I’m remembering an evening in Spring 1968 (I hope I have the right date), when I was together with Ed Broadbent at an academic meeting in Toronto.
We’d known each other before, both because of our membership in the New Democratic Party, and because we were both in the same discipline of Political Theory. We said au revoir at that meeting, at a moment when the campaign was just starting, both leaving to run in our respective constituencies, Ed in Oshawa-Whitby, and I in Montreal.
Of course, I was defeated that June, but Ed won the seat in Oshawa. And maybe the Pierre Trudeau sweep had helped, because his opponent was a long-standing Tory MP.
That was a crucial moment in the NDP’s history, because it was then that a big segment of the social democratic movement we had been building in Quebec during the 60s, under the leadership of Robert Cliché, and with the support of the Unions, both CSN and FTQ, veered off and joined the nascent Parti Québécois.
From that point and for a number of years, the NDP ceased to have a real presence in Quebec, with all that this meant for our chances of forming a government in Ottawa. A few years later, Ed became leader of the Federal NDP, and gave extraordinary leadership to our party, which continued to grow under his guidance over the next two decades and more. This was the case in spite of being shut out in Quebec.
Ed’s guidance was both political and intellectual, as one might expect from someone who was both a theorist and an active political agent.
One of the themes which Ed maintained front and centre through all these years, and up to today, was the issue of inequality. This was important then, but has become steadily more crucial since. The mid-70s was a moment when a steady trend towards reducing income inequality in most Western countries, which had been going on since the late 30s, began to reverse.
Since then, the income gap has steadily grown, reaching its present grotesque scale – and this shows no sign of abating. This has been a general movement of advanced industrial societies, and Canada is, alas, no exception to this trend
Quite apart from the injustice that this represents, quite apart from its effect in blighting the lives and fulfilment of so many citizens, Ed has always seen how corrosive and destructive this is for our democracy.
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