Must-read: James Travers on small-town Grits.
From the galas to the barricades
Establishing the rules of cultural warfare in Quebec and the Rest of Canada.
Stephen Harper’s crime proposals—cracking down on conditional sentencing, increasing sentences for young offenders and publicly naming them, etc.—are nothing but pandering, Randall Denley fumes in the Ottawa Citizen, an appeal to the 40 per cent of blood-and-guts Canadians who might appreciate them and give him a majority, and to hell with the rest of us. “Most criminals are getting either jail time or probation, not a conditional sentence,” he notes. “In 2005/06, only 11,154 people received conditional sentences, Statistics Canada says, while 82,647 got jail time and 108,477 received probation.” Hmm, you don’t say. Sounds like we need to crack down on probation!
If Harper thinks naming and shaming young offenders and enhancing judicial discretion over sentencing will “curb youth crime,” Peter Worthington writes in the Toronto Sun, “he’s probably as out to lunch as Mayor [David] Miller is in expecting a ban on handguns to curb gun violence in Toronto.” The solution, he still maintains, is for politicians and police to be allowed to focus their attentions on the schools, neighbourhoods and ethnic communities in which the violence is most prevalent, so as to identify the true nature of the “disease” behind all the violence. He’s not wrong, but we still maintain this is already happening to a far greater degree than his political correctness hang-up will allow him to admit.
Don’t bother telling Stephen Harper about the value of the arts industry to the Canadian economy or the fact that harsh sentencing doesn’t deter criminals, Margaret Wente advises in The Globe and Mail. His offensives against “the elites” and young offenders aren’t “aimed at them at all,” but simply “at getting votes … [from] people who don’t watch the CBC, don’t read The Globe and haven’t heard of Michael Ondaatje.” People who like “reality TV and Celine Dion,” who “form their opinion of the justice system from … the news at six,” who “worry about school lockdowns and their kids’ safety” and who are “pretty sure that governments waste their money.” Not all those voters live in “Tar Pit, Alta.,” she notes; many reside in the rich, creamy 905.
Harper can parade around Quebec claiming to have solved the fiscal imbalance all he wants, Jeffrey Simpson advises in the Globe, but even if he had, Jean Charest “has learned the ways of a Quebec premier. Always demand. Never be satisfied. Keep the heat on. Position yourself as the ‘defender’ of Quebec’s interests. Insist on more money and power from Ottawa.” Harper “ought to have seen this coming,” says Simpson—not just financial squabbling but demands for “cultural sovereignty” and to eliminate federal spending power in provincial jurisdictions—and as Charest nips at Harper’s ankles, it leaves the Action démocratique as the federal Tories’ “closest political ally” in the province. (Simpson makes that sound like bad thing, but Mario Dumont’s fading fortunes notwithstanding, Harper could sure use the votes of his supporters.)
In fact, the Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson believes Harper’s culture war is a deliberate appeal to the adéquistes—an effort “to provoke artists into a fight allowing the Conservatives to champion the cause of ‘ordinary’ taxpayers.'” And indeed, “contrary to the conventional wisdom,” Quebec-based polls show support for the Tories increasing after the government announced its arts funding cuts. This fits nicely into the Harper-as-strategic-genius worldview, but while we generally think controversies over what politicians will say in one official language but not the other are ridiculous—just translate it, for heaven’s sake—we don’t see why Harper would refuse to repeat his famous “rich gala” manifesto in the language of the very knuckle-draggers to whom he’s ostensibly trying to appeal.
Or, to hear Sun Media’s Greg Weston tell it, Harper’s dismissal of the arts funding foofaraw as a “niche” issue caused “a seismic overnight shift in voter support away from the Conservatives, mostly to the Bloc Quebecois” (our emphasis). Such occurrences are the only things keeping the Liberals afloat, Weston opines, as the likes of former party president Stephen LeDrew take the gloves off and the threat of wholesale mutiny grows.
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin reprises 2006’s, um, “Little Hummer Boys Tour”—during which he and Sun Media’s Greg Weston followed the election campaign in a rented Hummer, as a protest against the “outrageous gouge the party leaders inflict on tag-along journalist”—only this time in a rented Toyota Prius hybrid, and apparently without Weston in tow. The freedom of the automobile allows him to report that “there’s not one election sign visible from the highway in the two-hour-plus dash to Chatham from Toronto,” and that “talk of the election in Tim Hortons is more likely to attract a winced shrug than an informed comment.”
The Toronto Star‘s James Travers heads upriver to Pembroke, Ont. to assess Liberal Carole Devine’s chances of solving the “Conservative phenomenon and the Cheryl Gallant conundrum” in a riding that has been “solidly blue” ever since former Grit MP Hec Clouthier “defended the loathed, and feared, Liberal gun registry a little too sharply” to the “God, guns and family” locals and reduced the Liberal brand to a four-letter word. Gallant is vulnerable, says the local newspaper publisher (himself a former PC candidate), and she may be “stretched” for the first time. But in moving to the left, Travers opines, the Liberals—for better or worse—have simply left places like Pembroke behind. It’s “not that voters deserted Liberals,” in other words, but that “Liberals deserted voters.”
Gerry Nicholls¸ writing in the Toronto Sun, looks back on his days as Harper’s vice-president at the National Citizens’ Coalition and says contrary to how the media portray the organization—”‘extreme right wing’ or ‘radical right wing’ or ‘ultra right wing’ or ‘ultra-radical-extreme right wing'”—it was really just a “pro-free enterprise organization that promoted individual freedom and less government.” Their campaigns included opposing “gold-plated” pensions for MPs, standing up for citizens who want to “spend their own money to express their own political views during elections” and trying to ensure Canadians couldn’t “be unionized against their will.” What’s so scary about that?
Plenty, says the Star‘s incomparable Bob Hepburn, though he concedes Harper has no “hidden agenda.” All its terrifying components are out in the open. “He would give away most powers of the federal government, slash government funding of the arts …, get tougher on criminals and further reduce taxes,” and then “he would ease regulations on businesses, promote more free trade, allow more privatization of essential services, cozy up more to Washington and abandon Canada’s traditional role as an ‘honest broker’ on the world stage,” all in an effort to turn Canada into a conservative nation, which, Hepburn insists, it just isn’t. Open your eyes, people! (For future reference, invoking the 1956 Suez Crisis as evidence of Canada’s pre-Harper foreign policy gets you a yellow card.)
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui, still besotted with John Ralston Saul’s new book, explains that all of Canada’s various malaises—insufficient commitment to corporate nationalism, excessive commitment to “the U.S. way of waging war in Afghanistan,” our newspapers’ over-the-top coverage of the Academy Awards, child poverty, the desire for an NFL franchise in Toronto with nary a thought for the poor old Argonauts—can be attributed to our substitution of de facto American colonialism for the British kind we were supposed to have abandoned many decades ago.
The Globe‘s Lawrence Martin calls up Ed Broadbent to see if he has any tips for Jack Layton in his quest—if we’re to take him at his word—to become Prime Minister. He does: don’t sell out, dude. “He should do exactly what he is doing now. He should stick to his guns.” Will it work? Or can the NDP at least overtake the Grits? “It depends,” Broadbent sagely observes, “on whether the Liberals get their act together.” (In the middle of this rather unremarkable piece, incidentally, Martin casually refers to Harper’s first term as “one of the most morally odious governments in our history.” Yowzah! It could have used more of that.)