And we’ll change the world…

Fact: I did not support Jack Layton in his bid to become the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party. I backed the runner-up, who was left far behind in the dust of Jack’s first ballot victory at convention that day in 2003.

We were a small group, the runner-up backers; we fit into a single hotel room suite the night of the vote and the victory party.

(Side note: I was single and desperately searching back then; the man who turned out to be my soul and life mate was in that small room too. We didn’t meet until 5 years later, and it took a Lava Life connection to make it happen, even though we’d intersected in many circles over those 5 years. There is a time for every purpose I suppose.)

So, after licking my wounds at the loser victory party and consuming many socialist priced beverages there, I made my way down to Jack’s victory party in the huge ballroom on the main floor of the hotel. Jack had made the promise to bring all New Democrats together in his victory speech. I wanted let him know I was going to hold him to that.

And in my slightly inebriated swagger, I did. I remember pushing my finger into his chest several times to make my point, and the startled look on his face as he assured me he would keep his promise, no doubt casting his eyes about the room for a staffer to herd me away. I was not as wise to the ways of political staffers back then…

In the lead up to the 2004 election, I was employed by the party as a database administrator, given a cubby hole to work in that was at the end of the hall from the boardroom that had become Jack’s makeshift office. He was a party leader who had not yet been elected to a seat in the House, so he didn’t yet have a Parliamentary budget or office.

Visitors to my cubby hole at the end of the long hall were few, but more than once the visitor was Jack. He’d pop his head in the door (there was really no room for two people to stand in that office, so that’s about as much as he could do) and say things like “You’re doing data, right? It’s so important. Thank you for your work.”

Jack won his seat and his place in the House of Commons as the leader of an opposition party. Admittedly, we were the fourth party in the House behind the Conservative official opposition and the third place Bloc Québécois; but the party had gained 5 seats under Jack’s leadership that campaign, it was a minority Parliament so anything could happen, and I had been a New Democrat long enough to know we take our victories where we can.

In the days following the election, when Jack was cleaning out his makeshift boardroom office to move to his official digs on the Hill, I had been assigned another cubby hole down the hall to assume the duties of Parliamentary Aide to my friend Tony Martin, who had won the seat for my home town. Our office on the Hill had not yet been assigned.

I poked my head in the door of Jack’s office and was invited in (the boardroom had more than enough space for more than one person) and to make my amends to our new leader. I don’t know if he remembered me from the convention victory party, he didn’t say. I really didn’t give him any room to interject in my prepared remarks.

I told him that I hadn’t supported him in the beginning but had watched and learned and grew to admire and respect him over the course of the campaign. I told him that I couldn’t imagine any leader doing a better job through the last few months and congratulated and thanked him.

Jack jumped up from behind his desk and asked if he could give me a hug. It was one of the best hugs ever.

Today is the anniversary of Jack’s death in 2011. There were many victories to follow, including the party’s ascension to Her Majesty’s Official Opposition in the election held weeks before on May 2. And there were many sorrows as well. Tony Martin did not win his seat and I had lost my job.

I wrote this on the day after Jack’s death:

Jack Layton, the real deal

The real muscle work on Parliament Hill is done by people who are mostly invisible to the outside world. Nicknamed for the green shirts they wear, they keep the precinct clean, beautiful and functioning, paying careful attention to the needs of Parliamentarians and their staff, and providing unfailing service day and night.

There are the people on the inside, watching the way our country is governed, and I am sure they’ve seen it all. They make work possible for what surely must be one of the most cantankerous, demanding and self-centred group of people gathered in one place. I have never witnessed anything but fairness, grace and courtesy in the way they do their work.

In my seven years working on the Hill for Tony Martin, NDP MP, I have often been awed by the esteem with which many of these workers hold Jack Layton.

I had a signed photo of Jack hanging on the wall behind my desk, often forgotten in the business of the day, but visible over my shoulder to anyone coming through the office door.

I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times a green-shirt, on noticing that photo, took time out of their busy day to tell me how Jack touched them – how Jack was the only party leader who took the time to sit down with them, to ask about working conditions on the Hill and how he could help to improve them, about how much they admired, respected and liked him.

In the past few months, leading up to and after the election, they made regular inquiries about his health, sharing genuine concern and hope for his speedy recovery.

And I don’t think it was just my orange-coloured partisan glasses that observed them taking real delight in the success of Jack’s party in the last federal election.

These are the people for whom Jack worked so tirelessly, and these are the people who knew a real deal when they saw it.

I am so proud to have been a part of Jack’s team, honoured to have heard the stories of the people Jack touched, proud to play a small role in working to make our social democratic values reality. We’ve come a long way, and we still have a long way to go.

Thank you, Jack, for the gift of your leadership. You’ve left great shoes to fill but I, for one, don’t plan to let anyone tell me 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”

Jack Layton
July 18 1950 – August 22 2011

She Leaved

Confessions of a Quitter

Our family camp on the north shore of Lake Superior was the landing place for creating some of my most cherished family memories. I was young and single and enjoyed the arguable status of ‘best aunt in the whole wide world’ to my two young nephews. I think proximity had a lot to do with it but, in fairness, I was a pretty cool auntie.

During one of our camp stays, my younger nephew Aaron had been lobbying loud and hard for me to pitch a tent on the front lawn. He wanted to sleep over in the tent with me, and tonight was to be the night.

I pitched the tent and appointed it with amenities to make all a toddler’s glamping dreams come true – soft fluffy pillows, cozy comforters, every stuffed animal within a kilometre, and a stack of books including Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. (Renamed after small ears overheard one of the grandparents. We’d often hear Aaron yelling from potty training sessions in the loo: “Nonna! Bring me the Book from Hell!”)

While the summer sun still high in the bright and cloudless sky, the freshly bathed, powdered, pyjama-ed curly haired cherub and I settled in, snuggled under cozy covers and surrounded by pillows, books and stuffed animal booty.

There was a bit of a breeze that evening, causing the tent to rustle, and the shadows of the trees to dance on the tent walls. Each time, the cherub’s blue eyes would widen in fear and he’d ask “what was that?” I did my best to assure him that all was well.

Eventually, he left to use the bathroom inside and, after waiting even longer than the nearly seventeen minutes it takes to read the Book from Hell, I disembarked the tent to see what was up. I found him in the front room, snuggled under a blanket on the couch, a bowl of popcorn on his lap, and a Disney movie playing on the beta max. It was clear that he had no intention of returning to the tent of death.

When he looked up to find me standing there in bemusement, he shrugged a little shrug, said “I leaved” and returned the movie, munching on his popcorn.

And just like that “I leaved” became part of my personal lexicon.

A couple of years later, when I’d moved to Sudbury to study computer technology, I signed up for an unpaid weekend orientation session with a prospective employer, a new call centre taking incoming computer support calls. The morning session consisted of more than one senior team member subtly and not so subtly threatening immediate dismissal for anyone who might consider organizing the workers under a labour union.

I left at the Saturday morning coffee break and did not return.

Instead, I drove home, threw together a hasty overnight bag and drove the almost five hours to Nils Bay in order to salvage the rest of the weekend doing what I really and truly in my heart had wanted to do.

I arrived to find my mom and the cherub grandson in the middle of a very intense Skip Bo competition. When they looked up surprised to see me there, I pronounced “I leaved.” My mom laughed and said she’d had a feeling that that job wouldn’t work out.

My name is Janine and I am a quitter.

It wasn’t the first time I’d followed my heart and left a situation that was not working for me, and except for the fact that I have become better at creating and living situations that DO work for me, it likely won’t be the last.

I’ve become better at reading the signs, and rather than creating a crisis whose only logical outcome is burning bridges and depleting myself financially and emotionally before beating a retreat, I understand that in choosing to leave that which no longer suits me, I’m creating the space for transformation and growth that can swoop in.

I quit my job in North Bay to return to my hometown and a new career as a municipal social services worker, delivering welfare and special discretionary financial assistance to people in need. The birth of my eldest nephew, my parents’ first grandchild, triggered an immense and uncontrollable feeling of grief in me and I knew that I needed to return in order to address and heal whatever was the cause of that wound.

I quit that career in social service after 8 years in a toxic work environment whose only saving grace was the freedom to use provincially legislated resources in assisting people through difficult times – a grace that was removed when the Mike Harris Common Sense Revolution won government in Ontario and rewrote welfare legislation such that the work of social service became reducing the rolls, finding any excuse to deem someone ineligible for assistance, and policing them with paperwork in order to dissuade them from applying in the first place.

Some of my colleagues were astounded that I would leave such a well-paid position with a pension plan (I walked away from tens of thousands of dollars by leaving after 8 years when it took 10 to become vested in the plan)

And some of my colleagues expressed admiration for my courage.

It didn’t feel like courage. It felt like survival.  

But there is, as they say, no geographical cure. Wherever you go, you take you with you.

In this case I travelled a thousand kilometres east to a new workplace and career to find myself in the same toxic kind of work environment, except this time it was in the private sector, with not even the perceived protection of union representation.

So, once again, after a couple of years and hundreds of hours of Buddhist chanting, it was time to leave. This time, instead of quitting, I moved gracefully to a career with Canada’s New Democratic Party where my role and responsibilities evolved from database support to legislative aide.

It was the dream gig, but even dream gigs wear thin eventually. So, after 15 years, 8 election campaigns, and 6 Parliamentary cycles, I felt more than a little depleted. At the age when many workers are planning for retirement, I leaved.

I left in love. Sinai Johnson describes it here. I learned about Sinai and her work as part of the Feminist Copywriting Certification Course under Culture Maker Kelly Diels.

I don’t quite know what the next thing looks like yet, but I trust that when I make choices that are authentic to me, only good things will result. I have the evidence of my experience to back me up.

Snail mail, Frida Kahlo, and more

This morning, while tidying up a bookshelf, I found this package of postcards.

It’s been sitting there for years – well actually, it’s been sitting somewhere for years, moving from house to house, room to room with me because I just love it.

I purchased this package at the Art Gallery of Ontario (the AGO) one of my happy places in Toronto.

I love everything about the AGO – the exhibits, the architecture, the openness of the space, the restaurant, Walker Court, the gift shop.

We make annual visits, visits I have been missing because of the pandemic and, while I see they are now back open to the public, it is difficult to reconcile the possibility of transporting a vile virus passenger with us. So, thus far, we’ve decided to stay at home.

I am grateful for our spontaneous trip there in January. It has served as a touchstone to the before time, in the words of one of my blogging school classmates, as “something that has been bottled, and must now last a long time.” (thanks Miranda)

I love postal workers. In fact, my first action on moving to this house was to announce that.

In a previous role, I served as legislative assistant to the amazing Irene Mathyssen, then New Democratic Party critic for Canada Post. It was, among many other wonderful and harrowing experiences, an opportunity to get to know workers organized under the CPAA (95% of whom identify as women) and CUPW. These humans work tirelessly to represent their members and deliver vital essential services to Canadians in urban, remote and rural areas.

Together with partners, the CPAA and CUPW have been instrumental in developing a plan for addressing climate change, transitioning to a 100% clean economy by 2050, delivering essential public services including financial services (do you know about Postal Banking? Find more here) in a sustainable, accessible and entirely affordable manner.

It’s called Delivering Community Power and I invite you to check out and support the plan here.

But this is not just a public service announcement. (Once a political aide, always a political aide)

I now return you to the purpose of this post:

Postcards are meant to be shared, sent out into the world, the message public and open to anyone whose eyes fall upon them in their travels. Postcards are a way to spread the love.

I thought it would be fun to share two of my loves with you by sending you a postcard, and in the process support our postal service workers.

There are 21 cards in the pack (well, there are actually 22 but I’ve decided to mail one to myself to fulfill the purpose of the postcard and still manage to keep one)

If you love postcards or Frida Kahlo or snail mail or posties or just receiving a little love by mail, I’d love to send you one.

Drop me your mailing address using this form or send me an email at and I’ll get it off to you.

I’ll keep your address confidential, use it only for the purpose of sending the card, and delete it when I’m done.

With love.

August 22 update: there are still some postcards left. Hit me up if you’d like one!