Riding the wave: Author shares insider stories about Jack Layton

Meet Brad Lavigne, the national campaign director for the New Democratic Party’s 2011 election and the author of Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP. Photo by Judith van Berkom

Brad Lavigne, Kitchissippi resident for the last 10 years and the national campaign director for the New Democratic Party’s historic 2011 election breakthrough, has authored his first book, Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP. His intent in writing was to ensure that “all of the work [would not] be forgotten or misinterpreted or twisted by opponents [but would provide] an understanding to all Canadians as to what really happened.”

Lavigne graduated from Concordia with a Masters in Public Policy and Public Administration. Throughout his studies he was “always interested in advocacy, in making change and [felt] an obligation to help out, to make a contribution.”

He joined the NDP in 1987 at 18 years-of-age. Originally from out west where he worked for the BC government, he moved to Toronto in 2001 when he lost his job and the National Post offered his journalist wife, Sarah Schmidt, employment.

“We followed the work,” explains Lavigne.

In 2000, Lavigne, working in Victoria at the time, was called to help with the upcoming federal election. He took a leave of absence from his job to help out.

“It was a bad campaign,” says Lavigne. “They didn’t have their act together; the party wasn’t prepared at all.”

They only won 13 out of 299 seats – less than 1 out of 10 Canadians voted NDP. Although badly discouraged, he and a friend chose to “be constructive” and they came up with “three criteria a new NDP leader needed to have – experience, live in urban Canada and be fully bilingual – and went then from west to east looking for a candidate,” explains Lavigne.

“Have you ever heard of Jack Layton?” he asked his friend. It was a question that made history. Jack Layton was sent an email the next morning, urging him to go federal and promising support. “Jack kept that email in his blackberry until the day he died,” says Lavigne.

The email led to a call from Jack Layton’s office and a week later they were “mapping out a plan for leadership with Jack and his wife,” says Lavigne. “You don’t know where it’s going to go,” explains Lavigne, who worked a 9-to-5 job and spent his evenings and weekends volunteering for the first year.

He started in March 2003 with a full-time, salaried position, based in the Ottawa office.

“I didn’t think it would happen that quickly – the breakthrough,” he explains. “We used to call it The Project – the vision to professionalize, modernize the party. [We had] a moral obligation to win in order to implement change; [we couldn’t continue] to let them down by not fighting to win,” Lavigne adds.

One of the chapters in Lavigne’s book is called “113 days” which represents the number of days after Jack Layton was elected leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in 2011, before his death on August 22, 2011.

In a letter to his then unborn grandchild (2009), Layton outlines what motivated him to pursue public service.

“What drove him was the desire to leave [his grandchild’s] generation a better country, a better world. [The note], written as Layton flew home to Toronto from out west, was “unscripted, unedited, and straight from the heart,” says Lavigne.

Lavigne spent from April 2012 to December 2012 as a full-time writer. “I love the neighbourhood,” he says. “I spent time writing in the Royal Oak, The Wood, held interviews in the Ottawa Bagel shop,” he adds. Local residents may have seen him there.

Lavigne, his wife, Sarah Schmidt, and two children cycle on the Ottawa River Parkway during the summer months and enjoy stopping at Westboro Beach. During the winter they ski at Camp Fortune and skate at Tom Brown Arena.

“We are a very active family,” says Lavigne.

They also enjoy travelling and have done so extensively, in South Africa, the Caribbean, Nicaragua, and recently, a weekend trip to Chicago to see the architecture and art museums. He hopes to stay in Ottawa.

For more information about this book, check out this review on iPolitics, or listen to this interview with CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi.



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