Saturday, October 09, 2010

Journalism wanted

This article intrigues me, because it might possibly explain some cognitive dissonance I've been experiencing.

When the NDP won government in Ontario exactly 20 years ago, it constituted the greatest advance for social democracy in North American history.

It’s true that British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had all elected NDP governments and that progressives had won small victories in various parts of the United States. But none of them (I hope this doesn’t hurt their feelings) mattered in the same way Ontario then did. It was the economic heartland of Canada, the home of much of Canada's industry and finance. What happened in Ontario impacted all Canadians. Now it was under the control of Bob Rae and the New Democrats.

Reflecting this reality, within months Mr. Rae's government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history.

The attacks came from all sides. It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.

They were determined to undermine the government every step of the way, to frustrate the implementation of its plans and to assure its ultimate defeat. In all three goals they were successful. The considerable achievements of the government – often forgotten or dismissed –were wrought in the face of a deep recession and ferocious obstruction.

Bob Rae became Premier of Ontario when I was 9 years old (1990) and completely politically unaware. He was in power until I was 14 (1995), at which point I had some degree of political awareness. (My 14-year-old self could have convinced someone who believed their own political awareness was above average that she had as much political awareness as the average citizen.) I read newspapers, although I couldn't always completely follow all the complex political stories. I heard opinions from the adults around me. I didn't routinely seek out multiple mainstream and alternative media opinions on issues, but I think this was typical of the time before the internet.

The major barrier to my being able to assess Rae's performance is that he was the first Premier of Ontario I remember so I had no basis for comparison, but I clearly remember (or, at least, am as certain as I can possibly be that I clearly remember) general public sentiment at the time, and general public sentiment is that it was a Really Bad Government. Every political action that I heard of the Rae government taking at the time was met with "This is a terrible idea because of X, Y, and Z."

However, when I go back and read over the Rae government's policies presented as history, they don't seem anywhere near as bad as the public sentiment I remember at the time made them out to be. This has been flummoxing me for quite a while and I've been thinking hard about it. Is there some aspect that's missing from the historical accounts I've read (which, as far as I can tell, are neutral and factual)? Were the adults around me and the headline/lede/general gist of the newspaper articles misinformed or misinforming me?

If what this article is true, that explains everything. It would also be hella terrifying. So I would very much like to know either way if the article is true.

The problem is that the author has a perceived conflict of interest, in that he has been an organizer and candidate for the NDP. I know nothing about the author as an individual and have no specific reasons to doubt his credibility, but his CV suggests partisanship.

I'd very much like to see this article painstakingly fact-checked by someone who is by all standards politically neutral, to the extent that everything is true is footnoted with names and dates. I'm in no way blaming the author for not footnoting - I totally understand it's well beyond the scope and word count of a Globe and Mail article - but we the people need to know with certainty what the truth is.

If this article is true, it sounds like people - some of whom are very loud, some of whom are very influential - are going to denounce it, and basis for that denunciation is going to be that the author is thought of as partisan. And, interestingly, if the article is false, it will produce exactly the same reaction from exactly the same quarters. We need irreproachable, independent verification.


M@ said...

While I don't know whether the article was true or not, there were legitimate reasons to dislike the Rae government.

His party was completely unprepared to take power -- his cabinet ministers, especially when his mandate began, were exceptionally unsuited to their jobs.

He presided over a series of unbelievable deficits -- increasing spending to combat a recession, which didn't work at all.

He destroyed organized labour's faith in the government by declaring public sectors unions' contracts null and void.

His government was so ridiculously unsuccessful, it enabled another clearly unsuitable premier, Mike Harris, to win elections by proclaiming itself "common sense", something that was clearly not part of the Rae government's approach.

I'm not here to defend Harris -- I don't -- nor to discount the idea that Rae's government's opposition in big business contributed to Rae's lack of success. But the idea that there was no reason to be upset with the NDP, or that they were not at least in part the authors of their own demise, seems far-fetched to me.

I should add that the province had had a long, responsible, and generally well-liked government under Bill Davis, followed by an inconclusive minority government under David Peterson. No one was prepared for five straight eight-figure deficits in this province.

L-girl said...

Bob Rae is the single most divisive figure I've encountered since coming to Canada. When it comes to varying versions of what a government did, no one else comes close. I've heard so many different versions, and politically they're all over the map.

All I know for sure is that the accepted wisdom is Bob Rae can never be the leader of the Liberal party because of all this baggage.

Then, right on cue, someone says, not true, because the people who believe in that baggage and care about it vote Conservative anyway.

And around it goes.

I have a fondness for Rae because he supports war resisters and appears to be an actual liberal Liberal.

M@ said...

I should add that I have gained a lot of respect for Rae in the last couple of years -- you're right, L, that he's the only major Liberal figure who sounds like a liberal of any kind. I have definitely softened on him, hearing him speaking these days.

I do wonder how much the baggage would hurt their electoral chances, but I don't think I'd have a problem voting Liberal. Problems for other reasons, sure, but not just because he's the leader.

L-girl said...

that he's the only major Liberal figure who sounds like a liberal of any kind.

Kennedy. Maybe he doesn't qualify as major, but he's my man for the Libs. I really like him.

But until they get rid of Ignatieff I could not vote that for that party.

Topic drift, sorry, Imp.

M@ said...

Yeah, Kennedy sounds all right to me too.

On Ignatieff -- he's the biggest problem I have with the Liberals, and that's saying something.