West Kootenay’s three New Democrat politicians say while the loss of federal leader Jack Layton will be tough on the party, it’s also personal.
“He was very important to our country,” said BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko. “I’ve worked with him and seen his capacity to act as a leader and to bring people in our party together … We have lost a great leader.”
Layton was always approachable and open to MPs, Atamanenko says.
“He was always only a phone call away. At times I would Blackberry [text] him or call him if I had a concern and he would always get back to me. When we met it wasn’t just a handshake, it was hugs.”
In a written statement, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall said she first met Layton in 2002 when he was seeking the NDP leadership.
“I was 23, and inspired by his energy, positive message, his creative thinking and get-to-it attitude,” she said. “Jack didn’t see obstacles, only opportunities. Needless to say, I jumped on his campaign for leader.”
Mungall says since then Layton continually inspired her. When visiting him in Toronto, he gave her a neighbourhood tour and hosted her and fellow young New Democrats at his house for a barbecue.
“It was then that I told Jack I was thinking of running for city council in Nelson,” Mungall said. “He beamed and gave me the best advice I have ever received on how to win with integrity.”
She said despite health challenges, Layton’s “vibrant smile … showed us his deep commitment to our country. Canada is a better place because of him.”
Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy says Layton had a “special ability to connection with people,” recalling his visit to Castlegar when seeking the leadership.
“There was a meeting at my parents’ place, out in the yard. We had about 40 people. There were a lot of seniors there, and my granddaughter was there as well and she was about three at the time,” she said.
“She went up to him and stood next to him. He picked her up and put her on his lap and kept dialoguing with people — talking about his leadership and his vision for Canada and at the same time totally enthralled her and kept talking to her and entertaining her. I thought anyone who has the wherewithal to do that is going to go somewhere.”
Layton, 61, died Sunday, less than a month after he announced he was fighting a new form of cancer.
— With files from Craig Lindsay, Castlegar News
Layton twice toured Nelson
Jack Layton visited Nelson twice in the last decade, first in September 2002 while a Toronto city councillor and campaigning for the NDP leadership. He spoke at the library.
He returned in August 2005, sprinting through the city on a Saturday morning to visit projects with federal ties and buoy the spirits of locked-out Telus workers.
The trip was part of an ambitious summer tour across the country to build support for the party.
His tour included a stop at what’s now Touchstones Nelson, which was then under construction, and having trouble obtaining a federal infrastructure grant.
He also visited the Nelson and District Youth Centre, Ward Street Place.
“After the Ward Street visit, Layton took a stroll down Baker Street to meet with the general public,” the Nelson Daily News wrote at the time.
“He stopped into Eddy’s Music to talk to staff there, check out the guitars and play a little blues riff on the electric piano. Then it was off to Stanley Baker’s Cafe where he spoke with diners about post-secondary education, social programs and the environment.”
Up the street from the cafe, more than 100 locked-out Telus workers and their supporters gathered in anticipation of the labour-friendly party leader.
“To the chant of ‘Jack, Jack, Jack,’ Layton was enthusiastically welcomed.”
Layton wrapped up his Nelson stop with a walk through Cottonwood Park and a speech at the Cottonwood Market.
“It was inspiring to be here in Nelson,” he said before departing. “In this community people don’t just tell you about the problems they want addressed, they also show you the solutions that are being implemented right here in the community … You don’t always find that combination of concern and optimism.”