Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party who died today, was never afraid to speak out on a controversial subject.
But he made his position understandable, and often even appealing, to those who were on the other side.
I was a journalist working for a Toronto community newspaper in the 1980s. Jack was a city councillor and he met with a bunch of us over lunch at a pub in Yorkville.
At that time, he was evaluating a plan to build a road to be used only by trucks from Highway 401 to downtown Toronto. The problem was that trucks were clogging residential roads on their way downtown to deliver merchandise needed by retailers.
The rest of us were scratching our heads over this proposal. Jack was open to it because the alternative was another full-size expressway that would rip through a wide swath of residential neighbourhoods. He envisioned improved bus and subway routes for people and a truck route for goods as a possible solution to this problem of the post-railroad era.
The truck route was never built. But the fact that Jack was researching a novel non-partisan solution that would accommodate both businesses and individuals – and trying to communicate it to reporters and community activists – was significant.
That, in one sentence, was Jack.