The blunder from down under
In how many different ways can the Canadian commentariat miss the point of Stephen Harper’s 2003 speech on Iraq?
Stephen Harper “might be many things,” L. Ian MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazette—such as?—”but the thought that he would knowingly plagiarize from another leader’s speech is a real stretch.” We tend to agree. But then, oddly, in the very next paragraph, we learn that MacDonald “know[s] something about Harper’s routine in speeches, which is that he writes most of the important ones himself.” So was this not an important speech? It’s what we’re left to believe, given that MacDonald’s intent is to accuse the Liberals—the Liberals, mind you, not the man who delivered a plagiarized call to arms in the House of Commons—of cheapening Canadian “public discourse” with “war room tactics and drive-by smears, to the detriment of us all.” All we can say is MacDonald’s freelance fee better show up on the Tories’ books as a campaign expenditure.
MacDonald and The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin agree on the political consequences of the Canberra Copycat affair, namely, that “the conspiracy theorists will be out in full force: Mr. Harper, then Opposition leader, was a puppet of G.W. Bush and John Howard, they will charge.” The theories will apparently get a little nutty, too, when they suggest “our foreign policy was drafted by right-wing Republicans”—Harper wasn’t in charge of foreign policy at the time, but hey, that’s the sort of thing conspiracy theorists do! Martin also agrees with MacDonald that “the Liberals yesterday were playing their hand too forcefully,” such as when they suggested “Mr. Harper should be expelled from his party.” But this is nevertheless a legitimate, “significant embarrassment,” Martin argues, and one that seriously damages Harper’s attempts to craft himself a more moderate image.
“That Harper and fellow-conservative Howard have near-identical brains is well-known,” says the Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom, who doesn’t see what the big deal is and “suspect[s] that Canadians are more concerned with the content of what their leaders say rather than the wording.” Well, yeah, but when the content is someone else’s it’s very relevant indeed—particularly for those of us who annoyingly demand evidence that Harper worships at the feet of Bush, Blair and Howard, rather than just taking it on faith from the Liberal and NDP war rooms and the Star‘s op-ed pages.
The content may be enough to jog Quebeckers’ memories about “Harper’s aye-aye-sir support for joining the United States in the mother of all futile wars,” Don Martin suggests in the Calgary Herald, and that’s bad news for Harper, plagiarist or not. Tonight’s French-language debate is a must-win, after all, now that arts funding and get-tough-on-youth-crime gambits have slowed the Tories’ much-needed growth in Quebec.
Harper can’t win a debate on youth crime and arts funding in tonight’s debate and he shouldn’t try, Chantal Hébert argues in the Star. Gilles Duceppe’s only real exposed flank is the economy, she believes, which is “more credibly advanced from the perspective of a governing party than from that of a permanent opposition one,” and that’s where Harper should be aiming. Duceppe, meanwhile, must keep a watchful eye on an encroaching Jack Layton. And Dion? He’s finished in Quebec, says Hébert, and should be “keeping his powder dry” and focusing his attention on tomorrow night’s crucial English-language debate.
Polls show Harper’s extreme fuzzy-wuzzy makeover has utterly failed in its target audience of easily-impressed Quebeckers and women, Sun Media’s Greg Weston reports, and may have even have had the opposite effect. Polls also show easily-impressed Quebeckers and women are “most open to being persuaded by the debates,” however, which means “certain to put Harper on his cuddly best behaviour for the televised leaders debates,” Weston predicts. “Expect plenty of home-spun Harper extolling the virtues of kids and soccer moms.” We can hardly wait.
In the National Post, George Jonas declares himself skeptical of anyone who wants to run Canada or any other nation, suggesting it’s evidence of a megalomania that is “unavailable to most people older than the age of 10″—a belief that one “has the wisdom and judgment to tackle dilemmas of energy, environment, economy, justice, gender, culture, labour, liberty, war and peace.” He shares Friederich von Hayek’s view, only partially in jest, that we should conscript our political leaders “from lists drawn up by professional associations, law societies, chambers of commerce, and so on,” much as we do jurors.
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson files a rather pedestrian look at all the various intriguing races emerging in British Columbia as the Green Shift drags the Liberals down, lack of climate change action drags the Conservatives down—make up your mind, Lotuslanders!—and candidates who take their pants off in front of teenage girls drag the New Democrats down. We dearly hope Simpson didn’t fly all the way to Vancouver just for this. Think of the carbon emissions!
Thanks a lot, George
If nothing else, the Globe‘s John Ibbitson believes the failure of the Wall Street bailout package is proof positive of just how badly splintered the Republican Party’s various factions—the “moderate, pro-business wing,” the “populist fight-for-the-little-guy conservatives,” the “big-government conservatives” embodied by the Bush administration—have become. It’s also very bad news for John McCain, who has traditionally kept one foot in each of the Reaganite and big-government camps but couldn’t convince “a single Republican representative from his home state of Arizona [to support] the bailout package.”
The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner sees the Wall Street crisis as a fitting end to an altogether disastrous eight years of George W. Bush, of which he provides a suitably aggrieved précis: letting Osama bin Laden get away, blundering into Iraq under false pretenses and hampering its reconstruction with endemic cronyism, congratulating “the unqualified hack—’Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job’—who let” New Orleans drown, authorizing “systematic torture” and, which is now most relevant, allowing “a blatant housing bubble … to inflate” well past its recommended PSI. The result, says Gardner: “We hang on to the cliff by our fingernails as the man whose incompetence put us here runs around looking for a rope.”
Canadians “look to China with a kind of arrogant horror at their tainted food scandal,” the Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall suggests, but based on the catalogue of problems with Canada’s food safety inspection system to emerge in the wake of the listeriosis scandal, she suggests we turn our judgmental gaze towards Ottawa. “We have done with de facto deregulation what they have done with too little oversight,” she contends. “The result? More Canadians than Chinese have died.”
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno believes Ontario auditor-general André Marin’s review of the police Special Investigations Unit “plays fast and loose” with the facts of various SIU investigations, in some cases “dangling implications that have been refuted” and in others giving false comfort to the grieving families of people who died in police custody. On the whole, however, she says his report is a welcome reminder that, “distilled to its essence, the SIU is a ‘toothless’ agency in need of sweeping reconstitution and precise mandating legislation if any hope remains of securing public confidence.”