After an almost decade long battle with metastasized breast cancer, Lucille Broadbent died in her sleep at her Ottawa home on Friday evening. She was 71. Her husband Ed Broadbent, former leader of the New Democratic Party, was at her side. He had given up politics in May 2005 to care for his ailing wife.
"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, at a press conference announcing his decision.
Fluently bilingual with a warm friendly disposition, a throaty laugh and an inquiring mind, Lucille Broadbent was a nurse, a teacher and a mother before she became a political wife. She and her husband were friends long before they became lovers.
"They had a wonderful marriage based on respect and deep love and a sharing of cultural interests, one that was unsullied by pettiness of any kind," said Terry Grier, a long-time NDP colleague and a former president of Ryerson University. As a couple the Broadbents loved to watch movies and to dance, something they did so well that friends often cleared the floor to give them space to strut their moves.
"She was a tremendous moral compass for Ed," said Mr. Grier. "I don't think she would have proffered tactical advice, but she would come at issues of principal or larger strategic questions, not from the point of view of what would garner the most support for the party, but from what was the right thing to do. She was a tremendously principled person."
In the 1980s she was a stalwart member of a non-partisan Parliamentary spouses coalition (including Penny Collenette, Jane Crosbie and Sharon Solzberg Gray) that lobbied internationally for the release of Soviet Jewish dissidents who wanted to immigrate to Israel. The women met with the Soviet ambassador in Ottawa and eventually travelled to Washington to meet with their American counterparts and to England in 1985 to meet with Margaret Thatcher and British members of the movement. "It was an issue that touched Lucille deeply," said Ms. Collenette, a staunch Liberal. Ms. Broadbent was outgoing, but discreet, with an "amazing" diplomatic sensitivity and she was "generous, incredibly hard working and totally ready to do anything she was asked to do," according to Ms. Colenette. "It was an incredible movement to be part of because we saw at the end of several years that it worked and that doesn't often happen. Out of that movement, she and I became extremely good friends."
Although she was very protective of her husband, Ms. Broadbent always had his measure. When Chatelaine magazine listed Mr. Broadbent as one of Canada's 10 sexiest men in Sept. 1988, she burst into guffaws and said: "There are many good things I would call Ed, but sexy? No."
She was also "very dismissive of any kind of grovelling and obeisance to his title or status," said Robin Sears, former federal secretary of the NDP. In the 1979 federal campaign, Mr. Broadbent was talking with a reporter and was in danger of missing a flight. "In the training of a young advance man, I picked up both of his suitcases and struggled with mine as well," Mr. Sears recalled recently. "And Lucille shouted at me from behind: 'Put down that suitcase. Ed Broadbent carries his own luggage.'" Mr. Sears was embarrassed by the public dressing down, but then he realized that "she was probably right." Seeing the NDP leader carrying his own bags was "a good message" to get out.
Ms. Broadbent would also disagree with her husband quite openly about issues such as the constitution, whether English should be the mandated language for air traffic controllers or even who should be the leader of the party. "There are not many political wives who would have either the licence to do that in their relationship or the courage to stand up to the public criticism," said Mr. Sears. " But for those who knew Ed and Lucille, it was perfectly normal."
Lucille Allen, who was born on June 15, 1935, was one of six children of John Charles Allen, an Anglophone insurance salesman and his wife Stella (née Brunelle) a Franco-Ontarian from the village of Lafontaine near Penetanguishene. The family lived in Ottawa where the children spoke French all day with their mother and then switched to English after their unilingual father came home from work. Mr. Allen was a prominent Liberal who ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals provincially and headed the Ontario Liberal Association in the late 1950s.
"As far back as I can remember, my father was intensely involved with politics and always discussing it with the family," she told The Toronto Star in the 1980 election campaign. "My father always stressed tolerance in art, in religion and in politics. That was his strongest influence on my life."
Lucille went to school at the Gray Nuns' Rideau Street Convent in Ottawa. After graduating she went into nurse's training at the Ottawa General Hospital. That's how she met her first husband Louis Munroe, a francophone who had been educated in English schools and who was then teaching high school in Arnprior in the Ottawa Valley. His sister, who was in the Ottawa General delivering her fourth child, doubled as a matchmaker, setting up a blind date between her brother and the young nurse who was caring for her.
Mr. Munroe and Ms. Allen married on December 29, 1956. "Louis was a very gentle man, very loving, dedicated to his students," she said. Eventually they moved to Oshawa where she worked as a nurse at the Oshawa General Hospital and he taught English at O'Neill Collegiate. And that is how she met her second husband Ed Broadbent.
The product of a working class family headed by an alcoholic father, Mr. Broadbent was always short of funds to finance his intellectual and educational aspirations. He went to the University of Toronto on a full scholarship and after graduating with stellar marks in 1959, he taught high school for a year at O'Neill Collegiate-- a rival to Central Collegiate where he had attended high school. One of his colleagues was Louis Munroe. Mr. Munroe told his wife about the new teacher "who wears these nice woollen ties and corduroy suits" and "enjoys having discussions," according to Judy Steed's 1988 biography, Ed Broadbent: The Pursuit of Power.
The Munroes invited him for dinner and, as Lucille recalled later, they "debated the existence of God." The three of them became good friends and would often listen to the opera on the radio on Saturday afternoons and go to each other's homes for dinner. These were the years when Mr. Broadbent was studying for his M.A. and Ph.D. at the U. of T and meeting and falling in love with town planner Yvonne Yamoaka. They married in 1961, separated in 1967 and divorced two years later.
Meanwhile, the Munroes had adopted a two-and-a half-year old little boy in 1961, whom they named Paul after Lucille's older brother who had been killed in a skiing accident when she was 15. About this time Mr. Munroe was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Despite her new responsibilities, Ms. Munroe was still working part-time as a nurse, acting in amateur theatricals and supporting the Liberal party, as she had been doing since childhood.
In the aftermath of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, both the Conservative and Liberal Parties had entered the debate about whether Canada should accept Bomarc surface-to-air missiles from the United States and equip them with nuclear warheads. The issue became very heated during the 1963 election campaign, which the Liberals won largely because of Lester Pearson's pro nuclear stance. He may have persuaded the electorate, but he lost Ms. Munroe, who abandoned her long-time allegiance to the Liberals in favour of the New Democratic Party. "Lester Pearson supported nuclear armaments in Canada and I was against it," she told the Toronto Star in 1984. "That year, the NDP was advocating universal access to universities, which I supported strongly." Later she admitted that "I think I was a socialist all along."
Less than two years later, Lucille was a widow. Her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour, underwent surgery and never regained consciousness. He died on Feb. 16, 1965, his 36th birthday. Lucille was 29 and her son Paul was five. After almost 10 years working as a nurse in hospitals and clinics in Ottawa and Oshawa, she took a summer course to learn how to teach French in English schools so she could be on the same daily schedule as her son--and have weekends and summers free.
That fall, she moved to Ottawa, her home town, with her son, settled into a townhouse in Kanata and began teaching French in her son's school. Mr. Broadbent, who had remained close to the Munroes since they had met six years earlier, tried to help her through her grief, which was compounded by the deaths of her father and mother at about the same time. Some observers think that Mr. Broadbent may already have been in love with the young widow, but he was in the midst of the devastating breakdown of his own marriage. For her part, Lucille was too desolated by tragedy to respond to any romantic overtures.
Three years later she campaigned for Mr. Broadbent when the New Democratic Party persuaded him to give up his teaching job at York University and run in Oshawa-Whitby in the 1968 federal election. At his nomination meeting he underwhelmed the audience with a long treatise on John Stuart Mill and barely won the nod from the riding. Her son Paul, then eight, remembers driving from Ottawa to Oshawa almost every weekend during the campaign, staying with Mr. Broadbent's mother and putting up signs around the riding. After Mr. Broadbent won his seat and arrived in Ottawa as a rookie M.P. one of his first social engagements was to ask Ms. Munroe out for dinner.
In 1969 Mr. Broadbent helped form the Waffle, a left-wing group in the NDP, with Jim Laxer, Gerry Caplan and Mel Watkins. Mr. Broadbent was the first to declare his candidacy to replace retiring NDP leader Tommy Douglas in 1971. David Lewis won on the third ballot with 1046 votes, a little more than twice the number cast for James Laxer. Mr. Broadbent came out of it "poorer but wiser" with a "bruised" ego, and "a conviction that it had been an unpleasant experience which he would not repeat," according to his biographer.
Six months later he proposed to Ms. Munroe. Although at first hesitant, she acquiesced. Later she said it was "his idealism" that attracted her, explaining that their relationship was founded on what she called "moral issues." They were married on Friday Oct. 29 1971, the 41st anniversary of his parents' wedding in 1930. She took a day off her teaching job and they went to a Justice of the Peace in Ottawa. She wore a bridesmaid's dress which she had bought for her sister's wedding and then altered for her own nuptials. Afterwards the couple went to a suburban shopping centre, ate hot dogs, dropped into a jewellery store, and went to the bride's brother's house to drink champagne. That evening they drove to Oshawa to attend an already scheduled dinner and dance at the Polish club.
Instead of a honeymoon, Mr. Broadbent moved into the townhouse in Kanata that his bride shared with her 12 year old son Paul and the family pet, a boxer named Hamlet. On Monday morning she was back in the classroom and he was in the House. Two years later, in 1973, they adopted Christine, a one year old little girl. The hectic life of politics and the needs of two children made Ms. Broadbent resolve to be a full-time homemaker, although she did complete her university degree by taking courses in the evenings.
Asked how important Ms. Broadbent was to her husband's political success, Mr. Sears replied: "Essential." She had an enormous influence on the way he presented himself, according to Mr. Sears. "He was a nervous speaker who had little confidence in public. She gave him a sense of style and a self-deprecating humour about himself which became one of his shticks."
Her life notched up several degrees on the intensity scale after her husband was elected leader of the NDP in July 1975 --on the fourth ballot after a tough fight against feminist Rosemary Brown who was supported by the left wing of the party. An easy friendly manner and the ability to chat with campaign workers and voters in both official languages made her a great asset during elections. But she valued her privacy and her time with her children and she was mature enough not to resent the demands public office made on her husband.
"Widowhood was very painful, and the pain never went away, but eventually I began to enjoy my independence," she told Stevie Cameron in 1984 for an article in Chatelaine. " So when I married Ed six years later, I didn't resent his being away or being busy. I just loved being part of a marriage again. When Ed is here we have commitments, when he's travelling, I have the time to see old friends, have lunch, take Christine (their daughter) to a movie, do the kinds of thinks I feel like doing."
In that same campaign she described her take on the "very ambiguous" role of a political wife. "I was not democratically elected, so I limit what I say in terms of policy. I'm very much committed to the party and know the party positions, but there is a difference with commitment and becoming a spokesman publicly."
She was also troubled by her husband's pursuit of power as a politician. "I was against compromises. I thought it was very important to stick to one's basic principles," she said to Judy Steed, Mr. Broadbent's biographer. For a long time she was concerned about what she thought was a "deflation" in his idealism as he struggled to build coalitions and win electoral success. They had long conversations about principles, power and compromise until she succumbed to his argument that "if you want to improve things you have a moral obligation to seek power. Only if you have power can you make the changes you believe in. In order to get power, you have to make compromises."
Dejected by his party's showing in the 1988 election, Mr. Broadbent resigned as leader, at age 53, having spent 20 years in the House of Commons, 15 of them as leader of the party. He had entered the campaign election riding high in the polls, but by the time the votes were counted, the NDP, hampered by its leader's halting French, hadn't won a single seat in Quebec and had raised its share of the popular vote by only one point --to 20 per cent.
Post politics, Mr. Broadbent taught at McGill and Queen's and headed up the International Centre for Human rights and Democratic Development in Montreal. He was a delegate at the New Demoratic Party leadership convention to choose a successor to Alexa McDonough and famously disagreed with his beloved wife. She voted for Bill Blaikie, an old friend and party stalwart, while Mr. Broadbent supported Jack Layton, a Toronto city councillor who didn't even have a seat in the House. After Mr. Layton won, he persuaded Mr. Broadbent to return to politics and run again in Ottawa-Centre. He won the riding in June 2004, his eighth electoral victory.
By then Ms. Broadbent had been fighting breast cancer for seven years with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. A procedure in 2005 left her in chronic pain. And so Mr. Broadbent gave up politics once again. He told his old caucus colleague and friend Terry Grier that he had come home one day "from some frenetic political situation" and found Lucille in great pain. "He was very upset and he knew in a flash that he was going to step down, and he never looked back."
In May 2005 he said goodbye to a tearful caucus.
All party leaders rose in the house that day to pay tribute not just to the man, but to the woman who had campaigned by his side. NDP leader Jack Layton, the politician who was not Ms. Broadbent's choice as leader, led the remarks. "Her husband's decency, intellect and humanity are well-known, but it is Lucille to whom we should pay tribute: for her generosity of spirit, and common conviction; for sharing the member for Oshawa and now the member for Ottawa Centre with us. Canada would be a worse place without her generosity."
Funeral arrangements have nopt yet been announced.