The Hon. Bob Rae, Premier of Ontario
OPENNESS AND PARTNERSHIP
Chairman: Al G. Jameson, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto
Our guest speaker today has been active in politics for many years, having been first elected to the House of Commons for the Toronto riding of Broadview/Greenwood in a Federal Bi-election in 1978.
He was subsequently re-elected in that riding in the general elections of 1979 and 1980. Bob Rae then turned his focus to provincial politics. He was elected leader of the Ontario New Democrats in February 1982, and became a member of the legislature in November of the same year, when he won a bi-election in the Toronto riding of York South.
He was re-elected in that seat in the general elections of May 1985 and September 1987. As leader of the Ontario New Democrats, Mr. Rae was a key architect behind the signing of the accord between the NDP and the Liberal Party, which brought to an end 42 years of Conservative rule in this province.
And then, of course, came September 6th, 1990, when the NDP won a convincing majority of seats in the legislature and the Honourable Leader of the Opposition became the Premier of the Province.
Mr. Rae has a B.A. and a law degree from the University of Toronto and was elected as one of two Rhodes scholars from Ontario in 1969. He is certainly well-prepared for the position he now holds.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the Premier of the Province of Ontario, the Honourable Bob Rae.
Thank you very much, Mr. Jameson. Ladies and gentlemen, if I'm a little nervous it's because as a New Democrat I'm not used to speaking to such a large audience, but I appreciate the fact that you're all here and very much appreciate the opportunity to give you some of my thoughts on the challenge which we face together as a province. And obviously the challenge which we face together as a province is very much the challenge that we face, as well, as a government.
I've said on other occasions and will certainly say in front of this audience, here in Toronto, that I did not go into the election in July 1990 expecting that I would be the Premier on September 6th. I suspect there are one or two of you here, perhaps even at the head table, who are in the same position.
But, as I've also reminded people, here we are. And the fact that it was unexpected, and the fact that I don't mind saying I was as surprised by the result as anyone, gives me a slightly different attitude to the job than perhaps others may have had; first of all because I realize how fortunes and fortune can change very quickly and very dramatically. And so as gratified as I am by some recent soundings that I've seen published in the paper, I'm under no illusions as to how long those things can last. It also means that we have a particular challenge in the few years that we have as a government. I can't tell you exactly how long that will be, except to say that I have no plans to call a summer election, and I won't call an early election.
The events of the last few weeks and few months have been truly humbling for me and for my colleagues. And the one thing that underlines the efforts that we have made so far has been the need for us to build a stronger partnership in the province. I want to talk to you today about that partnership, about its elements and the reason why we have to build it. I want to talk to you very directly about the importance of openness and what I call the principle of transparency, which I think is crucial for us to be able to understand each other well. And finally, I want to address the issue of the need for a stronger national partnership than the one that we now have.
Let me start, if I may, with this question of openness and transparency. I think it's long past time and it's our great challenge and opportunity as government to tell you, as clearly as we can, the situation as we have found it and as we see it. Of course, as somebody who was very actively engaged in partisan politics as leader of the opposition, as leader of the NDP for a long time, I'm not anticipating that this will suddenly spread a total sense of sweetness and fight in the legislature and that there will no longer be any conflict.
But I do think it's crucial for us as a government as soon as we discover a situation, and as soon as reasonably possible, to let the people know exactly what it is we have found and what we can do about it. And the Treasurer's reports to the province over the last little while have been very frank. They've not been particularly easy, but they have been very frank.
That principle of openness and transparency means that we must, as a group and as governments across the country, be as candid as we possibly can about how much it costs to do some things and about how things are going to be paid for, because if there's one thing that's crystal clear, Canadians of all walks of life, whether they're rich or poor, or getting by or doing rather well, whatever standard of living they may have, know that in their own lives they have to account for what they spend and what they earn and that these are the realities of life that they face.
Now I know the impression that everyone has about the New Democratic Party. People say, "Well, you know, the word on us from other parties is, we're the big spenders and we're ' the big taxers and we're the ones who are going to cause all kinds of problems and havoc to the economy." I would in a moment, perhaps just a brief one of mere partisanship, say to you, "Well the other parties have done pretty well in that department. They don't need help from the New Democratic Party." But wherever you may wish to ascribe the partisan blame, I don't think it would be fair to lay it at the door of a party which has never held office in Ottawa.
There is a more profound reality even than that, and that is to remind everybody in this room, those who are all at least well-enough off to be able to afford to buy a ticket here without having to pay the GST (and I appreciate the early invitation) that working families, above all, have to pay the bills. They don't get a long line of credit from the bank. They don't get a long letter of understanding saying, "No, you can pay later on." They know perfectly well that if there's one major asset that they purchase in their entire lives it's going to be a home. And they know they have to borrow to pay for that, and they don't mind borrowing to pay for that because they see the potential of the value of that asset growing. They know that it's going to be the most important investment that they make. And they understand the difference between doing that and going into debt to do that, (because very few people can buy their homes with cash), the difference between doing that and paying your Visa bill with a cash draw from your Mastercard. And so when they look at governments, they know what's going on, and we should be under no illusions about that. And, of course, it's human nature as it is. It's human nature for people to say to me as they have done, 'We'd like you to do this, we need more here.
There isn't a person in this room who isn't working at an institution of some kind or other who wouldn't like something from the government. But I've got news for you. You are the government We are all the government. And so when we are asking the government to do something, there's no mystical government out there. Or when I'm asking the Federal Government to do that, or when the Municipality is asking me to do something out there, we can all pretend that we're doing this and that and that we're changing things dramatically, but believe me we all end up paying for it. Somehow we all will, we all have to. And that fundamental discipline and that fundamental openness has to be there. And so the first thing I say to this group, as I have said to every group that I have spoken to, is don't just tell us what you want. Tell us how we can do it together. And yes, provide us with some solutions as well as with some criticism. Because, as I say, we have four to four and a half years together. Surely it would be wise if we use that time as productively as possible. And I think it would be wise. So we are as we were with respect to the question of the deficit which we found as we took office and which proceeded to grow as we waited to take office. We think it's important. For example, if the government's on the hook for $400 million because of a performance bond having to do with the transportation company that was started by a Conservative government as a Crown corporation, many years ago, then sold by a Liberal government to be privatized. Yet we were still on the hook for some money. We believe that rather than put it somewhere on the books so it's not readily available for everybody to see, better that everybody should see it. Four hundred million smackers right there. We believe that when you are negotiating or entering into negotiations with the Ontario Medical Association, and there hasn't been an agreement for several years, and you know that no matter how tough you are and how difficult you are in negotiations, you are going to have to end up conceding something. We think it's important that there be some recognition of that and how we budget.
And the final point I would make is, that when we discuss deficits, let's try to make a distinction, as virtually every other jurisdiction in North America does, and as we do as individuals, between the money that we invest as capital and the money that we simply spend. There is a distinction, and it's a useful one. You'll be told by the Americans, that 48 out of 50 states are required to operate with a balanced budget. I met with a couple of governors the last two weeks, and they very proudly said, "We have a balanced budget." I said, "You mean you don't borrow anything?" "Oh, no, no, I didn't say that," they said, "we have bonds for roads, we have bonds for hospitals, we have bonds for schools. We have bonds for infrastructure for municipalities. But that doesn't count." Well, I'm glad to tell you that if we operated on that basis, we have a $600 million operating surplus right now. But, again, it's important for us to understand why we are spending the money that we're spending and how it is that we're spending it, and to make sure that we're investing as wisely as possible.
The other thing I want to say about transparency is, it's okay to make a mistake. I've observed this as a critic of government. If governments were to say very quickly, "We made a mistake, we were wrong about that. We thought this was going to happen and that happened. It was a mistake on our part," I honestly believe the public would understand that a lot better than people pretending that nothing ever went wrong, as if it was all part of some grand plan, because nobody really believes that. And you will all have heard of the poll (without wanting to say anything on behalf of the CBC or the Globe & Mail) showing all the information with respect to how people are feeling about politicians and governments and various personalities and issues. I just think there's tremendous benefit to saying that mistakes have been made, and once they've been made to recognize it and then to move on. And I can assure you I will make mistakes, probably more than a lot of people would make. But there you are. As long as we admit them and move on from there, I think that that's the basis on which we should operate.
The second thing I want to talk about, to all of you, is partnership. We cannot possibly create a stronger province out of this recession without the participation and involvement of not only everybody in this room, but indeed everybody in the province. We can't afford, quite frankly, the misunderstandings, the saying, "Well that's his fault, it's not my fault, it's their responsibility. It's not my responsibility." We can't afford that, because, believe me, the Japanese aren't engaging in this kind of thing. They've got their act together and they're directing and moving and know where they're going. The Europeans are coming together. It took the Germans nine months to do what all of us, two years ago, would have said would take a decade. They decided that it had to be done, and they found the will to do it. And in doing it, a lot of old attitudes just went because they couldn't afford the luxury. And I think we're in a similar position. In this province right now, in terms of our economy, we have got to pull together more effectively than we ever have before. We've got to learn lessons from other countries where investment in people has been seen as absolutely fundamental for the future of those countries, where decisions are made that there is going to be a sense of solidarity in society, so that everyone can benefit from good times and better times.
And I can tell you in a multicultural and multiracial society, which is what we are, we have to work at this even harder, and we have to make even greater efforts to do it, because the good will and the sense of coming together of our people depends on it In the steps that we've taken as government so far, the announcements that we've made, there have not been very many made as a matter of deliberate policy. But when we've had to make tough decisions as we have, we've made them. For example, the Verity corporation. We could have decided that we would fight this thing to the very end and spend the next ten or fifteen years in court. It could have done that. And I suppose some people would have said, well that's consistent with the speech which you made in 1984 or '85. But frankly, we were faced with a choice in which we decided, let's get as much as we can for this situation, for the people who've been hurt by it, and let's use the money to good purpose. And I believe we've succeeded in doing that. And frankly one thing that I could never accept as a person was that we had managed to delay for over a decade the question of what happens to the workers whose wages are not paid as a result of a bankruptcy. And surely as a province, one of the wealthiest places in the world, surely one thing we can say, is that when a company goes bankrupt, no worker will be out of wages for which they have worked, as a matter of fundamental principle. And so frankly, we used the Verity money and the money from that situation to put into a fund and to say, as a matter of fundamental law, everybody will be paid in the province for the work that they do.
Now my predecessor set up three previous counsels--one on health, one on the environment, one on industry and the future economy of the province. And I think, frankly, he took the right approach. We want to build on that approach. We want to deepen it and strengthen it. But we've got to have people from business and labour, from finance and manufacturing, from all elements of the economy, from the wider community, coming together, and making decisions together that will make sense to the whole province. And that's one of the things as leader of the province, I'm looking forward to being able to encourage because I think it's crucial.
Finally, I want to talk to you very briefly about the need for a stronger national partnership. Canadians from coast to coast are troubled and none of us can pretend that we have the answer to this profound sense of concern and unease which I think, regardless of party, one can say, exists across the country. I certainly don't. I think anybody who does, or pretends that they do, is going very quickly to be seen as not having an answer at all. But we surely must learn from the experience of the failures that we've been through, and that's precisely what our government wants to do, to learn from what's happened, and then try and reach out and build a stronger partnership with other parts of the country.
There's been a lot of talk about why Meech Lake failed, whether it was Clyde Wells or Elijah Harper or one or two individuals. I don't believe that for a moment. The fundamental problem with Meech Lake, and I'm speaking to you as one who was a supporter, because I thought that in the circumstances it was the best that we could do and that we were better off with it than without it, was that not enough Canadians were able to see their reflection in the constitutional mirror. Too many people felt that what was being discussed and decided upon left them out. And so we now have a process which is, in a sense, waiting to be born. Quebec, the set up of a Commission, the Federal Government--we're waiting to hear what initiative they have. We have decisions to make as a province with respect to our future, in terms of the discussions which we will hold. But I want to set out very clearly for people today that we simply cannot go on pretending that the status quo can hold, because it isn't working for us, frankly, any better than it's working for other parts of the country, and let's not pretend that it is.
The fight over the GST between the Senate and the House of Commons--the way in which the GST has been imposed on us--the way in which that has not been able to be resolved in a way that, frankly, would do Canadians proud at all, is a sign that our national institutions are not working well. The fact that the Minister of Immigration would on one day announce a policy that's supposed to hold for five years, and then the next day say, well it's up to the Province of Ontario to pay for all the education and social service costs involved with that decision, is not a sign of a federal system that's working very well. As if, somehow, we don't have a stake and a claim with respect to the effect of that decision. I could tell you about the amount of waste and overlap in the current system. I could tell you of parallel bureaucracies that are working, sometimes in touch with one another, sometimes not, competing political agendas, which prevent any effective delivery of many of these programs--this is not a great way to do things. We would like to have a better way of doing things. We can and we must do better.
I call on the Prime Minister to bring the First Ministers all together, not to talk in an idle way about the constitution, but to talk about the real constitution of the country, which of course, is the economy. The Prime Minister said, "No, I won't do that, because I don't have to, because Meech Lake failed." We can't afford that. We can't afford to say that we're never going to meet again or we're never going to sit down together again, that we're never going to deal with these economic problems, and we're never going to be brought together in a way that will deal with them because the process didn't work last June. We don't have the luxury as a nation of doing that.
I had a teacher once, a philosophy professor, who once was criticizing political philosophy and he put it very neatly when he said, "I wear glasses." And he pulled off his glasses. And he said, "It's important to have clean glasses. So every once in a while I clean my glasses and then I put them on. I don't spend my life cleaning my glasses." We are, as a nation, in danger of spending our life cleaning our glasses. And while we clean our glasses, the Germans are coming together. Europe is coming together. Japan is extending its economic vitality. Other countries are coming together. Newly industrialized nations like Brazil are giving us competition in areas we would never have dreamed of ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. And we are, as a nation, still cleaning our glasses. And people say, "We can't have a meeting in November, because the one we had in June didn't work out."
I say to you, we don't have the luxury any longer of having that attitude, and I really believe that. We must come together as a nation. And I believe we will do that most effectively, not by talking abstractly about what it is that divides us, but by talking very practically and specifically about the changes that we can make. About how we can run our affairs better and more wisely and more fairly. I think that's essential, and that speaks to the principles that I've talked about--openness, transparency. There's nothing to hide here. There's no magic solution. There's nothing that can be done that doesn't have a cost. Everything will have a cost. It will have to be paid for.
And partnership--we cannot afford to ascribe blame and not take responsibility ourselves. We are all responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. It would be fruitless of me to spend the next four and a half years engaging in a rhetorical assault on the failures of the Liberal and Conservatives over the last decade. We can't afford to spend our time doing this. There's too much positive that needs to be done. There's too much constructive that needs to be done. And let me be very direct with you, I need Conservatives and Liberals to help me to do it as the Premier of all the people in the province.
I'm not saying that anyone here or anyone in this room has suddenly to turn up at a fund-raising occasion on behalf of the NDP. I'm not expecting people to give up on their partisanship or to be any less effective exponents of their party or to give up the dream in their hearts that this is only a temporary fluke and it will all be over in four and a half years.
But I m here to say to you that I take my responsibilities seriously as Premier at this time in our national life, at this time in our provincial life. I hope I don't take myself too seriously, but I take these responsibilities seriously. We face a tremendous challenge as a province and as a country. We're in a recession. We're in a state of what I think can only charitably be called a profound national unease which needs some shaking up and some resolution. And we need, frankly and finally, a sense that we need to get on with the job--that it's a job that must be done and that needs to be done. Our children and our grandchildren expect it and want it. Our parents and our grandparents fought for it and strove for it and sacrificed for it. We owe all these generations all this and much more. Thank you very much.
The appreciation of this meeting was expressed by Harold Roberts.
We've been privileged today to hear a spanking new Premier who gives us a vision. He's also an excellent preacher. He told us what he was going to say. He said it. And he told us afterwards what he had said. He reminded us of the need for openness and the complexity of trying to govern a province of this size and a nation of this complexity. He reminded us that we are engaged in a partnership of self-government. He spoke and pleaded for a re-awakening of our national identity and a drawing together of the family of Canada. In our society, prayer seems to be out, but, Mr. Premier, please accept our thanks and our prayers and best wishes as you begin your term.