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Canadian politics needs more Jack Laytons

Despite speaking highly of his father and his time as a federal leader, Layton says he does not see himself following the footsteps of Jack, up to Parliament Hill. (Getty Image)

It’s been just over 11 years since Jack Layton’s orange wave swept the country and nearly carried his party into power for the first time. Layton’s subsequent and sudden death deprived the NDP of its most charismatic and successful leader and set back its chances of ever forming government.

More importantly, it also deprived Canadian politics of a positive and powerful role model who showed that optimism and hope could do more than just win moral victories.

That loss is particularly glaring right now, as negativity and anger have become the prevailing political winds that Canada’s conservative parties seem determined to fill their sails with — no matter the cost to the people they’re tasked with serving.

In Alberta, Danielle Smith’s proclivity for spreading conspiracy theories and churning up anger towards Ottawa hasn’t slowed her momentum one bit. At the national level, Pierre Poilievre’s entire campaign has revolved around being the candidate who most visibly and vociferously hates Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Both candidates are magnets for anger and hatred, and both are putting those emotions to work in the service of their own political aspirations.

It’s not as though conservatives in both of these races don’t have different choices. In Alberta, Leela Aheer has struck a more constructive and conciliatory tone than most of her competitors. She has mostly refused to take part in the constitutional race to the bottom that Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act has triggered, and has instead focused on a more positive vision for Alberta’s place within Confederation. She spoke out clearly against the attack on Chrystia Freeland and called out a group of Alberta separatists for their role in spreading white supremacy, homophobia and racism.

To say that it hasn’t clicked with United Conservative Party members would be an understatement. She’s polling near the back of the pack, well behind candidates like Smith, Travis Toews and Brian Jean, and her Facebook pages were even the subject of a “targeted” attack recently. At a contested Aug. 27 AGM for her riding association, meanwhile, a slate of candidates put forward by Chantelle de Jonge, a challenger to Aheer’s nomination for re-election, ran the table. She has stated her intention to challenge for the nomination in her riding, and it’s hard to see how Aheer can fend her off at this point.

Scott Aitchison, the most Laytonian candidate in the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race, isn’t doing much better. Despite making a credible appeal to moderate Conservative voters around things like personal freedom, economic prosperity and the rule of law, he’s getting lapped by Poilievre. “I know ‘hope and respect’ isn’t as catchy as ‘F*CK TRUDEAU,’” he tweeted last week. “But if Conservatives want to win elections again, we need to lead with principles, ideas and vision. That’s how we win. That’s how we build a better Canada.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that this sort of approach would win elections in Canada. But there’s even less doubt that today’s Conservatives would rather lose to Trudeau with Poilievre’s anger and vitriol than beat him with Aitchison’s compassion and optimism.

Case in point: On Wednesday, Aitchison tweeted about the misinformation that’s very clearly consuming his party and many of its members. “Every day, I get emails from people who are incredibly angry & paranoid,” he said. “They think we should put Trudeau on trial for crimes against humanity. They claim vaccines are killing millions and compare it to the Holocaust. This is what fear, anger, & misinformation are doing to Canada.”

That sort of honesty won’t get him very far in Poilievre’s party. If anything, it might get him ejected. But it’s exactly what Canada needs right now. More than ever, our politics need more Jack Laytons, regardless of which partisan label they put next to their name.

That includes the federal NDP, which has failed to inspire Canadians despite an underlying political and economic environment that seems tailor-made for their brand. The fact that Poilievre now seems to be chewing into their support among young Canadians, a demographic that has traditionally been an NDP stronghold, speaks volumes about the party’s failure to inspire and connect. So much for all of Jagmeet Singh’s TikTok videos.

In Layton’s final letter to Canadians, he penned the words that have become his enduring legacy. “My friends,” he wrote, “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.”

If we have any hope of pulling our politics out of the negativity nosedive they’re in right now, we need more people in public life to adopt this approach. No, it might not win them the next election or the next leadership race. But it could help change — and maybe even save — the country.

Source : National Observer