Jack Layton, 1950 – 2011

Jack Layton, leader of the Official Opposition, and leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, has lost his battle with cancer.

It is hard to put into words how significant a loss this is for Canada. Whether you voted NDP or not, Layton was universally admired for his sheer determination and devotion to Canadian families, seniors, children — everyone who needed help. He genuinely believed we could lift each other up and create a fairer society.

It has been a toxic year tainted by the disgusting spectacle of British politicians rushing to distance themselves from the corrupt media empire they had helped to create; revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere that provided hope which was quickly extinguished once it was clear youth, women, and moderate voices would have nothing to do with the new order; America brought to the economic brink by petty partisan bickering and a rabid right wing; London burning ostensibly over a police shooting but looters gone wild leaving a bitter taste; and a recent Dutch election that saw the rise of Geert Wilders’ far right PVV party go from 9 seats to 24. I have not even touched the economic roller coaster and the repulsive charade of bank bailouts followed by enormous-bonuses-as-usual on Wall Street.

Amid all this toxicity, negativity, and despair, Jack Layton had this to say from his deathbed:

“… consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, 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.”

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

Amid the shameful circus of global politics, Jack Layton was a rare genuine spirit, the epitome of public service, and someone so straightforward and real.

I am completely broken up over the loss of one of the good ones, in the face of all this bad. I am going to repeat Jack’s words many times to myself, and resolve to reprioritise and set an example afresh, to keep my head up in this dark hour. My condolences to Olivia Chow and Jack’s children, I cannot imagine the immensity of their loss.

Rest in peace, Jack.

In lieu of flowers, Jack Layton’s family has asked that donations be made to the Broadbent Institute in memoriam.

Art & Culture


Acetate drawings in a forest clearing. From

In 1947 Llanrwst Town Council applied for a seat on the United Nations Security Council on the basis of its special status as an independent town state poised strategically between England and Wales. As someone intrigued by the phenomenon of micronations and the drivers that might inspire a person or group to declare their home a micronation, I have always admired the Llanrwstian pluck, going all the way to the UN with their case.

A couple of years ago, arts agency Safle invited applications for an artists project in Llanrwst inspired by this rich story of attempted micronationhood: “The title refers to the period of independent history of the area and famous historical characters such as Owain Glyndwr, Rhys Gethin and Hywel Coetmor, at which period the town was a rebel stronghold, was burnt to the ground by the Prince of England’s forces and was deserted except for a herd of deer grazing in the square.” In November 2008, windows across the town square were filled with light-based artworks as part of the culmination of this project, which recognised Llanwrst’s aspirations towards microstate status.

This elegant art project is only one chapter in a series of artistic tributes to Llanrwst’s struggle. 80s Welsh punk rock group Y Cyrff wrote “Cymru Lloegr a Llanrwst”, a song commemorating these aspirations, which has become a Welsh anthem of a sort:

I discovered long ago that my interest in micronations was far from isolated. When I was in Helsinki on a curatorial residency at NIFCA some years ago, I picked up the catalogue for a meeting of kings, presidents and representatives of “self made” countries that occurred in Helsinki in 2003, as part of a micronation summit at MUU Gallery. Susan Kelly’s talk was very insightful, revealing that if “democracy is about ‘shape shifting’, and not about being able to count up the heads within a particular pre-given ‘shape’ or constituency, there is a need to imagine and experiment with other practices and modes of belonging. Perhaps we could say that the micro-states de-familiarise the masking Russian doll and provide tools to imagine, recognise, make understandable or legible this complex ‘here-ness'”.

There’s something wild and speculative and wonderful about the idea of removing oneself from the constraints of the various spatial identities we find ourselves defined by (and you don’t even necessarily need to be in the crossfire of two cultures at odds, like the English and Welsh borders clashing near Llanrwst). The idea is so appealing that Wired recently released a cheat sheet on how to start your own country. Perhaps the most revealing bit of the surprisingly banal article was revealed in a quote from Carne Ross, the fact that the process of developing nationhood is “profoundly political.” To anyone who has started any new venture with a degree of visibility, this notion of “buy-in” and how profoundly political it is comes as no surprise. The desire to take the boundaries of a new venture and escalate the ambition to that of a genuinely recognised state, is more surprising, fascinating, and in some cases, understandable.