Rae Daze

MC Hammer’s got a blog!

Sorry, my non-Canadian readers. Let me fill you in…. Back in the early 1990s, the province of Ontario –Canada’s wealthiest and most politically influential province– miraculously voted into power the socialist NDP party, led by former Rhodes Scholar Bob Rae, a fellow who’d sat in my parents’ living room more than a few times during his early campaign days. Rae was a former federal politician who was brought in to lead the provincial NDP. They were elected on a sound platform of defeating corporate welfare, but from day 1 of their rule, were subject to a hostile beat-down from the press, which was backed by big business. Rae inherited a basket-case economy from the outgoing regime and took draconian steps to rein it in, including instituting the “social contract”, which included mandatory unpaid vacation days for public service employees (called “Rae Days“).

His government managed to deliver successive balanced budgets, but never recovered from the press attacks or the stigmatizing label of “socialist”. A series of scandals featuring his inexperienced ministers didn’t help the picture, nor did Ontario’s worst recession in decades. And Rae’s style of iron-fisted rule ensured that he and no one else would be taking the blame for whatever failures his government was perceived to have made.

In my opinion, the Rae Days gamble was effective: it prevented lay-offs and saved the budget. But it severed years of good will between the NDP and labour unions. The party never forgave Bob Rae, and his name remains a curse for many. Not surprisingly, he is once more being courted by the federal Liberal party.

Here’s where I get to drop some names. Some years ago (1995-98, I think) I was a three-time finalist (but, alas, never a winner) for a high-profile scholarship offered by the Stronach family, hence my (extremely limited) casual social knowledge of Belinda Stronach at the time. At one of the Stronachs’ black tie parties, I found myself getting drunk with Alan Eagleson who, of course, was days away from being sent to jail. It was my turn to go get the champagne, so I stumbled over to the bar and ordered a bottle, but suddenly felt a clipping sensation on my right Achilles tendon. When I looked over I saw Bob Rae stumbling past me, and he shot me with quite a hostile glare. Yes, my friends, I had tripped the former Premiere.

Now, the current federal political climate in Canada is this: the Conservative party (neocon-lite) has won a minority victory, resulting in some disarray among the previous hegemonic leaders, the Liberal Party. Former Prime Minister and Liberal leader Paul Martin has stepped down, and so the Liberals need to find a new leader, and fast! Several names are rushing to the forefront, among them Belinda Stronach, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae –all of whom, weirdly, I’ve had some tenuous connection with. One of these people is likely to be Canada’s next Prime Minister.

There are other candidates, too, but they are all Liberal old-guard and are tainted by the various corruption scandals that have ripped through the party in recent years. An exception might be Frank McKenna, who was conveniently out of the country when much of the shit went down. I don’t think Belinda has chance in hell. That leaves Ignatieff and Rae as the two prominent celebrity candidates. In my opinion, Ignatieff is already the front-runner. But what about Rae?

If Rae were to run, he’d have little to no support in Ontario, but would enjoy tremendous support in Quebec, where he is well regarded since his federal days. I am more sanguine about his federal Liberal chances that most people, I think. Like Ignatieff, Rae has some neocon tendencies that will endear him to the mouth-breathing set. And he’s certainly a smart and politically savvy man.

If nothing else, I really look forward to the televised debate between these two uber-wonks: less posturing and fewer cliches and whole lot more of the meaty stuff.