Jack Layton: Canada's Own Don Quixote

Our own Don Quixote: Deserving not scorn, but pity.

I have, over this past week, sought to focus on Jack Layton's effort, as opposed to his message.  And a few conservatives have taken me to task for this - however, to deny Jack's humanity is to deny our own.

Jack has now been laid to rest - and, perhaps it is now fair to begin to discuss his legacy in an honest way - uncolored by our sadness in his passing or our sympathy for those close to him.

How do I see Jack Layton?

I suppose I would look to Don Quixote to explain Mr. Layton's contribution to Canada's mosaic.

If you haven't read Don Quixote, I would urge it upon you.

For in this early Spanish novel written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra we see a perfect metaphor for our recently passed leader of the NDP Party, Jack Layton.

Don Quixote is a man who believes in ideals - in his case, the cause of chivalry.  So much so that he actually dons a makeshift suit of armour and mounts his horse to take arms to help the poor and attack evil.  Unfortunately, as the story progresses, we see that Don Quixote is a delusional man who's focus is often misguided, riding upon a horse who is also old and feeble.    Over and over again, Quixote embarks upon delusional efforts, attacking foes and seeking to assist innocents who exist mostly only in his own mind, quests which are doomed to failure, again, and again and again.  So - after his initial failure, he seeks a supporter - Sancho Panza, and offers to make Sancho a governor of his own island for his assistance.  Sancho is a gullible peasant who agrees to act as Quixote's squire and sets off with him on his quest.

More often than not, Quixote is more villain than savior, taking from people who have done nothing wrong - other than in Quixote's delusional imagination, and Sancho often does his best trying to protect his master from his own stupidity, while suffering himself for sticking to Quixote's side.

In one iconic scene we see Quixote setting off to attack windmills, which, in Quixote's fevered imagination, he sees as evil giants which he is required to vanquish.

At the end, we see Quixote on his death-bed.  He finally obtains clarity, and realizes the folly of his "adventures", and shortly before his death, acknowledges the folly of his vision of chivalry.

Think about that for just a moment.

And then think about the sad and deluded life of Jack Layton.

Perhaps taking up the suit of armour left, rusted and battered by the mythical Tommy Douglas, Jack Layton toiled most of his adult life in a quest for a delusional form of chivalry - socialism.

Jack Layton mounted his tired old steed, the NDP Party.

To assist him in his quest, he rallied his supporters - the Sancho Panza's of Canada, and promised them utopia for their efforts.

Sadly, what Jack couldn't see, is that the same dragons and demons that he sought to slay were, in fact, the people who fed and clothed his supporters.  In one scene we see Sancho Panza, in the form of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, seek to slay GMC and Chrysler - only to discover later than in almost slaying the beast, Sancho was left hungry and without work.

As a result, many of his supporters abandoned him - and so, astride his tired old horse, he travelled into the land of Quebec - a place where many of its citizens shared Jack's twisted vision of utopia - a place where every person wanted for nothing, and yet did not have to work or sacrifice to obtain this paradise.

Sadly, however, unlike Quixote - Jack never saw the folly in his "mission".  At least as far as we know. Maybe, at the very end, like Don Quixote, he found clarity.

However - if so, it's unlikely that Olivia Chow would share Jack's last words with us if they were, "It was all a crock, what was I thinking?"|


She was too busy helping to write Jack's "last letter".

Too busy seeking to help the latest crop of Sancho Panza's engage on yet more missions of folly.

A mission that, as in Don Quixote, is doomed to failure because it's based not in truth, but in the belief of myth and fable. 

And as such, at the end of the day, as amusing as the story of Don Quixote is, when it comes to a close, it is truly a tragedy. 

Of a man who thought he was going good - but who, in the end, was just a sad man tilting at windmills.