Rae, McGuinty resign their seats amid very different circumstances
Former Ontario premier and Liberal MP Bob Rae. (JOHN MAJOR/QMI AGENCY)
Two former Ontario premiers have resigned their parliamentary seats within the space of a week.
What a difference in circumstances, though.
Last week, Dalton McGuinty stepped down from his Ottawa South seat with a giant cloud over his head.
Wednesday, Bob Rae called it quits in Ottawa, resigning his Toronto Centre seat.
While Rae went to Ottawa as a Liberal MP, he served as a New Democratic premier at Queen’s Park from 1990 to 1995.
There are remarkable similarities between Rae and McGuinty — and some startling differences.
They both taxed and spent — although you have more sympathy for Rae, who governed during a double-dip recession. He was faced with severe problems controlling both the debt and the deficit. When he left office in 1995, the province had a whopping $11.2 billion deficit.
In his first budget he tried to spend his way rich — hiking welfare rates so people simply found it made no sense to look for a job. If the government was going to pay them the highest welfare rates in the country to sit at home, watch TV and eat bonbons, they’d do just that.
On the other side of the coin, though, Rae actually got tough on the civil service unions. He ripped up public sector contracts in a way that would make Mike Harris blush — and it probably led to his political demise.
He came up with Rae Days — 12 unpaid days off for all public sector workers, from teachers to nurses to civil servants.
Powerful unions, including the CAW, turned their backs on the NDP and it caused a massive schism within the party.
Rae was very much a silk-stocking, save-the-great-white-whale kind of socialist. Those New Democrats who came from the hardscrabble union base of the party, such as the late Peter Kormos, reviled him for selling out the unions. And he never forgave Rae for backing off on a pledge to bring in public auto insurance.
“I only hope Bob Rae does for the federal Liberals what he did for the provincial New Democrats,” was Kormos’ line upon hearing Rae was heading to Ottawa as a Grit.
When Mike Harris swept Rae aside in 1995, New Democrats were reduced to just 17 seats in the 130-seat legislature.
While Rae stood up to the unions, McGuinty took the path of least resistance, allowing public sector salaries and benefits to skyrocket. With the government racking up runaway deficits and after doubling the provincial debt, he tried feebly to enforce a wage freeze — and botched it.
One thing Rae can’t be accused of is spending scandals.
Oh, sure, he had one cabinet minister who was expelled from caucus after an allegedly non-sexual contretemps with a young lady he’d allegedly offered a job in a pub called the Loose Moose. Another minister took a lie detector test to prove she’d lied.
But Rae was honourable in the way he treated the public purse.
Under McGuinty, we saw the $1 billion eHealth boondoggle, that saw millions of taxpayer dollars spent on Liberal-friendly consultants.
And there was the Ornge air ambulance scandal.
Bob Rae was trounced at the polls, but he left Queen’s Park with his head high and his dignity intact.
McGuinty’s leaving amid embarrassing revelations that key members of his staff deleted e-mails containing crucial information regarding the scrapping of the gas plants.
Rae is a brilliant intellectual, with a wit that would strip furniture.
But he lacks the common touch. He doesn’t really connect with average folk.
Around here, they called him “Back Door Bob,” because of the way he liked to topple minority governments.
In 1985, he moved the non-confidence motion that brought down Frank Miller’s Tories. Five years earlier, he brought in the amendment to Joe Clark’s budget that toppled him, too.
Come to think of it, we could use Rae now. We really need someone to bring down this dreadful Liberal minority government.