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Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent announced Wednesday that he is again stepping down from federal politics, saying he needs to devote more time to his personal life.

"Some of you have been aware that my wife, Lucille, has had intensified health problems since the past Christmas," he told reporters during an emotional press conference.

"She now spends much of each day in pain. I simply cannot continue in the future with all the work expected of an MP and meet my deeply felt obligations to the person who is the love of my life."

Mr. Broadbent said he made the final decision not to run in the next election about 10 days ago.

In the House of Commons, MPs applauded Mr. Broadbent for his political contribribution to the country.

He headed the NDP from 1975 to 1989 and led the party to an electoral best of 43 seats in 1988.

In late 2003, he announced a return to politics 14 years after retiring and eventually won a seat in the riding of Ottawa-Centre after taking on a close ally of Prime Minister Paul Martin.

At the time of his decision to return to federal politics, Mr. Broadbent cited the lure of working alongside Mr. Layton, who he said "has energized the party and stimulated new interest in the party by the people of Canada right cross the country."

In last June's election, the NDP gained 15.7 per cent of the popular vote and earned 19 seats, up from 14 it had at the time of dissolution.

Mr. Broadbent's announcement comes as all sides brace for the possibility of a spring campaign and early summer election. Stephen Harper's Conservatives have vowed to try to bring down the fragile Liberal minority government as soon as possible.

Recent polls have painted a mixed picture of where support lies. One new poll on Wednesday gave the Conservatives a modest lead, while a second showed the Liberals out in front in Ontario.

Speaking Wednesday, Mr. Broadbent praised Mr. Layton's recent deal with Mr. Martin on the federal budget and dismissed suggestions that his departure would leave the party with on less representative in the house.

"There are going to be many more NDP members the next time around," he said. "We've never been in a better position on the eve of an election."

Responding to questions, Mr. Broadbent, who was named a companion to the Order of Canada in 2002, also said he felt the culture in the House of Commons had deteriorated from his early days in politics.

"If I look at the Question Period, I think it's become - instead of being functional to Canadian democracy - it's become dysfunctional," he said.

"It's a place where problems of the country, whether they're regional, or questions of justice are exacerbated rather than solutions found."

Right now, he added, there seems to be "more personal acrimony" in the House of Commons compared with the "intense" debates that he remembers his years as NDP leader in the mid 1970s opposite then prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Conservative leader Bob Stanfield.

"Certainly that's been my experience the last twelve months," he said.