- Posted June 13, 2012 by
Liberal Party’s Death Wish
Despite the promise, the board is widely expected to pave the way for him to run when it meets next week. Once the board confirms its decision, Rae will be under intense pressure to declare whether he intends to throw his hat into the ring. Rae promised that if the executive allows him to stand for the permanent leadership, he will come clean on his intentions before Parliament breaks for the summer.
The best way to judge is to evaluate his record. Even for the post of a janitor, we view objectively his resume. How about having a clear look at Rae’s resume? His record as Premier shows abysmal lack of proper perspective. In those pre-TARP days, deficit was anathema to the business community. A $9.7 billion shortfall was denounced as outrageous. Conrad Black vowed never to invest in Ontario while an NDP government was in power.
Rae’s known shortcomings are well-documented. His disastrous term (1990-1995) as Premier of Ontario was plagued by scandal, controversy and fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants decision-making. After leading Ontario's socialist-oriented New Democratic Party to victory in 1990, Rae disappointed some and horrified others. You'd be hardpressed to find anyone in Ontario who has anything good to say about him. His actions in transforming a rich Ontario into debat ridden province, having highest unemployment rate, crashing the economy is so well known that it has become proverbial.
As law enforcement officials, social workers and social justice activists recoiled in horror (and mobsters rubbed their handed in glee), he rammed through legislation allowing casino gambling in Ontario. So insistent was Rae on his casino-enabling law that he shut down a heated debate in the legislature in November 1993 so that the law could pass before the house recessed for the holidays. And this is man who accused Harper for proroguing parliament quite justifiably.
His social action
When his free-spending fiscal policy added billions (about $40 billion by the time he was booted out of office in 1995) to the deficit he inherited, he suspended collective bargaining in the public sector - a move that caused a rift among Ontario unions that has not ever really been resolved (the business unions supported Rae's move, while public sector union leaders were outraged). As if that wasn't bad enough, Rae then forced public employees to take 10 days of unpaid leave each year. The much reviled "Rae Days" live on in infamy among public employees many of who voted for the guy.
After promising to introduce public auto insurance - a key campaign plank - he promptly reneged.
He hiked university tuition fees, cut the number of places in medical schools (to decrease health care spending) and made Ontarians the most-taxed people in North America and did many other ill-considered things.
Rae's disasterous administration continues to haunt the Ontario NDP. In the decade following his booting by the electorate, the NDP has virtually disappeared from the public consciousness in Ontario, winning only a handful of the 103 seats in Queen's Park (the Ontario legislature) in subsequent elections.
Comments by his colleagues:
The comments of his former colleagues are quite an eye-opener:
Former Rae cabinet minister Peter Kormos says:
"His left wing stances were ones of opportunism. He enjoyed the trappings of the office of premier more than the responsibilities," he said, adding that he doesn't consider Rae to be someone who relates well to the average union worker.
"Have no fear, Mr. Rae is no socialist. He is very much to the manor born," said Kormos, adding that Rae often appeared uncomfortable greeting workers at plant gates.
Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson, an MPP in the Rae administration:
"Our party was fiercely loyal to Bob when he was premier of Ontario. Through the worst times, our party supported Bob Rae to the nth degree, and to be in a position where he has basically turned on all of us and said, ‘I don't care about that,' I have a hard time trying to say anything nice about him," Bisson said.
Former Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton opines:
"Look, Bob Rae is interested in what's good for Bob Rae and I don't think at the end of the day that will provide very good leadership in terms of the issues that we need to address and that was his history in the NDP
"Bob Rae was always interested in promoting Bob Rae, sometimes at the expense of his cabinet colleagues; sometimes at the expense of the whole government; sometimes at the expense of the NDP," Hampton said.
During his term of office Rae was a favourite of corrupt Ontario business unionists. Leaders of Ontario's construction unions made no bones about their fondness for Brother Bob (a local of the Labourers Union made headlines when union officials were alleged to have used strong arm tactics to "encourage" attendance at a $1500 a plate fund raiser for him). But an even cozier relationship existed between Brother Bob and one Clifford Evans.
When the Rae administration came to power in 1990, Evans was the leader of the Canadian branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the head of the investment committee of its massive Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan (CCWIPP, pronounced "quip"). Evans was about to embark on a bizarre investment spree that would, over the course of the ensuing decade, leave the pension plan badly insolvent and put hundreds of millions of dollars in the hands of a convicted sex offender and a mixed bag of other fly-by-nighters.
Evans was a big supporter of Rae and Rae wasn't shy about showing his fondness for the greasy little union boss.
When Evans retired, in 1992, from his position as UFCW Canadian Director, Rae was a guest of honour at his lavish retirement bash which was paid for with the dues of thousands of union members (who weren't invited).
Shortly thereafter, he appointed Evans to the Ontario Pension Commission which is really shocking considering what Evans would go on to do with the UFCW pension plan.
Shortly thereafter, Rae cut the ribbon at the grand-reopening of a Toronto hotel which had been purchased weeks earlier by Ronald Kelly, a defrocked Catholic priest and ten-times convicted sex offender. (See "Mind your fingers, New HoJo's Opening, Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies", The Toronto Sun, January 20, 1993). The hotel and the UFCW's pension plan launched Kelly's ill-fated real estate empire. Thousands of UFCW pension plan members would pay the price.
Maybe Rae was blissfully unaware that Ron Kelly had a history of climbing into the beds of his young parishioners or that he would sometimes slip an altar boy a fiver for a blow job (although he usually got those for free), but he should have been. By 1992, Kelly's deviance was a matter of public record. In 1989, Canadian journalist Michael Harris devoted an entire chapter of his bestseller, Unholy Orders, to Kelly and his predatory activities in the remote community in Newfoundland where he'd been the parish priest. By 1990, reports about Kelly, who had by that time become a big player in the Archdiocese of Toronto, appeared in the Toronto media.
If Rae knew about Kelly's past, it evidently didn't bother him enough to prevent him from partaking of a photo op in front of his hotel. Nor would it appear that Evans' recent (at the time) and well-publicized uprooting of democracy in the Canadian UFCW caused Rae any discomfort. Why would a guy interested in leading a democratic government care about democracy after all?
Is it all ancient history - some of that stuff that Rae has supposedly learned something from? Reality is too different.
In 2002 the Financial Services Commission of Ontario began a lengthy investigation of the UFCW's CCWIPP. A report, issued in 2005, found massive non-compliance with pension legislation and millions of dollars pissed away in high risk business ventures (over $200 million alone in the pervert Ron Kelly's business schemes). It also reported that during the period of the investigation, the pension plan trustees were busy trying to offload their various not-so-hot investments.
Some of those ended up in the portfolio of a labour sponsored investment fund called Retrocom, a labour-sponsored investment fund whose sponsor was the pension plan of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, another bunch of Rae-cronies from the good old days when he was running Ontario into the ground.
In early 2004, Retrocom set up a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Rae became Chairman of Retrocom Mid-Market Real Estate Investment Fund.
Retrocom REIT's initial prospectus, issued in January 2004, listed a number of commercial and industrial properties that made up its portfolio. Among these were two of the UFCW pension plan's beleaguered investments - Millwoods Mainstreet Shopping Centre in Edmonton Alberta and Woodbine Place, an office building at 135 Queens Plate Drive in Toronto.
The prospectus noted that the shopping mall was "acquired for $21,770,950 plus adjustments and was financed by way of an $8,200,000 owner advance and the assumption of a mortgage in the amount of $13,595,057." A further note statesdthat, "the advances from owner, Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan, are unsecured, non-interest bearing and have no specified repayment terms."
A similar kind of arrangement was revealed in land titles documents in relation to Retrocom's purchase of the Woodbine Place property. The building at 135 Queen's Plate drive - home to a rabbit's warren of Evans' cronies and their businesses - was jointly owned by the UFCW pension plan and a crew of lawyers who did work for the pension plan (and had borrowed a few million from the pension plan to finance their purchase of the building years earlier. Evans was the President of the company, I.F. Propco Holdings (Ontario) 18 Ltd., that held the pension plan's mortgages on the property.
An agreement dated March 19, 2004 and filed with the Toronto Land Registry office sets out the terms of the purchase of the building by Retrocom. Although it is very clear that Retrocom will be assuming $2.9 million in mortgages on the property, CCWIPP and the rest of the vendors agreed that they will continue to be the "principal debtors".
Both properties were a nice deal for Retrocom - too nice - an interest-free unsecured mortgage with no specified repayment schedule for the shopping centre and a mortgage that somebody else is on the hook for on the office building. Sweet. But why would the vendor (the Evans' controlled UFCW pension plan) enter into such an arrangement?
Maybe Evans was just doing a little favor for Brother Bob or maybe Brother Bob was doing a little favor for Evans: Allowing the UFCW pension trustees to make it look like they were offloading their troubled investments - to appease the Financial Services Commission of Ontario which was at this time sticking its nose into the pension plan's myriad of bizarre investments.
At the time the deal went down, the Retrocom Board was comprised of Bob Rae, Chairman, Joe Fashion, Secretary Treasurer of IBEW Local 353, Ralph Tersigni, a former trustee of the Electricians Trust Fund and Evans' crony, and Patrick Lavelle, a former international trade official with the Ontario government and Bob Rae crony.
When members of Local 353 learned that 5% of their pension plan's portfolio was going to be invested in Retrocom and would involve the purchase of shopping malls that included controversial retailer Wal-Mart as an anchor tenant, the pot boiled over. A bizarre defence of the local's investment in Retrocom appeared in a union publication in the spring of 2004.
Back at the UFCW pension plan, Rae's old buddy Evans was facing 15 charges under the Ontario Pension Benefits Act in connection with the mismanagement of the UFCW's pension plan. Nine other trustees faced multiple charges as well. Rae owes UFCW members some answers as well. How does he feel about having appointed Evans to the Ontario Pension Commission? What has he learned from that? Just what was going on when Retrocom purchased those two properties from their pension plan, on terms so easy that, well, you never have to pay up?
More than a few UFCW pension plan members weren’t getting a warm feeling about Bob's relationship with Ontario the then Finance Minister Greg Sorbara (in whose company, Royal Group Technologies, CCWIPP funds were also invested) and whether it had anything to do with the leisurely pace at which the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (an agency of the Ministry of Finance) proceeded with its investigation of the UFCW pension plan. Sorbara has been a high-profile supporter of Rae's bid for the Liberal leadership. IBEW members were wondering how thoroughly the FSCO will examine the Retrocom matter - given the Sorbara-Rae coziness.
The workers at the hotel where he cut the ribbon two decades ago would like to know when Bob's coming back. They were all laid off - victims of the investment misadventures of his buddy Cliff. They're wondering when someone might tell them what went wrong. Perhaps Bob can get Cliff Evans to provide some answers or if he could get Greg Sorbara to explain why his FSCO was so accommodating with Evans and the pension trustees who sold the place from under them.
Record as Interim Leader:
What was Bob Rae’s most memorable accomplishment over the past year? There isn’t any one genius or visionary move that stands out — more the general feat of making the Liberals seem less amateurish and bumbling and incompetent. That’s good, but it’s not the sort of bold and fresh thinking these guys need to remake themselves and sustain themselves for the decades to come. Rae was a good, trustworthy baby-sitter for while mom and dad were out, but he’s not the guy you want actually heading the family for the duration.
The only outstanding feature was a shrill voice full of invectives, and use of un-parliamentary language. But we have to be realists. The options of Liberals are very limited. There is a paucity of leaders.
In perhaps the least surprising news story of the year, Bob Rae appears set to announce his candidacy for Liberal leadership for the third time in the last six years. He surely is not a “tourist” in the Liberal Party . he has come to preside over the burial of the Party- if given his way.
The controversy over Rae’s candidacy stems from his now infamous pledge to accept the interim leader title on the condition that he would not be a candidate for permanent leader.. After all, Rae himself said he wasn’t interested in the permanent job, that his wife wasn’t down with it, and that it was time for a new generation of leadership. But that was for the consumption of party faithfuls at that time. And the public is supposed to have a short memory?
No doubt Rae’s leadership team has already drafted the messaging to extract him from this promise. He would assume the mantle of sacrificial lamb and accept the command of the Party to become its Messiah to extinction. And where is the law preventing politicians from breaking promises. And as for his ethical values, he has learnt his ethics from his defrocked sex convict friend.
With that in mind, Rae can argue that he is not the first politician to break his word, and that he is not alone in saying he had no intention to run before declaring. After all, every politician begins their career by denying they have aspirations of leadership (and ends it by saying they want to spend more time with their family). Rae will argue that his change of heart is no different than, say, Justin Trudeau’s – should Justin decide to run.
The reality is that Rae accepted the interim leadership on the condition that he not run for permanent leader. Now his asking or arranging for change of rules is unethical. This is akin to a politician getting elected on a single issue campaign, then flip flopping before the ballots are counted on election night. Asking the national executive to absolve Rae of his pledge is as silly as Harper asking Parliament to pass a motion “freeing” him from his election promises.
The harm from Rae’s gambit is that the reason for delaying the Liberal leadership race was to give the interim leader two years to focus 100% of his or her efforts on rebuilding the party. Instead, we’ve seen a 24/7 sideshow of leadership speculation, culminating in the need to select yet another interim leader. By the time a new leader is named next spring, the Liberal Party will have had 8 leaders over the past decade – hardly the sign of a stable organization.
More importantly, there’s the issue of fairness. Being interim leader brings with it several tangible benefits. As the interim leader he had the opportunity to woo potential supporters with critic portfolios, committee seats, and QP time – all the while keeping rivals out of view. More importantly, the leader’s staff and budget give him the ability to criss-cross the country on the party dime, meeting potential supporters and organizers.
As the “interim leader” he defended and extolled the virtues of Ontario’s early-90s NDP government. “Rae defends NDP record” wasn’t the headline the Liberal Party needed that day, and it’s certainly not the type of speech Bill Graham would have given back in 2006. But it does show that the real purpose of Rae in becoming the leader is to preside over the burial of Liberal party.
There’s also the reality that being interim leader makes it a lot easier for Liberals to visualize Rae in a leadership role. That’s the same reason the incumbent is usually named “Best PM” on polls (even if his party trails), and it’s the same reason companies will often keep on a contract worker when a permanent position opens up.
This is why interim leaders should not be allowed to run for the permanent position – especially when that interim leader was appointed by an ever dwindling caucus rather than the membership. It’s why Jack Layton wanted Nycole Turmel to follow him in the interim, rather than someone with leadership ambitions of their own. It’s why Bob Rae and others objected strongly when the national executive named Michael Ignatieff interim leader in December 2008.
If Rae does decide to run, it shall signify that is perfectly correct to break promises. Can voters depend on a leader who, apart from having an excellent record in eroding the economy of the province, consorting with sex maniacs and corrupt businesses and now is a proven breaker of promises. While nasty leadership battles are nothing new for the Liberal Party, this is hardly the recipe for renewal. Just as Rae’s leadership ambitions have been an unnecessary distraction over the past year, Rae’s broken promise risks becoming an unnecessary distraction from issues of substance in the leadership race. And among the other hopefuls, one of the proposed names is Justin Trudeau.
But who are we kidding? It really comes down to Rae and Trudeau, neither of whom has made a final decision about running and both of whom earlier ruled themselves out of the race – Rae as a condition of being named interim leader, and Trudeau to spend more time with his young family. But then as Robert Bourassa used to say, a week is a long time in politics, and a year is an eternity.
Strategy and positioning are the two drivers of party policy. On the ground, in terms of candidates, organization and financing, the challenges facing the next Liberal leader are truly daunting. Consider where the Liberals are starting from. For a century and more the Liberal dynastic power base was Ontario and Quebec, where they now find themselves reduced to 19 out of 181 seats in those two provinces. From the Manitoba border to Vancouver Island, the Liberals have only four seats out of 92. Only in the Atlantic are the Liberals competitive, with 12 out of 32 seats. A look at the new electoral map does not show any perceptible benefit and there is no reason to believe Liberal prospects will be enhanced by re-distribution in the 2015 election.
The present 308-member Commons will be expanded to 338 seats, 15 of them in Ontario, six each in Alberta and British Columbia, and three in Quebec. Ontario will then have 121 seats in the new House, while the West will have 104. Nearly all of the 27 new seats west of Quebec will be in suburban belts, such as the 905 area-code region around Toronto, where voters have shifted decisively away from the Liberals to the Conservatives. Looking at the remote possibility of Rae leading to victory in the distant future, he shall out of sync –being over 70- simply because of generational change. The elections of the new Leader are only the selection to identify a doddering old man to say RIP on the burial of the party.