I have admired NDP's Ed Broadbent for eons.
When I lived in Ottawa, even as a nonpartisan person then, I once voted for him. I liked his eloquence, determination and substance. Long before Rob Ford became known as a public official who shared his private phone number with constituents; Broadbent shared it with anyone who would ask. "Just look at my name in the White pages" he would say.
When he spoke of human rights, multiculturalism, poverty and a whole lot of social justice issues, Broadbent's voice sounded like Leonard Cohen. It was and still is poetic justice to my ears.
When he endorsed NDP candidates for office, he never followed conventional wisdom based on popularity. When even his beloved wife, the late Lucille, endorsed Bill Blaikie and urged him to do the same, he had the wisdom to endorse a virtual unknown, Jack Layton in 2003. He instantly made Layton the frontrunner. He took risk and his action had wisdom while his voice carried full authority afforded to very few politicians in Canada.
When he made a comeback to active politics in his adopted Ottawa in 2005, he introduced himself via a rap song. How cool is that? He entry to politics ended a Liberal dynasty run in Ottawa Center and instantly made the riding an NDP safe seat.
And then he retired from active politics on top of his game as an elder statesman. The man who once led in public polls as a potential Prime Minister in 1987 in the midst of the Free Trade public discussion, he started a lefty think-tank - the Ed Broadbent Institute in 2011. The goal was to balance the influential Manning Center for Building Democracy from the right, started by one-time Reform Party Leader, Preston Manning.
Broadbent became its chair and at its inauguration, he reflected with the Ottawa Citizen on how, "Mr. Manning, from his point of view and from the conservative point of view, has done very well," and that, "They have had an impact on the public debate (and) it's time we did some catch-up, frankly." He added how "Mr. Manning's institute does it on the right and we want to do it on the left in Canada."
The institute produces thoughtful discussion papers, trains and empowers idealist activists via a fellowship program. This coming weekend, the institute will host a "progressive summit" and has invited international players including the just defeated Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard.
So what is my beef with the institute?
It is that, while the institutes eloquently preaches high standard for public discussions on a slew of issues and demands better destinations for others, it is an elitist institutions that does not look like Canada. Just look at its employees and the board membership of the institute for instance. Among its six board and 10 staff members, none are visible minorities. They are all absolutely 100 per cent white in an extremely multicultural country that is Canada.
This only matters more as the institute is becoming an influential advocate for the wisdom of multiculturalism and obviously not for itself.
Imagine, if a right-leaning led government or institute had no diversity in its leadership but a makeup that looks like Canada a century ago. The Broadbent Institute and even the NDP and its supporters would have eloquently complained and would have pointed out the shortcomings. For many years, the NDP has advocated for diversity, multiculturalism and better integration of our newest immigrants and citizens while embracing the Status Quo for itself.
That maybe why the Broadbent Institute, like the NDP, is just a dream.