Braid: Notley said to be leaving soon, party will need strong replacement to move on

Just as talk heats up that Alberta’s NDP leader will soon announce her intention to resign, Ed Broadbent passes away

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Just as talk heats up that Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley will soon announce her intention to resign, a national icon of the party passes away.

Ed Broadbent was a friend of Notley’s father, Grant Notley, the late provincial NDP leader. They both earned widespread respect from friends and opponents alike, to a degree that often seems impossible in today’s bitter partisan environment.

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Sometimes there simply is no respect. It’s hard to find a hint of admiration in all the exchanges and battles between Rachel Notley and Premier Danielle Smith. They deplore each other with mutual fervour.

I knew Broadbent in the 1970s and ’80s, when he was NDP leader and I was an Ottawa correspondent for the old Montreal Star, and later the national columnist for the Montreal Gazette.

I once phoned him late at night, at his home, with some question now long forgotten. The call woke him up and he quite properly tore a strip off me in a genteel way.

I feared retribution. Politicians have many ways to get even with an offending reporter. But the next day he was as friendly and helpful as ever.

Ed Broadbent
Former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, in Ottawa in 2014. Pat McGrath/Postmedia

Broadbent was a fine person and a principled politician. Partly because of the NDP in his time, Canada Pension Plan payments are indexed to inflation. If that hadn’t happened, monthly payments would buy a nice cup of coffee today.

After the separatist Parti Quebecois was elected in 1976, Broadbent broke with his own party’s tradition by calling for some decentralization of power to provinces. That was startling from an NDP leader but welcome to many in Alberta.

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Of course, he also backed the creation of Petro-Canada, in those days a trench warfare weapon of the hated National Energy Program.

An NDP motion brought down then-prime minister Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservative government in 1979.

And yet, on Friday, Clark put out a statement of respect for Broadbent, saying “he demonstrated a deep, effective commitment to social change and to Canada’s remarkable capacity to embrace and respect human difference.”

Grant Notley was also widely admired by many Albertans, even though his party never won more than 16 per cent of the vote under his leadership.

Grant Notley
NDP leader Grant Notley in 1979. Postmedia archive photo

In 2008, a quarter-century after he died in a plane crash, he was voted one of the 10 greatest Albertans of all time in a Calgary Herald-Edmonton Journal survey, along with former PC premier Peter Lougheed.

Through his hard-working, diligent character and his readiness to oppose powerful interests, Grant Notley came to be seen as a beacon of integrity and ethical leadership.

At the time, Rachel Notley thought she knew why her father was still highly regarded so long after his death.

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“It sounds trite, but I know from my dad it’s true, that if you do something with the strength of your convictions, that will determine how well you’re perceived,” she said. “That focus dominated his life.”

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Rachel Notley will surely carry that hope for herself into retirement. The treatment may not be so gracious.

Unlike her father’s NDP — or Broadbent’s — Notley’s party is a real threat to the reigning government. Politicians and partisans find it much easier to praise someone who has no chance of overthrowing them.

Kathleen Ganley
Calgary MLA Kathleen Ganley has posted a campaign-style video. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

The party is buzzing with leadership talk. Calgary MLA Kathleen Ganley, the former NDP justice minister, put up an odd little video that could be titled, “Here I am, vote for me.”

Others in the hunt could include Edmonton MLAs Sarah Hoffman, Rakhi Pancholi and David Shepherd.

Some think the party needs a Calgary leader, but that’s not such a popular notion among Edmonton New Democrats.

When the timing is right for her, Notley will leave as one of Canada’s best-known and most successful NDP leaders. In the public mind, she is the provincial party.

To have another chance at government, New Democrats will need to find someone equally strong to replace her. It won’t be easy.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

X: @DonBraid

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