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Jack Layton

It is the day after Jack Layton’s funeral, and much of what needs to be said has been said.  I can’t add to the eloquence of a Stephen Lewis, or to the raw beauty of people speaking with their feet, their chalk, their bicycle bells, their hearts.

Some of what was said really didn’t need to be said – and I’m talking to you, Christie Blatchford.

For me, there are three small but significant pieces to this story that haven’t been reviewed to my satisfaction, and I hope to address them here.

Health: When I hear the name “Jack Layton”, the image I have in my head is of an incredibly fit, active, healthy, vibrant man. A man who, even in a busy, active life, clearly made time to exercise. I have no information on his dietary choices. From my vantage point – 99% off the television and 1% from seeing him up close at Pride every year – he looked the picture of health. Always.

I’m finding it hard to draw a conclusion from this outcome. That someone whose physical presence always radiated health and vitality can be cut down by cancer. Of course, I have been surprised and made anxious as I watch some of my “picture of health” friends struggle with the disease. We are told to exercise, to watch our weight, to eat properly.  A huge industry has arisen, selling all manner of health supplements to ward off cancer and other insidious physical ailments. Yet, one has to wonder what is written into our DNA upon conception, and that if our time has arrived, it has arrived and no amount of Greens Plus, broccoli or cardio is going to challenge that programming.

Elizabeth May: Where are you?  Perhaps it is a trick of the media, like a trick of the light, that your voice has been quite absent this week. I see you as a well-spoken woman who usually has something insightful to say. Yet the Green Party has issued a boilerplate condolence message and left things there. I think we need more from the leader of the Greens on the occasion of losing the national party leader who was, in many ways, most closely aligned to that party’s views. Elizabeth – perhaps you weren’t close, and perhaps there was rancour, but leadership demands some class from you at this point.

Apology To Former Students of Indian Residential Schools: On June 11, 2008, the Canadian Parliament apologized – finally – for the treatment of First Nations children and families. What seems to have been overlooked was Jack’s role in encouraging and guiding the Government of the day – specifically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper – to take this action. Prior to making the official apology, Stephen Harper acknowledged Layton’s role in making this happen. Here is Jack Layton making his apology in the House of Commons on that day.

Jack says in this address in June 2008 that this is a beginning, not an ending. Here is Jack, two months plus a day before his death, June 21, 2011, still pressing the government to take action on improving living conditions for our Aboriginal peoples.

I haven’t heard a word about this part of Jack’s work this week, and I wanted to give it a bit of air time. This was a man who was comfortable operating in the full public eye and, yet, able to work behind the scenes in concert with his political foes to get important items hauled to the forefront and dealt with. There is lots to miss about Jack Layton. The part we will miss, without even knowing it existed, is the part in which he laboured, and encouraged others to labour, quietly behind the scenes to achieve momentous things.

We need so many more like him, and yet are granted so few per generation. Salut, Jack, et merci.

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3 comments to “Jack Layton”

  1. Thanks for this, Liz. Lovely.

  2. Thanks so much for reminding us. Well done.

  3. RE: cancer, there’s no mystery here Liz. Every year approximately 200 new industrial chemicals are introduced into the marketplace. Every year. With only rudimentary screening for toxic effects. And absolutely no scrutiny on synergistic effects. Our parents generation was the first to be exposed to this onslaught, but the conditions were somewhat different. There were less chemicals for them to be exposed to, chemical use really started to take off after WW2 when are were mostly past their childhood/sensitive developmental stages, the chemicals tended to be present in products in higher concentrations (why use a hammer when you can use a nuclear warhead approach) but there was less ‘historical’ contamination of the environment, so the dilution factor was greater. We were exposed to many more chemicals, from the womb onwards ie during sensitive developmental stages. The next generation has been exposed to exponentially more chemicals, albeit at lower doses, but chemicals with much more subtle effects such as hormone mimicking chemicals. Individually these products test as not being harmful. But what happens when you have a bunch of them in your house? Mix that with what’s in the air you are breathing, including air that blew over from developing countries where there are no environmental regulations. What’s the cumulative effect of all this exposure. Nobody knows. The question is so complex, no one is studying it. Science doesn’t like complexity. Science likes to look at only one variable at a time. Let’s add “A” and see what happens. But real life doesn’t work like that. Real life is adding “A” while doubling “B”, removing “C” and adding “D” but only intermittently. That’s way too messy for science.

    So what’s causing all these cancers? Probably a combination of the bathroom air fresheners and the swifters and the lemon pledges, the exposure to local air pollution – the single biggest source being automobiles in NA and the longer range air pollutants.

    Granted, its not all chemicals. If it were, everybody would get cancer, but not everybody does. So clearly there has to be some DNA susceptibility as well as exposure.

    We operate on the premise that life expectancies will get longer. I’m not convinced. It would not surprise me in the least if data started surfacing showing that longevity is beginning to decline despite all medical advances. My great aunt lived to be 101. My grandmother lived to 98. My father, despite a lifetime of not taking care of his health, oh heck, let’s call a spade a spade, he downright abused his health, lived to be 80. Other family members were equally old at the time of their deaths. Clearly I come from a very long lived gene stock. But I’m guessing that I will not achieve these numbers simply because of a combination of life time chemical exposure and food of questionable nutritious value (our food producing system is – well its just that – its a system, that produces, rather than growing food) and probably other factors that I’m not thinking of right now because I’m feeling like a melting humancicle in this heat.

    Makes for interesting retirement planning. Should I plan on living as long as my relatives and ration out my retirement money, or should I bank on environmental factors cancelling out long lived genes and blow the wad and have fun?

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