Layton blocked the Bloc

Quebecers felt that he was one of them, and they liked what they saw

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The Gazette, Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jack Layton's victory is also his legacy: he put the Bloc Québécois out of business.

In the process, he took the New Democratic Party to 103 seats in the House of Commons - 59 of them from Quebec - and official Opposition status for the first time since the founding of the party half a century ago.

Those are the numbers, and his successors will be measured against them.

In those terms, Layton is obviously the most successful leader in NDP history.

His larger legacy piece is that he trounced the Bloc, reducing it to four seats from 47, leaving it without status as a recognized party in the House and without standing in the Commons Question Period. The Bloc, which for 20 years had three or four questions every day, is now fortunate to get one every two weeks.

The Bloc has virtually disappeared from the federal scene. What had been a dysfunctional four-party minority House is now a functional three-party majority Parliament. Thanks to Jack.

He blocked the Bloc.

There were collateral hits for the separatists on the provincial scene, as seen in the subsequent unravelling of the Parti Québécois.

Who knew? Only six months ago, Layton was the leader of the fourth party in the House, with only one MP from Quebec, Tom Mulcair.

What happened during the spring campaign is one of the great stories in all the 41 elections of Canadian history.

Layton, in his fourth election as NDP leader from Toronto, reinvented himself as the favourite son of Quebec.

He reminded Quebecers that he was one of them, that Montreal was his town, that he wore a Canadiens jersey and raised a glass, and the Habs were his team.

And Quebecers, who were looking for a reason to leave the Bloc, especially after Gilles Duceppe promised them another referendum, flocked to Layton.

They had a comfort level with NDP policies - on ending Canada's mission in Afghanistan, on the environment and climate change, and so on.

But make no mistake: they were voting for Jack, le bon jack, the good guy.

And they were voting for his courage, for the man who traded his crutch for a spiffy cane that became the symbol of his gallant campaign.

By the fourth and second-to-last weekend of the campaign, Layton boldly, even brazenly, staged his biggest rally right in Duceppe's backyard.

Quebecers, caucused around the family table over the Easter weekend, decided that not only was Jack a good guy, he was their guy.

And thanks to Jack, the Bloc suffered a rout of historic proportions, with Duceppe himself going down to a humiliating defeat.

By then Layton was walking on air and probably didn't need the cane.

For all the history he made on May 2, Layton knew his real challenge lay ahead, keeping his caucus united and presenting the NDP as a government-in-waiting rather than as the socialist hordes.

The first part was a prerequisite for the second.

Layton knew that caucus management was his biggest challenge: bringing the Quebecers together with the 44 MPs from the rest of Canada, who had very different ideas.

But then, Layton was a rassembleur, and bringing people together was one of his great talents.

Sadly, the task of presenting the NDP as the next government will fall to his successor, whoever that may be.

In the meantime, the NDP has only to ask: "What would Jack do?"

His death is premature and a reminder that life is unfair. Within weeks of his great triumph, he was stricken again with cancer.

Anyone who saw his final news conference, an act of incredible grace and courage, knew his return in September was unlikely.

But then, his entire career was an odds-against proposition. And he was so brave in the attempt.

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