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.”

Opinion: Jack Layton is the type of leader Canada needs to counter the hate steering political discourse right now. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver. #cdnpoli #ndp #CPC

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.

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Just one reminder about Jack's legacy. He defeated Paul Martin's budget which included universal daycare provisions, in a hopeful grab for more power. And that brought us a decade of Steven Harper. I do not want more Jack Laytons, I want politicians who put the interest of people first not the party they represent.

Well said. Thank you.

Just came to post this when I read the headline. That being said, Max's overall message is well taken.

Hear, Hear! That's it, to hell with the narcissism of small differences, narcissism being personal ego, particularly of the male variety. BTW is that what's afflicting Scott Aichison or is it just utter stupidity? His comments beg the question, have you MET members of your party?!
Unite the left, keeping in mind how much better it has felt to simply have an agreement of basic support between the NDP and Liberals.
Bring on the "bastards for progressivism" as Bill Maher says, no more milquetoast liberalism. A good example of that is calling what's happening mere "negativity" when it's actually burn it all down, scorched earth stuff that's incubating and reaching critical mass thanks to the bloody internet. Recall the trucker convoy/occupation and the Jan. 6th insurrection and recognize that they were warmups and primarily served to fan the flames. To save Canada, we kind of have to quit being so "Canadian" at this point.

Yeah, yeah, I hear this from some Liberal every time Jack gets mentioned. There are two problems with this narrative. One is that at the level of specifics, it is false. The universal daycare was arranged for; Martin would have needed more time in government to implement it. It wasn't about the budget that got defeated. The child care ended because Harper killed it as soon as he got into power after the election. So the issue is more general, that Layton brought down a Liberal minority that was doing a good child care policy. (A policy that the NDP undoubtedly pushed him into in the first place--not like he did any of that stuff while he was the power in a majority government for ten years)

But here's the thing: Layton had made an informal agreement with Martin about what Martin would do, in return for Layton supporting him. Martin didn't do it. So at that point, Layton had the choice: Follow through, or have his bluff called and never be taken seriously again, never be able to successfully push for a policy again.

At the time, few people thought Martin could possibly be so incompetent a politician, or indeed the Liberals so incompetent as a party, as to let Harper beat them. Harper was after all a charmless, obviously ruthless robot running a party full of loose cannon morons. But the Liberals managed to lose, and the rest is history. Even so, for that first Harper minority term, Layton managed to shove through some decent policies . . . because Harper knew he had to take Layton seriously, knew Layton was a guy who would follow through on any threats he made. Then the Liberals under Ignatieff managed to hand Harper a majority when they could have had a guaranteed Liberal minority government if they hadn't gone back on their deal with the NDP. Overall, if the Liberals hadn't proved to be monumentally incompetent and treacherous, Layton's move would have worked out well.

Well, that seems like exclusive closet support for one centrist party over a range of centre-left electoral possibilities. In addition, the people were coming off a decade of Chretien-Martin, and Canadians are well known for their 10-year party-in-power expiry date. Having said that, Martin took an abrupt left turn after so handedly defeating deep structural deficits in the 90s created by Mulroney in the 80s, which came about by Martin's cuts that were too draconian by several measures. Martin still won power with Layton's support and was poised to give as much focused attention to progressive issues as he did the national debt.

Layton was Martin's partner in a minority government, and Layton pulled the rug out because the NDP's numbers just happened to be going up, and he seemingly used policy as a weak excuse. Principles over partisanship? In some things, yes, Layton had genuine integrity. But where's the evidence in actual practice as part of a federally minority government? Why didn't he instead negotiate with Martin over the supposedly misdirected policy initiative rather than popping off a Vegas dice roll based on lust for more power? Indeed, that act proved that Layton was the best inadvertent pal Harper ever had in parliament. Yet Harper and other cabinet colleagues dissed Layton's respect and integrity by joking, texting and smirking in the back row of Layton's funeral service. Before all that, Harper united the right; uniting the left is now more important than ever, especially with more severe burning issues and a growing pack of attack dogs on the Conservative side.

Just think, Layton could have ignored the poll bump and stuck with actual (vs potential) power for another 24 or 30 months and done some really great things for the country, just as the Pearson-Douglas minority of the 60s did with healthcare, the CPP, EI and other programs that Canadians treasure today. I am old enough to know that centre-left minority governments have 2/3 of the voters on their side. I stopped believing that one party will save us from slash 'n burn Conservative rule when Harper won because the progressive vote was split; cold hard math turned me, not principles which -- surprise! -- seem to become diluted or discarded once a party takes the podium. In more mature European democracies full coalition governments are formed where minority party MPs are at the inner cabinet table. Layton or Singh as deputy PM, foreign minister, health minister? That would be great.

This is a lesson for Trudeau-Singh. Singh isn't as charismatic as Layton was, but he certainly has as much integrity and intelligence and could still do great things ... if he tried, perhaps with Chrystia Freeland needing his advice and support.

At Jack's funeral Stephen Lewis took the opportunity to speak to the values of the left, of democratic socialism and that profound disrespect shown by conservatives in what was still obligatory attendance signalled that other "structural change" wrought by Harper and co.
Putin comes to mind on the evolution of that attitude because he didn't even bother attending Gorbachev's funeral recently but did create a token photo op standing alone next to the coffin. Expression-wise, there was no change from his trademark dead-eyed sneer; the eyes have it. I read a description of Harper's visage that captured essence, saying he resembled a "satiated badger." I also noticed his lips looked like a clowns when he smiled, as do Xi's.

In my world, you get what you work for.........some of the time.
If you live in Alberta, you might tweak to the sad fact that most of these angry people have been here all along. It was simply that their beliefs and needs were being catered to.........and the prosperity of oil enabled them to essentially ignore politics, enjoy the good life (whatever that means) and laugh up their sleeves at left wing idealists.

Now their sure fire plans for continued pleasure and success aren't doing so well. Do they blame themselves, and the years of neglect they showed politics. Of course not. How could it be any of their fault. They weren't even in the room!!!

It has to be those dastardly easterners (you know,the ones Klein called 'creeps and bums') it has to be those damn Trudeaus!

These are folks who run on emotional extremes....not information. They partied hearty during the good years....were those 'good fellows well met and a bit tipsy", they're on the rampage now....led by the likes of Danielle and PP

Those of us who do pay attention better get off the couch and work hard to preserve the Canada we think we live in....battered old girl that she well may be. Because good time Charlies don't have the brains...never mind the run the country.

Agreed Mary. Here in Lethbridge we call them the f***ing big black truck club.

It all boils down to ignorance. Except in the case of the would-be leaders.