When Ed Broadbent stepped down as NDP leader 30 years ago

In March 1989, New Democrat Leader Ed Broadbent stepped down from his role at the head of the party.

At time of resignation, Broadbent had served as NDP MP for two decades

Ed Broadbent made the emotional announcement to NDP members that he was resigning as leader. 1:21

Thirty years ago, Ed Broadbent told New Democrats that he was stepping down as leader of the party he had led for 14 years.

The long-time MP from Oshawa, Ont., spoke to members of the party's federal council in Toronto on March 4, 1989. 

'Now is the time for renewal'

Ed Broadbent spoke first of the party's key objectives on the day he announced he was stepping down as leader. 1:22

"Now is the time for renewal," said Broadbent, who had first been elected as an NDP MP in 1968. 

"Now is the time to pick a new man or a woman to lead this party," he continued, his voice faltering slightly at the reaction of committee members, some of whom were in tears. 

Broadbent concluded that new leadership would "take us the next step towards building that decent exciting and compassionate Canada we all believe in."

His decision was announced at the end of an hour-long speech, during which he addressed the subject of party principles versus power.

The singular adherence to principle, he said, "is to be narcissistically self-indulgent."

"To pursue only power," he said, "is to deny our reason for being."

'A very decent man'

Oshawa-Whitby MP Ed Broadbent speaks in the House of Commons September 1974. (Canadian Press)

His wife, Lucille, was present for the announcement and the two were smiling as they left the meeting. 

But she had told CBC News that she was "saddened by his decision," wishing he could have seen the election of more party members in more of the country's regions.

MP Ed Broadbent, at a May, 1974 caucus meeting with then-leader of the NDP David Lewis (left) and NDP House leader Stanley Knowles (right). (Chuck Mitchell/Canadian Press)

"He's a very decent man and could have brought about certain changes in our society," she said.

Broadbent, who had followed David Lewis as leader in 1975, had represented the riding of Oshawa —formerly Oshawa-Whitby — through seven straight elections, keeping his seat until he resigned it in December 1989.  

Under his leadership, the NDP had achieved first place for the first time in a national public opinion poll, in 1987. And they they had 43 members elected in the 1988 election, which was then a historic high for the party.

High expectations

There had been an expectation in '88 of possibly winning enough seats to form the Official Opposition, and this accounted for Broadbent's and the party's disappointment in the election results.

Ed Broadbent raises the arm of Audrey McLaughlin at the New Democratic Leadership Convention, December 1989. (Canadian Press)

At the time of his resignation, a number of likely contenders were asked about making the run to replace him, and most declined to commit so soon after the news. 

One of them was Audrey McLaughlin, who did win the leadership at the December convention. When asked about her plans, she commented that "it's probably time for a woman leader of the Tories, the Liberals and the NDP."

In a 1991 interview with CBC Radio, Broadbent was asked if he missed "active political life" and he confessed that although he missed some aspects, he did not miss Question Period. 

When pressed about any plans to return, Broadbent compared the question to someone asking what is more likely, becoming a baseball player for the Blue Jays or going back into politics? 

"I'd say be a baseball player," he laughed.  

A return to politics

Ed Broadbent returned to political life as MP for Ottawa Centre in the June 2004 election. (Tobin Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

Broadbent did run again, in 2004, this time in Ottawa Centre

His campaign included a rap video, Ed's Back, originally made for a TV show that didn't air it. That raised the ire of opponents who claimed it was a gift to him worth more than the allowable campaign gift value. 

He won the seat, but announced in 2005 that he would not run again in the next election.