Social Contract (Ontario)

Social Contract (Ontario)

The Social Contract refers to a 1993 initiative of the provincial Ontario New Democratic Party government of Bob Rae to impose austerity measures 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 recession since the Great Depression, with a 1993 deficit of $12 billion annually. When it appeared as though it would soon grow to $17 billion, the social-democratic NDP 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 bargaining agreements 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 Hargrove and the Canadian Auto Workers Union. 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 Harris would 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]

External links

* [ Labour History News - Canadian Unions]


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