I had hoped to write my first Daily Caller op-ed on early vice-presidential speculation, or Sarah Palin’s upcoming presidential campaign, or something remotely conservative. But sometimes major events snuff out our plans, and instead I find myself penning an obituary for a socialist Canadian politician who most Americans have never heard of.
Jack Layton was little known outside Canada, and frankly I found his political ideas to be both appalling and dangerous, but he was arguably the single greatest politician of his generation — anywhere in the world.
People will be studying Layton’s achievements and strategies for decades to come, and those of us who watched him rise to the top of Canadian politics are in awe of what he built. If you’ve never seen somebody set out to achieve a totally impossible task and then succeed despite seeing his objective ridiculed for almost a decade, you don’t know Jack.
For those not familiar with Canada, Layton was the leader of the openly socialist New Democratic Party (NDP), which for decades was Canada’s third-largest political party. The NDP always had a good number of diehard supporters, but due to its extreme leftism, it always lagged far behind the country’s major center-left and center-right parties. Instead of aiming to govern, the NDP aimed to serve as Parliament’s left-wing conscience. The party had never won more than 43 of the 282 seats in Parliament, and as recently as 2003, its parliamentary delegation had just 13 members.
That’s when Layton took over. His efforts culminated in this May’s parliamentary election, when a wave of “Jackomania” swept Canada. The NDP emerged from the election with 103 seats, overtaking the Liberal Party to become Canada’s second-largest party. Not bad for someone who, before taking over the NDP, had never been elected to federal, provincial or citywide office.
Prior to becoming the leader of the NDP, the only office Jack had ever held was a seat on the Toronto City Council, where he served from 1982 to 1991 and from 1994 to 2003. During that time, he was twice an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Toronto and three times a failed candidate for Parliament. However, he developed a reputation for being a charismatic voice of the left and became the head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Then, in 2003, he mounted an unexpected bid for the leadership of the national NDP. Picking up the support of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, Layton scored a surprising victory over multiple veteran members of Parliament, beginning his crusade to transform the NDP from a protest party into a force capable of winning control of Parliament.
It soon became apparent that Layton was the most charismatic and likable politician in Canada. Not everybody supported Layton’s policy positions, but everybody wanted to have a beer with him. His personal popularity fueled a steady rise in the NDP’s fortunes. His party won a meager 19 seats in the 2004 election, but that total increased to 29 seats in the 2006 election and then to 37 in the 2008 election.