School of Policy Studies brings Bob Rae to campus

Past premier and federal leader shares experience in minority governments

Queen's School of Policy Studies hosted former premier Bob Rae on Thursday.
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Drawing from his own political career, former Ontario premier Bob Rae visited Queen’s on Thursday to give a talk on minority governments.

Hosted by the Queen’s School of Policy Studies on Nov. 14 and introduced by Professor Keith Banting, Ontario’s 21st premier Bob Rae brought his knowledge of the history and dynamics of minority governance to his audience.

Over the course of his political tenure, Rae was Opposition Leader for the Ontario New Democratic Party, entering into an accord with the Liberal Party in one of the few cases in Canadian history where a formal signed accord sustained a minority government.

As senior member of the Liberal Party of Canada and Foreign Affairs critic in 2008, Rae faced another minority House with the Conservatives in power.

Rae also served as Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, along with his work as a lawyer, negotiator, public speaker, and fellow and professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada and a member of the Order of Ontario.

The former politician began his speech orienting his audience to the history of minority parties in Canada, focusing on how Canada has always differed from England in its evolving politics due to its role as a “highly regional country.”

“We talk about [Western alienation] now,” Rae said, “but it’s over a hundred years old.”

After detailing how Canadian parties adapted to reflect the country’s changing character, Rae shared the “mixed experience” of minority governments in Canadian politics.

Coalitions are unusual in Canada, he said, though they are commonly seen as providing the country with a sense of cross-party stability.

This is because minority governments are “reluctant to get into bed” with other parties, according to Rae. He explained that prevailing views in Canada paint coalitions as a “slightly corrupt arrangement where you’re losing your identity.”

While this debate has evolved, Rae was firm—there is no such thing as a “strong minority.”

He said the danger in Canada is when a minority government is seen by the elected party as an automatic win.

According to Rae, minority government leaders governing as if they have a majority is “like jumping out of a plane and saying, ‘I’m jumping out of this plane as if I have a parachute.’” Without considering the role the official opposition and other parties play in a minority government, those governments fundamentally lack stability, he said.

“Our system is not about electing a government,” he said. “Our system is about electing a parliament. We elect a parliament and that parliament, in effect, chooses the next government.”

Rae said he advocates for every party in a minority government to maintain humility, focusing on the impact they hope to have while in power—particularly in light of the recent federal election.

“Try to figure out how to use what you have to do what it is you really want to do and create the results you want,” he said.

“We should be looking at how we can do things together and respect each other’s differences. That’s really what it takes to make it work.”

 

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