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Layton's legacy still strong one year later

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OTTAWA -- Perhaps Canadians are taking Jack Layton's dying wish to heart.

On his deathbed last summer, the late NDP leader exhorted people to be more loving, hopeful and optimistic. If the unprecedented outpouring of grief that ensued -- and the fond memories Canadians continue to cherish a year later -- are any indication, it could mean they're doing just that.

In the days following Layton's death last Aug. 22, the odd critic could be heard muttering about a maudlin spectacle of group mourning -- thousands scribbling emotional chalk messages and leaving flowers, stuffed toys, cans of Orange Crush and other mementoes at impromptu memorials.

"Teddy-bear grief," some sniffed. A mawkish over reaction, they said, to the death of someone most Canadians had never met and who had never risen higher than leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition -- a position he held for only for a few short months before succumbing to cancer.

Yet, even 12 months removed from the emotional intensity of the moment, a new poll suggests a majority of people believe last year's remarkable national display of remembrance was both authentic and appropriate -- and they continue to hold Layton and his legacy in high esteem.

Some 62 per cent of respondents to the poll, conducted by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press, said they viewed the torrent of public grief for Layton as genuine, compared with just 27 per cent who said they felt mourners simply got caught up in the moment.

More than 75 per cent felt it was appropriate to hold a state funeral for Layton, although they were split 37-39 on whether such an honour -- normally reserved for former and current governors general, prime ministers and sitting members of cabinet -- should be routinely extended to all leaders of the Opposition.

And a whopping 91 per cent said they believe Layton made a positive contribution to Canada, 33 per cent of them describing his contribution as "very positive."

The poll asked the same question about other Canadian political figures.

Late Conservative leader Robert Stanfield was deemed to have made a positive contribution by 81 per cent of respondents; only 11 per cent said "very positive." Ed Broadbent, the most popular NDP leader before Layton, earned numbers of 78 per cent and 12 per cent.

The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted Aug. 2-5 and is accurate within a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

His widow, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, said she believes the response is partly empathy -- most people have been touched by cancer in their own lives. She also cited admiration for Layton's determination, not just in fighting cancer, but in campaigning vigorously for the May 2011 election -- brandishing his cane like a totem despite having surgery only weeks earlier.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2012 A9

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