Jack Layton’s state funeral service couldn’t have been more fitting. Different kinds of music being played, from classical to Quebecois from Martin Deschamps to pop to a gospel rendition of a 60′s Youngbloods’ classic by Julie Michel. The musical selections also represented something Jack Layton strived toward, besides social democracy; diversity. In fact, not only did the music reflect this diversity, but so did the entire service.
While Reverend Brent Hawkes, a married gay minister (that had to have killed Harper and his socon element) presided over the ceremony, there were readings from other people from different denominations, as well as an Aboriginal chant from Shawn Atleo, who presented Olivia Chow with a ceremonial feather.
Reverend Hawkes was indeed the perfect cleric to preside over the ceremony. He, along with the other speakers, would talk of Jack’s work like the white ribbon campaign to end violence against women he started years ago, which now spans over 60 countries. How, he had fought for the rights of LGBT, homeless and poverty. All causes important to Jack and work that must be continued.
Despite the bitching by certain folks on Twitter, Stephen Lewis’s eulogy was very eloquent, as he elaborated on Jack’s deathbed letter to Canadians. Sure it was a political speech, just as much of Jack’s final letter to Canadians was, but Jack Layton was a politician, as was Stephen Lewis. Mr. Lewis, a man who obviously shared Jack’s views of social democracy, generosity, compassion and helping your fellow man. This is precisely why Stephen Lewis was an excellent choice for a eulogist to speak about not only Jack Layton’s political life but also what Jack Layton’s vision for Canada would be and how the goal must be achieved after his passing. Agree or disagree with both Jack Layton and Stephen Lewis’s politics, this was a day to remember Jack and much of that was remembering his political and social values and his life’s work. Yes it was a state funeral, but one cannot logically expect it to be non-partisan. Most Canadians (not withstanding certain bitter folks with sour grapes who refuse to allow for time to grieve and respect) of any partisan stripe, including many Conservatives, understood this and while many may not agree with Jack’s political views, they did respect his tireless efforts, his work and how he fought the good fight. One may not even agree with everything Jack wrote in his final letter, but few can deny that Jack felt that just because his journey was coming to an end, didn’t mean that his work should. Quite the contrary. This was his message; the message that Stephen Lewis wished to convey to not only the attendees at Roy Thomson Hall, but to all Canadians and he did it eloquently. Jack would’ve been proud.
There were some lighter moments, where we learned about Jack Layton, the family man; the father and the grandfather. Mike and Sarah’s speeches, laced with humourous anecdotes of their dear old dad we can all relate to regarding our own dads. Stories of a headstrong father, insisting on a long father and son cycling trip on problematic terrain which ended up piercing bike tires and sailing boats with no wind. How often have we set out on an adventure with our dads during our youth that didn’t quite turn out as they should despite the fact they believed they had it all figured out? Stories of Jack, thoroughly embarrassing his children by either playing a saxophone “—badly”, as Sarah put it, on Yonge Street for all to see and hear, to celebrate the Jays winning the World Series. Or when Sarah told of Jack’s rather poor fashion sense, which drew a smile from Olivia Chow, who as his wife of over 20 years, would’ve known all to well of her husband’s past questionable wardrobe choices? Again, something we can all relate to. How often have we, when growing up, were embarrassed by some of our father’s wardrobe choices? We’ve all heard and told of similar stories of our parents while growing up. And let’s not forget stories of Jack Layton’s little granddaughter and Sarah’s daughter, Beatrice, the apple of his eye in recent years, with whom he would sit on the floor and play tea-party with. Something most grandfathers do with their young granddaughters. Sarah and Mike reminded us that behind the life long activist and politician, that he was somebody’s father; somebody’s grandfather. In a bittersweet moment, Sarah announced that she was pregnant with her second child.
Sarah and Mike’s eulogies were exactly why those bitching on Twitter and/or columnists like Chrissie Blatchford and their apologists and their lack of decency and compassion disgust me. They didn’t think for one moment that behind the politician they so obviously disagree with, that Jack was somebody’s husband, son, brother, father, and grandfather; that Jack has friends, wife, mother, siblings, children and a grandchild who would be mourning his loss. Sure, Olivia Chow is a politician, as is Mike Layton. However, most of Jack’s family are not politicians. Regardless. They are all family who deserved respect. Chrissie, Ezzy, the Kays, et al all failed miserably to realize this. At the very least, if they couldn’t muster any words of respect in their columns or on their shows, they should’ve abstained at least and devoted their columns/shows to other current events.
And for those claiming to be sticklers to rules and parliamentary procedures as reasons to condemn the idea of a state funeral for Jack Layton, simply because he was never Prime-minister and only PMs, GGs, and such deserve state funerals. Folks like Babs Kay and she’s not alone in this belief. Whether or not anyone gets a state funeral is solely within the Prime minister’s discretion and Steve Harper excercised it. It was the right decision. And no, it wasn’t done for the family so much as it was done for the Canadian public, who, according to recent polls (indicate most wanted a state funeral for Jack, which would likely include those who lean Conservative), wanted one for Jack. Though, we all know Steve didn’t likely come to this decision for altruistic reasons, he did it to avoid public backlash, most likely. He probably observed public outcry at Queen Elizabeth’s obvious indifference to Princess Diana’s death in 1997 and wished to avoid the same problem here. Steve Harper probably knew which battles to fight and knew this wasn’t one of them. Something tells me, as early as this fall, (at least I hope that Canadians will stop being so complacent and wake up, anyway), there will be public backlash at some of the Con decisions and legislation coming up.
For me, what I will remember over the past week, in addition to yesterday’s funeral, was Olivia Chow’s strength. She looked so stoic, her head always held high. She was comforting the public when she, herself, would no doubt need comforting the most. A woman whom we’ve seen at Jack’s side for the most part, now walks alone and must continue without him. When most would be at home, in the bosom of friends and family, grieving, she had to face a Canadian public who expected her to remain strong. What courage she showed! I’m sure Jack would be proud of her, as he would be of Mike, Sarah and of course, little Beatrice.
The evening ended with the CN Tower and Niagara Falls going orange, in a tribute. Orange had indeed become the new black, as I had seen mentioned online.
For the past week, time had stood still. Speculations of party infighting, separatist witch hunts, partisan battles and other summer political business occupying much of the mainstream and social media (with, of course, a few notable exceptions) had taken a break to unite to say farewell to a statesman whose life’s work was making Canada a better and more just place to live for all, whether one agreed or disagreed with his approach and to send respects in their own way to Jack’s political and actual family.
Tomorrow, all will resume where all had left off before the terrible news of Jack Layton’s death. Politics, as life, will go on.
I will leave you with Stephen Page’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah!” which was my favourite piece of music of the ceremony, as well as the memorial video of vignettes reflecting Jack’s life that was played at the Roy Thomson Hall.