Skip to main content

Ed Broadbent (1936 – 2024): Honorary degree recipient and former NDP leader stood up for human rights

‘Canada and Concordia have lost a leader like no other’
January 15, 2024
By Will Pelloux

A man with a warm smile, wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and striped tie, standing outdoors. Ed Broadbent had a longstanding relationship with Concordia

Ed Broadbent, LLD 99, one-time head of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) and an advocate of social justice, died on January 11. He was 87.

The recipient of four honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, including Concordia University, Broadbent was a sought-after expert on global issues and policy discussions.

He visited Concordia multiple times, including for a 1991 guest lecture at the Department of Political Science.

At the time, Broadbent encouraged Canada to take a more active role in securing justice in international affairs. “We ought to be prepared to take the side of those who are going to change the status quo for fundamental human rights,” he said.

A natural leader

University convocation ceremony with individuals in academic regalia, one receiving an honorary degree on a stage with seated audience. Ed Broadbent, LLD 99 (left), is congratulated on his honorary degree by former Concordia Chancellor Eric Molson, LLD 06.

Born in 1936 in Oshawa, Ont., Broadbent graduated first in his class with a BA in philosophy from the University of Toronto. He later obtained graduate degrees in philosophy of law and political science from that same alma mater.

The prospect of effecting change swayed Broadbent to run for the House of Commons in 1968. He served as MP for the Oshawa-Whitby riding until 1974, when he succeeded NDP leader David Lewis as head of the party.

Under Broadbent’s tenure, the NDP saw a meteoric rise in its House seat count — from 17 in 1974 to 43 in 1988 — and he remained leader until 1989.

He returned to Parliament briefly as MP for Ottawa Centre from 2004 to 2006.

‘A champion of human rights’

In 1990, then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed Broadbent as the founding president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in Montreal, which he led for six years.

Broadbent also advised the Concordia-based Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies’ (MIGS) groundbreaking project Mobilizing the Will to Intervene.

The research initiative united experts to “identify practical steps to raise the capacity of governments, legislators and the general public to prevent mass atrocity crimes.”

“Ed Broadbent was a champion of human rights,” said Kyle Matthews, MIGS’ executive director who worked with Broadbent on the 2008-09 report. “Canada and Concordia have lost a leader like no other.”

Mentoring the next generation was equally important to Broadbent.

In 2011, he founded the Broadbent Institute, a progressive think-tank focused on training changemakers in domains such as income inequality, social democracy and environmental responsibility.

In his last years, Broadbent continued to advocate against genocide and injustice. Just a few months before his death, he published Seeking Social Democracy (ECW Press, 2023), a biographical manifesto surveying his seven decades in public-policy work.

“To be humane, societies must be democratic,” he wrote, “and, to be democratic, every person must be afforded the economic and social rights necessary for their individual flourishing.”

Broadbent is survived by his daughter, Christine, and stepson, Paul. He was twice widowed, first by Lucille Broadbent and later by Ellen Meiksins Wood.

Back to top

© Concordia University