- Social Contract (Ontario)
The Social Contract refers to a 1993 initiative of the provincial
Ontario New Democratic Partygovernment of Bob Raeto impose austeritymeasures on civil service. The plan imposed a wage freeze and mandatory unpaid days of leave for civil servants, which became known as Rae Days.
Ontario in the 1990s was in the worst economic
recessionsince the Great Depression, with a 1993 deficitof $12 billion annually. When it appeared as though it would soon grow to $17 billion, the social-democraticNDP was forced to abandon its left-wing platform and shift to right of the political spectrum.
Rae requested $2 billion in wage cuts within the civil service, and asked the public sector unions to work together with the government to implement the cuts. When Ontario's two largest unions, the
Ontario Public Service Employees Union(OPSEU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees(CUPE), both boycotted the talks, the government decided to enact the initiative unilaterally.
The Social Contract
The initiative was mainly based around a forced twelve days of unpaid leave for all civil service workers, including (but not limited to)
teachers, nurses, and accountants. The unpaid days off quickly became known as "Rae Days" and are probably the best known aspect of the policy. The measure did exclude workers who earned less than $30,000 annually.
The Social Contract also re-opened
collective bargainingagreements of all public unions, and froze the wages of all civil workers.
The initiative was incredibly unpopular, and the labour-allied NDP lost a majority of its union support, including
Buzz Hargroveand the Canadian Auto WorkersUnion. Support for the party fell to 6 per cent, and contributed greatly to the NDP's defeat in the 1995 election to the Progressive Conservatives. Ironically, PC leader Mike Harriswould go on to lay off 16,000 public sector workers. The NDP was reduced from a majority to a third party, a position which, as of the 2007 election, they have not been able to recover from.
Rae Days were, however, successful in their original aims. The government saved $1.95 billion, and prevented public employee layoffs. It was also popular among other groups - schoolchildren, for example, enjoyed two weeks of March break that year.
The Social Contract affected Rae during his 2006 run for leadership of the
Liberal Party of Canada. A leaked Conservative memo contained information from strategists arguing that, as Rae Days could be made a campaign issue, Rae would be the easiest candidate to beat in an election. [ The Toronto Star, "Memo shows Tories fear Ignatieff most", 09-28-06]
* [http://labourhistory.net/news/i0408_5.php Labour History News - Canadian Unions]
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