HALFWAY through his besieged government's five-year term, the
leader of Canada's richest and most populous province is fighting
to save his social democratic party's vision - to right society's
Ontario Premier Bob Rae is trying to walk the line between
critics who say he isn't pursuing social reforms vigorously enough,
and those who say his party's reforms are bankrupting the province.
Since its surprise election victory in 1990, Mr. Rae's
provincial New Democratic Party (NDP) has embarked on massive
social reform. It is the first time a social democrat party - whose
core support comes from labor and social action groups - has
governed Ontario. Part of a national ground swell in recent years,
provincial NDP parties now govern Ontario, Saskatchewan, and
The problem in Ontario, observers say, is that the party's grand
plan is now mired in deficits and sagging public support. Polls
show a current approval rating in the mid-20 percent range, down
from its 37 percent plurality in the 1990 vote.
At stake is a new social compact for 10 million Ontarians that
includes reforms in pay equity for women, labor legislation,
employment equity for minorities, children's rights, health-care,
car-insurance, and a province-wide day care system.
"The basic challenge we face is that we're carrying out some of
these reforms in the middle of a very, very serious recession," Mr.
Rae said in a recent interview in Boston. Though Ontario's economy
has begun to show signs of life, the unemployment rate is high at
In one key way, Rae has attacked his deficit just as United
States President Clinton hopes to attack his - by keeping health
care costs under control. By reaching understandings with
physicians, and by refusing extra payouts to hospitals that exceed
their budget, health care costs rose just 1 percent in the last
fiscal year, compared with 12 in the previous year. Rae says his
most significant achievement is "protecting the integrity of
Medicare in the middle of a fiscal crunch."
Still, deficits have ballooned as recession brought falling tax
revenues. With a fiscal year 1992-93 budget of $54.8 billion
(Canadian; US$44.1 billion), the deficit reached nearly $12
billion, up from $10 billion a year earlier. (Under the Liberal
Party, Ontario had a 1990-91 budget of $46 billion, a deficit of $3
Rae, however, has run afoul not only of deficit hawks, but also
critics in his own party who accuse him of sacrificing reforms in
concern for the deficit. Car insurance reform, a campaign promise,
has been shelved as too costly, and pension reform has been put on
"I think the thing we've come up against is what all governments
come up against - and that is you can't do everything at once,"
But critics in his own party say Rae has betrayed the party's
fundamental beliefs, creating "public cynicism. …