Port-side Wind from Canada

October 12, 1990

Just when conservatism was supposed to be on the ascendant throughout North America, Canada's wealthiest and most populous province went socialist for the first time. Ontario voters did this last month out of sheer disgust with party politics, the constitutional paralysis, the looming recession, a regressive federal sales tax to take effect next year, the language claims of Quebec and everything concerning Conservative federal Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

The New Democratic Party is Canada's third, and left-most, political party. It has never ruled nationally and been content with province administrations in the prairies and far West. No one was more surprised than Robert K. Rae, the party's leader in Ontario, when he was elected premier.

He has appointed a cabinet of 25, of whom 11 are women and 12 are new to the provincial parliament. The No. 2 man is "Pink Floyd" Laughren from the northern mining country of Nickel Belt, the labor minister is a former United Steelworkers organizer and the attorney general is a former lawyer for the Canadian Labor Congress.

Canadian provinces have more powers than American states Ontario's 9 million people are more than one-third of Canada's 25 million, and nearly one-half of what would be left were Quebec's 6.5 million withdrawn. British Columbia and Alberta have grown in the West, but Ontario still dominates. Toronto became even more important as a financial and corporate capital after the language revolt in Montreal.

But now the new provincial government there is committed to a large annual deficit, a minimum corporate tax, increased social spending and other nostrums anathema to Canadian capitalism. Ontario was ruled for nearly a half-century by stuffy Progressive Conservatives and the last three by smug Liberals, and has come to this.

It may be idle to tell Bob Rae that his nostrums are wrong for the recession into which Canada is heading. He runs North America's freshest, most exciting new government team, unencumbered by experience, and if he is going to learn any time-honored truisms of economics, he is certainly going to learn them the hard way.

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