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How Bob Rae destroyed his base

MAY 15, 1995 – The NDP looks set to lose the June 8 election in Ontario. Membership in the party is down by thousands. “After the Social Contract negotiations in the summer of 1993, thousands of NDP members tore up their cards and quit the party. Membership has fallen by about one-third to about 22,000”. [1] Riding after riding has fewer workers prepared to go door to door than in the last election.

Rae and the party leadership have no one to blame but themselves. There was euphoria in 1990 when the NDP won a majority at Queen’s Park. Many in the party looked to Rae to take the profit motive out of the auto insurance business. A year into office Rae caved in to pressure from business and abandoned plans for a publicly-owned auto insurance corporation.

Trade unionists looked to Rae as a defender of their union rights. In 1993, Rae unilaterally reopened the collective agreements of 900,000 public and para-public workers. Wages were cut, and then frozen for three years in the infamous “Social Contract.”

Many in the lesbian and gay movement saw the NDP as the only party committed to equal rights for lesbians and gays. Yet Rae only half-heartedly tried to pass a bill on same-sex spousal benefits. He refused to invoke party discipline (the only instance in his entire tenure where this was true). Twelve NDP members voted against the bill, enough for it to go down. To add insult to injury, Rae did not even expel the twelve from the caucus.

Students looked to Rae to fulfill party promises to make university more accessible. Instead, tuition was increased every year, and grants were eliminated.

Is it any wonder that Rae and the NDP are in trouble? Unionists, students, gay rights activists and socialists were massively disillusioned by five years of betrayals. Thousands of workers who voted NPD last time will not back them this time round.

It is understandable that they are disillusioned with Rae. But the main parties benefitting from this collapse in NDP support are parties openly hostile to workers’ interest.

Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union demonstrated against Rae in the first days after the election. Several in the few dozen or so at the picket announced they would “support the Reform Party” even though Reform is not running in the provincial election. Reform stands for the gutting of social programs, the end of welfare and medicare as we know it.

Mike Harris has campaigned aggressively amongst autoworkers in Oshawa. Many in the former NDP stronghold said they would back Harris. But Harris in his “common sense revolution” calls for a 30 percent tax decrease and a balanced budget. That can only be achieved by gutting the medicare system, by gutting welfare payments, by cutting services that working people need.

Lyn Mcleod’s Liberals will be by far the biggest beneficiary of the NDP decline. But Mcleod wants cuts only slightly less draconian than Harris.

Harris and Mcleod have nothing to offer workers in Ontario. Harris has announced he would end the mild provisions in the employment equity bill that try to end discrimination in the workplace.

Both would certainly overturn Bill 40, the NDP law which outlawed strike-breaking. Both are opponents of same-sex spousal benefits.

And Mcleod has “distinguished” herself with a shameful scapegoating of Somali immigrants, claiming they were massively ripping off the welfare system. It was quickly revealed that her information was completely wrong. But the racist damage had been done.

Workers in Ontario must say ‘no’ to both Harris and McLeod.

Vote NDP without illusions

There is no alternative. Workers should vote for the NDP in spite of the record of sell-outs and attacks.

To not vote NDP boosts the Tories and Liberals who are tied hand and foot to the banks and corporations. They are open parties of big business. The NDP, with all its faults, is not tied to business with chains of gold. Business hates seeing the NDP in office.

The NDP has its roots in the union movement. It was formed at a joint convention of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress. There are hundreds of trade union locals affiliated to the NDP, locals with upwards of 300,000 members.[2]

The bosses see it as a party in the pocket of the unions. And no matter how Rae and his government have tried to distance themselves from their union base, they can only do so by killing the party.

Vote NDP because it is not in the direct pay of big business. Vote NDP because of its links to the union movement. But vote NDP without the illusions of 1990. We will not be able to protect our wages, services and programs through a reliance on voting for any party.

© 1995 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


[1] Lisa Wright, “Labor’s Love Not Totally Lost NDP Insists,” Toronto Star, April 15, 1995, B.5.

[2] Keith Archer, Political Choices and Electoral Consequences: A Study of Organized Labour and the New Democratic Party (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990), 37.

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