Politicians are people too.

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September 1, 2011
Terrell and Janna Wiebe |

Early last week, NDP leader Jack Layton passed away after a courageous battle against cancer. We were in Ontario, visiting my in laws, and after brunch on the deck my father-in-law told us the news. My jaw dropped. I knew from seeing Jack on TV that it didn’t look good – poor Jack looked like a skeleton of his former self. And yet his passing was so sudden. And so…real.

Later that night, watching the news coverage about Jack’s career and life made me want to cry. Jack Layton was not just a politician, but a husband, father and friend. Jack Layton was not just a Canadian public figure, he was a person too.

Perhaps this seems obvious to most, but for me it is something I am constantly amazed at and reminded of. Being in the public eye makes you the target of not only admiration, but of hatred and mockery. Our society says its okay to mock celebrities – heck, they’re not real people, anyway! Our mockery only dehumanizes them to us, as I know full well.

Those who know me well would tell you that I never liked Jack Layton. It could be because I grew up in a dominantly Conservative area, and under Jack Layton’s leadership the NDP became a bigger threat to the Conservative government. He always seemed like the big bad man that was pro-abortion and other scary things. And he was so suave and everyone seemed charmed by him. So many of my friends liked him.

So I didn’t. When I saw NDP commercials on TV, I pressed the mute button. I’d roll my eyes at his posters. Once I found out my husband liked him, the mere sight of him almost infuriated me. It’s completely invalid and ridiculous, but this is how I felt about Jack Layton.

I should have known better thanks to Sam Katz.

In my third year of studying at the Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz came to chapel where students were free to ask him questions. I went to observe the damage, because I didn’t like Sam Katz (he was like my other Jack Layton) and I knew the student body would let him have it. I knew this because, at another special chapel where MP Steven Fletcher had an open mic, he was bombarded with angry questions. So I basically expected the same thing.

Before he took questions, Sam Katz talked a little bit about himself. He didn’t talk about his political standpoint, or plans he has for Winnipeg, but instead talked about where he grew up and went to school. He talked about his wife and kids, and how important his family was to him. He basically told us he was a person, someone’s husband and dad.

Since then, I’ve liked Sam Katz. Not because I always agree with his policies and politics. I like Sam Katz because to me he’s a real person who wants to be respected just as I do. He has people in his life that he loves, just like I do. He laughs and cries and has feelings, just like I do. Afterwards, I didn’t want people to attack him with words like I did before.

The following year on a youth event, we went to Mr. Katz’s office for a tour. Covering the walls were photo collages and notes from his children. Just like any other dad would have pictures of his family in work place, so did Mayor Katz.

Jack Layton’s death, just like the pictures in Sam Katz’s office, have once again humbled and reminded me that politicians are real people. In his lifetime, I said hurtful and disrespectful things about Jack Layton of which I now feel ashamed. I have nothing but respect for him and complete sympathy for his family. I can’t imagine losing my husband or father, and so my heart breaks for them.

In conclusion, I invite you to ponder this notion that politicians are human beings (and even our neighbors!) so that you might avoid the regret and shame I feel now about my words and actions.

Don’t let it take a man’s death to make you realize he’s real.

-Janna Wiebe

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