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How Ed Broadbent steered the NDP to critical breakthroughs in N.L.

St. John's East MP Jack Harris said he is feeling positive after his cancer treatment. He announced his diagnosis in March. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
St. John's East MP Jack Harris said he is feeling positive after his cancer treatment. He announced his diagnosis in March. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
St. John's East MP Jack Harris said he is feeling positive after his cancer treatment. He announced his diagnosis in March.
St. John's East MP Jack Harris said he is feeling positive after his cancer treatment. He announced his diagnosis in March.

Former NDP politician Jack Harris says Ed Broadbent was a 'terrific role model.' (Ted Dillon/CBC)

For former Newfoundland and Labrador New Democratic politicians Jack Harris and Fonse Faour, the late Ed Broadbent provided a model of how to lead a party — and their relationship with the federal leader had an impact on their own careers.

Broadbent, who led the federal NDP from 1975 to 1989, died last week at the age of 87.

Longtime NDP politician Harris was first elected as a member of Parliament for St. John's East in 1987 before a long stretch with the provincial party, returning to the House of Commons in 2006.

Harris said he first spoke with Broadbent over the phone in December 1976, when he was considering running in an upcoming byelection, which Broadbent encouraged him to do.

"I knew about him and I'd been following his career and admired him as a party leader," Harris told CBC News, adding he was in his mid-30s and impressed by Broadbent.

"He was very, very courteous and very polite and very dignified."

At the time, Harris said, Broadbent was "at the top of his game" and a popular political leader in the polls.

"He was respected. I think people regarded him as being a plainspoken straight talker," said Harris. "He had a clear vision about what he wanted to see happen, what kind of country that he wanted to live in and wanted us to live in."

From Broadbent, Harris said, he learned what politics was about, including how Parliament worked and what made a good parliamentarian was.

"He was a terrific role model," said Harris.

"He was all about the policy. The principle. Advancing the causes that we believed in as a party. And so that's what I learned. I learned that that was the way to try to have an influence on the future of your province or your country."

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent delivers remarks ta the start of the Progress summit in Ottawa on April 1, 2016.
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent delivers remarks ta the start of the Progress summit in Ottawa on April 1, 2016.

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent died last week at the age of 87. He will receive a state funeral on Jan. 28. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

He added Broadbent was an intellectual with a PhD in political science and went on to work for the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, later chairing the Broadbent Institute, a policy think-tank Broadbent.

Unfortunately, said Harris, the federal NDP didn't advance beyond winning 43 seats in the House of Commons in the 1988 election, which Harris said was disappointing for Broadbent.

"His legacy, though, I think, is that he's shown that there is a way to be principled and also seek power to govern and put those principles into effect."

Mentoring early politicians

Fonse Faour was a lawyer from Corner Brook in 1978 when he became the first NDP MP elected from Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I think he'll be remembered as a good leader. As a consensus builder. As a decent man. He was a very decent man," said Faour, who has been a provincial Supreme Court judge for more than 20 years.

While he hadn't seen Broadbent in almost 25 years, he said, he was sad to hear he'd died and felt "an immediate sense of loss."

After a brief stint in politics — after losing his Parliament seat in the 1980 election, he briefly served as leader of the provincial party —  Faour resumed his legal career. Broadbent's leadership was instrumental in his initial success, he said.

"I was a neophyte. I knew nothing and there were a lot of people on the west coast who helped me through it. We had no expectation of winning at the time, but Ed showed an interest in what we were doing."

There were other byelections taking place across the country and the NDP hadn't won a seat in N.L. before, so they didn't have high expectations of getting the party leader's attention, said Faour. Instead, he said, Broadbent visited twice.

"The week before the election our organizers felt that there was some momentum and thought that if Mr. Broadbent came down once again, it might give us a boost."

Broadbent came to Port aux Choix on the Northern Peninsula, which Faour believes was a first for any federal leader.

"He was very attentive to us and I guess from that time, I looked to him for guidance after we won the election. He was very good to me and kind of showed me the ropes in Ottawa and, you know, gave me some guidance," he said.

"Sometimes he would correct something he thought I had done. That might have been not great, but my recollections of him are very positive."

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