We don’t know Jack… but we should.
Jack Layton’s decision to temporarily step down as leader of the New Democratic Party has resulted in no end of speculation, both about what it means for the future of the suddenly successful party, and what has caused Layton to step down. In both cases, the prognosis looks bleak.
Let’s look at the NDP’s future first.
Only the most rabid NDer would attribute the party’s stunning success in the election to anything in the party policy book. You don’t need a degree in poli sci to know that the NDP became the Official Oppo for the first time due to a number of factors: the collapse of the Bloc; the failed leadership of Michael Ignatieff (remember him?) and the entirely unexpected love affair that blossomed between Layton and Quebec.
Quebec voters, sophisticates that they are, voted en masse for NDP candidates, regardless of their qualities as candidates, because they felt Jack was a good guy. (We can mock, I suppose, but it’s basically the same reason Albertans voted for an alcohol-addled premier in this province for so long.) The NDP knew that Layton was essentially all they had going for them, and have since, for all intents and purposes, renamed the NDP the Jack Layton party. With a posse of entirely inexperienced MPs, hitching their wagon to Layton was the only option the party had.
Now, with Layton temporarily (perhaps) out of the picture, the NDP is rudderless. The NDP is an overwhelmingly Quebec party now, almost every NDP MP owes their success and their cushy jobs to Jack. No Jack, no jobs. The fact they have appointed a rookie MP as interim leader tells you a lot about the bench strength of the NDP. Jack Layton is basically the only well-known MP the party has. They have, by necessity, put all their eggs in one basket, and now the basket has a hole in it.
And what of Layton’s illness?
Now, I don’t mean to be critical of a seriously ill man, but Layton owes us the truth. He says it’s a different form of cancer, not an advancement of his prostate cancer. (His broken hip and other signs indicate otherwise.) But he won’t say what it is, what his treatment is, and what the prognosis is. I respect a politician’s right to privacy, but when the second most famous politician in the land appears on TV looking extremely gaunt and sounding raspy and weak, he owes the voters some facts. If Stephen Harper did the same thing, we’d expect the facts. The same standards that apply to Harper should apply to Layton.
Opposition parties always harp on ‘transparency’. Well, here’s a chance for Layton to be transparent and fully upfront with Canadians. I can’t see any legitimate reason why Layton doesn’t fully disclose the facts of his cancer. It’s not like he has anything to be ashamed of; you can’t be blames for prostate cancer, or almost any other kind of cancer. So why is he hiding the truth from Canadians?
I’m not asking to see his doctor’s notes, or biopsy results. I don’t want to sit in when he talks to his doctor. But he should come clean. There is no downside to telling the Canadian public the reason why one of the country’s most popular politicians is stepping aside.