Ed Broadbent, by his withering attacks on NDP leadership front-runner Thomas Mulcair, has forfeited his role as elder statesman of the party in favour of that of a cranky partisan.
A widely respected figure well beyond the NDP membership, Mr. Broadbent took sides early in the campaign when he endorsed former party president Brian Topp, and this week he spoke of Mr. Topp’s abilities in rapturous language: “His depth, his intelligence, his commitment to the party, his strategic sense, his commitment to social democracy.”
It is naive to think former leaders don’t play favourites, and the presence of loyalists working in one camp or another often serves as an implicit endorsement. But the advisability of a former leader publicly backing one candidate for leadership is questionable.
It is more common for them to remain publicly aloof from the internecine warfare, for the good of party unity and to preserve their own reputation.
Not so Mr. Broadbent. While his initial endorsement was mildly controversial, his latest intervention, because it uses the language of a political attack, is much more contentious. It only serves to diminish Mr. Broadbent, and threatens to leave lasting scars irrespective of whether Mr. Mulcair prevails when the results are announced a week from now.
Mr. Broadbent criticized the moderation of Mr. Mulcair, whose background as a Quebec Liberal has unsettled some in the party establishment, by labelling the candidate’s strategy a “central mistake.” He has also criticized Mr. Mulcair for his talk of modernizing the party.
More than that, he sought to undermine confidence among party faithful in Mr. Mulcair’s leadership ability, arguing that “leadership skills are crucial in holding your caucus together, and I think that Brian has an advantage over Tom in that respect.” Mr. Broadbent added that it isn’t “accidental” that many veteran MPs are “supporting Brian, who doesn’t have a seat, over Tom, the man they have worked with.”
No doubt Mr. Broadbent felt he had a responsibility to speak out. But whatever harm he has done to Mr. Mulcair – and it is unclear how much influence the former leader retains – there is as great a risk of aggravating divisions and harming the party’s ability to unite behind the new leader. That would be a sorry addendum to his legacy.