Neither Here Nor There

Peter Pickersgill
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Good luck Yvonne

I was in Ontario sitting beside a lake just outside Algonquin Park when I heard the news about Jack Layton.

One of the people in our group had just received an email. Jack was stepping aside. Having just finished beating one cancer, another had appeared, and he needed time off to fight it. He said he would be back for the fall session in the House of Commons. 

Messages other people receive on their smartphones from still other people you don’t know and repeated to you verbally need confirmation.

It was sad news, but I wanted to delve deeper before I accepted it fully. In a nearby town, I bought a Globe and Mail. The front page photo of an emaciated Layton was shocking and all the confirmation I needed. The man was clearly ill.

No particular fan of the man as a politician, I was impressed by the startling surge the NDP had pulled off to become the official opposition following  May’s federal election. Now, seeing Jack’s thin and troubled face staring up at me from the shiny paper of the Globe and Mail, I was struck by a feeling of sadness for the man. After so many years in the wilderness, Layton had achieved a surprising success, only to have his moment of joy plucked from him by illness.

When I heard the news that Yvonne Jones was stepping down as leader, I was struck by the same sadness.

It’s really not part of my job description as a cartoonist to empathize with politicians but rather to make fun of them. To do that you have to keep your distance. Every now and again though, someone comes along who makes professional standoffishness more difficult.

The first thing that struck me about Ms. Jones was her plain-speaking.  Over the years, paying attention to what politicians say has been part of what I needed to do for my work - not just what they say but how they look when they were saying it.

Some politicians speak in a manner that is hard to understand. That can be because they are not clear thinkers or because they are trying to hide the truth from the public. Ms. Jones doesn’t do that because she thinks clearly and she’s honest. The piercing blue eyes, framed by the heavy black rims of her glasses, connect directly to the listener and deliver her message with clarity and emphasis.

She doesn’t need to shout to convince the audience of her sincerity. In fact, that is one of the things that I admire most about her. In the Williams’ years, as she stood in the House of Assembly day after day, across the floor from a howling mob encouraged by a premier with the highest approval rating since records have been kept, she remained calm. 

Eventually the speaker would call the House to order, and the quiet precision and measured pace of her words made a stark contrast with the high speed, high volume uproar opposite, trying to drown out her message.

Over the long haul, this sort of rough treatment from the huge government majority might have made her angry, but the reverse was true. Her display of calm seemed to anger the members across the aisle, particularly the premier, who at times seemed to be in need of emergency anger management intervention.

Then the cancer struck and my admiration increased. As soon as she could, Ms. Jones re-appeared in the House loaded to the two eyes with chemo and cooked by radiation. By sheer force of will, she pushed herself onward, appearing in a magazine with all her hair shorn - a very gutsy move.

Earlier this month she announced that she was stepping aside, not like Layton because the cancer had returned, but like Jack, because the treatment had exhausted her immune defences. Her doctor warned her that to carry on at the pace required to go for a win in the upcoming election, the only pace she knows, would do her harm.

She will run to keep her seat in Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair, and I’m sure all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians wish her a complete recovery to her former strength. 

This province needs her voice.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, House of Commons, NDP

Geographic location: Cartwright

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