First, a confession. I feel a growing antipathy for ultra-left-wing naysayers in Canada -- those hipper-than-white-rice, NOW-reading, uber-lefty elite types who claim the NDP can no longer be a viable option for social change. I think I've always resented them. I think I've just been afraid they would get all "insurrectionary" on me if I admitted it.They'll tell you the NDP is irrelevant because it's become as mainstream as Gap boxer shorts. They need to get over it. The Revolution is still a few Style Council albums away, my friends. And the new NDP is, like, more Urban Outfitters than Gap.
But here's a contradictory confession: I've purchased a variety of items at Urban Outfitters in recent years, but I've kept a safe distance from the NDP. I've stayed away due to a fine blend of political disillusionment (are they not even "Liberals in a hurry"?) and utter fear of being one of the members of that string quartet that kept playing on the Titanic as it sank into the sea.
To paraphrase Bruce Cockburn, "If a tree falls on the federal NDP caucus in a forest, does anyone hear the caucus scream?" Indeed.
So which way forward? Well, I don't really believe in "great man" theories. I don't think any one person can change the world. (Except Sting. Actually, no. Not even Sting.) But I do believe that a visible, wise, charismatic and principled new leader for the NDP can inspire a grassroots resurgence.
We know that Jack Layton has visibility and charm. He has an optimistic and infectious energy about him. He's one of three men left in the Western world who can still pull off a moustache. He's good-looking (despite his beady eyes). And he can draw attention -- which, frankly, is not a trait that leaps to mind when discussing recent leaders of the NDP.
But that's not why I'm backing him. I support him because I believe him on his principles. I've seen him display his public and personal commitment to keeping our environment smiling. I've seen him at the Days Of Action protests against the Harris regime. I've seen him march alongside us at anti-war demos, from the first time a Bush-monger took military action against Iraq. I've seen him getting tear-gassed by his own government at the Summit Of The Americas protest in Quebec City. I've seen him at Citizens for Local Democracy meetings during the Mega-size-the-City debates.
I've seen him speak passionately at international forums and bring the same commitment to defending a homeless shelter near my home in Riverdale.
And finally, and most important to me, he's been an unparalleled political friend of the arts. It's no secret why Jack has a wide array of artists supporting his campaign. He knows us by our first names, has taken interest in our work and has supported our existence. And that's so much more than a standard pair of boxer shorts.
Jian Ghomeshi is a musician, writer and the host of Play on CBC Newsworld and The Great Canadian Music Dream on CBC-TV.