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The name Ed Broadbent stands tall as a tireless advocate for social justice and a beacon of workers’ rights. On January 11, 2024, our country bid farewell to the former leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who passed away at the age of 87. As a staunch defender of progressive values and policies that benefited working people over decades, his life and legacy have left a permanent mark on the political and economic landscape of Canada.

Born on March 21, 1936, in Oshawa, Ontario, Ed Broadbent emerged from humble working-class beginnings, which shaped his egalitarian and pro-labour worldview. From an early age, he demonstrated a deep commitment to social justice and workers’ rights, values that would come to define his political career. Broadbent’s academic pursuits led him to the prestigious London School of Economics, where he delved into the study of political theory, laying the intellectual groundwork for his future advocacy.

Ed Broadbent’s foray into politics began in the 1960s when he joined the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the NDP. His rapid ascent within the party ranks reflected not only his political acumen but also the resonance of his democratic socialist ideals with Canadians seeking an alternative to the status quo. In 1968, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Oshawa, marking the beginning of a four-decade-long political career.

As a parliamentarian, Ed Broadbent consistently championed progressive causes, earning a reputation as the voice of the voiceless. His advocacy for workers’ rights, universal healthcare, and affordable housing became the bedrock of his political philosophy. Broadbent’s deep commitment to egalitarianism was exemplified by his instrumental role in shaping the NDP’s policy platform, rooted in social democracy and compassion.

In 1975, Ed Broadbent assumed the leadership of the NDP, a position he held for a remarkable 14 years. During his tenure, he transformed the party into a formidable force on the national stage, solidifying its role as an alternative to the traditional political duopoly. Broadbent’s leadership style was characterized by a rare combination of intellectual rigor and genuine empathy, qualities that endeared him to both party members and the broader Canadian public.

Perhaps his most memorable struggle was his brave fight against the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement of the late 1980s. Stacked against a corporate media and a large Conservative majority in Parliament, Ed worked tirelessly with his sisters and brothers in the labour movement against an agreement that would lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, many of them unionized.

Another was his final speech as leader of the NDP in the House of Commons in November 1989, when he brought forth a private members bill passionately calling for the eradication of child poverty in Canada. Broadbent informed the House of the one million children living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. As he stated: “For too long we have ignored the appalling poverty in the midst of affluence,” he said. “This is a national horror. This is a national shame. It’s a horror and a shame that we should put an end to.”

With a rare showing of unity, the bill was passed unanimously. Yet over three decades later, one in four Canadian children are still living in poverty. It was to be another one of Broadbent’s bold aspirations that a vast majority of Canadians would love to see become a reality, yet remains only a dream.

Another one of Broadbent’s most enduring contributions was his steadfast advocacy for a just and inclusive society. His commitment to equality extended beyond mere rhetoric; it manifested in his efforts to push for legislation that would protect the most vulnerable members of society. His advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and Indigenous rights set the NDP apart as a party unafraid to confront systemic injustices.

Beyond the realm of politics, Ed Broadbent’s impact was felt in academia, where he continued to contribute to the intellectual discourse on democracy and social justice. His writings and lectures inspired a new generation of progressive thinkers and activists, ensuring that his legacy would endure beyond the confines of his political career.

And closer to home for the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), Broadbent founded a research institute in 2011 that will forever bear his name. The Broadbent Institute publishes original research and promotes progressive ideas, policies, and tools through its blog, special projects, issue-based campaigns and conferences, of which CCU members support and participate in directly.

Several Broadbent Institute researchers and academics have also presented at CCU Labour Schools, including Katrina Miller, Alejandra Bravo and Maria Dobrinskaya, dazzling CCU delegates on a wide range of topics with lively workshops, discussions and debate.

As we bid farewell to Ed Broadbent, Canada mourns the loss of a pioneer who fought for working people, right until the end. His life serves as a testament to the power of conviction, empathy, and the enduring pursuit of a more just society. In celebrating his legacy, working people in Canada are reminded of the values that unite us and the ongoing responsibility to build upon the foundation he laid. Ed Broadbent’s journey may have come to an end, but his impact on Canada’s labour unions and progressive spirit will resonate for generations to come.

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