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The Globe and Mail

There's a little bit of Jack Layton in all of us

A woman signs a book of condolences outside late NDP leader Jack Layton's constituency office in Toronto on Aug. 23, 2011.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In death, as he did, in life Jack Layton is causing controversy or debate, depending on your perspective. Some commentators, including the National Post's Christie Blatchford, find the national outpouring surrounding Mr. Layton's untimely death a little overdone and hard to take. She is not alone in that view as others privately have said the same. But in this tele-confessional, mutli- platform distribution age it is not surprising to see grief manifest itself so intensely.

What is head-scratching is that Canadians are heartbroken over the passing of a politician. Remember, this is Canada where politicians are meant to be as popular as a blizzard in July. But Jack Layton, as we have witnessed in the last number of months, was no ordinary politico.

Layton's very public health struggles with cancer over the last 18 months were something just about every Canadian could relate to. We all know someone, or of someone, hit hard by the disease. In his coping with cancer Layton was both dignified and gutsy; part public and part private, he managed his health crisis just like many of the rest of us hope we would if afflicted with the same horror. That made him ordinary – while at the same time inspirational.

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But cancer didn't make us like admire Jack Layton; the person he did. He came across as genuine, passionate and legitimate – even charismatic in era when Canadian political leadership is known to be missing original characters. He wasn't a caricature; he was those things. You didn't have to like his politics to like the man, but damn he made you respect him.

Jack Layton didn't wear a cape or leap tall buildings with a single bound, but he connected with us and we saw parts of our own stories in his struggles and it became natural to cheer him on. So when he left us Monday our hearts sank, the tears flowed and the national outpouring began. For me it was refreshing to see Canadians celebrate someone who valued the importance of public life and clearly made his audience feel the same way.

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