One of the greatest benefits of being a journalism student at Ottawa’s Carleton University during the 1980s was the frequency our professors sent us to Parliament Hill for assignments.
House of Commons staff, the press gallery and Members of Parliament were all used to seeing students sitting in on committee meetings, asking questions during scrums, and shooting pictures and video.
On the day I shot the above photo of Ed Broadbent, who died Thursday at the age of 87, I was working on a “day in the life on Parliament Hill” feature on Conservative MP Al Horning for the Kelowna Capital News. It was the spring of 1988 and I had just been hired by the Capital News to be their summer student reporter that year and I had offered to do a piece about Horning, a former longtime Kelowna city councillor in his first term as an MP, before heading home to the Okanagan for the summer.
The black-and-white film I used isn’t the only sign it was a different time in Canadian life.
Broadbent, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, was known across Canada as Honest Ed, even among his political adversaries and voters who preferred Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives.
Despite the fact he held a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and had been a professor before diving into politics, he did not refer to himself as Dr. Broadbent and insist others do the same. Instead, he showed his intelligence by always speaking about complicated issues in plain, straightforward language. It could be argued he spoke more respectfully to people who didn’t agree with his politics than he did to his own supporters.
How much of the people’s politician was he? His home number was in the Ottawa phone book.
Broadbent’s willingness to talk was special, even for that time, but it also wasn’t unique.
My afternoon bus ride home from Carleton took me down Wellington Street in front of the Parliament buildings. One day, the bus driver slammed on the brakes in front of the beautiful building across the street from the Centre Block that houses the Prime Minister’s Office. The driver threw open the door, not to let in a passenger, but to chat with a man on the sidewalk.
That man was Prime Minister Mulroney, waiting with an assistant for a car to pick them up. The bus driver wanted Mulroney to know about his concerns over a possible free trade agreement with the United States. Mulroney said a few words I couldn’t hear from my seat, but I could see him speaking. The driver thanked him for his time, closed the door and the bus continued down the street towards the Rideau Centre.
So much has changed since then but so much has been lost.
Neil Godbout is the editor of the Prince George Citizen.