Newsflash: Jack Layton is not Bob Rae

Posted on April 30, 2011


From the Globe and Mail:

“In his most pointed attack yet on surging NDP Leader Jack Layton, Harper told 700 supporters at an invitation-only rally at the Club Roma banquet hall that the spectre of New Democrats in power should be especially worrisome in Ontario.

“’Get the big decisions wrong and it will take a generation to dig ourselves out,’ [Harper] said, inserting new language into his carefully scripted 29 minute stump speech, which he read from a TelePrompTer.

‘Those here who remember the Liberal-NDP arrangement in the 1970s, remember how it took a generation to dig ourselves back out,’ Harper said, referring to former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s minority government propped up by David Lewis’s New Democrats from 1972 to 1974.

‘I don’t have to remind you what it took here after an NDP government here in the province of Ontario,’ he said Wednesday night.”

In response to the massive NDP gains, the Conservatives have introduced the spectre of Bob Rae into their tired old bullshit about Harper being a good economic manager. It’s a pretty obvious move, really. Ontario is a key battleground in this election and most Ontarians don’t have very fond memories of the five years when Bob Rae was premier of the province. The problem is that this line of attack fails on one simple, almost sublimely obvious point: Bob Rae and Jack Layton are two distinct people. Perhaps more importantly, the provincial NDP circa 1995 and present-day Federal NDP are two distinct political parties, with different personalities, different histories, and different platforms.

There are, admittedly, some founding principles which probably hold true across all versions of the New Democratic Party. A Conservative ideologue will probably insist that Rae’s disastrous term in office was the logical conclusion of those fundamental values, and that any NDP government will be doomed to the same fate. This is plausible, but the assertion as it is currently stated by people like Stephen Harper lacks supporting information; they only have one data point to draw on. A further investigation of this premise will require some other examples of NDP governments.

If you’re a Nova Scotian, you probably know where I’m going with this. Nova Scotia is currently under the control of an NDP government! Our premier, Darrell Dexter, was elected with a majority mandate in 2009. This is actually more relevant to the prospects of a Federal NDP government than Rae’s record, because at the very least it exists in the same decade. So with that in mind let’s examine Dexter’s NDP government.

A good example of Dexter’s governing style can be found in his recent education policy. Faced with a large deficit, Dexter decided to use place much of its burden on the backs of students. He did this by breaking a tuition freeze implemented by the previous Progressive Conservative government and implementing a province-wide tuition fee increase while also decreasing government funding to all levels of education in the province. Meanwhile, he committed $56 million of provincial taxpayer money to a new Halifax convention centre for which the business case is spurious at best.

Do these sound like the actions of a dangerous, anti-business tax and spend socialist? Certainly not to me. I’m really not a fan of Dexter’s government, but for reasons entirely opposite from the reasons that the Conservatives want you to fear Jack Layton. Perhaps Rae’s fate has scared dippers across the country into being very careful about their spending habits once they’re actually elected. Or perhaps two provincial governments is still not enough, and the jury is still out. Maybe if we want a more accurate picture of how the NDP would govern federally, then we should also look at NDP governments in Manitoba (present day), Saskatchewan (1991-2001), the Yukon (1996-2000), and British Columbia (1991-1996). Personally, I’ve been so caught up in the idea of getting rid of Harper that I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to who would replace him. I therefore am not sure whether I would rather see Prime Minister Layton or Prime Minister Ignatieff. Whatever your opinion on the matter, let’s be clear: Jack Layton is not Bob Rae, but he is almost certainly better than Stephen Harper.