Sunday, July 14, 2024


People of all political persuasions attended the state funeral for former NDP leader Ed Broadbent this past Sunday afternoon.
Prime Minister Trudeau attended. So did former Prime Minister Joe Clark. Former Prime Minister Mulroney wasn’t there but he had many good things to say about him. “Of course, we took hard shots as each other, but Ed never made it personal,” Mulroney once said. Former Prime Minister Chretien invoked a hockey metaphor about his friendship with Broadbent and the collegiality among all politicians of good will, saying you might bounce a guy against the boards in the game but then you go for a beer afterwards.
Bob Rae, Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, said Broadbent had an attribute often missing from politics: kindness. Rae, a former NDP MP under Broadbent, told CBC’s Power and Politics that the thing Broadbent believed in more than anything else was decency. “He was a decent guy. He treated people fairly,” he said.
Notable by his absence was the current leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and Leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, as he introduced himself to visiting President Biden a few months ago.
It is difficult not to feel nostalgic for the days when there was a genuine policy debate between the likes of people such as Stanfield and the elder Trudeau, Lewis and Clark, Broadbent and Mulroney. It could be lively, and it certainly felt spontaneous. Not the memorized, pre-scripted talking points of today. It had a lot more to do with actual knowledge of the files, a vision of how things should be, people thinking on their feet, wit and humour. Not the desperate quest for power that comes from cheap personal attacks that can be spun into viral videos on social media.
Why have things degenerated to the current sorry state?
Is it simply the power of social media to turn a 15-second clip of someone attacking a political rival at a personal level into a viral base-boosting message that has brought us to this point?
Or is it the demands of participating in the global economy that constrain the latitude any national legislature has in pursuing a home-grown policy agenda? Is it the absence of any big policy debates that leaves only personal attacks as a means of distinguishing one party from the other?
Or is it that our national legislators are, in fact, dealing with immensely consequential issues of a complexity requiring deeper understanding and more thoughtful discussion than some of them are capable of, and their only way to engage is through quick, easy personal snipes?
Broadbent himself once observed that the MPs in the House were more or less in agreement on about 75 per cent of the issues they were dealing with, yet the 25 per cent on which they disagreed garnered by far the most attention.
We may yearn for a return to the level of civility that was perhaps Ed Broadbent’s most enduring legacy, but is it even possible? And what becomes of the crucial debates around actual policy issues on which our future depends if we don’t? What of our democracy if it continues to be reduced to this most unappealing show from which potential candidates and voters will turn away?

Charles Dickson


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