My time with Ed Broadbent

Blog Post by Josh Bizjak

 

Over the past few days, I have been processing the loss of my dear friend Ed Broadbent. Like many, I have been dealing with grief in my own way—keeping as busy as possible. Sometimes it’s best to allow time to run its course, so I’ve been quiet. But as the State Funeral approaches, I’d like to remember him as I knew him: the kind, caring, joyful person he was.

What to say in memory of a person who cared for me, trusted me, gave me opportunity, and his friendship? I can only say thank you. Thank you, Ed, for all you gave a working-class kid from the Junction.

I’d like to reflect on my friendship with Ed. I have so many memories, so many stories; they can’t all be included in one letter. So I thought instead I’d tell you a story of how I came to work for Ed and help launch the Broadbent Institute.

First, it should be noted that Ed was a legend within our family home growing up. My father was a refugee from Yugoslavia. He was a pacifist and wouldn’t submit to the military conscription of the Marshall Tito regime. He was caught once distributing pro-democracy literature in Sarajevo, and twice trying to flee the country. He spent time in prison and a year in a work camp for his attempted deflection. My dad finally succeeded on his third attempt in the trunk of a car.

Thanks to the work of Ed Broadbent and the NDP in the House of Commons, Canada continued to support refugees from Yugoslavia. Because of Ed’s work on this file, when my dad finally landed in Parkdale, Toronto, he knew to contact Ed’s office. They gave him all the information he needed to work towards citizenship.

I remember watching the ‘88 debate with my dad as he cheered on Ed. My dad told me that Ed was “a man of the people, a fighter for workers”. Although he never got to vote for Ed, he loved knowing there was a leader fighting in his corner.

Needless to say, I was starstruck the first time I met Ed. It was at an NDP rally in Toronto during the 2006 election. He was stumping for Jack Layton. I got chills when Ed proclaimed, “No Canadian with a conscience should vote Liberal in this election”. I sought him out through the crowd to offer my thanks and support. He told me to keep up the good work, and we’ll win.

Over the years that followed, I had the opportunity to talk with Ed at conventions, special events, and campaign rallies. He always had some time to chat with people from all walks of life.

I had never thought my career would coincide with Ed’s legacy. As many things in life, it was happenstance, a bit of luck, and my reputation for enjoying hard work.

At the NDP Vancouver convention in July 2011, an announcement was made that the Broadbent Institute would be established. I was standing with Joe Cressy and Ian Gillespie cheering on the idea of an organization that would take on the Fraser Institute, Manning Centre, and National Citizens Coalition—the big right-wing hitters at the time. Ian elbowed me and said, “You’d make the perfect Director of Development”. I waved it off at the time as just a flight of fancy. After the announcement, I made a point of finding Ed to congratulate him. Laura Ziemba got me a photo with Ed off stage to send to my dad.

Of note; the last day of that convention was the last time I spoke to Jack. We talked about a national energy strategy. Sadly, Jack passed away shortly thereafter.

It was in Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, at Jack Layton’s State Funeral, that the idea of me joining the Broadbent Institute came up again. I had just finished wiping my tears as I exited the balcony into the mezzanine when I was approached by Robin Sears and Kathleen Monk about the formation of the Broadbent Institute.

At the time, I was serving as the Director of Fundraising and Head of Stakeholder Relations for Ontario’s NDP. It was late August, and the writ was about to drop on the provincial election. They asked if I’d consider a move; I said I was honored and would be very interested, but only after the election. I was committed to the party first and foremost. Considering the Orange Wave, they understood what needed to be done. I agreed to meet with Kathleen over the coming weeks to discuss next steps.

After the Ontario election (of which we became the balance of power in a minority government), I was invited to meet with Ed in Ottawa to discuss a plan for the Institute. I took a bus from Union Station in Toronto on a cold and rainy day in November. Our meeting was to take place at 5 pm in the Jack Layton building in Ottawa—my bus was scheduled to arrive at 4:30. Little did I realize the bus terminal was a couple of kilometers away down Bank Street. The bus pulled into the station late. I had less than 10 minutes to make the meeting, so in my best suit with briefcase in tow, I ran as fast as I could up Bank street. Huffing and puffing, I met Ed in the foyer. He turned to me and asked, “What’s the rush?” - I was soaking wet and completely flush. In reflection, I know this was part of his humorous side—he loved a quick joke.

We sat down in the boardroom with Bill Knight, a former NDP MP and founding member of the Institute’s Board of Directors. This was my interview.

I had come prepared with a plan for how we could get the Institute off the ground. I have to admit my plan was ambitious. Ed had a lot of questions and was to some degree skeptical. My plan included not applying for charitable status so that we could be 100% political and say the things that political parties, unions, and other organizations couldn’t say. Do the things that other organizations couldn’t do. Take on the right-wing think tanks, challenge the media, and till the soil for progressive legislation.

A few days later, I received a job offer from Kathleen Monk, who had come on board as the founding Executive Director. Without a doubt, I said yes. Signed the agreement and informed Darlene Lawson, the ONDP Provincial Secretary of my decision. She was happy for me and especially relieved I wasn’t joining a lobbyist firm (she thought that’s where I would end up post-election).

On Monday, January 9, 2012, a very cold day in Ottawa, I went to work for Ed Broadbent for the first time. My life was forever changed.

In a modest (tiny) office on Slater Street, I found myself working alongside Kathleen Monk, assembling furniture and making arrangements for phone and internet services. Ed popped by to say hi and welcome me to my new home in Ottawa. He also suggested I join a union right away.

A few days later, I was tasked with writing in Ed’s voice for the first time. He invited me to his house to review my first draft. It was in this meeting that Ed said to me, “Josh, if you are going to write for me, you should know, I only say things concretely.” I’m not sure why this stuck with me, but it has. To this day, I’ve thought about Ed’s voice, resolute in meaning, whenever I write. It was my first teaching moment from Ed. Many more would come over the years.

While there in his home, we talked about life in general. He gave me tips for how to survive the frigid Ottawa winters. Encouraged me to go snowboarding in the Gatineau hills and skating on the Rideau Canal. He wanted me to enjoy my new life in Ottawa. And, know that he was a friend I could count on for advice and support.

Over the next 10 years, we worked closely together building the Institute. It was the highlight of my career. Thanks to his leadership, we built a team of incredible people around our plan led by our new Executive Director Rick Smith. We successfully fought back against extreme conservatism and even helped knock off Stephen Harper and a few of those right-wing think tanks.

The Broadbent Institute flourished. We built a home for progressives. A place for the generation of good ideas. A training center for campaign enthusiasts and activists. A news website to counter misinformation. And established a beacon for Canadians to look towards for a future where no one is left behind.

Over those years, I have stored countless memories, become friends with hundreds of people, developed my life and career in a way only Ed could have done for me. Too many to recall in one letter. But please feel free to ask me; I’d be happy to share them with you.

That said, you might be interested to know that one weekend in 2013 while my father was in town, Ed agreed to meet us for lunch on Elgin Street. My dad finally got to meet his hero for the first time. Ed made him feel like old friends as they discussed years gone by over barley soup and club sandwiches. My dad talked about that lunch all the time.

A couple of years ago when the decision was made for me to make another career change and help restore Tommy Douglas’s charity, I went to Ed first. I knew he was disappointed and maybe even a little hurt at the thought of me leaving. But, he gave me his blessing knowing that I was going to do good work in the promotion of social democracy. I listened to all of his advice and the stories he shared about Tommy and MJ Coldwell - Ed had the best stories. I’m grateful to say he was proud of me. We remained close friends.

I will cherish my time with Ed for the rest of my life. The impromptu meetings, phone calls, patio lunches, and the cigars in his backyard over good conversation—sometimes heavy, most times light and witty.

On November 29th, Lydia Treadwell and I had dinner with Ed and Frances Able at their home. We enjoyed a home-cooked meal, delicious wine, opera and Bach on the stereo, some spirited conversation, and a few good laughs. I gave him a hug goodbye and said I loved him. I never thought that would be our last time together.

It’s thanks to Ed that Lydia and I have found a joyful home in Ottawa. A life I intend to live well in constant memory of a man who showed me the way.

---

Special thanks to all of my former colleagues at the Broadbent Institute for making our decade together with Ed the best of my life.

To make a donation to the Broadbent Institute in Ed Broadbent’s memory please use this link: www.broadbentinstitute.ca/democracy-fund

Josh Bizjak is the Executive Director of the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation

 

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