Born on March 21, 1936 to Percy and Mary Broadbent, Ed Broadbent was raised in a typical home for the time in Oshawa, where his father worked for General Motors.
In 1961, Broadbent married Yvonne Yamaoka, who was a town planner and had lived through the internment of the Japanese during the Second World War with her family.
In 1966, Broadbent received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Toronto.
In 1967, Broadbent and Yvonne divorced. It was around this time that Broadbent decided he would run for federal politics.
For the parents of Broadbent, it was not something they liked. They had been life-long Progressive Conservative supporters, and not only did they not like that their son was a supporter of the NDP, but he also left his secure career at York University where he had been teaching political science since 1965.
Things got off to a rocky start though. The man who nominated him to represent the NDP in the riding, Abe Taylor, even said his nomination speech was dreadful. In his opinion, it was far too academic and he used too many extravagant words.
In the 1968 election, Broadbent was elected to the House of Commons, defeating his opponent, Micheal Starr, by only 15 votes. With the result so close, there was a recount. At first, the initial result was a loss by eight votes, but with the recount, which put the recount to 15 votes for which Starr lost by.
Starr had thought about appealing the election result but in the end would state that he decided against it because he, quote:
“didn’t like the idea of it.”
According to Starr, the loss by such a small number of votes would stay with him for a long time. While he felt no ill will towards Broadbent, he did not like to talk about the election for much of his life.
In 1971, Broadbent married Lucille Munroe. The couple remained married until 2006 when she passed away from cancer. The same year he re-married, he would run for the first time to lead the New Democratic Party.
The party was looking for a leader to replace the iconic Tommy Douglas. Broadbent would have 13.9 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, and 13.1 per cent on the second ballot. At that point, he was eliminated from the running.
As 1975 rolled around, Broadbent tried again to win the leadership of the party and this time he succeeded. He was able to slowly increase his vote share over challenger Rosemary Brown throughout the contest.
He would remain in first on each ballot, increasing his ballot share from 33.1 per cent in the first ballot to 59.9 per cent on the fourth ballot, which he won on. With his election, he became the first Canadian born leader of the NDP in its history.
Taking over as leader, many saw the NDP as a leaky ship in difficult waters.
As leader of the party, Broadbent would be criticized for his long and complex speeches, but many also considered him to be an honest man.
Throughout the next few years, in the leadup to the 1979 federal election, Broadbent worked on his speaking style, making it more professional. His fashion was also improved so it was less of a rumpled style. Gone were his tweed and corduroy jackets, and his hair was styled in a new, more professional way.
Macleans would say,
“Deliberate changes to his carefully cultivated public image have also helped. Broadbent rhetoric is less shrill, his temper is less evident, and he has mothballed his baggy corduroys for trim navy-blue suits.”
In his first election as leader in 1979, Broadbent had problems getting the coverage he needed in the election. At one point, while touring a steel mill in Sydney, Nova Scotia, neither CBC nor CTV used any of the video from the event on the newscast. His campaign was seen as efficient, with just a bus and five-staff with him as he toured throughout Canada to drum up votes for the NDP. Broadbent would campaign with an issue a day, and policy announcement were made in French and English on television. Broadbent’s advertising campaign would also cost $1.2 million, triple what it cost in the 1974 election.
That election saw the first televised debate in over 10 years for a federal election. The debate was watched by millions of Canadians, but Progressive Conservative Joe Clark did not fare well, with many labeling him as weak compared to the other leaders. Ed Broadbent of the NDP did the best at the debate, portraying his party as an alternative to the Liberals. He was an experienced speaker and the debate resulted in the NDP making him the centerpiece of their television advertising.
Of the debate, the Ottawa Citizen would write, quote:
“Joe Clark didn’t knock over his glass of water. Pierre Trudeau didn’t swear. There were no strings visible behind Ed Broadbent’s back leading to Dennis McDermott. The Great Debate, therefore, could be called a success for all three party leaders.”
In the 1979 election, Broadbent was able to increase the seats of his party to 26, a rise of nine from the 1974 election. This was the most the party had won since 1972.
Less than a year later, Broadbent went through another election and he once again raised his party’s seat count, this time by five, hitting 32. This was the most the party had ever had since it became the NDP in 1961.
In the early 1980s, Broadbent faced a revolt within his party over his support of the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution. The party would endorse his position in 1981 at the annual convention, but discontent was still present. This would reach a head in 1983 when prairie delegates circulated a manifesto that was openly critical of his leadership. Rather than oust dissidents from the party, Broadbent listened to them and spent hours speaking with them, eventually bringing them back towards supporting his leadership in the party.
One aide would say,
“He can get angry or move quickly to solve a problem with someone or something, but he won’t hold a grudge for years the way some politicians might.”
One thing that Broadbent was known for was his love of Havana cigars, and he always kept a well-stocked wooden cigar box next to the stereo in his office. In 1981, Fidel Castro personally gave him cigars during a visit to Havana. Broadbent, disregarding the American rules against goods from cigar, too his cigars into Miami on his way home.
Many of his aides would actively try to prevent photographers from taking pictures of Broadbent smoking cigars as it was felt it made him look too corporate, and it would offend the anti-smoking group of voters.
Broadbent was known for his sense of humour as a Member of Parliament as well, including telling a radio interviewer at one point that his religion was druid.
Through the election campaigns, his wife Lucille provided an excellent balance for Broadbent with her sunny personality and bilingualism. Broadbent could speak French at the time, but was far from fluent.
Heading towards 1984’s election, Broadbent had a bit of work ahead of him. In a poll before Pierre Trudeau retired, 23 per cent of voters polled said they did not like Broadbent, putting him above Trudeau but below Brian Mulroney.
In the 1984 election, Broadbent began to be more aggressive on the campaign trail. He focused on calling Tuner and Mulroney, the Bobbsey Twins of Bay Street, to show voters that there was little difference between the two parties. The party would also spend $3 million on the campaign, half of which went towards advertising.
The 1984 televised debate was a watershed moment in Canadian election history, with Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney going up against Prime Minister John Turner on the issue of patronage. Mulroney’s attacks on Turner during the debate over the appointments was seen as the end of Turner’s chances for staying on as prime minister. After the debate, the public rated Turner’s performance as 4.2 out of 10, while Mulroney rated 6.8 out of 10 and Ed Broadbent rated 6.4.
During this election, Broadbent became the first leader who ever took the NDP to first place in public opinion polls and there were many who believed that the NDP could replace the Liberals as the Official Opposition.
In the election, his party lost one seat and finished only 10 behind the Liberals for the position of the Official Opposition, after Brian Mulroney won 211 seats, the most in the history of federal elections.
While Broadbent had a professional but chilly relationship with Trudeau, he had the respect of Mulroney, who stated he was a true gentleman in politics. Mulroney cited the fact that while Broadbent took hard shots at him, he never made it personal.
As the 1988 election campaign began, Broadbent opposed the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, but the Liberals did the same and benefited from most of the coverage related to it. This issue dated back several years for Broadbent, who had to find a way to get his party to stand out from the Liberal Party, with which it shared several platforms. Nonetheless, the party was doing very well in the polls. In one poll, Broadbent received approval from 57 per cent of the respondents, compared to 30 per cent for Liberal leader John Turner and 24 per cent for Prime Minister for Brian Mulroney.
It would be said that this went beyond the fact that Broadbent was a nice person, but because he was a highly effective leader of the party.
In the 1988 election, Broadbent led the NDP to a gain of 11 seats, finishing with 43, the most the party had ever won, and would ever win until the Orange Crush swept Quebec in the 2011 election and the NDP became the Official Opposition.
At this time, Broadbent supported the Meech Lake Accord, which caused further dissent within the party.
At the 1989 Winnipeg Convention, Broadbent stepped down as leader of the NDP after 14 years leading the party. He led the party longer than anyone else.
At his retirement, Brian Mulroney offered him the role of CEO of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a position he would hold until 1996.
There was some speculation that he had been chosen to replace Jeanne Sauve as the Governor General of Canada, but this proved to not be the case.
After his retirement, the party would see a decline in popularity until the arrival of Jack Layton as leader in 2003.
In 1993, he was awarded the Order of Canada.
In 2004, Broadbent, at the request of Layton, returned to politics. He was able to win his riding in Ottawa Centre. A popular video clip rapping that he was back in politics became very popular online and likely helped him win.
One year later, on May 4, 2005, Broadbent stated he was not seeking re-election because he wanted to spend time with his wife who was battling cancer.
In November 2008, with Jean Chretien, Broadbent negotiated a formal coalition agreement between the Liberals and NDP in a bid to replace the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. Harper would prorogue Parliament to prevent the coalition from succeeding.
On June 17, 2011, Broadbent announced the creation of the Broadbent Institute to explore social-democratic policy and ideas.
In 2014, Broadbent married Ellen Meiksins Wood, who had been an old friend of his. They remained married until 2016 when she passed away.
Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, Macleans, Canadian Politics and Public Policy, Wikipedia, Regina Leader-Post, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Windsor Star, Fort McMurray Today, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Province, Ottawa Citizen, CBC