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Conservatives in Alberta and Ontario continue to misrepresent Bob Rae's record

Bob Rae in 2009. Image: Flickr/Ignatieff

Now that he's sworn to be nice to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Opposition Leader Jason Kenney is running against Bob Rae.

Ralph Klein was a high school dropout & TV reporter before becoming Mayor. Bob Rae was a Rhodes scholar & accomplished MP before becoming Premier. Who do you think did a better job? The one who was much less obviously "qualified," IMHO.

— Jason Kenney (@jkenney) May 23, 2018

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, with the NDP suddenly breathing down his neck as an election campaign enters the homestretch, Conservative Leader Doug Ford is also running against Bob Rae.

MUST WATCH: When Andrea Horwath is asked if she could form a government with her unqualified, radical candidates, she says she'll send them to "training programs for Cabinet!"

Being a Cabinet Minister is not an entry-level job, Bob Rae taught us that. #onpoli #onelxn pic.twitter.com/3mQBuec5NX

— Ontario PC Party (@OntarioPCParty) May 22, 2018

Over the past few years, Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Wildrose leader Brian Jean and a host of other conservative candidates hither and yon have run against Bob Rae. You can hear them chanting "Rae Days, Rae Days," whenever an election with a strong NDP contender draws near.

Rae was the NDP premier of Ontario between 1990 and 1995.

So what's with that, anyway?

Few things are more certain in Canadian politics than Conservatives running against Bob Rae, no matter who their real opponent is, except maybe New Democrats reminding their voters that Rae is a turncoat, who sold out and joined the Liberals in Ottawa.

And the Liberals? Well, sometimes they don’t sound too sure of the guy themselves. They certainly didn't choose him as their leader in 2006, which, arguably, they should have.

All these Conservatives are running -- or so they say -- against Rae's lousy record as premier. I'm here to tell you that the story about Bob Rae's disastrous stewardship of Ontario during his tenure as premier of that province is one of the Three Big Lies of Canadian politics.

The other two are how Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program laid waste to Alberta's economy (it didn't) and how Ralph Klein saved Alberta (he didn't; he was a Kleintastrophe).

Nope. Just as Albert Einstein never failed arithmetic and Napoleon Bonaparte wasn't particularly short, Bob Rae wasn't a bad premier.

Indeed, given the challenges he faced -- among them, a rebellion bordering on economic treason by the business classes and, as his NDP was coming into office, an economic crisis caused by the depredations of free trade, high interest rates and the then-overvalued Canadian dollar, all of which hit Ontario's manufacturing sector hard -- he didn't do badly at all.

Given that, Rae can be fairly described as a capable premier who provided good stewardship for Ontario during his term in office, which was unquestionably a difficult period in Ontario economic history.

He was not perfect. He made serious mistakes, the most serious being his abandonment of NDP principles and the NDP base to embrace the austerian program the right demanded. This alienated his supporters and, of course, did absolutely nothing to win over his Conservative foes, who vilified him all the more.

The enforced unpaid holidays that Ontario civil servants were forced to take to save money is the true origin of the phrase "Rae Days," by the way.

Nevertheless, as former Ontario Deputy Labour, Trade and Technology Minister Tim Armstrong wrote in the Hamilton Spectator in 2006, "the suggestion that the Rae government did not live up to -- and in some areas exceed -- the standards and accomplishments of its predecessors on behalf of the people of Ontario is untrue."

Armstrong, appointed to his senior civil service position by the government of Conservative Bill Davis, served Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments during his years as an Ontario civil servant.

"When Bob Rae assumed office, the province was faced with an economic crisis," he wrote. "When the Rae government approached the end of its term, Ontario led the way in growth among the provinces and had one of the strongest economies in the G7. Surveys showed strong consumer and business confidence. Private sector investment was back with billions in capital spending. Labour productivity was at an all-time high, as were manufacturing exports. Health-care costs were under much improved control as part of a broader strategy that was reducing the deficit."

Yet the constant lies about Rae's incompetence trundle on, thanks to frequent repetition by all the usual suspects on the right. "It's difficult to fathom whether this myth is the product of ignorance, malice, or both," Armstrong wrote, charitably. However, he concluded, "the trumped-up myth that Bob Rae presided over an ineffective government needs to be put to rest."

Armstrong's opinion piece, written when Rae was seeking the leadership of the federal Liberals, has now disappeared from the Spectator's website.

As for the reaction of the business community to Rae's election, the "unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history" the Ontario NDP endured was chronicled by Gerald Caplan in 2010 in the pages of The Globe and Mail.

"It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day," wrote Caplan, an NDP strategist and commentator. Sabotage, in case you’re wondering, took the form of buying advertisements in influential U.S. financial newspapers warning foreigners not to invest in Ontario while the NDP was in power, at the same time as claiming NDP policies were costing Ontarians jobs.

Red baiting, threats and a virtual capital strike were all the order of the day. This will all sound quite familiar to students of the Alberta NDP Government elected in 2015.

"There are a world of studies yet to be written about the Ontario NDP's difficult and controversial years in office, none more important than the nature of the saboteurs who organized their very own Ontario coup," Caplan wrote. "This includes much of the business community, government relations firms, the media and the police."

The constant fiction about Rae's government "has shown enduring resilience over the 28 years since his Sept. 6, 1990 election," political columnist Tim Harper wrote in the Toronto Star earlier this week.

"Mockery, mythology and mendacity have been the hallmarks of those who have practiced the Rae voodoo over the years," Harper said.

Polling yesterday showed the NDP led by Andrea Horwath and the Conservatives led by Doug Ford tied at 37 per cent each, with the Ontario Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne experiencing a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the past few hours back to 21 per cent from a low of 18 per cent.

So expect the attacks on Bob Rae from frightened Conservatives to continue and grow in intensity and they desperately seek a way to derail Horwath's surging campaign.

Here in Alberta, the vilification of Premier Notley has never quite reached the levels experienced by Rae in the media, although lately it's been close. Now that Kenney has consulted his pollsters and promised to be more polite to the premier, the attacks on Rae are bound to continue here at a fever pitch as well.

It's baloney.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Flickr/Ignatieff

CORRECTION: The Hamilton Spectator is operated by Metroland Media Group, owned by the Toronto Star. Incorrect information was published in an earlier version of this post. 

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