Must-reads: Daphne Bramham on Nazanin Afshin-Jam; David Olive and Greg Weston on tough economic times; Scott Taylor, off to the Caucasus; Haroon Siddiqui on the Iacobucci inquiry; Dan Gardner on ending the oil addiction; Barbara Yaffe on Bloc Québécois fundraising.
About those election promises…
Prepare to be disappointed for your own good.
The Toronto Star‘s David Olive observes the “awkwardly choreographed dance” currently being performed by the prime minister and the provincial premiers on the matter of deficit financing, whether it’s necessary and who should be blamed for it if it is. “It’s not just that if a swimming pool somewhere has to be closed next year, the premiers want Ottawa to wear it,” he writes. “They also want Ottawa to speed up its spending on job-creating infrastructure projects for which the premiers and territorial leaders could claim some credit when the unemployed start pounding on the doors of legislatures from Charlottetown to Victoria.”
So long as deficits are short term and exist only when times demand them, The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson says there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. But as a habit, they’re a ruinous addiction that’s incredibly hard to break. Consult Hansard from the 1980s and you’ll find “Liberal and NDP MPs … predicting that any attempts at fiscal prudence would result in tens of thousands of people becoming unemployed, communities being crushed, grim fates awaiting millions of vulnerable people,” says Simpson. As such, it would behove the Tories to ditch as many useless, costly election promises as they can—he suggests the two-cent cut to the diesel excise tax and the $5,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers—before they’re forced to ditch the one about never running a deficit.
Sun Media’s Greg Weston agrees we probably won’t be seeing that diesel tax cut or that first-time home buyers tax credit (unless “the government is certain new housing sales are heading into the tank, and therefore the measure won’t cost much”). And given the photos in the Tory platform—”Harper out for an autumn stroll, pushing a pram and a toddler of no apparent relation,” for example, and, Weston’s favourite, “Harper with a cello he doesn’t play”—he says we should have seen these disappointments coming. There’s lots the government can do in tough times that doesn’t cost much, he adds: “tougher consumer protection laws, cutting red tape for small businesses, breaking down trade barriers, and banning already banned water exports,” but when it comes to the big ticket items, we can look forward to broken promises and deft political manoeuvrings to explain why they’re not broken promises at all.
Senate reform is another possible diversion, Weston suggests, and the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington is all about that. He suggests the upper chamber be remodelled on American lines, with equal representation for each province regardless of its population, as a means of placating those Canadians outside Quebec and Ontario who feel their voices aren’t being heard.
We’re not anti-idealism, but Randall Denley‘s plea in the Ottawa Citizen for Canadian politicians and their supporters to abandon partisanship, form a healing circle and commit to accepting an impartial, non-ideological panel of experts’ opinions on all the important issues of the day seems a little … you know, much. But in the spirit of the column, we also suggest every little Canadian girl be given her own pony.
In the Montreal Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald suggests fully a third of the posts in Harper’s new Cabinet may go to women, and thanks to some high-profile female victories in P.E.I. and B.C., “he even has room to dump a couple who may have disappointed.” More intriguingly, however, he rules out either Jim Flaherty or Jim Prentice leaving his current post, and rules out Lawrence Cannon filling either the foreign affairs or international trade portfolios. Which leaves us with, gulp, who? Weirdly, MacDonald doesn’t say. Be afraid.
In the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Scott Taylor announces a forthcoming “15-day, seven-destination fact-finding tour of the Caucasus,” during which he plans to gather all the understanding and nuance that the Harper government couldn’t be bothered to in blindly backing Georgia—both in its conflict with Moscow and for NATO membership. “Given that … Harper and Canadian foreign policy firmly support the right of Georgia to invoke its sovereign authority over South Ossetia and Abkhazia rather than recognize the Abkhazians’ and Ossetians’ right to self-determination,” he argues, “I felt that if Canada could end up as a combatant in another world war, we should better understand the issues at hand.” Fair point. Bon voyage, sir.
The big Liberal do-over
The Star‘s James Travers asks himself why anyone would want to lead a big, broken down, bullet-riddled red machine “into the next battle,” and suggests one logical and one illogical answer, to wit: because the “party draws residual strength from policy perspectives widely shared by voters,” i.e., from mushy centrists who’d prefer we sign a thousand international treaties than spend a dollar to live up to them; and because “even a tarnished brass ring is apparently worth a fight if someone else is reaching for it.” Travers compares John Manley’s statement—”What I miss most is the sense of purpose”—to George Patton’s famous saying, “Better to fight for something than live for nothing.” We gotta say “ouch!” for McCarthy Tétrault.
In the Globe, Lysiane Gagnon endorses Michael Ignatieff for Liberal leader, based on his “precursor” support for Quebec/Quebecker/Québécois/whatever-you-want-to-call-it nationhood, “his flawless, elegant French, and [his] dark, intense good looks that somewhat resemble those of Lucien Bouchard.” Unlike Bob Rae, who is an “exceptionally gifted” but “very much a traditional politician,” she believes Iggy can “generate a bit of excitement”—especially, needless to say, in Quebec.
In the Edmonton Journal, Lorne Gunter declares he won’t be reading Paul Martin’s memoirs because the excerpts are so full of crap. For example, he suggests Martin brought the Adscam mess down around his own head by demanding Jean Chrétien—who was totally willing to take the heat—step down prematurely. Martin sees things… rather differently, we assume.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe notes a new study from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy showing that the Bloc Québécois is by far the most dependent party on federal funding, as opposed to individual donors—of which the Bloc had “a scant 1,080” in the first six months of the year, to the Green party’s 7,915. “How ironic, that the party that would seek to break up Canada has become so reliant on the national teat,” she writes. “This should annoy the heck out of Canadians.”
The Chronicle-Herald‘s Dan Leger dismisses calls to institute proportional representation as a way to increase voter participation, noting there’s no direct correlation between the two phenomena in other countries and arguing the electoral system can’t fix “bad politics … any more than making the net bigger or the other players smaller would help the Leafs win the Stanley Cup.” He may well be right, but surely there are loads of other reasons to back some form of PR. What about them?
In light of the government’s dismissive spin on the Iacobucci inquiry, and a racist voicemail suggesting it was all a matter of “more Muslims faking it,” the Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui feels compelled to reiterate a few basic truths: “All Canadians, born or naturalized, are entitled to equal treatment. Those breaking the law must be charged, not tortured—here, there or anywhere—with Canadian complicity. They should not have their lives ruined by false allegations, especially by officials on the taxpayers’ payroll.” What’s at stake here, he quite correctly argues, is “the integrity of Canada.”
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports on Friday’s testimony at the “HIV murder” trial of Johnson Aziga, and she continues to find the defence strategy—that Aziga’s conduct was due in part to his experiences in his native war-torn Somalia, and that public health officials neglected to offer him the psychiatric support he needed—”at odds with the evidence,” and the lead defence counsel “curiously antagonistic” towards witnesses.
Meanwhile, at the Jane Creba trial, the Star‘s Rosie DiManno reports on testimony from an unidentified man who was “on the edges” of the group of young people involved in the infamous Boxing Day 2005 gunfight in downtown Toronto. He doesn’t seem to have been much use to anyone, DiManno reports, based on his inability to answer even the simplest of questions. She labels him “an anvil-leaden testimonial challenge.”
Gordon Campbell has “managed an impressive display of return fire” against the provincial NDP’s pre-election aggression, Vaughn Palmer opines in the Vancouver Sun. The premier pledged to go down with his carbon tax, and redoubled his efforts to boost its popularity with advertising, relief for municipalities and unrelated moves like eliminating tolls on the Coquihalla highway. And in the aftermath of the federal election, Palmer observes that Campbell has deliberately tethered himself to Harper’s ostensibly strong leadership.
The Globe‘s Murray Campbell looks at a movement to revamp Ontario’s environmental assessment process, which some believe is far too narrowly focused and biased in favour of green-lighting projects.
The Gazette‘s Don Macpherson adds André Riedl’s and Pierre Michel Auger’s defections from the Action démocratique to the Liberals, and Russell Copeman’s resignation, to his list of grievances against Quebec MNAs, whom he accuses of wasting millions in taxpayer funds on by-elections and generally flouting the will of the people.
Surely they can’t blow it now
With all manner of Republican-targeted groups (Latinos, Jews, and even rural voters) swinging Democrat and oddsmakers putting Barack Obama’s chances of a win on Nov. 4 in the neighbourhood of 90 per cent, the Globe‘s John Ibbitson says only a “disaster scenario” can install John McCain in the White House. Even if millions of Americans suddenly discovered at the polling booth that they couldn’t mark an X for a black man, Ibbitson says “latent racism would have to defeat Mr. Obama in every battleground state, without exception, for Mr. McCain to win.” This is… unlikely.
In the Post, George Jonas dismisses all this talk of Obama being a “socialist,” in part because McCain’s plans for the federal government are every bit as socialist, i.e. expansionist, as Obama’s, and in part because the term’s not nearly as derogative as its users seem to think it is. “Fine, outstanding people have been socialists at one time or another,” Jonas insists. “The West’s silliest overtaxed, interfering, regulatory, bylaw-ridden, equality-obsessed, humourless, euphemized, seat-belted, human-rights-censored, body-searched, photo-ID’d, gun-smoke-carbon-calorie-and-taste-free loony-left utopia of politically correctness—say, Ontario—still cannot hold a candle to even such idyllic totalitarian states as Il Duce’s Italy, El Caudillo’s postwar Spain or Comrade Gorbachev’s imploding Soviet Union,” he argues. High praise indeed. Ontario—yours to discover!
Let’s annoy Iran
“For today only,” and purely for the sake of argument, the Citizen‘s Dan Gardner grants that carbon dioxide-based global warming is a giant crock. Very little changes in this counterfactual universe, he argues, when it comes to the necessity of taxing carbon and developing alternative energies. “For the sake of economic and political security, the entire developed world must adopt policies in an effort to ‘destroy oil’s strategic role,'” he argues, quoting former CIA director and John McCain advisor James Woolsey, and other than carbon sequestration, those policies are pretty much the same ones that combat the non-existent threat of anthropogenic global warming. (We’re still in the bizarre universe, remember.) What’s that? You want slogans? “Every vote against carbon taxes is a vote for Hugo Chavez,” Gardner suggests. “Every voice raised against subsidies for alternative energy is a voice raised in favour of Iranian theocrats.”
Talking of which, the Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham profiles Nazanin Afshin-Jam, an Iranian-Canadian activist fighting against the execution of young offenders in Iran. It’s thankless work, not least because for every case where international pressure forces Tehran to be lenient, another seems to emerge where it just doesn’t give a damn. They’ll postpone execution until after the condemned turns 18, Afshin-Jam tells Bramham, or insist “the penal code is based on Islamic or sharia law, which says a girl is an adult at age nine and a boy at age 15.”
The Globe‘s Gary Mason comes to the defence of Dick Pound in the matter of his referring to the Canada of 400 years ago as “un pays des sauvages,” suggesting his repeated heartfelt apologies should be enough to exonerate someone who’s spent “decades fighting for good and representing the country with honour.” It’s “scary,” Mason argues, “just how quickly the mob gets organized and fans out across the country without the slightest acknowledgment or regard for the truth or circumstance.” And you know, we agree. He’s suffered enough for this malfeasance, if that’s what it was. But all this is happening to a guy who routinely smears athletes as drug users in furtherance of his (entirely just) cause—a guy who once suggested a third of NHL athletes were on drugs, and then admitted making it up out of thin air. We dearly hope the irony of his current plight isn’t lost on him.
In the Post, Lorne Gunter performs that classic Simpsons set piece where Lisa convinces Homer that a rock keeps tigers away on the evidence that there aren’t any tigers in Springfield, only in reverse. He claims that because Chicago has strict gun control laws but also lots of murders, gun control doesn’t keep murders away. His anti-gun control arguments get better from that point on, but he dug himself a bit of a hole.
Rex Murphy, freed from the tedium of columns about the election, writes in the Globe on the subject of Madonna, her divorce, and her anti-endorsement of Sarah Palin. It’s not just inconsequential; it is, most unusually for Murphy, not funny at all.