canada mourns the loss of jack layton

Jack Layton with wife Olivia Chow - image found at http://www.macleans.ca/election/photo_gallery/

Canadian politics does not capture the same world-wide media frenzy as our friends to the south. Our political scene had a major shake-up in our last federal election that went largely unnoticed on the international stage. On May 2, 2011, Jack Layton led the NDP (New Democratic Party of Canada) to their best electoral showing in history. The party went from perennial third place contender to become the official opposition party. No longer the back-benchers, Layton was determined to use their new position to promote parliamentary dialogue and collaboration. Granted, in a majority government situation he did not have much of a choice. But, he had a caucus filled with young, neophyte MPs and a life-long passion of fighting for social justice across the country. It was widely agreed that much of the NDPs success was attributed to the person of Jack Layton. The future looked bright for the party.

In 2009, Jack Layton battled and fought prostate cancer. He campaigned in the recent federal election while recovering from a broken hip. Last month, he announced that he was stepping down temporarily from leadership to fight a new, undisclosed form of cancer. He died this morning, surrounded by his wife, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, and family.

Here in Canada, we aren`t afraid to use the `s` word.  While we might not agree on all issues associated with a socialist agenda, we generally believe that social programs for the needy and universal health care are a sign of a compassionate nation. Jack Layton spent his life promoting social justice issues on the local and national levels. While the Conservative and Liberal parties duked it out at the top, the NDP kept challenging the government on environmental issues, fair economic policies, and equal rights for all. With the past election they morphed from the nagging voice in the back of the parliamentary rows to the second most powerful party in the land.

Many are already wondering what will happen to the NDP party with Jack Layton gone. It crossed Jack`s mind too, and he was determined to leave the country a message of optimism and hope. On August 20th, he penned his last letter to the nation. Here are some excerpts…

  • To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer...
  • To young Canadians: … As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future…
  • Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world…
  • My friends, 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.
The world needs more leaders with a heart and passion for social justice. Rest in peace, Jack. And peace to you, Olivia, and your family during these sad days.


Somalia famine donations just trickling in – World – CBC News

Somalia famine donations just trickling in – World – CBC News.

This week, the United Nations declared that the food crisis in southern Somalia meets the criteria of an official famine. With the announcement comes the hope that the wealthier countries of the world will open their aid purses and send relief.  But, the above Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news story shows that the response has been tepid at best. One UN worker, interviewed earlier this week on CBC radio, suggested that a long-term, slow developing crisis like a famine does not produce the same emotional outpouring as a sudden disaster such as the earthquakes in Haiti or Japan. Others are pulling out the well-worn mantra of `donor fatigue`.

The responses on the discussion board on the online story paint a different picture. I was shocked and saddened to read the comments. Many are overwhelmingly adamant in their belief that we should not send aid to Somalia. (Check the `like, dislike` figures for the comments.) The rational voices, speaking out for generosity and compassion, are being voted down. Of course, this is just one discussion on one article, but the tone is worrying.

Here are some of the arguments cited against giving relief…

  • Somalia has a long history of violence, war, and corruption. There is no guarantee that aid will not end up in the hands of the war-lords who rule the country.
  • The strict Islamist rule  in Somalia should not be supported.
  • Support for Somalia should come from the oil-rich Moslem states.
  • Aid relief should be taken from the ill-gotten gains of Somalian pirates.
  • It is time to stop the band-aid measures of food relief, and put resources into the root of the problem.
  • The famine is an over-population issue.
  • There is an increasing distrust of many charitable organizations.
It is often easy to rationalize our moral choices. The more we argue in defense of our stance, the less danger there is of our conscience keeping us up at night. I understand that international aid and relief can be a mine-field of moral dilemmas. I also know the frustration of discovering that donations have been misused or abused. But, how can we argue for inaction in the face of a human crisis of such proportion?