Broadbent’s remarkable political career spanned seven decades and left an indelible mark on Canadian politics and the social democratic movement around the world. He is being warmly remembered by friends and opponents alike for his integrity, passion and dedication to social and economic justice.
A professor first elected in the House of Commons to represent the working-class riding of Oshawa in 1968, Broadbent became leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party in 1975, holding the post for 14 remarkable years that saw the party steadily grow in presence and influence.
It was during this time that Broadbent became involved in Socialist International, ultimately serving as vice-president with Willy Brandt from 1979-1989. Together, they championed rights-based social democracy as an alternative to American and Soviet political models of the time, becoming particularly involved in supporting social democrats working in Latin America.
In Canada’s 1988 federal election, Broadbent delivered the NDP’s best results yet, but the NDP remained in third place and Broadbent resigned following the election.
In the years that followed, he served as the founding president of International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a non-partisan human rights agency that worked around the world to support democratic development.
Broadbent made a brief return to politics from 2004-2006, elected as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa in order to support the party’s rebuilding under then-NDP leader Jack Layton. He went on to found the Broadbent Institute, a social democratic think tank and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s sister foundation in Canada. He remained an active political thinker right up until his death, publishing his latest book Seeking Social Democracy in 2023.
In his time as NDP leader, he faced down four Canadian Prime Ministers, including Pierre Trudeau to Brian Mulroney, and won the respect of his adversaries with a unique blend of intellectual power and pragmatic political skill. Broadbent had an important influence on Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where he championed the recognition of Indigenous treaty rights and women’s equality.
In the wider world, Broadbent played an essential role in supporting nascent social democratic movements against authoritarian regimes, and in providing meaningful support for movements for democratization and human rights.
Broadbent was at once a partisan and a principled intellectual, a skilled politician and pragmatist who never lost the ability to connect with ordinary people. His loss will be deeply felt in Canada and around the world.
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