Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why the Liberals Should Have Chosen Bob Rae

{“It’s the delegates, stupid”. When I appeared on CBC Radio's Daybreak program on the morning of Monday Dec.4 to read the entrails of the Liberal Leadership Convention, I had to admit that I was slightly surprised by the results. I shouldn't have been. In the end, neither the leadership debates, nor the length of the campaign, nor the speeches, nor the public opinion polls concerning "winnability", nor the steadily gathering endorsements by MPs and leadership candidates in Rae's favour really mattered much. What really mattered was the swiftness and the discipline of the Kennedy-Dion alliance. Kennedy --despite finishing just 2 votes behind on the second ballot--immediately went to Dion, bringing 92-94% of his delegates with him. Ontario MP Mark Holland, Justin Trudeau, and BC Dion organizer Mark Marissen deserve much of the credit for cementing this deal.

Dion is a decent and intelligent figure, genuinely committed to taking greater action on climate change, but I have been more impressed by the character and intellect, as well as political skills, of Bob Rae. I relished the prospect of him skewering Emerson and Harper over Softwood Lumber and besting Harper in political and parliamentary debate. I liked the idea of someone with Rae's qualities having governed the nation's largest province under the most difficult of circumstances, and then going on to be prime minister--something that never happens in our country, which punishes such "baggage". And I liked the story of the Comeback Kid, which apparently has greater resonance in America than it does here in Canada.}



---A Decima Survey in released November 18, 2006 showed that 37 per cent of respondents said they would vote Liberal or consider doing so if Mr. Rae were the leader, compared with 34 per cent for Stéphane Dion, 33 per cent for front-runner Michael Ignatieff and 31 per cent for Gerard Kennedy. Mr. Rae appeared to have pulled even among Ontarians, who've apparently forgotten or forgiven his rocky tenure as an NDP premier in the province.

---The battle-ready former premier was feared by Conservatives as someone who already had experience bringing down Conservative minority governments. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, The Order of Canada recipent, chief of staff to Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and former President of The Institute for Research on Public Policy, had this to say on CBC Radio after the Convention: “My feeling, and the feeling of most Conservatives, was that we dodged a bullet when the Liberals failed to choose Bob Rae as their leader”

--- My former boss in the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Tim Armstrong, was a Deputy Minister under 4 Ontario premiers from 3 different parties. Uniquely qualified to compare and assess their leadership qualities in context, he had this to say(I reproduce the article in full) :

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Political mythmaking, Ontario style
The drumbeat theme of those opposing Bob Rae's Liberal leadership candidacy is, "A smart guy, with a terrible record as premier of Ontario." It's difficult to fathom whether this myth is the product of ignorance, malice, or both.

I was appointed as a Deputy Minister by Premier Davis and served under him and his three successors, Premiers Peterson, Miller and Rae. None of those premiers would claim to have achieved perfection. But the suggestion that the Rae government did not live up to -- and in some areas exceed -- the standards and accomplishments of its predecessors on behalf of the people of Ontario is untrue.

When Bob Rae assumed office, the province was faced with an economic crisis -- a deepening recession, unprecedented competitive challenges from a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., high interest rates, an overvalued dollar and a budget deficit of several billion dollars rather than the surplus predicted by the prior administration. Over 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost between 1989 and 1992.

When the Rae government approached the end of its term, Ontario led the way in growth among the provinces and had one of the strongest economies in the G7. Surveys showed strong consumer and business confidence.

Private sector investment was back with billions in capital spending. Labour productivity was at an all-time high, as were manufacturing exports. Health-care costs were under much improved control as part of a broader strategy that was reducing the deficit.

My most memorable work with Premier Rae involved the restructuring of Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie and Dehavilland Aircraft in Downsview. From the outset, the premier made it clear that he was determined, in the interests of the employees, the affected communities, and the provincial economy, that both companies would survive. His personal efforts in achieving success exceeded, in dedication, intelligence and shrewd negotiating skills, anything that I had previously experienced.

The costs incurred by Ontario in these restructurings, as well as those extracted from the federal government, have been recovered, many times over, in tax revenues alone. And the dismal alternatives to success -- weeds in the companies' parking lots, padlocks on their gates, and thousands of discouraged unemployed workers, their families on welfare or seeking social assistance -- were all avoided. These achievements were repeated, at Spruce Falls Pulp & Paper in Kapuskasing and other communities across the province, under the Manufacturing Recovery Program, a program designed and implemented with the full involvement of the Premier.

Bob Rae was, from the outset, under attack from many in the business community. After taking office, he faced vigorous opposition from organized labour, principally for his efforts to curtail what he perceived to be excessive wage demands and his commitment to share the necessary cuts in government spending fairly. In my experience in the labour relations field, if you displease both labour and management, you are likely on the right path.

There were other noteworthy achievements during this time. The Rae government successfully promoted the Jobs Ontario program, with increased investment in child care and training; incentives to employers to hire people on welfare and those whose employment insurance had run out; the elimination of payroll taxes on any new employee hired -- policies that, combined, created in excess of 50,000 jobs.

Ontario's welfare system was renewed, focusing on the needs of children living in poverty; the child-care budget was expanded; hundreds of thousands of poor families were removed from income tax rolls; and the new Trillium Drug Plan gave affordable access to all in need of therapeutic drugs.

The Rae government placed a renewed emphasis on aboriginal affairs, leading to the first Statement of Political Relationship between a provincial government and aboriginal leadership, acknowledging the need for government-to-government relations and providing new funding to address native poverty, with emphasis on housing, child care and improved sewer and water facilities.

Finally, as premier, Bob Rae held a deep commitment to the success of our federal system, and in particular, one that would accommodate Quebec's goals and aspirations, without jeopardizing Canadian national unity. He played a leadership role with the First Ministers that produced an affirmative vote in Ontario on the national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord.

Many other reforms were set in motion, many of which have been continued by successive governments. As to the Liberal leadership race, may the best candidate win. But in the process, the trumped-up myth that Bob Rae presided over an ineffective government needs to be put to rest.

Tim Armstrong was Ontario's Deputy Minister of Labour and Deputy Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology and was the province's Agent General for the Asia- Pacific region, 1986-1990.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator
Monday, August 14, 2006
by Tim Armstrong
Page A15




2 comments:

rms said...

The poll you cite is pure name recognition. As former premier of the largest province in the country, of course Rae would carry it.

As a delegate, I just couldn't imagine Liberals handing their party over to someone who had just joined. Rae was asked to run for them many times in the past, and refused.

He's a smart and well-spoken man, but he is not a leader of Liberals.

Mark Crawford said...

Thanks for your comment rms--your points are well-taken. Had Bob joined even one year earlier, and had had an opportunity to shine once again in Parliament, delegates might have entrusted him with their leadership. In retrospect, more of us should have anticpated the likelihood of a Dion (or even a Kennedy) victory.