Alberta Politics
The front page of the Toronto Globe and Mail the day after the night before on which Bob Rae’s New Democrats were elected to run Ontario.

28 years and counting, Conservatives in Alberta and Ontario continue to misrepresent Bob Rae’s record

Posted on May 25, 2018, 2:15 am
11 mins

Now that he’s sworn to be nice to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Opposition Leader Jason Kenney is running against Bob Rae.

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, with the NDP suddenly breathing down his neck as an election campaign enters the homestretch, Conservative Leader Doug Ford is running against Bob Rae.


Over the past few years, Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Wildrose leader Brian Jean and a host of other conservative candidates hither and yon have run against Bob Rae. You can hear them chanting “Rae Days, Rae Days,” whenever an election with a strong NDP contender draws near.

Mr. Rae was the NDP premier of Ontario between 1990 and 1995.

Bob Rae as he looked then (Photo: Government of Ontario).

So what’s with that, anyway?

Few things are more certain in Canadian politics than Conservatives running against Bob Rae, no matter who their real opponent is, except maybe New Democrats reminding their voters that Mr. Rae is a turncoat, who sold out and joined the Liberals in Ottawa.

And the Liberals? Well, sometimes they don’t sound too sure of the guy themselves. They certainly didn’t choose him as their leader in 2006, which, arguably, they should have.

All these Conservatives are running – or so they say – against Mr. Rae’s lousy record as premier. I’m here to tell you that the story about Bob Rae’s disastrous stewardship of Ontario during his tenure as premier of that province is one of the Three Big Lies of Canadian politics.

The other two are how Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program laid waste to Alberta’s economy (it didn’t) and how Ralph Klein saved Alberta (he didn’t; he was a Kleitastrophe).

Nope. Just as Albert Einstein never failed arithmetic and Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t particularly short, Bob Rae wasn’t a bad premier.

Bob Rae as he looked more recently (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Indeed, given the challenges he faced – among them a rebellion bordering on economic treason by the business classes and, as his NDP was coming into office, an economic crisis caused by the depredations of free trade, high interest rates and the then-overvalued Canadian dollar, all of which hit Ontario’s manufacturing sector hard – he didn’t do badly at all.

Given that, Mr. Rae can be fairly described as a capable premier who provided good stewardship for Ontario during his term in office, which was unquestionably a difficult period in Ontario economic history.

He was not perfect. He made serious mistakes, the most serious being his abandonment of NDP principles and the NDP base to embrace the austerian program the right demanded. This alienated his supporters and, of course, did absolutely nothing to win over his Conservative foes, who vilified him all the more.

The enforced unpaid holidays that Ontario civil servants were forced to take to save money is the true origin of the phrase “Rae Days,” by the way.

Nevertheless, as former Ontario Deputy Labour, Trade and Technology Minister Tim Armstrong wrote in the Hamilton Spectator in 2006, “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.”

Napoleon Bonaparte in 1792, who wasn’t particularly short, as imagined by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, 1815-1884 (Illustration via the Wikimedia Commons).

Mr. Armstrong, appointed to his senior civil service position by the government of Conservative Bill Davis, served Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments during his years as a senior Ontario civil servant.

When Bob Rae assumed office, the province was faced with an economic crisis,” he wrote. “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.”

Yet the constant lies about Mr. Rae’s incompetence trundle on, thanks to frequent repetition by all the usual suspects on the right. “It’s difficult to fathom whether this myth is the product of ignorance, malice, or both,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, charitably. However, he concluded, “the trumped-up myth that Bob Rae presided over an ineffective government needs to be put to rest.”

Mr. Armstrong’s opinion piece, written when Mr. Rae was seeking the leadership of the federal Liberals, has now disappeared from the Spectator’s Website.

As for the reaction of the business community to Mr. Rae’s election, the “unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history” the Ontario NDP endured was chronicled by Gerald Caplan in 2010 in the pages of the Globe and Mail.

“It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day,” wrote Mr. Caplan, an NDP strategist and commentator. Sabotage, in case you’re wondering, took the form of buying advertisements in influential U.S. financial newspapers warning foreigners not to invest in Ontario while the NDP was in power, at the same time as claiming NDP policies were costing Ontarians jobs.

Albert Einstein, who never failed arithmetic in school (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Red baiting, threats and a virtual capital strike were all the order of the day. This will all sound quite familiar to students of the Alberta NDP Government elected in 2015.

“There are a world of studies yet to be written about the Ontario NDP’s difficult and controversial years in office, none more important than the nature of the saboteurs who organized their very own Ontario coup,” Mr. Caplan wrote. “This includes much of the business community, government relations firms, the media and the police.”

The constant fiction about Mr. Rae’s government “has shown enduring resilience over the 28 years since his Sept. 6, 1990 election,” political columnist Tim Harper wrote in the Toronto Star earlier this week.

“Mockery, mythology and mendacity have been the hallmarks of those who have practiced the Rae voodoo over the years,” Mr. Harper said.

Polling yesterday showed the NDP led by Andrea Horwath and the Conservatives led by Doug Ford tied at 37 per cent each, with the Ontario Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne experiencing a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the past few hours back to 21 per cent from a low of 18 per cent.

So expect the attacks on Bob Rae from frightened Conservatives to continue and grow in intensity and they desperately seek a way to derail Ms. Horwath’s surging campaign.

Here in Alberta, the vilification of Premier Notley has never quite reached the levels experienced by Mr. Rae in the media, although lately it’s been close. Now that Mr. Kenney has consulted his pollsters and promised to be more polite to the premier, the attacks on Mr. Rae are bound to continue here at a fever pitch as well.

It’s baloney.

CORRECTION: The Hamilton Spectator is operated by Metroland Media Group, owned by the Toronto Star. Incorrect information was published in an earlier version of this post.

14 Comments to: 28 years and counting, Conservatives in Alberta and Ontario continue to misrepresent Bob Rae’s record

  1. Expat Albertan

    May 25th, 2018

    Thanks, David, for reminding us of all this. I was living in Toronto during that period and can attest to your key points about Mr. Ray’s government. Rae Days, while not popular, were a hell of a lot better than what happened under Mike Harris (the PC premier who came after Rae)… wholesale firing of large swaths of the civil service.

    Most people outside Ontario who mouth Rae Days as a warning about electing an NDP government usually have no clue what the term actually refers to.

    Reply
    • Scotty on Denman

      May 27th, 2018

      Harris’ plan to privatize Ontario Hydro was stopped by court injunction which focused voters’ attention on the likelihood of a doubling—or even trebling—of consumer electricity rates. He resigned shortly after this, leaving his finance minister to lead the party to a particularly ignominious defeat. (The D’ohFo is no breath of fresh air himself, in addition to the fact that the Ontario PCs have been morbidly declining for almost 20 years.) Amid bogus narratives of Harris rescuing Ontario from Rae’s policies, The “Common Sense Revolution” also inspired BC’s Gordon Campbell to embark on a similar privatization of BC Hydro, wisely adjusting the plan to a piecemeal dismantling after witnessing the Ontario PC’s slaughter at the polls (Campbell eventually regretted the whole-hog privatization of BC Rail, the first of many planned privatizations, and it didn’t bite him on the ass until after Harris was retired).

      Reply
  2. Ron

    May 25th, 2018

    Did the somnolent Ontario electorate, sleep-walking into a CON nightmare, wake up just in time?

    Beware of Doug, indeed.

    Reply
  3. Murphy

    May 25th, 2018

    Rae Days were markedly better for government employees than what they experienced under the drunken, wife-beating high-school drop-out here in Alberta.

    Reply
  4. Jim Clarke

    May 25th, 2018

    Yes. I didn’t vote for the NDP in 1990 — I voted Liberal instead — but I never thought he was a poor premier. It was hard to believe how anti-NDP the forces of the right were. It was very ungentlemanly.

    But, Ron, “somnolent”? We hadn’t much time to wake up after the PCs picked Ford, but I think we got pretty alert pretty fast, with a good deal of help from the man himself. Of course, the rest of the province didn’t have the head start we did in Toronto. Good grief … a Ford again?

    Meanwhile, let’s hope your contender in Alberta for Best Premier in the Country gets herself a second term.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      May 27th, 2018

      She was the best Premier in the country, until she decided it was more important to work for Texas-based Kinder Morgan that represent the interests of Albertans.

      She won’t get another majority in this lifetime. She could have accomplished so much more with the mandate she was given. Squandering an opportunity like that is sad indeed.

      Reply
  5. Albertan

    May 25th, 2018

    Re: Kenney believing Klein was the better, and least so-called qualified Premier?
    Examples include Klein’s cutbacks to health care in the day and leaving us with a huge infrastructure debt to the tune of $billions, both of which are still negatively impacting Alberta to this day…..also, the saga of the 10% flat tax which benefits only the wealthiest whilst the middle class bore the brunt of the tax burden and which Kenney would re-implement if elected. The middle class in Alberta still pays more tax than in B.C. and Ontario, but a 10% flat tax would make it that much worse again. Also, not following Lougheed’s ‘Six Principles’ for resource development which included “collect your fair share, save for a rainy day, go slow, practice statecraft, etc.” It goes on and on….
    Klein doing a better job? Horse pucky delusional.
    Thanks for the pertinent info on the Bob Rae NDP!

    Reply
  6. David

    May 25th, 2018

    In politics, as in life, sometimes timing is everything. Bob Rae got elected in Ontario just before the start of a tough recession for Ontario, while Ralph Klein came by a bit later as the recession was ending. Now to be fair to Mr. Klein at least he didn’t blame any of Alberta’s misfortunes on Rae days, he blames them on his PC party predecessor, Mr. Getty. Also fortunately for Mr. Klein, that recession was much milder in Alberta as resource prices were on the upswing than in Ontario where the manufacturing sector was particularly hard hit.

    Now, of course Mr. Kenney did not come back to Alberta to blame the PC’s, so much as to bury them. As far as I can tell, he seems to be fairly nice to the remaining PC’s in his United Conservative Party. He seems to have decided to be nice to Premier Notley for now and realized (or was told) it was not a good idea to try attack Prime Minister Trudeau’s character, even in Alberta that over the top attack did not go over well. I suppose that leaves Mr. Rae for him to pick on.

    Now, bad timing is a very non partisan thing. Yes, Mr. Rae came into power just before the start of a bad recession, but the Conservatives win the prize with R. B. Bennett who became Prime Minister of Canada at the beginning of the Great Depression. Yes there were Rae Days , but the Conservatives were saddled with “Bennett Buggies”. Their party reputation was so damaged, they eventually changed their name to the Progressive Conservatives. Perhaps Bennett was not seen by the public as progressive enough, although I think he did try towards the end. Other parties that had bad timing include the PC’s with the recessions under Diefenbaker and Mulrooney and the Liberals last term under Trudeau.

    I suppose Mr. Kenney if there was an award for most likely to govern in bad times, the Conservatives or PC’s would win, so hopefully for Ontario’s economic future the PC’s will not win this time. Sorry if my history lesson is a bit longer and more comprehensive than Mr. Kenney’s tweet, but at least it is not as selective.

    Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      May 26th, 2018

      @David, Re: Timing—I’m not sure bad timing is all that coincidental. By & large, voters don’t tend to throw out incumbent governments when times are good. They tend to vote for change when times are tough, even if the incumbent government is powerless to change whatever misfortune is leading them to that decision. Sometimes it’s about simple blame, sometimes it’s about seeing if the new gang can do a better job of coping. But new governments often take office in difficult times, just because that’s why they got elected.

      Reply
  7. M.

    May 25th, 2018

    The conservative hyenas are once again howling hysterically. Its a shame to see their overwrought and baseless concerns again fool the electorate into supporting privatization, deregulation, and marginalization. This time might be different in Ontario…

    Reply
  8. Athabascan

    May 26th, 2018

    All those years later Notley is making the same mistake that Rae made. When I voted for Notley, I voted for the NDP and what they stood for. I, and many other dippers, didn’t think she would abandon a key NDP policy of (soft?) environmentalism.

    Instead, we got another tar sands shill pushing pipelines nobody wants. What do you think Klein would have done? If your answer is the same as what Notley is presently doing, then you know she has abandoned a key NDP principle.

    Too bad. Who are my true dippers friends and I supposed to vote for in 2019?

    Reply
  9. Scotty on Denman

    May 27th, 2018

    I suppose the question might be: what will the right say about Rachel Notley when she’s gone. What catchy rhetorical smear will be adopted to label her regime? I don’t doubt it’ll happen. It always does, doesn’t it?

    Here in BC we’re accustomed to hearing the right (that is, the far neo-right, misnamed BC Liberals) trundle out the “NDP Dark Age” when, they and their shills say, the NDP “destroyed BC’s economy” with corruption and ineptitude. Never mind that by every respectable measure the decade apiece for the NDP and BC Liberals saw superior economic performance under Mike Harcourt’s and Glen Clark’s NDP—and all without selling off public assets and collecting federal transfers to the extent the BC Liberals did. Even last year’s election—which finally ousted the BC Liberals after 16 years of government —we were almost constantly reminded that “it’d be disastrous to return to the NDP 90s…”. The so-called “corruption” was actually the case of one errant NDP MLA who misappropriated a paltry amount of pin money from the NDP’s own charity bingo—compare that to the many, many corruptions discovered during and since the disgraced BC Liberal regime that blatantly ripped off the public purse for billions.

    How much does truth matter? To ‘true believers,’ not very much.

    As long as we had the “Disastrous NDP 90s” that “destroyed BC,” we were protected from ‘Rae Days’ rhetoric.

    So now we have another NDP government which, in typical idealist fashion, has decided not to cultivate a counter-narrative about the disastrous BC Liberal regime—even though, in this direction, it would actually be true. If I was premier I’d mention what a mess the BC Liberals left us with, the sabotage of public enterprises to reward their crony supporters with padded service contracts, et cetera, every single day, at least once if not more.

    But what does truth matter—even when you have it—if nobdy’d Believe it anyways? As Horgan’s predecessor Adrian Dix discovered—too late to save his party’s squandering of a 20-point lead in the polls over bubble-headed Christy Clark—high ideals of politcal decorum and “positive politics” is what scares voters off when it comes to a party supposedly (and not unlikely) steered by ardent, impractical dreamers. Horgan appears to be taking the high road again—much to our disappointment.

    Reply
  10. Farmer Dave

    May 27th, 2018

    I listened to the Ontario Leaders debate and FORD has no plan (nothing), just flying by the seat of his pants. He uses the same plan Ralf & Harris used which a monkey could come up with the same plan just cut 20% of government spending but no idea where or what (Ontario will end up the same as Alberta an infrasture deficit building no roads, schools or hospitals, etc. If Ontario votes him in they deserve all the corruption that follows FORD, drugs, gangs, etc…………..

    Reply

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