Must-reads: Don Macpherson on the Quebec election.
The day after the morning after
Audacity of hope, please meet the $455-billion deficit.
The Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn elevates himself from the merely inimitable to the almost unbelievable by painting a portrait of an America that, despite having just elected its first black president, has achieved basically nothing in the field of race relations. A white Democratic candidate might well have done better, he suggests, and there will apparently be “55 million Americans who voted against [Barack] Obama … watching for him to stumble.” When he does, Hepburn predicts, many white people, such as an idiot friend of his who couldn’t decide on Tuesday whether she could bring herself to vote for a Muslim, “will be saying smugly to their friends: ‘I told you so!’” Now, we’re not saying Obama’s victory solved anything as far as day-to-day race relations. But Hepburn’s operating assumption here seems to be that every single American voted on the basis of race! It’s true, as he says, that nearly 90 per cent of white Mississippians voted for McCain and 98 per cent of black Mississippians voted for Obama, but the numbers in 2004 were 85 and 90, respectively, and John Kerry—last we checked, anyway—is quite fair-skinned. So the situation would seem to be rather more complex.
The Star’s Haroon Siddiqui, meanwhile, is well chuffed with Obama’s victory in a general sense, arguing he’s done nothing less than “make Americans rediscover the common weal.” But the president-elect needs improvements in the following areas: Afghanistan, where he “think[s] mostly in terms of a major military surge” instead of negotiations, and Pakistan, where he’s suggested “cross-border attacks” instead of a “Marshall Plan-like economic blueprint for the border region where [Taliban] militants are recruited.” Nevertheless, Siddiqui argues, Obama is already being well-received in the Muslim world, if only because he pronounces Taliban “taa-li-baan” rather than “tay-le-ban.” (Really? Who the hell says “tay-le-ban”?)
But when all the hoopla dies down and Oprah regains her composure, The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson says Obama “cannot escape his own agenda”: a national public healthcare program, subsidized post-secondary tuition, boosting alternative energy, and tax cuts. There’s a chance, given all that, he could become “an undertaker president.” But with a little luck and a lot of gumption, he can avoid it, Ibbitson suggests, as follows: bash through Congress a “financial stimulus package to shallow-out the recession”; close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre as “a grand but cost-free gesture” (“Cost-free,” eh? That doesn’t sound quite right); and create task forces on health, education and energy, and hope that by the time they report back, “the economy will be expanding again.”
The Globe’s Lawrence Martin will hear none of these practical concerns. “The ugly American has been kicked out the door,” he raves. “The United States, with its eternal resourcefulness, has brought forward a leader of grace and brilliance and vision.” He’s also mostly unconcerned about Obama’s implications for Canada under a Conservative government. George W. Bush thickened the Canada-U.S. border, Martin notes, and “undermined [NAFTA] by essentially ignoring its jurisdiction during softwood lumber negotiations.” How could Obama be any worse of a protectionist? Harper’s looking to chart a course to the political middle anyway, Martin notes, so there’s no reason to expect ideological tension. And small gestures like replacing ambassador to Washington Michael Wilson, who’s rightly or wrongly associated with the NAFTA disasta, should salve any lingering animosity.
The Star’s James Travers suggests the Tories are well-positioned with their new cabinet to deal with Obama’s America, one in which climate change, multilateralism and protectionist impulses will likely play larger roles. Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement are “familiar faces from the province that has most in common with U.S. manufacturing and most to lose if America tries to hide behind trade walls,” for example. (We’re not totally sure why that would matter to Obama, but okay.) Jim Prentice “suddenly seems like a precise fit at environment.” And glory be, Travers now sees what Harper was up to with Stockwell Day at international trade! He “brings to international trade from his last portfolio useful expertise in what Americans care most about in cross-border commerce—security.”
So far so good on the Canada-U.S. relations front, John Ivison agrees in the National Post, summarizing Lawrence Cannon’s “guarded”-but-positive remarks on the Obama presidency and how his and Harper’s administrations will deal with cross-border issues like Afghanistan and NAFTA. In fact, Ivison suggests, we could be seeing “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Charest’s (weak) case
The first time Jean Charest had a majority government, the Montreal Gazette’s Don Macpherson notes, Quebeckers “were so unhappy with his performance that they nearly voted him all the way out of office.” Charest insists he’s learned his lesson, that he knows “he needs to listen and explain more.” But he still needs to convince the electorate, Macpherson insists, and as such, “telling an obvious lie”—that he dropped the writ not because the polls told him to, but rather because he needs a majority government to manage the financial crisis, contrary to everything common sense, the opposition and his own finance minister are saying—“might not have been the most auspicious way” to kick off the campaign.
Further complicating matters is that “Quebec’s economy has yet to be much affected by the international turmoil,” André Pratte writes in the Star, but he believes the federal campaign proved “voters do not want to hear these kinds of subtleties. They want a plan, period.” As such, he says the ballot question becomes, “who is better qualified to lead the province in this worrisome period?” Mario Dumont’s Action démocratique is therefore utterly screwed, Pratte declares, but while the Parti Québécois faces a tough sales job, he says it’s “not an impossible mission” for an “experienced and competent” leader like Pauline Marois.
The Gazette’s Henry Aubin calls Quebec’s seemingly positive emissions reduction record “a façade,” borne of picking “low-hanging fruit” like methane capture at landfill sites and happenstances like “nature’s gift of hydropower” and the “shrinking” pulp and paper industry. “If it weren’t for such easy things,” he says “Quebec’s record would be an embarrassment.” There are more cars on the road, he notes; the province is committed to building more roads; and the province may soon be siphoning its share of filthy Alberta oil from a new Enbridge pipeline, to boot. It therefore has no reason to brag.
The Globe’s Christie Blatchford heaps abuse on a witness to Jane Creba’s shooting in downtown Toronto on Boxing Day 2005, calling her “one of those special folk in whom natural dopiness and a studied lack of co-operation intersect.” She suggests that while her testimony wasn’t particularly useful from a jurisprudence standpoint, taped phone calls in which she vented her fury at those who “snitched” on the alleged shooters “nonetheless shone a bright light on what are now called root causes.”