August 25, 2011

Honoured to Speak at Jack Layton Memorial at Burnaby City Hall

I was honoured to be asked to speak from an environmental and sustainability perspective at a memorial for the late leader of Canada's official opposition, the Honourable Jack Layton, at Burnaby City Hall today.  At first I was somewhat taken aback at the request from MP Peter Julian and MLA Raj Chouhan, as I'd never even met Jack, but they insisted they wanted someone from the environmental NGO community to comment on his green initiatives.

Initially daunted, as I sat down to write a quick speech, several images came to mind that I think are representative of Jack's sustainability leadership. Thanks to Raj, Peter and the rest of the organizers for giving me the opportunity to share a few impressions of a man many Canadians are missing deeply, no matter what their political leanings:

One of the enduring images of Jack Layton that sticks in my mind is that of a bicycle helmet.

A bicycle helmet perched atop a grinning face and trademark moustache, followed by the lean frame of a man who kept himself in great shape. That image resonates with me, for I've been asked to say a few words about Jack's dedication to preserving and restoring our natural environment, and his personal commitment to sustainability.

That bicycle helmet symbolized Jack's approach to politics and the environment. Walk the talk, or in his case, ride the talk. Jack was bicycling to work when most of us were barely contemplating the idea, and wondering if it would mess up our suits. Yet he made it work.

Another image I have of Jack is his openness and good humour. Over the last several days I have followed an outpouring of grief on Facebook and Twitter and other social media. I was amazed by how many of my "friends" on Facebook, and those who I follow on Twitter, wrote about Jack. These are mostly folks that have never talked about politics, they were simply feeling bereft at the passing of a great Canadian.

Then I noticed something interesting happening. The grief began turning toward sharing highlights of Jack's media appearances, mostly of a humorous nature. People began finding solace in Jack's good humour and willingness to expose himself to some gentle ribbing.

So another image that's in my mind from the last few days is a YouTube clip of Rick Mercer visiting Jack's energy retrofitted home. It's a hilarious episode, but while we laugh, we are also astounded at Jack's openness, his willingness to share, and again, his environmental dedication. His own home was not only energy neutral, at times it was feeding power back into the grid. Walk the talk, indeed.

That leadership is being recognized. Jack is already being honoured by his alma matter, York University, with a new prize in his memory to be awarded annually to an outstanding environmental studies masters student. Meanwhile, the Learning for a Sustainable Future organization that partners with York, is creating a Jack Layton Award for Youth Action in Sustainability for students taking innovative approaches to community challenges.

We live in environmentally difficult times. It is easy to read the headlines day after day, and despair at seemingly one crisis after another. Yet somewhere between Chicken Little panic, and turning a blind eye, there is a road forward. Jack would fix that road with his tireless gaze, and lead the charge. It is up to us to maintain his example of unwavering optimism and hope.

Posted by Paul at August 25, 2011 08:14 PM