Ed Broadbent crusades against inequality - Macleans.ca

Ed Broadbent crusades against inequality

But how many times can he pose the same question without offering new ideas?


Ed Broadbent is a man of many achievements. During the 1980s, Broadbent led the NDP to what was, at the time, its most impressive electoral showing. He was, for a time, personally more popular than former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. And he made an impressive political comeback when Jack Layton led the NDP resurgence in the last decade. He even played a significant role in the failed opposition coalition of late 2008.

After a few years mostly out of the public spotlight, the former NDP leader launched the Broadbent Institute in 2011. It’s a left-wing think tank that’s made inequality its greatest enemy, and published a report, commissioned a poll, and released flashy videos in the process. Broadbent’s basically declared war on inequality, repeatedly, and he’s found space for his message in newspapers time and again.

This morning, the Toronto Star published Broadbent’s most recent op-ed, “Inequality and the Canadian dream.” It concludes with a compassionate, collective call to action.

“Canadian values demand that we do something about rising inequality before we turn into a winner-take-all society with a permanent underclass. We are in this together, and that means we must once again care and share.”

Today’s column is Broadbent’s fourth this year, by my count, in a major newspaper. He also wrote in The Globe and Mail about a month ago, on Nov. 28, and signed off with a similarly forceful call to, well, everyone in Canada, it seems, to have a “serious debate” about inequality in Canada.

“It’s time we quit deluding ourselves. Serious inequality exists in Canada, but it’s not inevitable. If we want more equality and the strong universal social programs that help make it possible, we need to begin a serious debate about why we’re falling behind so many other OECD countries. We need also to understand that, among other changes in government policy, tax reform is a key part of the solution.”

About seven weeks before the Globe piece, Broadbent wrote again in the Star. His institute had just released a report, “Towards a More Equal Canada,” which served as a backdrop to the Oct. 8 op-ed. Its conclusions will by now sound familiar.

“The current rise of extreme income inequality must now compel us to rebalance our priorities. What kind of Canada do we want to live in? What kind of Canada do we want to leave to the next generation? We must rebalance our priorities. Practical change is possible. Let’s get on with it.”

Broadbent’s first 2012 op-ed—again, unless I’m missing something—appeared about six months before the October piece, on April 9. The institute had commissioned a poll and Broadbent announced its results in the Star. The verdict: Canadians want action on inequality. His conclusion: The same one you’ve read before.

The evidence from countries all over the world shows that widening gaps in income threaten all of the things that make for a good community. In contrast, societies with greater income equality are generally less violent, healthier, have higher levels of voting, greater social mobility and more prosperity. That’s the kind of Canada we want. And one that Canadians are willing to pay for. Let’s do it.

There’s an argument to be made that the gap between rich and poor hasn’t widened much in the past decade, which poses a pretty direct challenge to Broadbent’s ideas. But whether or not income inequality is on the rise, you have to wonder how many times Broadbent will pen such similar columns—without offering new ideas, or getting rid of the “Let’s [do it/get on with it]” rhetoric—before the newspapers that publish them tire of the broken record.

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