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 St├ęphane 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




Monday, December 04, 2006

Will the Liberals’ New Leader Bring the ‘Third Way’ to Canada?

{The following 650-word essay was written for the Thompson Rivers University "TRU Stories" series, and appeared in local newspaper(s)on Thursday December 7, 2006. Clearly, it was written before the selection of Stephane Dion as the new Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada on December 2, when I anticipated a Bob Rae victory. The "Third Way" prism remains a useful one, however, and one that cuts across the NDP and Liberal policy agendas with conspicuous perpendicularity.}

Political events like leadership conventions take place on a larger canvas. While the selection of a new leader for a major party does not determine the future, it plays a significant role in determining when and in what form new policy trends develop, and whose interests are served in the process.

Political trends have a habit of running in long cycles. The 1950s to the mid-1970s saw the massive expansion of social spending and the routine use of deficit spending to ensure full employment: this was the heyday of traditional social democracy. The late 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of “neoliberalism” (also called, somewhat confusingly, “conservatism”), led by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America. This period has been characterized by the deregulation of markets, the privatization of government enterprises and services; tax-cutting; and “free-trade” agreements.

Arguably, the turn of the new century has seen the advent of a “third way” of thinking about public policy. This perspective sees neoliberalism as a deeply flawed approach to politics, because it fails to take responsibility for the social and environmental consequences of market-based decisions. At the same time, the third way recognizes that in a world of globalization and the post-industrial ‘information’ economy
there is no sense turning back to traditional welfare state’s preoccupation with public ownership and national redistribution of wealth. Instead, what is needed is a more pragmatic political project which is willing to break free from the straightjacket of left/right politics.

Claims that such an approach could promote both wealth creation and social justice at the same time have been made on behalf of Tony Blair’s “New Labour” government in Britain and the Clinton –led “New Democrats” in the United States in the 1990s. It also informs the policies of Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party candidate who is favoured to win the 2007 presidential election in France. Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien sometimes made similar claims for the Liberal Party, but less convincingly. The third way is not simply the middle way, but rather the renewal of social democratic values in the context of globalized markets. It is the politics of the center-left, not merely the centre. This perspective does not fit easily into either the New Democratic Party, the left wing of which has been “anti-globalization” and which fiercely resisted the steps necessary to bring the debt crisis under control in Saskatchewan and Ontario; or the Liberal Party, which has usually realized its most progressive policies only under pressure from the NDP. Where, then, does it fit? One possible role for the recent Liberal leadership contest was to answer this question for Canada.

Certainly, Bob Rae is a Canadian political leader who fits the “third way” label perfectly. In leaving his former party, the New Democrats, Rae was consciously following Blair’s example and criticizing the federal and Ontario NDP for not doing so as well. His emphasis on education and student aid as “the one policy that combines prosperity and opportunity”; his proposal for an earned income tax credit to encourage people to get off welfare and work their way out of poverty, clearly have the stamp of third way thinking. The role of policymaking in this view is not merely to shield citizens from the greater risk and insecurity that globalization brings, but to provide ‘proactive’ government which invests heavily in social and human capital, as well as environmental sustainability. Trade liberalization and greater flexibility in labour markets , anathema to trade unions and to the old left, are seen as necessary but not sufficient for meaningful full employment. They must be combined with minimum wages, strong health and social policy, massive investments in training, and public work projects where necessary—all anathema to the new right. Other Liberal candidates, such as Gerard Kennedy and Michael Ignatieff, expressed some of these views, though not as clearly or comprehensively as Rae.

Of course, if the ‘third way’ theorists are correct, this trend will eventually be confirmed in Canada regardless of who the major parties choose as their leaders. The only question is—will we be ahead of the curve, or behind it?


Mark Crawford currently teaches political science at the Williams Lake campus of Thompson Rivers University. His most recent publications describe the new linkages forming between domestic health policy and international trade regimes.

Environmental Assessment Law Weaker Under B.C. Liberals


{This entry, first published as a letter to the Williams Lake Tribune Thursday November 30, 2006, p.A5, concerns the two coal-fired power plants currently being considered for construction in Princeton and Tumbler Ridge. In my view, these projects should either be cancelled or delayed until the feasiblity of carbon sequestration--possibly financed by federal-provincial-industry partnership--has been thoroughly examined.}

November 25, 2006

Dear Editor:

At the local forum on climate change on November 16, I learned that just one of the new coal-fired power plants being planned for Princeton and Tumbler Ridge is expected to produce 1.3 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, and that if both projects go ahead, emissions for the entire B.C. electricity sector can be expected to more than double. No doubt the B.C. Government would say that both of these projects are being subjected to a thorough Environmental Assessment (EA). I am not so easily reassured.

BC’s Environmental Assessment Act was rewritten in 2002, replacing one of the country’s most progressive provincial EA laws with one of the weakest laws. Strong provisions that were eliminated include a purpose section emphasizing sustainability, requirements to examine cumulative effects, the need to detail alternatives, and innovative public participation requirements, including a mandatory role for First Nations. All of these functions are now being performed more ‘flexibly’ and ‘efficiently’ by a more ‘streamlined’ Environmental Assessment Office.

You might think that a strong case for a federal environmental assessment exists, and it does. The national and indeed international dimensions of coal burning (i.e. global warming and Kyoto obligations) are obvious. Federal review panels also generally provide the most comprehensive EAs in Canada. But don’t hold your breath waiting for effective federal oversight. The 1998 Canada-Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization contains a Sub-Agreement on Environmental Assessment that aims at avoiding “duplication”, in part to answer extensive complaints from the business community about compliance costs. In this case, the B.C. coal industry also happens to be a major contributor of funds to the B.C. Liberal Party.

That just leaves the citizens of British Columbia. If Premier Campbell and Minister of Environment Barry Penner actually asked all British Columbians whether they would be willing to forego a cheaper supply of energy and undertake strenuous conservation and alternative energy efforts in order to be part of the solution to global warming instead of being a steadily worsening part of the problem, they might just be surprised by the answer.

Mark Crawford
3744 Hillside Road Williams Lake, B.C. V2G 5A2 tel. (250) 989-0483