What did Jack Layton mean?

Taking a different approach to Jack Layton’s legacy, Stephen Marche argues the party lost its way when New Democrats decided to defeat Paul Martin’s government in 2005.

And yet despite the marked improvement in the numbers, the left has never been in a worse state by the simplest and most meaningful gauge there is: its effect on the lives of Canadians. In hindsight, the most consequential decision in Jack Layton’s career, perhaps the most important political decision of the past decade, was when he chose to support a Conservative non-confidence motion and end Paul Martin’s minority government in 2005. It was the moment when Layton and the NDP held the most influence over the national agenda, and the Liberals at that time were well on their way to instituting affordable national daycare. That piece of legislation would have done more to help lower- and middle-class families, more to help women and the poor, more to strengthen the social fabric of the country than any other policy. The business case was outstanding: research from a host of economists and community development experts has shown that public investment in early childhood affects subsequent lifetimes of earning ability. Universal daycare would have increased national prosperity in the broadest sense of the term.

Layton, simply by letting things happen, could have helped deliver the policy that offered the single best reason to vote for a socialist government. But instead of taking a solid gain for working families, Layton concentrated on developing the NDP around his own personality. The result? Rather than functional, technocratic socialism, today we have Raffi socialism.