COVER

Not Just Another Nice Guy

MICHAEL ROSE August 3 1987
COVER

Not Just Another Nice Guy

MICHAEL ROSE August 3 1987

Not Just Another Nice Guy

COVER

It was the sort of spontaneous photo opportunity that press aides dream about. As Ed Broadbent arrived at St. John’s, Nfld., airport for some eleventh-hour campaigning before last week’s byelection votes, a little girl rushed across the crowded terminal to greet him. Then, Lisa Eddy, 8, from the small community of Hillview, Nfld., pressed a battered yellow carnation into the NDP leader’s hand and smiled shyly for the cameras. The reason, she said, for her display of affection: “He seemed like a nice man.”

A growing number of Canadians evidently share that assessment of Broadbent, according to public opinion polls. In the latest survey—conducted by Toronto’s Goldfarb Consultants in late May—Broadbent received the approval of 57 per cent of respondents, compared to 30 per cent for Liberal Leader John Turner and 24 per cent for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. More importantly, Broadbent’s high level of support has remained solid for the past 18 months. Said another pollster, Winnipeg’s Angus Reid: “It’s more than just the fact that he’s a nice guy. He’s also seen as a reasonably effective leader.” And Broadbent’s personality and performance, Reid argued, are major factors in the unprecedented increase in NDP support.

Dreadful: But the man now regarded as the most popular federal leader had an inauspicious beginning in politics. The holder of a PhD in political science—his specialty, 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill— Broadbent entered politics in 1968. That decision troubled his parents, longtime Progressive Conservative supporters, who were uncomfortable with their son’s decision to abandon a more secure career at Toronto’s York University, where he taught political science between 1965 and 1968. And Broadbent, then 32, won the federal NDP nomination in 1968 in his home town of Oshawa, Ont., over the misgivings of several local party activists. Even Abe Taylor, the General Motors assemblyline worker who nominated him, said that Broadbent’s speech at the nomination meeting was dreadful. Recalled Taylor, now 60 and retired: “He acted like an academic and used a lot of 50cent words.”

Still, Broadbent plunged energetically into politics. In the 1968 general election he managed to wrest the Oshawa

seat away from veteran Tory MP Michael Starr by a razor-thin margin of 15 votes. Initially aligning himself with the party’s radical-left Waffle movement, he later separated himself from it because, he said, it became “shrill and condescending.” In 1971, when par-

ty leader Tommy Douglas decided to retire, Broadbent made his first attempt to win the NDP leadership but managed only a fourth-place finish. After David Lewis stepped down in 1974, Broadbent was appointed interim

leader. And the NDP establishment agreed to back his leadership bid only after a fruitless search for another candidate. Even then, Broadbent did not win the 1975 convention until the fourth ballot.

In the late 1970s aides to Broadbent worked on smoothing his rumpled, professorial appearance and speaking style. Said a former staff member: “He resisted for a long time, but we finally got him to not always wear tweed or corduroy and to get a good haircut.” Despite those efforts, NDP support plunged just before the last federal election—to as low as 11 per cent in public opinion polls in the spring of 1984—and many observers predicted that Broadbent would lead the party into oblivion. “He put everything he had into that campaign,” one senior aide recalled—and the effort paid off. The party won 30 seats and 19 per cent of the vote, a much better showing than most observers had expected.

Demanding: Broadbent’s colleagues insist that after almost 20 years as an MP and 12 years as party leader, he still enjoys political life. Said Rob Mingay, his press secretary during the 1984 campaign: “He likes the combination of meeting real people out on the road and the intellectual stimulation of the policy issues.” According to aides, Broadbent, now 51, has a good sense of humor—but

is a very demanding boss and expects a high standard of work from staff members. Insiders also describe a short temper, a less-widely known tendency to be defensive when criticized and a streak of toughness that allows him to deal with

political challenges. In 1983, when some Western delegates to an NDP policy convention openly criticized his leadership, Broadbent quickly faced them down. Said one former aide: “He can get angry or move quickly to solve a problem with

something or someone, but he won’t hold a grudge for years the way some politicans might.” Although he has acquired the survival skills of a veteran politician, Broadbent still displays elements of his academic background. An Aubrey Beardsley print and framed photographs of existentialist philosopher Albert Camus and Greek opera singer Maria Callas adorn the walls of his Parliament Hill office, where he often works while listening to classical music. Broadbent sees as many movies as he can and spends long hours sunbathing and reading American novels (last week he was reading Saul Bellow’s latest work, More Die of Heartbreak). And he has not lost his taste—also acquired at university—for Havana cigars; he keeps g a well-stocked wooden ci| gar box next to the stereo z in his office.

Q Sunny: In his private life, as well as his public career, Broadbent has experienced major changes. His eightyear first marriage, to the former Yvonne Yamaoka, ended when she divorced him in 1969. Two years later he married Lucille Munroe, a widow whom Broadbent had met while teaching high school in Oshawa before beginning postgraduate studies. Lucille, a native of Ottawa, has proven herself an effective political force. During election campaigns, her sunny personality and bilingualism—her mother was a francophone—were a particular asset to Broadbent, whose French is still not fluent.

But the NDP leader jealously guards his family’s privacy. His staff refused Maclean’s requests for an interview with Lucille. And despite his hectic schedule, Broadbent still makes time for family outings with his wife and Christine, their 14-year-old adopted daughter. Indeed, Broadbent’s brother David, a General Motors administrative employee in Oshawa, told Maclean ’s: “The hardest thing for Ed about getting more popular is that it cuts into his family time.” As the NDP leader attempts to draw his party ever closer to power, the demands on his time—and on his privacy-will only increase.

MICHAEL ROSE in Ottawa