By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Last April, The Oshawa Express’ Fourth Estate looked at the life and career of a renowned federal Oshawa politician, Michael Starr.
Canada’s first Ukranian Cabinet Minister, Starr served as Oshawa’s MP from 1952 to 1968, while also becoming Minister of Labour in 1957.
But later in Starr’s career, local labour unions were gaining in membership and a new breed of politician was beginning to emerge.
As Starr’s biographer Myron Momryk told The Express, the long-time Conservative was staunchly opposed to communism, and any “far left” politician for that matter.
In 1968, one of those new politicians “far left”
politicians, 32-year-old NDP upstart Ed Broadbent, ended Starr’s tenure in Oshawa, defeating him by a mere 15 votes.
Momryk noted while there wasn’t necessarily any personal animosity between the two, the loss was hard on Starr, and he “did not appreciate people mentioning Broadbent in his presence.”
Unfortunately for Starr, the name Ed Broadbent
wasn’t one that would soon be forgotten in Oshawa.
He was teaching political science at York University when he captured the riding known as Oshawa-Whitby.
When Tommy Douglas retired as leader of the federal NDP in 1971, Broadbent threw his hat into the race to replace the man known as “The Father of Medicare.”
Broadbent had been one of the founders of “The Waffle,” a group within the federal NDP representing farther left, younger members.
“The Waffle” were opposed by “The Unity Group,” a committee of party officials focused on more moderate views.
According to a Toronto Star article covering the leadership convention, while Broadbent tried to find middle ground between the two groups on issues such as Quebec self-determination and national privatization of energy sectors, he was unsuccessful, falling out of the race with 13.1 per cent of the second ballot vote.
Starr and Broadbent would once again face off in 1972, with Broadbent winning another closely contested race, finishing with just more than 800 votes than Starr. He would also become House Leader for the NDP.
Months ahead of the party’s leadership convention in 1975, Broadbent withdrew his name. However, he eventually reentered the race, and became leader with 59.9 per cent of the vote on the fourth ballot.
His closest rival was Rosemary Brown, the first woman of minority background to run for federal party leadership in Canada.
With Broadbent firmly in place as party leader, the NDP would rise to heights never seen before.
The party captured 20 per cent of the popular vote, and 30 seats in the 1984 election, only 10 behind the Liberals led by John Turner, who had suffered a historic defeat at the hands of Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives.
As the federal Liberals began to rebuild in the post-Pierre Trudeau era, the NDP continued to gain in popularity.
At one point in 1987, Broadbent became the first federal NDP leader to lead popularity polls, leading some to predict the party would became the Official Opposition after the 1988 election.
Even Broadbent himself believed this would happen.
In fact, during the first few weeks of the campaign, the NDP was ahead of Turner’s Liberals in the polls.
While the NDP captured a record 43 seats in the 1988 election, that was still about half of what the Liberals eventually gained.
However, this term wouldn’t last very long for the veteran politician as he announced his retirement in 1989.
He was eventually replaced as party leader by Audrey McLaughlin, the first female leader of a major Canadian political party.
In Oshawa, his successor Michael Breaugh won a byelection in 1990, but lost the seat in the 1993 election to Liberal Ivan Grose.
This marks the last time Oshawa was represented federally by the NDP.
After Broadbent’s retirement, the NDP’s popularity in Canada declined for more than a decade, a trend that wouldn’t be reversed until the early 2000s when Jack Layton took leadership, leading the party to a record 67 seats in the 2011 election.
After his initial retirement 30 years ago, Broadbent mostly stayed out of the political spotlight.
However, it was Layton who coaxed him back in, as Broadbent ran in and won the riding of Ottawa Centre in the 2004 election.
However, this term wouldn’t be as long as less than a year later, Broadbent announced he would not seek re-election in order to spend time with his wife Lucille, who was battling cancer.
Lucille would eventually pass away in September 2006.
A few years later in 2008, Broadbent made a notable return to the political scene as he and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien attempted to negotiate a coalition between the NDP and Liberals, with backing by the Bloc Quebecois, against Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government.
However these plans fell through when an election was called in December 2009.
Outside of politics, Broadbent created the Ed Broadbent Institute, a progressive political think tank based in Ottawa.
The institute was behind the launch of PressProgress, an independent, non-profit news organization in 2013.
Despite all his accomplishments, Broadbent is known as a very private person, and previous attempts by the city to recognize him have been met with a polite decline.
Come next spring, that is set to change as the City of Oshawa will formally rename a waterfront park located at Harbour Road and Simcoe Street South to the Ed Broadbent Waterfront Park.
Mayor Dan Carter noted he believes the difference this time was he reached out to the former MP personally.
The plan was supported unanimously and many council members heaped praise on Broadbent with one calling him “the greatest Prime Minister we never had.”
Perhaps Broadbent will be present in person next year when the park is formally named in his honour.