It may sound strange, and it is not meant to be disrespectful, but when I think of Jack Layton, I think of a light bulb. It has nothing to do with how his shiny bald head sparkled under the studio lights.
Layton was like one of those incandescent bulbs that shines brighter than ever, just before it burns out. For a brief time, it illuminates the room in a different way, shedding new light on things you hadn’t noticed before.
I never met Layton, although I think I saw him on an airplane once. He seemed smaller in real life than how I perceived him from the television reports.
Before the most recent federal election call, Layton was a perfectly capable leader and a political voice that resonated with many Canadians. But few outside the New Democratic Party saw him, or his party for that matter, as serious contenders in national government.
Something changed during that campaign. Layton stepped out of the shadows with a message that awakened a longing that most of us didn’t know we had.
He opened our eyes to how mean-spirited and vindictive our political discourse has become. Whether they want to admit it or not, how people in leadership roles conduct themselves sets the tone for how others in society behave toward one another. The highly politicized parliamentary antics, the rude behaviour, advertising aimed at character assassination rather than public policy, the media witch hunts have all cheapened our society.
In this most highly civilized of nations, we have become less civil.
We see it here on the farm beat too. Every time debate over an issue deteriorates into a slight against individuals who see the world differently, we lose something as a farm community.
Perhaps Layton’s greatest contribution was to our youth, which studies show have largely opted out of political involvement or any sense of civic duty. He gave them a choice – of optimism over cynicism. Young people who at the start of the last federal campaign had zero interest in politics and no desire to vote were engaged by Layton. He inspired them to participate, to vote, and even seek public office, believing they could make a difference.
Layton was not the first political leader to use this tact successfully in a campaign; we hope he won’t be the last. Our neighbours to the south responded overwhelmingly to a “Yes we can” campaign that made history. Layton made history too, bringing his party from a distant third to its new status as the Official Opposition.
We will never know whether the so-called Orange Crush would continue to build momentum in Canada. But we do know Layton set a different tone in our parliamentary system. He showed, by example, how we can be better as a nation, and as a people.
It’s up to all of us to keep that light burning.
125 Years Of Innovation
Speaking of bright lights, Agriculture Canada’s Brandon Research Centre recently celebrated 125 years of innovation in Prairie agriculture.
In an historical context, this experimental farm was among the first five established by the federal government in 1886, before much of the Prairies were even settled.
Its establishment was an investment in the future that has paid for itself a million times over – we suspect that over time, its impact on farm incomes far exceeds that of direct farm supports.
But its contribution is often understated because, although it has produced stellar technology in the form of improved varieties, much of what it does is about improving farmers’ knowledge about production strategies that are sustainable and profitable in the Prairie environment.
But it doesn’t have the same tangibility and high profile as other innovations that have revolutionalized farming, ranging from the introduction of barbed wire in 1874, tractors in the early 1900s, to canola and herbicide-tolerant crops in the later part of the 20th century.
The Brandon Research Centre has played a special and unique role in Prairie agriculture because its research focus has remained trained on mixed grain and livestock farming.
It has also provided farmers with applicable information on how to better manage some of the new technologies at their disposal.
Its foreign breed evaluation project, for example, helped producers understand how incorporating genetics from the so-called exotic breeds, might require a change in herd management in order to capture the advantages.
It’s been a leader in crop fertility management, extended and rotational grazing systems and more recently in manure management and greenhouse gas mitigation.
This isn’t so much a result of policy direction from head office, but rather putting good people in an environment where they can spot the gaps, identify the problems and seek solutions.
At a time when governments remain fixated on deficit reduction, downsizing government and efficiency, farmers need to be vigilant about preserving the federal commitment to publicly funded research. [email protected]