Bob Rae

From Academic Kids

The Honourable Robert Keith (Bob) Rae, PC, OC, OOnt, QC, (born August 2, 1948 in Ottawa, Ontario) was the 21st premier of Ontario, and the first to represent the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) in that role. He served as premier from October 1, 1990, to June 28, 1995.

The Hon. Bob Rae
Missing image
Bob Rae

Term of office:October 1, 1990 - June 28, 1995
Predecessor:David Peterson
Successor:Mike Harris
Spouse:Arlene Perly Rae
Date of birth:August 2, 1948
Place of birth:Ottawa, Ontario
Political party:NDP


Rae's father, Saul, was a career diplomat with strong ties to the Liberal Party of Canada. Saul Rae was born into a Jewish family, but married out of the faith. His children, including Bob, were raised in the Anglican church. Rae's wife, Arlene Perly Rae, is Jewish, as are their children. Though Rae remains an Anglican, he has a strong interest in Jewish issues, and some consider him to be Ontario's first Jewish premier.

Rae's brother John is a Vice-President of Power Corporation, and is a prominent member of the Liberal Party. He was also an adviser to Jean Chrétien from the 1970s until Chrétien retired in 2003. Rae's youngest brother David was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1987. Despite a bone marrow transplant from his brother, David died in 1989 at age 32.

Early career

Rae attended Harbord Collegiate Institute and later the University of Toronto, where he received his law degree. He first became involved in politics by working on Liberal Charles Caccia's campaign in the 1968 federal election. Rae and Caccia remained personal friends through their political careers.

As a result of his strong student record, Bob Rae was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied under Isaiah Berlin. His Bachelor's thesis criticized the cultural imperialism of early Fabian socialists in the United Kingdom, such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Rae returned to Canada in the mid-1970s and, after a period of personal uncertainty, joined the social-democratic New Democratic Party. Many in the NDP were initially mistrustful of Rae's family connections to the Liberals, but he soon became known as one of the most prominent NDP figures at the national level.

He was elected to Canadian House of Commons in a 1978 by-election, defeating Progressive Conservative Tom Clifford by 420 votes in the downtown Toronto riding of Broadview. He was re-elected in the new riding of Broadview—Greenwood in the 1979 federal election, and gained national prominence as the NDP's finance critic. It was the vote on Rae's Motion of No Confidence that brought down the Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark in December 1979.

Ontario NDP Leader

Rae was re-elected to the federal parliament in the 1980 election. During the same period, the Ontario New Democratic Party was suffering from internal disunity under the leadership of Michael Cassidy, a figure from the NDP's left wing who was neither supported nor respected by the party establishment. Cassidy resigned as leader after a poor performance in the 1981 provincial election, and a movement began to draft Rae as his replacement.

In 1981, a provincial delegation led by Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Dave Cooke tried to convince Rae to seek the provincial leadership. He initially declined, but reconsidered after further entreatments from Stephen Lewis, Gerry Caplan and others. Rae, the most centrist candidate in the race, easily defeated Richard Johnston and Jim Foulds at a leadership convention in early 1982.

Although supported by the party establishment, Rae was not initially popular with other members of the NDP caucus. He had few allies in the 1982 caucus aside from Cooke, and some MPPs were openly contemptuous of his leadership abilities. There was a delay of several months before former party leader Donald C. MacDonald resigned his seat in York South to allow Rae to enter the legislature. Rae then defeated Liberal John Nunziata, later a federal Member of Parliament (MP), in a by-election on November 4, 1982. Counting the leadership contest, this was Rae's fifth election in as many years.

Ontario, at the time, had been governed by the Progressive Conservative Party continuously since 1943. The opposition Liberals were led by the inexperienced David Peterson, and many in the NDP believed that the party could emerge as the primary challenger to the Progressive Conservatives under Rae's leadership. The NDP won two formerly Liberal seats in late 1984 by-elections, and polling by Decima Research in this period indicated that the NDP had surpassed the Liberals for second place.

Viewed in this light, the results of the 1985 provincial election were disappointing for many in the party. The party won 21 seats out of 125, only a modest improvement from their 1981 showing. The Progressive Conservative Party lost support after selecting Frank Miller as their leader in early 1985, but it was the Liberals rather than the NDP who reaped the benefits of this change. Rae himself was sometimes criticized for a lack of passion and charisma during the campaign.

Nonetheless, Rae played a pivotal role in bringing the Progressive Conservative Party's 42-year reign to an end. The 1985 election resulted in a minority parliament, in which the Tories had only four more seats than David Peterson's Liberals. After a series of negotiations, Rae and Peterson signed a Liberal-NDP Accord in which the New Democrats agreed to support a Liberal government for two years in exchange for the implementation of some NDP policies. There was some consideration that NDP members could receive cabinet positions in Peterson's government, but this was rejected. The Progressive Conservatives were defeated in the legislature on June 18, 1985, and Peterson was sworn in as Premier shortly thereafter.

With support from Rae, the Peterson government implemented socially progressive legislation dealing with matters such as employment equity. In return, Rae convinced the NDP to reverse its previous opposition to full-funding for the province's Catholic school system. However in 1986, Ian Orenstein challenged Rae for the leadership of the Ontario NDP in a symbolic protest against the centrist policy decisions taken by the party following its alliance with the Liberals. Rae won the challenge without difficulty.

The Liberals won a landslide majority government in the 1987 provincial election, called after the conclusion of the Liberal-NDP accord. The NDP were reduced to nineteen seats, and Rae defeated Liberal challenger Alan Tonks (later the mayor of York and a federal MP) by only 333 votes. Despite this, the decline of the Progressive Conservatives to only seventeen seats resulted in Rae becoming Leader of the Opposition in the parliament that followed.

There was considerable speculation that Rae would resign the leadership of the provincial NDP to seek the leadership of the federal party, following the resignation of Ed Broadbent in 1989. High-profile party members such as Stephen Lewis, Gerry Caplan, Allan Blakeney, Roy Romanow, Gary Doer and Alexa McDonough all encouraged Rae to run, while Bud Wildman, Ruth Grier and Richard Johnston were preparing provincial campaigns to succeed him. On October 5, 1989, however, Rae announced that he would not return to federal politics and would remain as provincial leader. Some have speculated that family concerns were behind his decision: his brother John was then a prominent organizer for Jean Chrétien, who was preparing to run for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party.

Rae's decision to remain as Ontario party leader was met with disappointment by several caucus members. A number of prominent MPPs, including Johnston, Marion Brydon, Michael Breaugh and David Reville, chose not to seek re-election in the following campaign. Floyd Laughren was planning to retire as well, but had not finalized his plans when a snap election was called in the summer of 1990.

The NDP entered the 1990 election with low expectations, and with the Liberals still holding a significant lead in opinion polls. Some reports from this period suggest that the party expected to lose seats, and that Rae was planning to retire as party leader after the election.


Contrary to expectations, however, the Liberal Party's support base declined significantly in mid-campaign. The Progressive Conservatives were led by the inexperienced Mike Harris, who did not have a strong public profile at the time -- as such, Rae's NDP was the primary beneficiary of the Liberal slide. Polls taken late in the campaign showed the NDP holding a slight lead over the Liberals.

On September 6, 1990, the party won a shocking majority government with 74 seats in the legislature. Rae unexpectedly became the province's Premier-designate, and the NDP formed their first (and to date only) government in Ontario. There were several reasons for this unexpected victory. Peterson had called an early election less than three years into his mandate because of his confidence of re-election. The early call was interpreted by many voters as a sign of arrogance. This, combined with a weak campaign, the Patti Starr Affair and the Harbourfront Scandal, resulted in Rae and the NDP being vaulted into office with just 37 per cent of the popular vote. Some have also suggested that Peterson's support for the Meech Lake Accord cut into his government's popularity, although Rae supported the Accord as well.

Rae was extremely popular for his first six months as Premier, with one early poll showing his personal approval rating at over 70%. The federal NDP were also improving their standing in the polls during this period, and many believed they had the potential to win an historic breakthrough in the next federal election. The Rae government was unable to sustain its popularity, however, and by late 1992 had fallen to third place in public opinion polls. The party's popularity continued to ebb throughout 1993, followed by only a modest recovery in the next two years. This, combined with the unpopularity of Michael Harcourt's New Democratic Party government in British Columbia, led to a significant loss in support for the federal party as well. As of 2005, the federal and Ontario New Democratic Parties have not recovered to their 1991 levels of support.

There are many reasons for the Rae government's loss of popularity between 1991 and 1993. The NDP had never governed Ontario before, and Ontario was in the depth of its worst recession since the Great Depression. The government quickly backtracked on several campaign promises -- most notably the introduction of public auto insurance, which precipitated the firing of Peter Kormos from cabinet. A number of cabinet scandals also cut into the government's popularity.

In addition, the Rae government initially underestimated the extent of the North American recession. Their first budget projected a deficit of almost ten billion dollars, and enacted a series of spending programs to mitigate the worst effects of an economic lag. Some have described this budget as following a Keynesian orthodoxy, spending money in the public sector to stimulate employment and productivity. Unfortunately, the monies provided for in the budget were insufficient against the recession, and did not create enough productivity. One commentator described the budget as "the worst of both worlds" -- angering the business community, but not doing enough to provide for public relief. For many, the budget reinforced a popular stereotype of the NDP as irresponsible spenders.

After 1991, the government changed its economic focus. As the recession wore on, Rae implemented government cutbacks in an attempt to control the mounting budgetary deficit. His government also brought in the Social Contract, austerity legislation which reopened collective bargaining agreements with the province's public sector unions. This legislation imposed a wage freeze and introduced what became known as "Rae days", giving civil servants (including teachers, doctors, nurses, etc.) ten days off without pay per year. These cutbacks led to a falling-out with both the public sector unions, most notably Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and its leader Buzz Hargrove. Sid Ryan, Ontario President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, referred to the Social Contract as the worst labour legislation he had ever seen.

This breach between the NDP and the labour movement struck at the party's foundations. The NDP was founded as an alliance between the old Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and the labour movement, and Rae's policy decisions alienated many traditional NDP voters. Thousands of members resigned from the party, and several unions turned against the NDP and vowed to defeat the government in the next election. The Rae government later attempted to regain labour support by passing Bill 40, a measure which (among other things) introduced anti-scab provisions to the province. This was not enough to bridge the gap with organized labour, however, and the party lost much of its organizational support. The government also introduced unpopular revenue-raising initiatives such as photo-radar, which hurt its electoral prospects. Rae's decision to approve casino gambling for the province was also opposed by many in the party.

In the 1993 federal election, the NDP fell to an historic low of 6% support in Ontario. One day after the election, defeated parliamentarian Steven Langdon called on Rae to resign as Premier. Langdon had openly campaigned against the Rae government's austerity measures, and received a higher percentage of votes than any other NDP candidate in the province.

Rae's government attempted to introduce a variety of socially progressive measures during its time in office, though its success in this field was mixed. In 1994, the government introduced legislation which would have provided for same-sex partnership benefits in the province. At the time, this legislation was seen as a revolutionary step forward for same-sex recognition; it was defeated, however, when several NDP MPPs (including two cabinet ministers) voted against it.

The Rae government's affirmative action measures also proved controversial. In 1993, the government sought to improve the numbers of women, non-whites, aborginals and disabled persons working in the public sector. It was assumed by most that this would be accomplished through preferential hiring methods. This policy would probably not have occasioned much controversy in a better economic climate; in the middle of a recession, however, many unemployed workers regarded it as discriminatory. Some in the political opposition described it as racist, and there is little doubt that the controversy cost the NDP support among its working-class base. In addition, there were some on the political left who believed the NDP was unduly emphasizing race ahead of class considerations in this period.

Notwithstanding its setbacks, the Rae government achieved some positive accomplishments during its time in office. It saved many jobs in northern Ontario through its bailout of Algoma Steel, and negotiated a similar contract for workers in Kapuskasing. The government also opened several negotations with aboriginal groups toward self-government. There were some areas of northern Ontario where the NDP polled better in 1995 than in 1990.

Rae's New Democratic Party lost to the Progressive Conservative Party under Mike Harris in the 1995 election, falling to only seventeen seats. In 1996, Rae resigned as party leader and as MPP for York South, and moved to positions in academia and in the private sector.

Since 1996

Rae resigned from the New Democratic Party in the late 1990s, due to his appointment to Security Intelligence Review Committee. In 1999, there was some speculation that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien would appoint him Governor-General of Canada, prior to the appointment of Adrienne Clarkson. There was further speculation that Rae would run for the federal Liberal Party in the 2000 election, though this came to nothing.

Rae returned to active political controversy on April 16, 2002, two days after Mike Harris resigned as Premier, with an opinion piece in the right-wing National Post newspaper. The article was entitled "Parting Company with the NDP", and was strongly critical of a perceived bias against Israel within the federal party. Rae also criticized the NDP for refusing to accept globalization and open markets, suggesting that the party's economic policies were insufficient for the 21st century.

Rae's current political affiliation is unclear. He has not attempted a reconcilation with the NDP since his 2002 letter, and no longer appears to be involved with the party. It has been speculated that he may attempt a political comeback with the Liberal Party of Canada at some point in the future. Rae is not an ally of Paul Martin, however, and is unlikely to take such a step as long as Martin remains Liberal leader. (It may be noted that Rae's wife endorsed Bill Blaikie in the 2003 NDP leadership convention.)

The Ontario NDP has distanced itself from Rae's policies under the leadership of Howard Hampton. During the 2003 provincial election, Hampton argued that Rae was wrong to reverse the NDP's commitment to public auto insurance. The party's relations with the labour movement have not completely healed, although the situation has improved since 1993. Relations with the CAW remain especially fraught, and memories of the social contract have hurt the NDP's credibility with a new generation of public sector workers, despite the party's efforts to distance itself from the measure.

Rae was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000, and in 2004 he was awarded the Order of Ontario. He was appointed the sixth chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University on July 2, 2003, and was installed at that school's fall convocation in October. He has written two books: From Protest to Power: personal reflections on a life in politics (1996) and Three Questions: Prosperity and the Public Good (1998).

Rae has also become involved in international politics in recent years. In 2002 and 2003, he helped to oversee constitutional discussions between the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels.

In 2005, Rae angered some Ontario university students by releasing the Rae Report, in which Rae outlines suggestions of a committee on dealing with university tuition. The report suggests that the government should not subsidise universities to the extent they are and allow student tuition fees to absorb it. Student groups have fired back reminding him that university tuition fees increased by 57 per cent during his tenure.

Rae is currently a partner in a Toronto-based corporate law firm. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto and Senior Fellow of Massey College.

On April 26, 2005, Rae was appointed to advise Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan on whether or not there should be a government inquiry into the 1985 Air India disaster.


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Preceded by:
John Gilbert, NDP
Member of Parliament for Broadview
Succeeded by:
Federal riding abolished in 1978
Preceded by:
Federal riding created in 1978
Member of Parliament for Broadview—Greenwood
Succeeded by:
Lynn McDonald, NDP
Preceded by:
Michael Cassidy
Ontario NDP leaders
Succeeded by:
Bud Wildman
Preceded by:
David Peterson
Premier of Ontario
Succeeded by:
Mike Harris

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