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When Jack Layton passed away on August 22 of last year Canadians from coast to coast were moved. In our riding, and across the country, people of all political persuasions who were touched by Jack’s message of love, hope and optimism gathered to pay their respects.

Our local campaign office became a place that week where hundreds of people came to sign our book of condolence with often incredibly personal messages to Jack and his family. The most famous example of this sort of outpouring was at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto when two women wrote some kind words in chalk and hours later the area was filled with tributes. When it rained that week and washed all of the tributes away the concrete at Nathan Philips Square quickly became canvass once again and more tributes filled the space.

One year after his death many will be returning to Nathan Philips Sq, to mark the one year anniversary of Jack Layton’s passing. The Layton family & friends, along with the Broadbent Institute, will host a celebration of Jack’s life this where multimedia highlights from the initiative will be screened. That initiative, which will continue after the August 22nd anniversary, is an online version of the chalk tributes we saw a year ago, except Canadians of all political stripes can use words, pictures and videos to express their feelings about Layton and his vision in a way that the rain can’t wash away.

Jack was able to connect with so many people on a personal level so to us it’s natural that people are still finding ways to express their feelings about Jack in their own personal way. It’s not often that you can say a politician’s first name, and immediately everyone in the room knows who you are talking about. He was a human being first and a politician second; something that is not always the case in politics. When Jack spoke about issues during a campaign stop to a crowd of hundreds or on a personal level his sincerity and passion shone through. He was able to unite people during a time when politics was divisive and he was bravely optimistic during the most difficult time of his life.

Jack brought issues to the forefront when they were not popular. He wasn’t afraid to engage in issues that may not win him votes, because for Jack, it was more important for him to stand by principle. Jack was a fighter for what he believed in and a person of compassion taking on issues like homelessness and LGBT rights before such issues were trendy. While everyone remembers the historical results last May 2nd, Jack fought for what he believed in long before reaching such electoral success. For years he was underestimated and even heckled by his political opponents as “leader of the fourth party” but he and his team worked hard at the grassroots building gains each election until the historic breakthrough and Official Opposition status was achieved last year.

When Jack Layton came to Brantford several times, he took the effort and time to get to know people. When you spoke to Jack, you were the most important person in the room. There was no entourage surrounding him as he went around speaking to families, seniors, young people and even his harshest local critics. He was the most down to earth and accessible politician we’d ever met. You got the sense when he worked with other parties that his focus was on making a difference not on poll numbers.

Jack deeply cared about Canada and about people. To Jack, it mattered more that he stood for what he believed in and made a positive difference than if he became Prime Minister. He wanted to make Canada a better place, and he did.

In honour of that we can all be a little more like Jack.

We can take better care of each other. We can spend the extra time getting to know others. We can ride our bikes more often. We can make people laugh. We can work with others more positively. We can stand up for what we believe in. We can work hard. We can make a difference in the lives of others. We can share what we have. We can take on unpopular causes. We can be humble by carrying our own bags and waiting in line. We can love. We can hope. We can be optimistic.

If we did these things we’d change the world.

– Marc Laferriere was the Brant NDP candidate in the 2011 federal election under Jack Layton.
– Ryan Jamula is a student at BCI and President of the Brant Riding Chapter of the Young New Democrats of Canada.

See a version of this story in is week’s print edition of the Brant News.