I had a whole other thing to write about this week, but like many Canadians this morning, I was saddened to read that Jack Layton had died. Somehow, I couldn’t let it pass without comment.

Politically, I’m a bit ambivalent about the federal New Democratic Party; they seem a little too idealistic for most of my moods. But a good friend once called the NDP the social conscience of Canada. I think that’s true. They are the party that calls us to remember that not all people have the support or the means to pull themselves above the circumstances of their birth. The party isn’t afraid to put people before corporations. Which has never seemed more apparent than under the leadership of Jack Layton.

Regardless of my political stance, I was relieved and excited when the NDP swept into the House of Commons. I was truly looking forward to having Mr. Layton as the leader of the official opposition. He was capable of doing what previous opposition leaders had failed to do: take a stronger stance against Mr. Harper’s Conservative government. The whole political system needs a shake up, and I never questioned that Layton would be noisy, for whatever it would be worth to our close-lipped Prime Minister.

Despite the photos of a gaunt Jack Layton that peppered the internet, his personality seemed too vibrant to let something like a little cancer take him down. So the shock to me is both that he is gone and that the gap he leaves feels so huge. I will miss his presence, and I feel sorrow. But I read his parting words to Canadians, and I have hope that he has left momentum for the party and the next leader to continue strongly as Canada’s conscience. His legacy is hope. And that is good good good.