The Politics of Hope and Opportunity
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Jun 1995, p. 57-71
The Hon. Bob Rae, Speaker
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Item Type
Candidacy campaign platform. "Never before in the history of elections in this province have the choices been so clear and the consequences of your vote as important … " Comments on the campaigns waged by the opposition leaders, and on what they have been based. The different approach taken by the speaker. Life in Ontario. The task of government to make people feel more secure: in their lives and confidence in their sense of the future. How that happens in Ontario. The idea and the process of partnership. A review of the NDP government in Ontario and what was achieved. A look at the McLeod-Harris proposals. Choices to be made. Characteristics of a choice for the speaker, vs. a choice for Mr. Harris. The kind of leadership offered by Mr. Rae.
Date of Original
2 Jun 1995
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
The Hon. Bob Rae, Premier of Ontario
Chairman: David Edmison, President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Julie Hannaford, Partner, Borden & Elliot and 1st Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; Harry Hynd, District 6 Director, United Steelworkers; The Rev. Kim Beard, Rector, St. Bede and St. Crispin Anglican Churches; Frances Lanken, Minister of Economic Development and Trade and MPP Beaches Woodbine; John Rae, Executive Vice-President, Office of the Chairman, Power Corporation; Bill Laidlaw, Director, Government Relations, Glaxo Canada Inc. and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Dr. Joseph Wong, family physician and member of the Greater Toronto Area Task Force; Ellen Cole, Director of Communications, Harbourfront; and Andrew Sarlos, Chairman, Andrew Sarlos and Associates.

Introduction by David Edmison

Early in 1948, George Drew sat in Queen's Park as Ontario's 14th premier. His Conservative Party had been elected in 1943 after a nine-year Liberal reign. It is worthy of note that Mr. Drew's term of office marked the beginning of 42 consecutive years of Conservative power in Ontario. Later in 1948, Thomas Kennedy succeeded Drew, becoming our 15th premier. While the Conservatives were changing leaders, an Ottawa couple by the name of Rae were changing diapers. You see, 1948 also saw the birth of our 21st premier.

As Bob Rae grew during the 50s and 60s, so too did the Conservative's hold on government in Ontario. Then, and in fact, even well into the 80s, the boldest political luminaries could not have forecast his unprecedented rise to power in 1990. The NDP and their dynamic leader were swept to office by a province ready for change. In 1995 it remains the biggest political story in Ontario history. Now, in the thick of an election, Mr. Rae and his government face the voters again along with two political parties determined to put 1990 behind them. On June 8, Ontarians will send their message and their party to Queen's Park. And the NDP are looking to make it two in a row.

The recent success of the Ontario NDP party can be traced through the success of its leader. Bob Rae's background is relevant and impressive to say the least. With a B.A. and a law degree from the University of Toronto, he was selected as one of two Rhodes' Scholars from Ontario in 1969. Not surprisingly, he earned a graduate degree in politics from Oxford.

Bob Rae entered public life at the young age of 30, winning the federal riding of Broadview Greenwood in 1978. As Housing and Finance critic he swiftly gained a national profile earning respect on both sides of the house. After a four-year stint in Ottawa, he was elected Leader of the Ontario New Democrats in February, 1982. Later that year it was made official with his victory in the York South by-election.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, our 8th Prime Minister, once said: "A socialist is a Liberal who runs fast." He made no mention of an undying love for the Blue Jays or a tremendous talent on the piano. Bob Rae certainly has both of these. And yes, he's running too--running for re-election, running with purpose and running to win.

Election campaigns are often marked by promises and euphemisms. Promises by the challengers and euphemisms or kinder, gentler words to describe a problem or a mistake, by the incumbent. Perhaps some politicians could learn a lesson from a young man in the eighteenth century who ingeniously euphemised the death by hanging of his father in order to collect insurance money. He said: "My father was killed at a public event when the platform on which he was standing gave way." Yes, rhetoric will always play a role in our political campaigns despite an increasingly sophisticated electorate. We, the voters, must decide what is rhetoric and what is real. But Bob Rae is campaigning on a platform he's confident will not give way. He's campaigning on his record--a record of unprecedented social reform and dedicated management of the issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Empire Club is committed to the presentation of the "premier" speakers of the day. I'm sure you'll agree that our special guest here this afternoon fits the bill in a way that few others could. Please welcome the MPP for York South, Premier Bob Rae.

Bob Rae

Thank you very much. Mr. President. Fellow head table guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Never before in the history of elections in this province have the choices been so clear and the consequences of your vote as important--important not so much for parties or for political leaders or for pundits or for pollsters, although I think it's going be very interesting for all of those people--but important for you and for your family.

The campaigns that have been waged by the opposition leaders are based, I believe, at the end of the day on two ideas which they share.

The first idea is resentment. Mike Harris and Lyn McLeod have both tried to play on the fears of the electorate by alleging quotas when there are none, by attacking the poor rather than poverty itself and by blaming the government for doing its job. Their hope is that they will be elected somehow magically on a wave of bitterness and frustration.

The second idea that they share is an attempt to appeal to selfishness. Mike Harris and Lyn McLeod both promise huge tax cuts, huge spending cuts and austerity measures. They hope to tempt people into forgetting that you can't get something for nothing. When something sounds too good to be true, it always is.

I've taken a very different approach in this election campaign, because I start from a very different premise. I believe that this is a very great province in a great country. There is nowhere in the world where I would rather live, work, raise my children, send them to school, take care of my parents and my family and grow old myself. Our peoples in Ontario have come together, proud of our traditions and our histories and proud of the fact that we are of different races and different backgrounds. We share a common pride in this wonderful community that we are building together. I also believe, and I think its a belief that's shared by all of us, that life can always be better. We can be more productive; we can be more prosperous; we can reduce unemployment further and we can always improve our prospects. We can and we should work to ensure that the poor, the vulnerable, and the neglected in our society share in that common prosperity and opportunity. Life can be better and I believe it will be because Ontarians know how to work at it and fundamentally because we have great confidence--confidence in ourselves, confidence in each other and confidence in the future. In fact, I think an objective observer would say that this progress and this improvement is already underway. Our economy is strong. It remains strong. There are more people working today than last year and far more than the year before. Much of this renewal has occurred because of a new sense of partnership and a willingness to work together in Ontario. Relations between workers and managers are better today than they were 10 years ago--far better--because there is a much greater appreciation of the challenges facing all of us. We understand that companies and governments must work at doing things more efficiently at less cost and at prices that people, not only here but around the world, will be willing to pay. We also understand, and this is equally important, that the values that all people bring to their work--their ideas, their commitment, their desire for dignity, and their desire for security--must be recognised.

I start from the premise that government cannot guarantee that there will be no insecurity in the world. We can't guarantee that individuals will not fall ill and we cannot guarantee that jobs will not change and that companies around the world will not make decisions that will have an impact on all of us. But I also believe that, given the natural insecurity of life itself, the task of government is not to add to that sense of insecurity, but to make people feel more secure--secure in their lives and confident in their sense of the future.

We do this in many ways. Fundamentally we do it, for example in health care, by saying we can't necessarily stop the tragedy of illness from hitting us, but we can ensure that each and every one of us will have access to the best possible health care that can be provided. We do it through our policies on education and training. We do it through respecting equality rights, not running them down or pretending that they're not important. We do it providing opportunity. We do it through a commitment to partnership, through a willingness to work with companies and with the women and with the men who are working in these companies. We do it by encouraging bargaining and co-operation. We do it by recognising that government has a role to play. It's become fashionable in some circles to pretend that somehow government is irrelevant to the future of our lives. But I look around me and I see teachers, doctors, nurses, researchers, pollution inspectors and police officers, all of whom are very much part of the necessary services of government. I must simply tell you this story. There was a woman at the beach with her child and when I talk about my relationship with the business community I'm reminded of this story. A large wave came along and tragically took the child out to sea. A lifeguard comes along and sees the woman quite distraught and says, "Madam, what can I do for you?" She says, "My son is gone out. Please can you get him back?" The lifeguard dives into the water, magically finds the child, brings him back, revives him and proudly hands him to the woman. She looks up to the lifeguard and she says, "He had a hat you know".

During the worst of this recession, I received many calls from senior business leaders. In fact I see some of you in this audience today. I received many calls from mayors and from community leaders. They would come with delegations asking for help for their businesses, for their municipalities and for their communities. We have always responded with creative solutions that would create confidence and a sense of security. I can tell you that our response was very different from the attitudes that are being expressed by the opposition politicians today. We didn't tell the people of Kapuskasing that the answer to their problems was to get government off their back. We didn't tell the investors and the steelworkers of Algoma Steel to go away and wait for the magic of the marketplace to solve their problem. We didn't close our doors to the workers and managers of DeHavilland by saying that cutting more government programmes would create somehow magically an aerospace industry in our midst here in the province of Ontario.

I believe that my view of how one works in partnership, creatively and effectively with the business community, is far more sensible, more rational and more sound than the approach which is being advocated by the leaders of the opposition. I believe it is better for the economy and I would say to each and every one of the business people present here today it's better for you and it's better for your companies and when you do well we all do well.

Partnership is a two-way street. Business needs the help of government and government needs the help of business. The recession left us with far too many people unemployed. We continue to have a tremendous challenge to create new jobs and to make sure that our people have the skills that they need for these new jobs. The government can't do this alone. Public sector make-work programmes like workfare are definitely not the answer, not if you think it through beyond the cliché of the bumper sticker. When you look at it closely, workfare not only isn't fair, it also doesn't work. I find it strange that both my opponents are talking about this approach. Lyn McLeod calls it mandatory opportunity, whatever that means. I think they belong, as I said, on a bumper sticker, but not on the platform of someone who's serious about creating jobs and creating work and creating opportunity. If you think about it, workfare would be bureaucratic, it would be intrusive and it would be expensive and it has been proven time and time again it simply doesn't work.

People say, "Well what would you do Premier?" Look at what we're doing and you can clearly see the direction we need to take together. Through jobsOntario Training we provided the business community with money--to train not simply individuals who are hired, but to improve the training climate and the training environment in the whole workplace. We told them we would give them this if they would hire men and women on social assistance or men and women whose unemployment insurance had run out. At the same time, we said we will agree to provide free employment training, so no one is starting cold. We expanded the number of subsidised childcare spaces, so single women with families would be able to take advantage of the programme. As a result of this, 60,000 women and men are now taking home pay cheques instead of unemployment and welfare cheques and we have saved the welfare system $420 million. That's a rational, sensible approach. In addition there are now tens of thousands of people who are on social assistance, who are adding to their income through part-time work and there are tens of thousands more who are improving their job opportunities by taking college and university courses.

We've also improved support for people getting them back to work through programmes like the Trillium Drug Plan, the increase in the minimum wage, the elimination of provincial income tax for over 200,000 low-paid employees, the payroll tax, holiday pay for new employees and improved enforcement for support payments. We've also been dealing with the question of abuse of welfare and fraud. Where there is fraud it should not be accepted but do not use the issue of fraud to punish everyone who's on social assistance. Our programme is in place and it is working. The key to welfare reform is not to penalise the children, not to penalise the people with disabilities, the ill, the elderly and the people who depend on social assistance for the necessities of life. The key to the issue of welfare and social assistance is work--job creation--and to create jobs we need partnerships with the private sector. We need better childcare. We need better training. We need more support for lower-paid workers and we need more support for the employers who are giving hope and opportunity to lower-paid people. We need to improve financial support for children in poverty, not penalise children in poverty. We want the support of the federal government as we work on this. Poor children in Ontario should receive the same level of support from their national government as children do in other areas. This is not true right now. It can change and with strong leadership we can change it. We need to encourage and help working parents stay on the job. We need to make sure that there are no incentives to stay on assistance when work is available and we need to keep helping small businesses because they're the ones who are creating most of the work.

When you look at the McLeod-Harris proposals, what they're threatening--and for the moment it is just an idle threat because they haven't won yet--is a government that will create a new forced labour pool of over 200,000 people. It's a totally impractical idea when you really think it through. People who will be required to work at less than living wage, at jobs that apparently aren't there unless the government invents them. Literally we will be paying people to dig a hole and then paying them to fill it in again. And paying them at less than the minimum wage. This will be government at its worst. Again when you think it through it would be bureaucratic, it would be intrusive, it would be officious, it would be oppressive and it would be ineffective. So people might say, "if you think it's a bad idea, Premier, why don't you just say so?"

People want work. They want real work. They don't want workfare. They don't want welfare. They want a living wage and they want decent working conditions. They want work that allows them to support themselves and their families in the 1990s and this is a task that we have begun. This is a task that we must continue. But we cannot carry it out if we fuel the entire debate with one simple concept and one simple idea and that is resentment. You can't build a healthy sense of yourself based on resentment. You can't build healthy relationships based on resentment. You can't build a healthy workplace based on resentment. You can't build a healthy business based on resentment. You cannot build a healthy province based on the idea of resentment and frustration. It is not the way for the province to go. The way we must go is to work together in a positive, creative and effective way.

The second idea which seems to have attracted a lot of attention, certainly judging from the way that the opposition leaders have been competing with each other in a kind of auction, is this idea of a huge tax cut. Well I think a huge tax cut right now is a very bad idea and I'll tell you why. Mike Harris is promising at least a $4-billion tax cut. Lyn McLeod is promising a $2-billion tax cut and they're both pretending that there are no other changes coming to us as a result of the federal budget. In fact we know that the federal budget will add to our challenge as a province to deal with the future. Looking at the Harris cut for example, those with more are going to get much more. If you're making over $50,000, you'll get more. If you're making over $100,000 you'll get even more. If you're making over $200,000 you'll be getting $36,000 from a 30-per-cent income tax cut. Congratulations! But it comes with a catch. Because the tax cut will be paid for by everyone else. It will be paid for by the poorest people in our society--those who are having to absorb a 20-per-cent roll back in welfare and social assistance rates. I think we have to ask ourselves the question: "Who in fact ends up paying for a reduction in the revenues of the province of this magnitude? The English call the approach that is being taken penny-wise and pound-foolish." The simple fact of the matter is Ontario cannot afford the proposals that are being put forward by the opposition leaders.

The Harris-McLeod doctrine is very clear--take from the poor and give to the better-off and increase the tax burden on those with fixed incomes. I can assure you, as surely as night follows day, a cut of that magnitude will be followed by huge cuts in public expenditures, huge cuts in transfers to the municipalities. Cut drastically, at least by $250 million. We believe ultimately it will be more because it will include transfers on roads.

Go to East York, lots of nice people there. I used to represent a good part of it when I was a federal member. Those nice couples who've worked all their lives, saved up, their children have gone off, they've got jobs, they're in their sixties, they've retired, they're on a fixed income. Their property taxes are going to go up. You know it and I know it. We all know it. How could it be any other way? So what is the justice? What is the justice of giving a stockbroker who makes over $200,000 a tax break of $36,000 and then taking a pensioner's money in East York and saying, "You're going to pay through the nose for that tax break?" It's not justice. It's wrong. It's not the right thing to do. It has a superficial appeal, but when you think it through it's very unfair. That is the challenge it seems to me that we have to recognise. This is a doctrine of unfairness.

It's unfair in another way as well because, by depriving the public sector of the money that is required for basic services, it will result in a lowering of the quality of those services for the majority of people who rely on them. Here I have to say something that I really have wanted to say for a long time. I've said it before. I am going to say it again. We have to establish the connection between the taxes that we pay and the services that we receive. There's a kind of dogma out there that both my opponents have fallen into that somehow a multi-billion dollar cut will be painless. No one will feel a thing. It's all going to the government and the government is all these faceless people who work at desks with quill pens. There are far too many of them and if we just get rid of a bunch of them, we'll have no more problems. Well, I'm sorry. Nothing could be further from the truth. The government is us. The money that we raise in taxes, that we spend on government programmes, does not go to nameless faceless other people. It doesn't. It goes to your mother's health care. It goes to your child's education. It goes to the water you drink, the quality of the air that you breathe, the roads that you drive on and the subways that you take to work.

In a radical republican world, that some are trying to foist on this province, Mr. Harris is trying to bank that people won't care about that, that they won't put two and two together, and that everyone will be so mesmerised by the tax cuts that they won't worry about the consequences. Well I think we have got enough time to un-mesmerise folks. Let me stress that I'm not appealing simply to your sense of generosity. That's an important part of what I like to do but I am directly appealing to your self-interest. Ordinary people in this province will pay for the tax cuts for the wealthiest, but it will be your health care that suffers. It will be your child's access to education and the quality of your life that is reduced. I do not accept the view that somehow it is in our collective interest to create a more unequal province. Let's make no bones about it. That's what this is. It's a doctrine of inequality. It says we will take from the poorest people and we will give to the richest. If that isn't a doctrine of inequality, I don't know what is.

I find it ironic that again both opposition leaders have spent a great deal of time in this campaign drawing attention to issues of crime and issues of personal safety. But I would make the observation that those countries with the largest gap between rich and poor, where living standards for poor people are constantly being reduced, where public services are stretched to the limits, are the countries with the highest incidence of crime. Mike Harris likes to take a great deal of his rhetoric, of his ideas, of his proposals from south of the border. But compared to the United States Ontario is a safe and secure place. It is not perfect, but it is a lot safer and more secure than cities in the United States. But that won't be true if we follow Mr. Harris's advice. I say to you today that all the boot camps and all the new jails in the world won't give the education and the jobs and the hope for the future that our young people so desperately need and will continue to need in the future.

You can see the consequences of this way of thinking if you just look south of the border. We know what the U.S. health-care system is like. I don't like it. I don't want it here. We can see what their kind of health care does to the sick, to seniors and to children. We can see what happens to U.S. cities and towns when people have no jobs and they have no hope. We can see what happens when you force children to live in poverty and that's not what I want for Ontario.

I believe profoundly that Mr. Harris, his train, his agenda, his ideas and his ambition to be premier have to be stopped in their tracks. I think the people of Ontario are concluding that the other opposition leader isn't the person to do it for one simple reason. She started the campaign as a Conservative. She started to fuel the conservative agenda. Mr. Harris talked about tax cuts. She talked about tax cuts. Mr. Harris talked about cutting welfare. She talked about cutting welfare and she thought that somehow she could win this bidding war by trying to buy votes on both sides of the spectrum, Then she thought she could convince the people with another little red book. But what she really did in so doing was simply make more room for Mr. Harris. That approach hasn't been successful. But now we have a new Lyn McLeod. We've already had two. This is the third. Now she's pretending to be a New Democrat. I saw her speech the other night in which she used exactly the same arguments that I've made with respect to the tax cuts. The problem is the McLeod tax cuts are just as irresponsible and just as unrealistic and when you add to them the additional cuts that are coming from the federal government the numbers make as little sense as Mr. Harris's. I've concluded that in fact when the wind was blowing from the right, Lyn McLeod was blowing in that direction. Now the winds are blowing in our direction she is trying to change course. I think fundamentally where Lyn McLeod has missed the point is that in the last week of this campaign the issue on which this campaign is going to turn is the issue of leadership and the question of the choices that we really face as a province.

There is a very clear choice. It is not represented by Lyn McLeod. It is, I believe, represented clearly for that side of the argument by Mr. Harris and it is represented by me. It's a choice between progress-steady, effective, optimistic, confident, based on generosity and based on an appreciation of people's concern about their own futures and their family's future and back peddling--an appeal to nostalgia, an appeal to a province that really never was and a way of life that people are trying to talk about and re-create. Even in his own arguments, Mr. Harris talks about going back to 1975 or the tax rates that were in place in 1980. I'm sorry Mike, there's no going back. This province needs to move ahead. It's a choice between investing in the future, or hiding in the past. It's a view of two very different ways of understanding Ontario. Of all the lessons that I have had to learn, and I've had to learn a few as premier, I've had to learn one or two very basic ones about leadership. A good leader is someone who understands that you have to be able to make difficult decisions and then you have to be able to carry them out. You have to be able to listen to the council of the people but you also have to be able to decide. Ultimately I believe that the people of Ontario will choose once again the kind of leadership that we have tried to provide over the past four and a half years--leadership that has the courage that's required to say "no" and the compassion that is essential to say "yes."

Sixty years ago, as he sought a second term, an American whom I have no hesitation in saying I admire said these words: "Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." These words were spoken by Franklin Roosevelt, a president who had to take his country out of a difficult recession and attempt to provide leadership that provided hope and optimism and encouragement-a leadership which all of us should admire. I believe that it is better to have the politics of hope and opportunity than the politics of resentment and frustration. In that spirit I offer myself and my services once again to the people of the province of Ontario.

Thank you very much.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Julie Hannaford, Partner, Borden & Elliot and First Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Politics of Hope and Opportunity

Candidacy campaign platform. "Never before in the history of elections in this province have the choices been so clear and the consequences of your vote as important … " Comments on the campaigns waged by the opposition leaders, and on what they have been based. The different approach taken by the speaker. Life in Ontario. The task of government to make people feel more secure: in their lives and confidence in their sense of the future. How that happens in Ontario. The idea and the process of partnership. A review of the NDP government in Ontario and what was achieved. A look at the McLeod-Harris proposals. Choices to be made. Characteristics of a choice for the speaker, vs. a choice for Mr. Harris. The kind of leadership offered by Mr. Rae.