Tribute recalls Jack Layton's 'indomitable' spirit
Published Friday, March 23, 2012 8:41PM EDT
TORONTO - On a weekend designed to showcase policy squabbles, the NDP set aside political concerns Friday evening to honour the memory of Jack Layton.
Less than a year after his death from cancer, Layton's legacy and his role in the party's jump to Official Opposition last May have remained important touchstones for New Democrats.
And that was on full display Friday evening.
With thousands of party faithful donning T-shirts emblazoned with "I am the Layton legacy," a parade of luminaries and politicians shared their memories of the late leader.
Fresh from his byelection victory this week in Layton's old riding, MP Craig Scott said that a common theme arose as he campaigned in Toronto-Danforth earlier this year.
After a standing ovation, Scott said that constituents spoke of Layton's passion, vision and warmth.
Even people who had only witnessed Layton on television spoke as if they knew him personally, Scott said.
Others, reflecting on Layton's August death at age 61, told him: "You have big shoes to fill."
Instead of offering political bravado, Scott told voters that he could never replace Layton.
"What I would do, is follow in Jack's footsteps," said Scott.
With emotions still high, Layton's grown children -- Toronto Councillor Mike Layton and his sister Sarah Layton -- told the crowd how thankful they were to see their father's dreams turn to reality.
They also spoke of his final moments.
"There was hope into the last hours," said Sarah, with tears in her eyes.
Meanwhile, Olivia Chow -- a Toronto MP and Layton's widow -- received massive cheers from the crowd by saying that spring was her husband's favourite season.
"We have come through a winter of challenge and change together, and now it is spring," she said, her voice rising.
"It is springtime for the New Democrats!"
Earlier, Shawn Atleo, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, recalled Layton's "indomitable spirit" and said that it had been "magnified and multiplied" at this weekend's conference.
Kicking off the tribute was a compilation video featuring political luminaries and their memories of Layton.
Danny Williams, the former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, remembered a man you could share a beer with.
"He made you feel very, very comfortable," he said.
Former prime minister Jean Chretien also commented on Layton's ideals, and said that his personality was what drove the NDP's surge into second-party status last spring.
Even politicians on the opposite end of the spectrum gave their memories.
"It was always an honour to be in his company," said former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, in a videotaped message.