On August 22, 2011, Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democrats, died after a brief and aggressive battle with an unnamed cancer. He was 61. Just months before, he led his party to unprecedented electoral success, becoming the Official Opposition in this year’s federal election in his last amazing race.
Everything about Jack Layton’s rally at Montreal’s Olympia Theatre, the biggest campaign event ever staged by the NDP in Quebec, had a sort of retro flair. There was the 1925 theatre itself, with its rococo red-and-gold plaster details. There was the lead-on band, the aptly named Quebec group Tracteur Jack, which played hopped-up swing. When Layton made his grand entrance, wading through a roaring crowd of more than 1,200, jauntily wielding the wooden cane he carries after hip surgery, he leapt to the podium like a barnstorming politician of old. Now that he’s 60, that signature moustache, which once recalled the disco era, looks more like a tribute to his social-democratic forebears. Some of his applause lines have a time-honoured left-wing ring, too. “A prime minister’s job,” he declares to cheers, “is to make sure the government works for those who have elected him, and not for big corporations.”