Funeral for Canada's opposition head a celebration

AP News
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Posted: Aug 27, 2011 5:50 PM
Funeral for Canada's opposition head a celebration

The wife of Jack Layton, the leader of Canada's opposition party, called him an "idealist, the optimist," during a video tribute at his funeral Saturday, a celebration of the life of a man Canadians referred to as "le bon Jack," the good guy.

The leader of the New Democrat party died of cancer earlier this week at the age of 61.

Under his upbeat leadership, the leftist New Democrats outpolled the Liberals and became the official opposition party for the first time in their 50 year history, in spite of campaigning while he battled prostate cancer and as he underwent hip surgery.

Layton helped the party rise to new stature nationally and gain prominence in Quebec, where the Bloc Quebecois party had maintained a stronghold for years.

His daughter Sarah Layton said during a touching eulogy, "On election night 2008, you left the victory party crying, honest tears of joy, not because you'd won more New Democrat seats, but because as you were leaving, Hugh and I called you 'grandpa Jack' for the very first time, it was our way of telling you we were expecting your first grandchild."

Layton was a career politician, entering municipal politics in 1982 as a leftist Toronto city councilor, then moving on to lead the federal New Democrat party. The folksy leader was known as the voice for the voiceless, advocating for the rights of the gay community, immigrants, the underprivileged, AIDs patients and victims of domestic abuse, starting an organization and campaign to end violence against women 20 years ago.

"He poured everything into achieving his goals," said Michael Layton, his son and a Toronto councilor.

"I remember advice he gave ... 'Always have a dream that is longer than a lifetime,'" said Michael Layton, who shared childhood stories of a father-and-son biking trip on less than favorable terrain and a sailing trip during inclement weather.

"When we were stuck in the middle of the lake on the water, he said to me, 'You can wait for perfect conditions or you can make the best of what you have now,'" said his son. "That's what he did every day of his life; he made the most of his life."

A crowd of about 2,800 gathered at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall were moved to tears, laughter, applause and standing ovations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the rare decision to offer the Layton family a state funeral, an honor normally accorded to current and former prime ministers, cabinet ministers and governor generals.

The venue, a popular Toronto concert hall, was seemingly chosen as a perfect place to honor Layton, a lover of music and an enthusiastic, although questionably skilled, musician himself.

A choir performed "O Canada," and Steven Page, formerly of the popular Canadian band, Barenaked Ladies, sang Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Parachute Club singer Lorraine Segato sand her inspirational tune "Rise Up," which she performed at his wedding to Olivia Chow in 1988 and which became the anthem of the New Democrat party.

During the video tribute, Layton said he fell in love with Chow, a member of Parliament, in "four nano seconds." Chow, who has been in politics for years, said that she will see that her husband's voice is not silenced. "I think that's a good way to celebrate his life."

The beautiful ceremony ended with the Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes quoting from a letter Layton wrote a few days before he died that he had wanted to be shared publicly. Since it was released by the family after his passing Monday, it has gone viral.

"Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world," quoted Hawkes.

Canada has collectively mourned for a man people often referred to as the "prime minister that never was" because of his strong leadership qualities and passion for politics.

More than 12,000 people lined up for hours for the chance to spend a few seconds paying their respects at his casket when it sat in Parliament Hill in Ottawa for two days before it was driven through Quebec, where Layton was born and where he scooped a landslide victory during the May federal election.

The casket then rested at Toronto City Hall, where Layton began his career as a city politician, and thousands of people filed past it. The walls and grounds outside the municipal center were covered in flowers and thousands of chalked personal sentiments including one that said, "You gave us hope." When a rainstorm midweek washed out the messages, they were replaced the next day.