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Layton gave a ‘voice to the powerless’: McConnell - National Post

August 22, 2011    
Natalie Alcoba
National Post

Jack Layton’s fingerprints are all over Toronto as we know it today.

From the solitary wind turbine that generates clean energy at the Canadian National Exhibition to smoke-free public places, starting with elevators, to awareness of AIDS and the plight of the homeless, Mr. Layton had been a force in shaping the city’s political agenda since the early 1980s.

On Monday afternoon, hundreds of people filled Nathan Phillips Square to mourn the death of a man they admired — if not for his politics, then for his conviction — in an impromptu memorial, scrawling messages on posters for his family and with chalk on the wall of the ramp leading to City Hall’s green roof.

“You made a difference,” one woman wrote.

“You don’t see people like him in politics very often,” said former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who first met Mr. Layton in the 1970s, while he studied at York University and taught at Ryerson University.

Before he became a fixture in Ottawa as NDP leader, Mr. Layton served 18 years in municipal politics, as an alderman in the old city of Toronto, a Metro councillor and a councillor in the amalgamated city. He was a formidable left-wing force, spearheading the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and a loan program to encourage owners to retrofit commercial buildings to save energy and money. He was opposed to such projects as the SkyDome and Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Olympic games, and fought for reduced development of the railway lands.

“His brilliance was being able to bring together unusual suspects who apparently had nothing in common” to work together towards a common goal, said Franz Hartmann, his executive assistant from 1998 to 2002 who is now leader of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Mayor Rob Ford saluted his former seatmate in the council chambers as a “people’s person” who taught him a lot when he first entered politics.

“He taught me never to take things personal. He taught me, you’re going to be surprised on who votes with you sometimes and who votes against you,” the Mayor said. “We joked around and said you and I are probably never going to vote the same way, but you could never meet someone, at least I didn’t, I never saw Jack yell or scream, he was always composed no matter how rough it was and, as you know, it does get pretty rough down in the chamber.”

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said Mr. Layton was a skilled orator who could sway votes with his words. On occasion, he convinced Mr. Ford to change his mind.

“Jack Layton came from a politically powerful family, through many generations, and he used that legacy for the powerless and to give voice to the powerless. And I don’t know of many who would have done that,” said Councillor Pam McConnell. In the square on Monday, Gail Picco clutched a poster with a black and white photo of a young, moustachioed Mr. Layton, standing in front of an affirmative action poster. It was for her 18-year-old son, Evan, who looks up to Mr. Layton. She remarked on his sunny disposition, and final letter to Canadians, urging them to be loving, hopeful and optimistic. “I thought his letter was vintage Jack. He was campaigning from beyond the grave,” said Ms. Picco.

As originally published here: http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/08/22/layton-gave-a-%E2%80%98voice-to-the-powerless%E2%80%99-holyday/

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