3 min

An open letter to Christie Blatchford

Dear Christie Blatchford:

I want to thank you for your column in the Aug 22 edition of the National Post. Written in your usual inimitable style and informed by your infamous journalistic integrity, I’m sure it will be followed by similar articles, articles written by writers who share your passion, people like Margaret Wente, André Picard and Colby Cosh. In your zeal to stop Jack from becoming a martyr, you have helped to ensure he will become one.

Thank you.

What is a martyr? The dictionary definition is a person who “endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle or cause: a martyr to the cause of social justice.” Of course we certainly know that Jack suffered at the end, and that all his life he worked for social justice.

But I know that you, Christie, are skeptical even of this. You say of Jack’s final speech, “Who seriously writes of himself, ‘all my life I have worked to make things better?’’ Well, I would humbly suggest that a person who devotes his life to helping the poor, the downtrodden, the abject, the scorned and the forgotten, certainly has a right to suggest that perhaps in his own little way he has tried to “make things better.” And yes, Jack crafted this final letter on his deathbed with friends and his wife and partner in the fight for social justice, Olivia Chow. And yes they crafted the letter with him in what you pointedly call their “beautiful, energy-retrofitted house.” I congratulate you for attacking Jack Layton for writing a dying letter with the support of his wife and friends, and for his commitment to environmental change.

I urge you — and your cohorts in fine, fair and balanced journalism — to continue attacking Jack Layton, his final letter, his wife and his legacy, during the following months. All of this will be playing into the agenda of the New Democratic Party. For as much as you and your pals would have us believe that Jack’s death deserves our sympathy simply because he died of cancer, we will insist that his death was not the death of an ordinary man. We will insist that we are sad not only because of the cancer, but because a great man who was committed to social justice is now gone.

We are living through the rise of a huge neo-conservative backlash against the very social justice that was Jack Layton’s cause célèbre. Stephen Harper, Rob Ford and the Tea Partiers in the USA all have one thing in common: they would have us reduce government aid (what they like to call “handouts”) to the poor, the ill and the victims of what has been called an economic downturn – but which looks like it might be another great depression. Jack Layton was a man whose heart went out to the “have nots.” I remember in the early years of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (the gay and lesbian theatre I founded in 1979) watching Jack Layton (a little-known Toronto city councillor at the time) hold a gavel in the Buddies “Artsexy” queer auction. He was a great auctioneer and a good sport and didn’t mind when the gay boys flirted with him or made him wear a feather boa. Because, after all, he was not only on our side, but was a pretty hot dude to boot.

Surprisingly, part of the many who will reject Jack Layton’s martyrdom, I expect, will be some gays and lesbians (Canada’s new gay conservatives) and people of colour and women, of course (like Christie Blatchford). These are people who think that simply because they finally feel secure in their privilege, others should be denied the right to theirs. But then there are those of us — the black, white, blue, yellow, red, grey, male, female, gay, lesbian, transgendered, poor, drug addicted, unemployed – the list goes on – who will recognize something to fight for in Jack’s untimely death, his final letter and the cause of his life’s work. Something to believe in. And yes, something, even, to die for.

On behalf of them all, Christie Blatchford, I thank you.