Sunday, August 28, 2011

(No.167) Jack Layton & Christie Blatchford

Jack Layton, the head of Canada's federal New Democratic Party and the new leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, died on Aug. 21. The news media seemed to rise up as one and decide to treat the death of this politician with deep solemnity and handle the surrounding events as, to quote from one letter to the editor I read, "the Dianaification" of the late Mr. Layton.

A significant exception to the major media's worshipful posture came in the National Post (Aug 23). Longtime and fearless columnist Christie Blatchford dared to suggest "how fitting that his death should have been turned into such a thoroughly public spectacle." She noted that Prime Minister Harper, who had offered Layton's family a state funeral for him (which was accepted), "was one of the very few voices of reason to be found on the air waves" after the death had been announced.

Layton's last "letter to Canadians" released by his party and family shortly after his death was described by Blatchford as "full of sophistry" and "vainglorious". It is "remarkable," she wrote," because it shows what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was."

"The public over-the-top nature of such events," she concluded referring to the state funeral and surrounding events, "make it difficult to separate the mourning wheat from the mourning chaff."

Having read these and other comments in her column I was not surprised by the reaction. The National Post reported (Aug 27) that it had received "hundreds of angry notes ... A few dozen went beyond discussing the ideas raised in the column and attacked Ms Blatchford as a person. Some letter writers seemed to have trouble accepting that a woman could write such an analytical column at a time when many were consumed by emotions. Their comments cannot be reproduced..." Many writers used "colourful expletives" while others used "nothing but swear words".

Apparently some of Mr. Layton's political admirers and social democratic supporters did not feel it necessary to include within their political liberalism Ms Blatchford's right to public expression. Indeed, in her own column (Aug 27), she indicates she had failed "to understand that in Canada, a democratic country with constitutional guarantees of free speech and expression there are unwritten but well-defined lines around what is acceptable and what is not."

What brought her to this conclusion? She relates that in the days following the publication of her column she has been "deluged [with] ghastly email" containing attacks on her as a woman, on her "physical shortcomings", "obscenities" plus "countless vague threats".

Having just watched the CBC's three hours of coverage of Layton's state funeral procession and service I am wondering about the extent to which as many people would now disagree with Blatchford's political analysis.

In the service in front of 2500 (all but 600 by invitation) at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto NDP lion Stephen Lewis, one of the most accomplished political orators Canada has ever produced, delivered a eulogy for Jack Layton that was a very effective political speech, one that drew standing ovations. He proudly emphasized the fact, pace Blatchford's incensed respondents, that Layton's last letter to Canadians (to which Blatchford had pointed as a political act) was actually "a manifesto for social democracy".

Even the CBC's most solemn talking heads finally got around (post-service) to acknowledging that the funeral service, with the planning of which Layton had been directly involved, was "political theatre". It was also, not by accident, a memorably comprehenisve presentation of political correctness.

Fine; political theatre is a part of the political system in which all parties indulge. But in this instance there are those who should now at least consider apologizing for obscenity-laden criticisms of Christie Blatchford whose views were fair comment even if they were politically incorrect and expressed too soon after Jack Layton's passing for some.

by Alastair Rickard

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