Op-Ed: Canadian political leader Jack Layton, 1950-2011

Posted Aug 22, 2011 by KJ Mullins
"Your support and well wishes are so appreciated. Thank you. I will fight this – and beat it," wrote NDP leader Jack Layton on Facebook. Sadly the cancer he so bravely fought claimed Jack Layton Monday in the middle of the night. He was just 61.
Jack Layton at Pride Parade in July 2011
Jack Layton at Pride Parade in July 2011
We were able to accomplish a lot, despite the fact some people said the numbers were not quite where they would need to be in order to accomplish things.
~ Jack Layton
Jack Layton was born in Hudson, Quebec to Progressive Conservative MP Robert Layton and his wife Doris. Jack knew from an early age that politics was to be his life. He was the student council president of his high school class.
After marrying his high school sweetheart Sally Halford in 1969 his education continued at York University in Toronto where he obtained a PhD in political science. Layton became a professor at Ryerson University as he started to become as an activist and author.
In 1982 Jack Layton started his climb in Canadian politics winning a seat in Toronto's City Council. He became known for speaking for the underdog. He let his voice be heard becoming an early advocate for those fighting AIDS.
In 1983 he and Sally Halford divorced. They had two children, Mike and Sarah.
In 1988 he married the love of his life, Olivia Chow, then a Toronto District School Board trustee, on Toronto Island. They had planned to have an action packed honeymoon whitewater rafting. That plan had to be pushed back when just days before the wedding Jack was injured while cycling.
Olivia and Jack served their city of Toronto since.
In 1990 the Toronto Star wrote an article saying that the couple were living in subsidized co-op housing at Hazelburn Co-op.
Last summer I had asked Chow about the controversy. She smiled and said that they had a two-bedroom unit at the time and needed a larger home when her mother came to live with her Jack and Jack's son Michael. They had always paid market value on their co-op residence. She said that Jack and her had loved their time at Hazelburn but their move into their current home wasn't because of a silly newspaper story, just that their family had grown.
That home reflects the family, it's off the grid and completely green.
That move in 1990 wasn't the only one for the Layton household, with Jack running for mayor of the city in 1991. He was the first official NDP candidate to attempt a run for the position. While he lost the bid that year Olivia won a seat on City Council. Layton took the time away from politics to found the Green Catalyst Group Inc., an environmental consulting business.
In 1993 Jack ran for the Canadian House of Commons in the Rosedale riding. He finished fourth. The next year he returned to Toronto's City Council.
On January 25, 2003 Jack was elected leader of the NDP.
Jack Layton never steered away from controversy, when he saw wrong he spoke out. In 2004 he spoke for the rights of homeless people and funding for affordable housing. Throughout the early 2000's the NDP party rose with Layton's leadership.
In 2011 Layton ran against current Prime Minister Stephen Harper. During the election a story came out in the Sun News Network and the Toronto Sun that Jack had been found naked in a police raid of a massage parlour. At the time I asked Olivia Chow about the incident. She laughed when she told me that she knew he had been there saying that Jack's life of being sporty led to the need of massages. Olivia had complete trust of the man she had married and loved. Her love of Jack was visible to all that know her.
On May 2, 2011 Layton led his party as the NDP won 103 seats, more than doubling the party's previous highs. For the first time in history the NDP party became the Official Opposition in the Commons.
Jack Layton had been diagnosed with prostate cancer on February 5, 2010. He had fought the cancer and it looked like he was winning the battle.
He and I both had surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto (I had broken my ankle) on February 17, 2011. I didn't know that Jack was scheduled for surgery at the time, but later I found out that my emergency surgery had bumped his hip operation.
On July 25, 2011 Jack Layton announced that he was taking a temporary leave from his post to battle a new cancer.
On Canada Day Olivia Chow was at Trinity Bellwoods Park speaking up for the city's immigrant population at a BBQ she and Rosario Marchese hosted. While we were chatting it was obvious something was wrong, her sad eyes gave it away. Days later she and Jack were at the Pride Parade in Toronto. It was clear that Jack was not well, his weight loss was visible. They rode instead of walking the route.
On Monday at 4:45 a.m. surrounded by his family Jack Layton died peacefully at home.
Today Canada mourns a great man who fought for those who thought they were treated unfairly. Facebook has a RIP Jack Layton page where mourners are writing about Jack's passing.
In history books Jack Layton will be remembered as a great man who led his party well. He helped bring changes to Canada for the underdogs. He fought cancer with everything that he had with courage. He loved and was loved back by a nation.