Generations of progressives paid their respects to former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and celebrated his legacy and accomplishments during a state funeral held in the nation’s capital on Sunday afternoon.
Remembered as a passionate man who lived meaningful life full of books, classical music and quality time with loved ones, Broadbent was honoured for the profound impact he left on Canada, and his ability to remain civil and congenial with his political opponents while pushing for a more fair and inclusive country.
“Ed was not just a mentor, but also a friend. His seemingly endless capacity for compassion made him a guiding light in our country, and for so many personally,” said Broadbent Institute Executive Director and master of ceremonies Jen Hassum. “We hope that his memory will help guide us to a more equitable society.”
Eminent Canadians, as well as former colleagues, close friends and family members — some donning punches of the party’s signature orange — filed into the historic Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre on Sunday afternoon to bid their final farewell to a giant of Canada’s New Democratic Party.
The ceremony — taking place in a riding Broadbent represented between 2004 and 2006 at the tail end of his political career — commemorated Broadbent for his decades of advocacy for justice and democracy in Canada and abroad, his work to address income inequality, and his efforts to advance equal rights for women.
The former NDP leader and founder of the Broadbent Institute died on Jan. 11. He was 87. Born in Oshawa, Ont. in 1936 into a working-class family, Broadbent’s political career spanned more than two decades.
He was first elected to Parliament in 1968 and went on to serve as an MP for 21 years — 14 of which were spent as the leader of the NDP between 1975 and 1989. He led the party through four federal elections, faced off against four different prime ministers, and helped grow the party’s footprint across the country.
He was also a respected academic, the first president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, and honoured as a companion of the Order of Canada.
The state funeral included addresses from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Manitoba NDP Premier Wab Kinew, close friend and Broadbent Institute chair Brian Topp, and Luke Savage and Jonathan Sas the co-authors of Broadbent’s 2023 book “Seeking Social Democracy: Seven Decades in the Fight for Equality.
Broadbent’s late-in-life partner Frances Abele also spoke, mentioning his experience losing two wives to cancer, Lucille in 2006 and Ellen in 2016.
Speaking to CTV News upon his arrival, Singh said that amid the grief, it was “a day to honour and remember Ed.”
“We owe him so much. He’s a legend,” Singh said. “He’s helped out so many young New Democrats… people to this day, think of him as ‘Honest Ed.’ He created this really powerful idea that politicians could be a force for good in your life, and he was someone that people trusted, believed in, and he showed that New Democrats fight for working people.”
During his address, Singh became emotional when sharing that he found it hard to believe he’ll never again have the opportunity to speak with him, or take his advance, while vowing his party won’t let Broadbent down.
In the remarks made by others, Broadbent was eulogized as a pragmatic, idealistic and intellectual politician, with a sharp sense of humour, who preferred phone calls to text messages.
Reflecting on Broadbent’s contributions to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and his push for policymakers to fight child poverty, Topp said: “Canada is better thanks to Ed Broadbent.”
“And Ed did all this while practicing the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable,” he continued.
“To Mr. Broadbent’s friends and family, we are with you,” said Kinew. “I join the others across our great country to mourn this great Canadian.”
Kinew said that he hopes Broadbent’s “joyful legacy” can be a lesson for all, and that going forward “more of our leaders speak to us Canadians, the way Mr. Broadbent did, by appealing to our better angels.”
The event was punctuated by musical performances by Canadian talents, including members of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Music by German composer and musician Johann Sebastian Bach was played at both the beginning and the end of the sombre ceremony.
In the middle was a moving video montage that Canadian Heritage helped develop, showcasing a highlight reel of consequential moments in Broadbent’s public life. It included reflections from fellow political heavyweights Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien, as well as excerpts from some of Broadbent’s most iconic speeches.
Prominent Canadians in attendance included more than one dozen current NDP MPs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former prime minister Joe Clark, House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus, Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May, UN Ambassador Bob Rae, Sen. Hassan Yussuff, B.C. Premier David Eby, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles, and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow.
“He was a tireless campaigner for social justice, and Canada is significantly better for his years of service, both in politics and out of it,” Trudeau said as he arrived, adding that he was honoured to be there to pay homage to Broadbent, and the millions of Canadians he inspired.
Traditionally, while state funerals are held for former prime ministers, sitting cabinet ministers, and governors general, the prime minister is able to offer the special commemoration to any Canadian of stature.
In an interview with CTV News’ Chief Political Correspondent Vassy Kapelos ahead of the funeral, Clark said that while leaders of different parties, the two had “quite common views on a lot of matters.”
“That is not to say we always agreed, he brought my government down for example, and that’s a hard thing for me to forget,” Clark said. “I don’t know that you could call us friends when we were in the House of Commons together. I think we became closer to friends later on.”
Clark called him an effective parliamentarian who was broadly respected, and “immensely practical.”
In 2011, the former NDP leader founded the Broadbent Institute, an Ottawa-based political think-tank. Last week, the organization announced it was creating an “Ed Broadbent Democracy Fund” that will be dedicated to strengthening Canadian democracy.
The non-partisan legacy initiative is meant to continue Broadbent’s work of promoting ordinary Canadians’ democratic participation through educational programs, civic engagement, and leadership development.
To mark the occasion, flags on all federal buildings in Canada, including the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, flew at half-mast on Sunday, and were to remain lowered until sunset.
With files from CTV News’ Noushin Ziafati