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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Something to consider

Despite polls like this and the many others like it that show Bob Rae as the Liberal's best chance to beat Stephen Harper (including in Ontario), people continue to have their doubts.

I can understand that. It's always tough to convince a cynic.

For years, we've been told that Ontario hates Bob Rae. Ontarians have never forgiven Bob for his term as Premier (you know, the one in which not a single public sector employee was laid off, in which more social housing was built than at any other time, in which jobs were saved at steel plants and lumber towns in Northern Ontario, in which new community colleges were opened, in which citizens were given catastrophic drug coverage, in which affirmative action programs increasing the number of women and minorities in the public sector were introduced...). His legacy still remains a ball and chain around the neck of the provincial NDP, some say. This, according to Cherniak, is why Hampton and Co. have been "dead in the water" since 1995.

Consider this, though:

In the 1977 and 1981 provincial elections (the two immediately preceeding Bob's first as leader of the NDP) the party received 21.7% and 21.1% of the popular vote, respectively. In the 1985, 1987, 1990 and 1995 elections with Bob Rae as leader, the party received 23.8%, 25.7%, 37.6% and 20.6% of the popular vote, respectively.

In other words, at the worst point in the NDP's history (1995), in spite of a frustrated electorate, a furious public service and two emboldened opposition parties, Bob Rae was still able to maintain the NDP's traditional levels of support in the province.

Take a look at the two elections since Rae's departure as leader: In 1999, the NDP received 12.6% of the popular vote, and in 2003, 14.7%.

My conclusion: The NDP's troubles in recent elections are not due to Rae's supposedly "negative" legacy. Rather, the provincial NDP is where it is today because it no longer has Bob Rae as a dynamic and persuasive leader. It is because the NDP continues to apologize for the Rae government's pragmatic policies and positive accomplishments that it continues to falter. It is because this "party of protest" refuses to take a practical outlook on public policy that it has yet to break the 20% mark since Rae's departure.

Despite the cynics' assertions, I remain convinced that Bob Rae will play well in Ontario in a general election. Canadians and Ontarians will trust a candidate who talks candidly about his experiences, both good and bad. Canadians and Ontarians will listen to Bob because he is a great communicator who will deliver our message strongly and compellingly.

Under a Rae leadership, I know we will attract progressive voters, both traditional Liberals and those who have voted for other parties in the past. Under a Rae leadership, I firmly believe we will win more Ontario seats than we did in 2006. Under a Rae leadership, the Liberal Party will form the government again.