Following the ceremony at Roy Thomson Hall, Jack Layton’s family looks on as his casket leaves the hall. Thousands of VIPs and the public alike came out today to honour.
A state funeral for former NDP leader Jack Layton took on the verve of a political rally Saturday, as another former party leader called Layton’s final public letter a “manifesto for social democracy.”
With Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae among the mourners, long-time New Democrat Stephen Lewis took to the stage to extol Layton’s social democratic vision for Canada.
“The letter was, at its heart, a manifesto for social democracy,” Lewis said to a standing ovation, loud cheers and applause.
“He wanted in the simplest and most visceral terms a more generous Canada. His letter embodies that generosity…He talks of social justice, health care, pensions, no one left behind, seniors, children, climate change, equality, and again that defining phrase a more inclusive and generous Canada.”
The letter’s now famous anthem: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world” has been emblazoned on T-shirts and even tattooed on the arm of one man who described himself as a Conservative.
Lewis, who led the Ontario NDP through the 1970s, went on to boldly suggest that a political sea change was in the wind, one that would continue an upward trajectory that propelled the perpetually third-placed NDP to Official Opposition status in the May election.
“We’re all shaken by grief but I believe we’re slowly being steadied by a new resolve and I see that resolve in words written in chalk and in a fresh determination on people’s faces,” Lewis said, referring to hundreds of messages scrawled in chalk on the grounds of Toronto City Hall.
“A resolve to honour Jack by bringing the politics of respect for all, respect for the Earth and respect for principle and generosity back to life.”
The political messaging was unmistakable, although the family had said the state funeral was to be a “celebration of life.”
And it was relentless.
In an earlier video, Layton’s wife and constant companion, MP Olivia Chow, was heard to speak publicly for the first time since her husband’s death.
“Some people say to me that Jack’s voice is gone, ‘I’m so sad,’” she said. “Yeah, I’m sad. We’re sad. But let us not look behind us, let’s look forward. Look at what we can accomplish together to make sure that Jack’s voice is not silenced. I think that’s a good way to celebrate his life.”
Thousands of people came in droves Saturday to pay their respects to Layton, waiting overnight to attend his state funeral, lining the procession route and flooding the public visitation.
Organizers say about 1,300 people passed through Toronto City Hall for the last two hours of public visitation as hundreds more lined up for their chance to attend the state funeral at Roy Thomson Hall.
Hundreds more lined the procession route from city hall to Roy Thomson Hall, just blocks away from where Layton celebrated his historic election victory this spring.
Members of the public waited overnight to make sure they were one of the several hundred to get wristbands, which were doled out early in the morning. Large video screens were also erected behind the hall to accommodate the overflow crowd.
Some of the most well-known political figures in Canada were in attendance, including Harper and former Liberal prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.
Harper said it has been an “extraordinary and very emotional week.”
“Canadians, supporters and opponents alike, have had an opportunity to…honour, to express their gratitude for Jack Layton’s contribution to public life and I hope all of this has been some comfort to his friends and family,” Harper said before entering the hall.
Gov.-Gen. David Johnston said he was there to represent all Canadians.
“It’s a time of mourning for us, but also a time to celebrate a remarkable life of leadership,” he said. “But it’s so important in our system to have a clear and passionate voice for the ordinary person and Mr. Layton was that person.”
Also attending the funeral were Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and former Ontario Lt.-Gov. Lincoln Alexander.
“I’m here for the same reason that all of these people are here: Everybody was very much touched by Jack Layton’s passion for public life and his belief in the future of Canada,” said Martin.
Military veteran Rick Harrison, who spent much of Friday and overnight at Roy Thomson Hall, was first in line to get a coveted ticket to the state funeral.
He was also first in line to pay his respects to Layton at City Hall on Friday, and says he felt compelled to attend.
“Jack would have done it for others, and would have wanted it that way,” said the visibly tired Harrison, his voice shaky.
Behind him was a couple from Parry Sound, Ont., who travelled to Toronto to show respect for someone they feel is a political hero.
Dianna Allen said Layton touched people personally.
“We really admired his leadership,” she said. “We wanted the world to know that he was truly loved and respected.”
“To me, he started the healing process for the country by bringing so many Quebec supporters back to a federal party.”
Layton died Monday at the age of 61, just weeks after revealing he had been diagnosed with an unspecified cancer.