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Ed Broadbent: (Not) a leadership challenge

As leader of the NDP, Ed Broadbent was a democratic socialist who loved to smoke cigars and drive fast cars. Broadbent led his party through contentious constitutional debates and weathered a western revolt before capturing the party's biggest seat count ever in 1988. After 14 years and four elections he resigned the leadership and became a human rights advocate, and in 2004 he made a political comeback to sit in Parliament once more.

Between lost provincial seats and low national poll numbers, times are tough for Ed Broadbent and the NDP. Then Broadbent is dealt another blow when NDP Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney and Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley hold news conferences behind his back. They're proposing a new set of principles for NDP members to debate at the party's upcoming convention. This isn't about Broadbent's leadership, Notley tells the CBC's Mary Lou Finlay, but about the party's future.

In the wake of the constitutional wrangling of 1981, many western members of the NDP felt the national party was out of touch with its strong western base. 
. The 1983 NDP convention was planned as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Regina Manifesto and the founding of the CCF, the predecessor to the NDP. The party planned to unveil a new statement of principles at the convention.
. Among Notley and Blakeney's proposed topics for debate were the party's policies on regions, its stance on Quebec's right to secede, and the adoption of a "social contract" between government, labour and business.

. The 10-page statement was written in private without Broadbent's knowledge.
. A reporter from Maclean's asked Blakeney whether the document was a challenge to Broadbent's leadership. "I totally reject that," Blakeney responded.
. To the same question, Notley replied: "Any leadership will find movements from time to time within a party. Frankly, I would be surprised if our federal leader does not take a close look at this document."

. Part of the reason there was no outright challenge to Broadbent's leadership was that no one was willing to stand as an alternative. According to the Globe and Mail of July 2, 1983, "one MP publicly acknowledged that he had seriously considered challenging the leadership of Ed Broadbent and another said he was approached but flatly refused." Both were MPs: Saskatchewan's Doug Anguish and B.C.'s Nelson Riis.

. At the convention, the party agreed to go into the next election with a platform of preserving medicare, bringing down the unemployment rate and fighting for nuclear disarmament.
. According to Maclean's, "the westerners won their battle.in the fight for decentralized federalism. If nothing else, they wanted to rid the NDP of the reputation it gained during the 1981 Constitution debate as a party tied to the centralist ideals of Pierre Trudeau."

. Just before the convention got underway, a Gallup poll showed the NDP had the support of just 15 per cent of decided voters. The Conservatives were at 50 per cent and the Liberals were at 34 per cent.
. In his final speech to the delegates at the convention, Broadbent said: "We've got a battle ahead in the next 12 months. But I have never felt better in my life about leading that battle with this party."
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: June 22, 1983
Guest(s): Grant Notley
Host: Mary Lou Finlay, Peter Kent
Duration: 6:34

Last updated: March 20, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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