The next NDP leader will be obligated to adopt Jack Layton’s Toronto-born brand of socialism—childlike, sentimental, and entirely ineffective
Jack Layton, posthumously, has more influence over Canadian left-wing politics than any living person. When Nycole Turmel, the NDP’s interim chief, announced the date for the party’s March leadership convention, she said, “We will not replace Jack Layton,” the implication being that Layton is irreplaceable. And yet, the main leadership candidates appear to be trying their hardest to prove they can replace the irreplaceable. Brian Topp, the quintessential backroom operator, recently gained prominence as a member of Layton’s inner circle and the author of How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot: The Inside Story Behind the Coalition. (Note to file: books with the word “almost” in the title are almost never worth reading.) Thomas Mulcair, the MP from Outremont, promotes himself as the creator of Layton’s strategy for taking Quebec, and therefore the most likely candidate to maintain that legacy-defining victory. Peggy Nash, MP for Parkdale–High Park, is the candidate most similar to Layton personally: an urbanist, supported by artists like Sarah Polley, and inspiring in a safe sort of way. (She wants to make Canada a global leader in innovation. Who doesn’t?)
No matter whom the NDP delegates select to replace Layton, his memory will shape the aims of the party for the foreseeable future. So the time has come to evaluate his legacy clearly, unflinchingly. The popular narrative—certainly the party’s narrative—of his time in federal politics casts the story as an unadulterated victory. And in one sense it was: when Layton took over, the NDP held 14 seats in the House of Commons. Within a year, he had nearly doubled the party’s share of the popular vote. Seven years of steady rises culminated with the NDP winning 103 seats in 2011. The expansion of the party under Layton was much larger than anyone could have imagined.
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