Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fresh Merger Talks Raise the Question: Is it Time?

Thomas Walkom had a column in the Star this weekend, raising the possibility of Bob Rae as the next federal NDP leader.

A rather silly attempt at reminding Canadians that he once led the NDP in Ontario, even acting as premier. While in office, Walkom wrote a scathing book: Rae Days: The Rise and Follies of the NDP.

It's a one-sided rant, that fails to mention that before the balloons starting losing air on election night, the right-wing noise machine sprung into action. Another reaction to an NDP victory.

Gerald Caplan wrote an excellent piece for the Globe in October of 2010, in which he says:
Mr. Rae's government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history. The attacks came from all sides. It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.

They were determined to undermine the government every step of the way, to frustrate the implementation of its plans and to assure its ultimate defeat. In all three goals they were successful. The considerable achievements of the government – often forgotten or dismissed –were wrought in the face of a deep recession and ferocious obstruction.
The National Citizens Coalition created the Ontarians for Responsible Government, running radio ads and placing billboards in prominent places.

And of course, Walkom wrote a book.

Yet nowhere in that book does he mention Ontarians for Responsible Government, or Conrad Black who vowed never to invest a penny in the province under the NDP.

And even the rank and file abandoned him because he wasn't implementing the changes they wanted, failing to understand why it was almost impossible. Said Caplan:
... corporate interests threatened a virtual strike of capital unless the government relented on its intentions to introduce higher business taxes and to strengthen union rights, environmental regulations and equity programs.

Mr. Rae and treasurer Floyd Laughren made themselves easily accessible to business representatives, many of whom ran Canadian branch plants of huge American multinationals, only to be threatened with capital blackmail. The premier was warned that their U.S. head offices weren't about to invest further in Ontario unless the government abandoned most of the programs it had run on.

Bond traders declared that slashing government programs to reduce the deficit was a prerequisite to Ontario borrowing at competitive rates, even though Ontario’s deficit was equivalent to that of Conservative-run Alberta. Suddenly the entire media was fixated on the government’s threatened credit ratings, never mind that Ontario had the only Standard & Poor’s AAA rating in the country. The Social Credit government in British Columbia, the Conservatives in Alberta and Robert Bourassa’s Liberals in Quebec all had lower credit ratings. Yet only in Ontario was the government threatened.
What happened in Ontario then was an almost carbon copy of what President Obama is facing in the United States because he dared to suggest that big business should pay more, and wanted a universal healthcare plan, right down to the "debt crisis".  So I wouldn't put too much stock into anything that Walkom says about the NDP. He was part of the problem.

Pat Martin, one of my favourite MPs on the Hill, is again calling for a merger. A realist, he appreciates the challenges the NDP face from corporate interests. Unfortunately he was booed off the stage for suggesting they drop "socialism" from their mandate.

Martin is a smart man, and while there was much rejoicing over their latest victories, let's be real. Most of the gains were in Quebec and a surge of popularity for Jack Layton.

It resulted in the loss of many progressives from both the Bloc and Liberals. Hard working MPs replaced with paper candidates, and vote splitting that gave the neocons Ontario.

But how well will those paper candidates do next election, when they have to actually raise funds and campaign? Many never even had campaign offices. Their constituents didn't vote for them, only their leader.

I'm afraid that if the Liberals and NDP don't work together, whether in a formal merger or spirit of co-operation, we are going to end up with a neoconservative dynasty.

One thing that Walkom did get right, was his observation that Jack Layton was trying to move the party to the right, in an attempt to garner support from the mainstream.  However, Canada is not a right-wing country, and Stephen Harper's success is in large part due to the fact that he pretends to be governing from the centre, while moving the centre with his usual "stealth".

So if there is a new party created, they have to offer a real alternative for Canadians, not just give it lip service.

Personally, I would prefer that the Liberals rebuild, drawing in support from the old PCers, or "red Tories".  Canada had a unique political culture, in that for decades, we were led by centrist governments, who drew from the right and left.

The only drawback to that was that while the right wing Reform/Alliance earned concessions, and the left-wing NDP earned concessions, any fallout was placed on the party in power, and ironically, later used by those same people seeking concessions.

I don't want to lose the NDP because they gave us so much, including universal healthcare and prison reform.  But I don't want to lose our centre either, and that's where the only alternative to Harper should be.


  1. "And even the rank and file abandoned him because he wasn't implementing the changes they wanted, failing to understand why it was almost impossible."

    I'm not persuaded by anything I've previously read--certainly not by anything in your current post--that Rae could not have taken these two steps:

    1) Implemented public auto insurance, which was a winning issue for the party in the election campaign;

    2) Modified the Ontario Tax form and calculation to be independent of Federal Tax, as Quebec has done.

    To all those who said, "You can't do that," Bob Rae might have replied, "Just watch me!" His government was undone by its own dithering.

  2. Rae ought to have proceeded on public auto insurance at least: unlike BC, where ICBC faces lawsuits galore, the pre-existing no-fault laws in Ontario would have made PAI a winner here.

    I give him great credit for running a clean government, and for doing what he needed to once he severity of the economic straits he was in were clear.

    I fault him for not fulfilling a core campaign plank and for (like France's Mitterand back in the 1981 timeframe) not paying closer attention to what he inherited (including Peterson's abysmal finances) in his first year.

    In 1995 I thought for all that he deserved a second term, on merit. Of course, at that point, I thought he was a man of honour. His book written right after that election makes it clear why he was a New Democrat and not a Liberal — and, of course, now he eats those words and pretends...