Rise and fall of the young fogeys

WEEKEND ROUNDUP

Must-reads: Conrad Black on a certain grotesque miscarriage of justice; Jeffrey Simpson on Henry Waxman; Don Macpherson on Mario Dumont; Greg Weston on Bob Rae; George Jonas on “Singapore of the North.”

Brother, can you spare a dime?
From Washington to Lima to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, there’s bad news on the economy. But you already knew that.

The National Post‘s Terence Corcoran asks us if we really want the future of the North American auto industry to be in the hands of politicians intent on aping Jerry Maguire (“Until they show us the plan,” said Sen. Harry Reid, “we cannot show them the money”) or who actually believe “GM would be better off if CEO Rick Wagoner wandered about U.S. airports in search of his luggage.” By all accounts, he observes, a bailout would mean “further suppression of market forces from an industry already burdened by regulations that have driven it into the ground” and the “continued existence of union protections,” among other impediments to future success. Let them go bankrupt, Corcoran implores, in hopes they might someday be able to recover “in a genuine market.”

Playtime’s over, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Randall Denley advises Canadian union members in both the private and public sectors. It may well be unfair that government workers should suffer for the fiscal mismanagement of city councillors or school board trustees, he concedes, but “the same accusation could be made about the management of many corporations that are laying off employees. That doesn’t create any more money for raises.” He suggests the brothers and sisters be happy just to remain employed, and believes “sharing the pain” with their fellow Canadians isn’t too much to ask.

The Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom argues “the real story” at the summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Lima was the rapturous reception afforded Chinese president Hu Jintao. “Countries here are courting Chinese investment and cash,” he reports, and “the Chinese have an apparently insatiable appetite for raw materials.” Stephen Harper, however, couldn’t even get a look-in. And, well, that’s pretty much it. As “real stories” go, it strikes us as a bit thin.

TheGlobe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson declares Henry Waxman’s chairmanship of the House energy and commerce committee a “stunning coup,” and potentially very bad news for Detroit, southern Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The previous chair, John Dingell, always had Detroit’s back—diluting environmental standards, poo-pooing climate change efforts and so on. Waxman, however, “has spent his career fighting for better air quality” and, more recently, leading the charge against Canada’s “dirty oil.” Considering Ottawa’s almost total lack of influence in Washington—Tony Clement was unable to gain an audience with “anyone of importance” last week, apparently—Simpson believes this amounts a rather harsh wakeup call.

The long interregnum between the U.S. election and Barack Obama’s inauguration “is not some naturally occurring phenomenon,” David Frum argues in the Post. If the outgoing and incoming administrations wanted to share power to expedite a response to the economic crisis, they could. But they won’t, he argues, because it’s useful for Obama not to. “The persistence of emergency into January will enable [him] to easily enact all [his] legislation,” Frum predicts, “including legislation unrelated to the crisis—like a big new healthcare plan.” And it will allow him to even more effectively “stamp the outgoing team with the stigma of failure.”

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson, on the other hand, thinks Obama’s call for a new stimulus package and his unveiling of his economic team in Chicago today indicates that, “at least on the economic front, he is going to have to effectively become … president starting right now.” So what of James Baker, who “as much as pleaded with Mr. Obama to at least make an appearance with Mr. Bush, to emphasize bipartisan co-operation,” only to be rebuffed? Well, Ibbitson concludes, that would violate the rule, which Obama vocally supports, that there can never be “more than one president at a time.” (This argument is almost a perfect circle. We can’t actually tell if Ibbitson’s tongue is in his cheek or not.)

Lysiane Gagnon, writing in the Globe, will shed no tears for the loss of the Montreal Grand Prix, but nor will she brook grandiose suggestions for where better to channel the funds various levels of government had been planning to deliver to Bernie Ecclestone in a big sack with a dollar sign on it. A big-name architectural creation? A “Red Bull air race over the St. Lawrence River”? Feh! Montreal is full of potholes, rusting water mains and crumbling overpasses, Gagnon insists. It needs “basic maintenance before being able to afford a grand facelift.” (Booooo. Get the airplane race, Montreal. Those things are cool!)

And now, the good news! But first, more bad news.
The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner marvels at the media’s ability to create bad news stories out of trends—falling oil prices and deflation, for example—even when the exact opposite trends were until very recently, themselves being treated as terrible news. “For the sake of accuracy alone it would be nice to see a headline like ‘Millions won’t starve thanks to falling food prices,’” he writes. But better yet, the media could periodically remind us that we’re “the healthiest, longest-lived, and most prosperous humans in the almost quarter-million year history of our species.” So noted.

The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui, meanwhile, accuses the media of ignoring what he believes is a “peaceful revolution” underway among the world’s faiths, most notably a new understanding between Jews and Muslims that could lead to lessened Islamophobia or even a resolution in Palestine. And, bizarrely, he accuses his own newspaper of forming “an alliance of lazy convenience with extremists” by reporting on vile, anti-Semitic ravings on the website of a local Somali mosque, as if they were somehow not newsworthy.

A good cakewalk spoiled
L. Ian MacDonald
peruses the latest poll numbers in the Montreal Gazette, and it’s more good news for Jean Charest and more terrible news for Mario Dumont. Indeed, MacDonald argues, the two leaders have essentially switched places in the polls since the last election. Since then, Charest has been seen to preside over the quadricentennial and the francophonie summit, as well as “visiting back and forth with French President Nicolas Sarkozy” and mounting “strong interventions defending Quebec’s interests in the federal election campaign,” while Dumont has been seen doing… well, not much of anything, both in the National Assembly and thus far in the campaign.

The Globe‘s Konrad Yakabuski looks at the potential fallout from yet another potential scandal at the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which won’t tell anyone how much money it’s lost in the current financial crisis, whose mandate—solely to make money, or, the opposition will charge, to take undue risks—is a creation of Jean Charest, and whose CEO has mysteriously gone on sick leave until two days after the election. Add “PQ and ADQ accusations that the Caisse under Mr. Charest has abandoned cash-strapped Quebec businesses—preferring to plow pensioners’ money into riskier foreign investments—and you have the ingredients for a potentially interesting final two weeks of campaigning,” Yakabuski predicts. And certainly far more drama than Charest intended to deal with.

The Gazette‘s Don Macpherson is at a loss to decide which has been the most absurd moment to date in the campaign—Pauline Marois’s “Castro-style” power-walking photo-op? Dumont’s shadow boxing in a blonde wig?—but he thinks Dumont may have accidentally stumbled upon something fruitful by refusing to appear on the Montreal-centric Tout le monde en parle. “Taking on the successful and sometimes insufferable [Guy] Lepage, and by extension an elitist ‘Plateau clique’ (named for Montreal’s artistic Plateau Mont-Royal district)” might galvanize his base, in other words. Or it might fall flat, just as everything else he and Marois have attempted so far.

Canadian justice
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald‘s Dan Leger looks at the controversy over a two-year conditional sentence handed to a Dartmouth man for assaulting his infant daughter, explaining to outraged Haligonians that the sentence was well within sentencing guidelines and explaining that if the convicted man misbehaves, he’ll be off to prison with dispatch.

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno makes a pretty convincing argument that while it may seem excessive to expect witnesses in criminal trials to remember every minute detail and to testify exactly in accordance with statements they gave police months or years earlier, it’s necessary because “a defendant’s fate can hang in the balance, that slippery niche where memory stumbles and interferes.” But then, in the last paragraph, she suddenly declares she’s “losing faith in the integrity of a justice system blinded by mote particles of doubt.” Odd.

In The Times of London, Conrad Black paints the American justice system as corrupt, evil and altogether putrid, and declares himself—in case there was some confusion on the matter—completely innocent. It’s loads of fun to read, and as usual with Lord Black, we learned a new word: “carceral.” But bombast aside, it’s intriguing to see him join ranks with those who quite rightly deplore the massive rates of incarceration in the United States, even if it’s obviously self-interested. “Obviously,” he writes, “the bloom is off my long-notorious affection for America.” Perhaps he and Tommy Chong can form some kind of nonprofit organization.

40 is the new 28
“The knock against [Dominic LeBlanc's Liberal leadership campaign] is that he’s a young fogey, an old-school practitioner too steeped in the politics of the past to have much new-generation appeal,” the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin reports from… er, from a “cigar dinner” at which Grits slapped LeBlanc on the back and called him things like “kingmaker” and a “stalking horse for Bob [Rae]” once they located him through “the Cuban clouds left by the foot-long stogies.” Yessiree, nothing says “party renwal” like a bunch of suits smoking cigars, we’ve always said. (Weirdly, Macpherson also refers to Dumont as a “young fogey.” What can it mean?)

Sun Media’s Greg Weston is not one to underestimate the task Bob Rae has ahead of him, considering “Harper’s backroom crowd would desperately love to introduce Canadians to a new Liberal leader with something catchy like: ‘Don’t let Bob Rae do to Canada what he did to Ontario.’” But nor should we underestimate Rae himself, Weston warns. He has “an impressive resume of public service”; he’s bilingual, and “a veteran of constitutional wars, and a seasoned campaigner”; he’s paid off his 2006 leadership campaign debts and will have no problem raising piles of money from his and his brother’s corporate cronies; and despite the Ontario debacle, he “exudes the reassuring air of elder statesman, an image that may sit well with Canadian voters in the troubled times ahead.”

The civility scam
The Star‘s James Travers reiterates his position that any newfound civility in the House of Commons will be purely artificial, and that no genuine congeniality will be seen in Ottawa until Parliament’s “utility” is restored, committees are afforded the “resources and expertise to hold cabinet ministers, or their master, to account,” and “the broken chain of accountability that stretches from parties dismissed as ‘stakeholders’ to ministers and mandarins” is mended.

Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, declares the quest for civility utterly futile. “To empathize, to give the other guy a break, to try to see —oh, the horror!—the ‘good points’ an opponent is making, that’s to resign from the war, desert your party and forgo the sweet mean pleasures of doing in the side that did in your side.” But if this were true, wouldn’t the British House of Commons be as bad as the Canadian one? And wouldn’t it always have been exactly as bad as it is now? Surely the Tories’ manual on how to obstruct committee business is something we could do away with and improve the tenor of the House, right? It can’t be as impossible as Murphy says.

Provincial affairs
But for his usual outrageous hyperbole—he refers to Ontario as “Singapore of the North”—George Jonas pens a fine reaction in the Post to Dalton McGuinty’s decision to back restrictions on all young drivers because a single young driver whose father happened to be rich made a very tragic mistake. “It may be hard to say to a grieving father: ‘Sir, we’re terribly sorry you lost your son, but you didn’t lose him because we haven’t enough laws. You lost him because he didn’t obey the laws we have,’” Jonas advises. “But hard or not, a leader has to say it. He can’t pander to grief-stricken parents seeking to assuage their own pain or guilt by sending society into a legislative frenzy.” But he can, of course, and he has.

The Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer recaps the softwood lumber-, native land claims- and lobbyist registry-related goings on in Victoria as the B.C. legislature gets back to business. Given that the long-awaited registry is a “laughingstock” and that Attorney General Wally Oppal is clearly sick of reporters asking him about it, Palmer suggests asking him about it even more, in new and inventive ways.

Duly noted
In the Chronicle-Herald, Scott Taylor recounts some of the logistical hurdles he encountered during his tour of the fractious Caucasus. The morals of the story: the foreign affairs department can, perhaps surprisingly, help you get into South Ossetia against all odds; and don’t try to go to Azerbaijan if you have a visa from Nagorno-Karabakh in your passport.

The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington misses Rick Hillier, whose “occasional outbursts” were—cough!—”always loyal, always supportive of the government,” and whose constant visibility let us know what Canadian troops were up to in Afghanistan and when there were issues the government needed to address. Under Walt Natynczyk, Worthington laments, there’s been a “loud silence,” even as various peacenik options become more and more appealing to the lily-livered Conservative government.

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