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Reaction Roundup: An outpouring of love, respect and grief in the wake of Jack Layton’s death

The last time this blogger had the pleasure of speaking with Jack Layton was for an Informer post during the federal election. The good folks at the NDP campaign headquarters had tried several times to put us in touch with him, which seemed a bit silly for what was really just a few hundred words about baseball. But Layton finally returned our call late in the day and, between campaign events, proceeded to unload some of his happiest baseball memories.

We noted then that it was easy for a Toronto politician to choose a favourite baseball moment (one of the two Blue Jays World Series wins are the only correct answers), but Layton wasn’t mugging for the microphone. He could, and did, speak for far longer than he needed to about the joy of walking down Yonge Street the night the Jays claimed their first World Series victory, as crowds cheered and drivers honked along the length of the city’s spine. He was always comfortable about being a man of this city, something he brought to federal politics as a champion of urban issues and something he never apologized for.

At a vigil yesterday evening at Nathan Phillips Square, people waved Layton posters—both from the NDP and homemade—and when the lineup to sign city hall’s condolence book proved to be too long, they took chalk to the concrete to remember him. By 6 p.m., the crowd had turned the last few sentences of Layton’s final letter into a chant, giving the vigil the feel of a protest, an appropriate atmosphere in which to remember the long-time activist.

The tributes to Layton are as extensive as they are touching, and we couldn’t capture them all in one place. But we did our best to select a few of the more prominent reactions. A list of those, after the jump.

• Mayor Rob Ford scrummed with the city hall press yesterday morning and praised his former council-mate (and sometime adversary). In particular, Ford noted that Layton never took politics too personally and hinted that this made it easier for Layton to court sometimes surprising allies on close votes.

• In the National Post, Christie Blatchford clearly isn’t trying to win any popularity contests, suggesting that Layton’s death has become a public spectacle. Chris Selley prefers to stay positive, offering that Layton’s victory in May shouldn’t be dismissed: the NDP did, after all, supplant both the Bloc and the Liberals. Who knows what will happen in Canadian politics next?

• Are we allowed to be surprised that the Toronto Sun is treating Layton’s memory with such kindness? No other than Sue-Ann Levy penned a respectful tribute to a man with whom she often disagreed, noting in particular his support of Toronto’s LGBT community. Joe Warmington remembers him as “a tough S.O.B. of a socialist,” one of those phrases that Layton’s opponents get to use with admiration today.

• If the NDP continues to perform at its current level, it will be in large part because of the work Layton did rebuilding the party from the shell it was when he took over in 2003. John Ivison notes that Layton brought the NDP closer to the centre, but there’s more to it than that. In Maclean’s, Paul Wells reminds us that when Layton took over, he wasn’t even universally popular within the NDP’s own ranks, much less with the nation. The NDP can trace its success to his political vision, something he had to impart first to the party itself.

• Or, as Chantal Hebert put it in the Toronto Star, Layton “taught his party that it was possible to win like Liberals and still act like New Democrats.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reacts to the death of NDP leader Jack Layton [YouTube]
Christie Blatchford: Layton’s death turns into a thoroughly public spectacle [National Post]
Chris Selley: More than anything else, Jack Layton believe in Canada [National Post]
Layton had a ‘human touch’ [Toronto Sun]
Gutsy Jack—a tough socialist [Toronto Sun]
John Ivison: Strategic Layton moved party far [National Post]
Jack Layton: “We’re gonna build a new movement, right across this country” [Maclean’s]
Layton helped restore measure of humanity to national politics [Toronto Star]

(Images: Jack Layton—Matt Jiggins; memorial—John Michael McGrath)