there crisscrossing the country, (or in Duceppe’s case, La Belle Province) and that anything can happen. Politicians veer from scripts, unexpected protests can erupt and rhetoric escalates. It doesn’t really matter that on May 2 the results will more than likely be the same: A minority Conservative government, with a strong showing (but not strong enough) from Liberals, NDPers and the Bloc. Who knows? Maybe even Lizzie May and the Greens may snag a seat.

I'm glad there's a "Vote Green" sign in the background. Easier to identify.

This brings me to this week’s topic. The Vote Compass. This thing started innocently enough. The CBC hired a couple of poly-sci profs to come up with a survey that asks your opinion on a number of topics relevant to Canadians. Representatives from each major party “answer” the questions based on their platforms and past practices. The idea is that you can take the survey and see which party most closely aligns itself with you. It’s billed as a “voter’s tool” for those who may not know how they want to vote. “See where you stand on the issues” encourages Peter Mansbridge. You can see if you’re a soulless Tory, a wishy-washy Liberal, a treehugging Greeny, a commie rat NDPer or a treasonous BLOCer, I suppose.

"Let's fuck this country up good!"

I took the compass survey, answered the questions as truthfully as I could, without trying to “guess” what the survey wanted, and was surprised to find myself aligned most closely with the Green Party. “Oh great”, I thought. “I’m most similar to a party even LESS likely to form a government than the NDP, my default party on all things political.” I wondered which questions turned me towards the Greens. I DID say that the environment was important to me, but isn’t that a no brainer? Who would actually say “I care not for mountains, trees, air and water? These things do not interest me.” I thought all the rest of my answers were pretty left leaning, and I said Jack Layton was the most trustworthy leader. Delusional perhaps, but trustworthy in my eyes.

Then there was a bit of a kerfuffle with the Vote Compass. Kathy Brock of Queen’s University claimed that it had a Liberal bias, and of course this became headline news for our local rag “The Winnipeg Sun”. Turns out the professor answered all the questions “somewhat agree” and it dubbed her Liberal. She went back and chose “somewhat disagree” and guess what? Liberal again. CBC fought back in defence of the Vote Compass to say that there is a balance of left and right leaning questions, so if you were to answer everything the same, then you’d come out in the middle. Right smack dab where the Liberal party falls. Welcome to Liberalville, Kathy!

"Does this boa make me look phat?"

The next thing was that it was discovered that one of the professors who designed the Vote Compass was previously employed by Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party. Now we’re getting into Manchurian Candidate style territory. Or are we? Upon closer inspection, maybe not. Peter Loewen, the “director of analytics” for Vote Compass, volunteered for Ignatieff in 2006 and wrote a couple of policy papers for his leadership bid. I guess they weren’t winners, because Ignatieff eventually lost out to Stephan Dion that year. Loewen also told reporters that he’s fundraised for Stephen Harper in the past. He doesn’t sound all that partisan after all. I remember I had a poly-sci prof at the U of W who was also a speech-writer for the down defunct Reform Party. Defunct. What a great word. Say it with me. DEFUNCT. I bet Miranda Hart would appreciate this word. Actually I have nothing to say about that Reform Party speech writer, I just wanted to say defunct.


"A moist plinth? No, I'm on the cusp of a defunct thrust."

A quick survey of staff at my library revealed that everyone turned up Liberal, so maybe there is something to this bias talk after all.

If you haven’t taken the survey yet, why not? Let me know in the comments how you fared.


You know you want me.


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