Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Blatchford vs. Layton

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Ever since National Post columnist Christie Blatchford published her dismissal of Jack Layton's final letter to the public, calling it "vainglorious", reactions have, to say the least, varied. Some praise her for being objective or state that she has a valid neo-con point of view, and they're sick of all the liberal/social democrat hype about Layton.
But let's consider something that hasn't been, to my knowledge, much discussed: her motivation. The obvious stimulus to write her piece the way she did is financial: she works for a right-wing paper founded by Conrad Black, pays the rent by pleasing its readers, and as a columnist is judged by her employers not on whether she is fair or balanced, but by how many readers or hits her work gets, and how much controversy she stirs up doing so. By those standards, her piece is a roaring success.
However, it's hard to read it without sensing spite that goes beyond "objectivity" and into vituperation. What could be the reason? Unless Jack turned her down for a date when they were both in their youth, could something else be going on here?
I think it's writer's envy. That letter -- which Layton wrote with the help of family and advisors (he was dying, after all, a deadline that calls for extraordinary measures)-- is already the most widely-quoted piece of writing in Canada over the last decade. It's been inscribed in chalk all over Toronto's City Hall plaza, at memorial sites in other cities, on posters, on signs, on T-shirts, and reposted endlessly on social media. Its positive message, especially in the last "my friends" passage, has resonated across the nation, even with many who call themselves apolitical. It could end up as widely remembered as "Be the change you want to see."
Who will recall a single phrase of Christie Blatchford's in ten years? She's supposed to be the writer here, but Layton, whom she criticizes for being ambitious and eternally political, is the one who's really getting the hits that count -- in the hearts of Canadians not frozen by ideology, who believe hope and change actually are possible. Perhaps she already suspected this when she wrote her column, and anger at the unfairness of it all -- fuelled by the narcissism that makes anything not about her of dubious worth -- is the real cause of her column.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Oughton

John Oughton is the author of several books, including Time Slip: New and Selected Poems, published by Guernica Editions.

Go to John Oughton’s Author Page