Jack Layton's voice 'lives on,' says Olivia Chow
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2012 11:03AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 22, 2012 9:00PM EDT
As Canadians remember former NDP leader Jack Layton on the one-year anniversary of his death, his widow, MP Olivia Chow, says the popular politician’s spirit and voice are still alive.
“I think his spirit is with everyone that wants to take up his torch to make his vision a reality,” Chow told CTV News Channel Wednesday afternoon, ahead of a public memorial service in Toronto, where Layton spent many years as a city councillor before turning his attention to federal politics.
“His voice is not with us, but it lives on,” Chow said.
The service at Nathan Philips Square in downtown Toronto featured speeches by Chow and Layton’s son, Toronto Coun. Mike Layton, as well as musical performances by a lineup of well-known artists including Raffi, Ron Sexsmith and Loraine Segato.
Layton’s ashes were interred in a private ceremony with friends and family earlier Wednesday.
Chow said she’s “very comforted and encouraged” by the messages of support she and her family have received since her husband’s death.
She remembered Layton as “a loving father and a loving husband” who adored his granddaughter Beatrice and maintained a very close relationship with his mother.
“He sees the goodness in everyone and that’s probably why so many people responded to his call to make a difference,” Chow said.
She later thanked the crowd at Nathan Philips Square and others across Canada “for making it possible to get through this very tough year.”
“There were difficult days and traumatic moments. I’ve experienced times that have tried me to the core,” she said. “And each of those times I have had the loving embraces of so many of you.”
She said Wednesday was “a day to remind ourselves of the values (Layton) taught us and a day to renew our commitment to continue his work.”
As people continued to scribble their condolences and messages for Layton’s family in chalk on a wall outside Toronto’s City Hall, Layton’s son Mike said he’s moved by the kind words from friends and strangers.
“These are really inspiring messages that make me feel really proud of the person he was as well as the politician he was,” Mike told News Channel.
“That’s given us a crutch to lean on. It’s really like they’re giving us a big hug and saying: ‘We’re there with you.’”
Earlier in the day on Parliament Hill, a vigil was planned at the site of the Centennial Flame.
An informal gathering to remember Layton is planned at the Lo Pub in Winnipeg, starting at 7 p.m. local time.
Similar events and gatherings are also planned in other cities across Canada including Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver.
In the months before his death, Layton cemented his national legacy as he took to the campaign trail, just weeks after undergoing hip surgery.
Cane in hand, he led the federal NDP to its best-ever result in the May 2011 election. Just three months after his NDP took on the role of Official Opposition for the first time in its 50-year history, he succumbed to cancer.
His death was met with an outpouring of public grief not seen since the death of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 2000.
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said that was a harrowing time emotionally, to go from the euphoria of election night to the crushing news of Layton's death.
"It's an unbelieveable story, and I think it brought our young caucus together in a way ... and also caused people to roll up their sleeves and decide 'We are not going to squander Jack's legacy," she said.
But on the anniversary of his death, Nash is taking time to remember her longtime friend and colleague as both an optimist filled with hope for the future and a pragmatist looking for ways to get things done.
"He was someone who always remembered people's birthdays," Nash added. "He liked to connect in a very personal way with people."
Ahead of this first anniversary of Layton's death, a Harris-Decima poll conducted for The Canadian Press found that 62 per cent on respondents feel those public tributes were genuine expressions of grief.
An overwhelming 91 per cent of the more than 1,000 Canadians polled by telephone between Aug. 2 and 5 said they believe Layton made a positive contribution to Canada.
Commenting from Toronto on Wednesday, NDP strategist Joe Cressy said Layton's fondness for "joy" rather than "vitriol" in his approach to politics resonated with voters.
In his view, Cressy said Layton's final political success has contributed to a new lifeline for the federal NDP.
"What Jack did was, he shattered the glass ceiling and the notion the NDP couldn't be winners, that you couldn't believe in good social policy and implement it," Cressy told CTV News Channel.
In that light, Cressy said Layton's most significant contribution may be yet to come.
"I think that's going to be Jack's greatest legacy: when Tom (Mulcair) becomes prime minister."
Canadians who would like to pay tribute to Layton, but cannot attend any of the events Tuesday, can leave their thoughts and comments on the website dearjack.ca