LONG WEEKEND ROUNDUP
Coulda been the hubris. Mighta been the stupidity.
On the government’s defence un-strategy, Iggy’s growing unpopularity and other Ottawa-related follies.
Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, recaps the wholesale embarrassment that followed the government’s unveiling of a $30-billion defence strategy—which consisted almost entirely of previously-announced endeavours and exists in written form, if at all, as a top-secret Cabinet document. He suggests “the spin doctors” at the PMO and at National Defence headquarters might be feeling like the guy in the Irish Rovers’ “Wasn’t That a Party,” “wherein the singer tries to recall how he ended up in the back of a police car.”
To believe Michael Ignatieff would “have the edge” over Bob Rae in a race to replace Stéphane Dion is to “mis-read the situation,” John Ivison writes in the National Post. His second-place finish at the 2006 convention was misleading, for starters, since many delegates who supported Dion would have gone to Rae had he made the final two. And Iggy has neglected to mend fences within the party, Liberal MPs helpfully tell Ivison, even as he builds new ones with overly-ostentatious fundraising and a general aloofness. “It may be that [his ambition] has o’er leapt itself and his best chance to be king is already behind him,” he concludes.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe files a column that scarcely needed to be written about a poll that scarcely needed to be conducted, the topic being how unpopular both Dion and Stephen Harper are (very); why (“shy and serious,” can’t speak English for Dion; “stiff,” “neither forthcoming nor spirited” and possessed of “icy blue eyes” for Harper); and what they can do about it (not a whole hell of a lot).
Sun Media’s Greg Weston is relieved the government has finally pulled the plug on the astonishing 20-year debacle of the Maple nuclear reactors, which had been slated to replace the 50-year-old model at Chalk River. (That’s the one that causes a giant medical crisis when it shuts down, for those who’ve forgotten.) The reactors “were supposed to cost $50 million, then $100 million, then $500 million before they hit close to $700 million last fall,” Weston notes—and now, a final $80 million will go to decommissioning the damn things. The isotope production racket is totally up for grabs, he concludes.
“If the Conservatives under Harper stood for anything while in Official Opposition with [Vic] Toews as the justice critic,” a flabbergasted Don Martin writes in the Calgary Herald, “it was a clean bench kept clear of patronage deadwood.” Thus, he suggests Toews’ rumoured appointment to the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench would indicate once and for all that the Tories have officially been “Ottawashed.” And if the real motive is to get rid of Toews’ “troubled private life,” which includes “a messy divorce,” Martin says that’s an even more “galling” use of patronage.
A bridge too far. No, a bridge not far enough. No, wait—there’s no bridge.
Stéphane Dion has either doomed the Liberals with his carbon tax proposal, or it’s political dynamite, or it’s too conservative, or the whole issue’s a fake. See you on the campaign trail!
Dion’s stated belief that “when you speak to the minds and big hearts of our great people, good policies translate into good politics” is “lovely,” says the Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner—”lovely like a gazelle staring into the setting sun as a lion creeps up in the long grass.” Problem is, Stephen the lion is very likely to “crack [Stéphane the gazelle's] bones and feast on the marrow,” and what’s worse, such electoral failure would doom the much-needed carbon tax forever in Canada. The way to fend off the lions and start a legitimate discussion, Gardner proposes, is for the Liberals to propose a “carbon floor”—i.e., a tax that would only kick in if and when oil prices fell to a certain level.
That sounds perfectly reasonable, and we suggest they do it now. “Let’s say Dion is talking about 50 cents a litre [of gasoline] on top of what Canadians are already paying,” L. Ian MacDonald proposes in the Montreal Gazette. That’d be roughly “$25 every time you gas up.” We’ll pause here, while you wipe your beverage of choice off your computer screen, to ask whether this column qualifies as Conservative campaign spending. Indeed, this astonishing proposal—more than 20 times what B.C.’s carbon tax adds at the pump—is a fine example of MacDonald’s larger point, which is that it’s political suicide to announce something like this before specifics have been hammered out.
The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin, meanwhile, excoriates media commentators and the Liberal caucus for worrying “less about green impact than voter impact,” and argues Dion hasn’t gone nearly far enough with his proposal. This approach, Martin notes, is exactly what made Canada “an environmental shame house.” (We’re an environmental what now?) Somehow, he insists, Ottawa “has to be ripped out of its ritualistic cocoon”—a, er, cocoon in which politics now trumps principle to a historically unprecedented degree. And, bafflingly, he concludes that Dion is the man to do it despite his historic opposition to carbon taxation, his lack of a “forward-looking aura” and his deserved record, in Martin’s words, as a “reactive” leader, not a “man of principle and character.”
The Toronto Star‘s James Travers paints Dion’s challenge as one of convincing Canadians a “big-government solution” can work when the Liberals still haven’t “exorcised” the demons of boondoggles past—notably the gun registry. Will Canadians be convinced the Grits can properly manage the myriad exemptions Travers deems necessary for truckers, seniors and others who for some godforsaken reason shouldn’t be forced to do their part to confront “this generation’s seminal threat”? Will they really buy Dion’s protestations of revenue-neutrality? It seems a sketchy proposition even without the Tory campaign team pushing Canadians in the opposite direction, he argues.
Meanwhile, in the Post, Lorne Gunter has all the latest news on discredited climate change hysteria, including recent prophecies that the global temperature may actually stay the same until 2015 or 2020. Despite their protestations, Gunter assures us no climate scientist ever admitted in the past that such a holiday from impending disaster was possible.
Obama vs. McCain
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui enumerates all the ghastly things about modern America that voters ostensibly hope Barack Obama will lead them away from, from a “huge deficit” to “clogged jails” and “busy death chambers.”
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington notes an upcoming debate in Toronto on the question of whether “the world is a safer place with a Republican in the White House,” concluding—we know you were all holding your breath—that the answer is yes. Yes, the world is certainly a safer place with a Republican in the White House.
Andrew Cohen, writing in the Citizen, suggests Obama look for the following attributes in a running mate: “more experienced, especially in foreign policy”; “from the South”; “white and conservative”; and “executive experience.” These, he suggests, will balance out Obama’s inexperience, his midwesternness, his blackness and his liberalness. Makes sense. Oh, and this candidate should ideally also have supported Hillary Clinton, so as to unite the fractious Democrats. Bill Richardson fits many of these criteria, Cohen suggests, but he’s Hispanic, so the combo might represent “too much change” for voters.
At this point, John Ibbitson notes in the Globe, neither Obama nor John McCain seems particularly interested in even mentioning Hillary Clinton’s name, and Obama has now shifted his focus to the states “Democrats hope to win or hold in the general election” from those with primaries still to run. He’ll watch tonight’s results from Kentucky in Iowa, for example, and head to Florida from there. “Clinton will continue to inject herself” into the new dynamic between Obama and McCain, Ibbitson predicts, but she’ll probably get the silent treatment in return.
Queen Victoria and the Canadian identity
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson notes Pierre Trudeau’s prescience in resisting a formal apology for the Japanese-Canadian internment camps on grounds that it would open the proverbial floodgates. Indeed, he argues, since Mulroney’s decision to issue that apology, “a mini-industry of apology-seekers developed and politicians have lined up to appease them.” Notably absent from this opinion column is Simpson’s, er, opinion about all this.
In fact, he has more of an opinion about it in a separate column, in which he declares he’s had enough of this “Victoria Day” rubbish, which is just a monarchical hangover we share only with “the Cayman Islands and a few places in Scotland.” We need a new name, he argues, that “take[s] pride in what is Canadian”—”MacDonald-Cartier Day,” he suggests, or if that’s not “inclusive enough” in these days “where apologies for just about everything done wrong here and abroad are so prevalent,” “Aboriginal Day.” How to decide? “We could run a national contest, the way cities sometimes do when they receive a professional sports team,” he writes, with all the pie-eyed innocence of a 7th-grade civics student. “That way, the whole country could get a sense of being part of a change.” We could even use the “Internet”!
Still in the Globe, Rex Murphy files an absolutely hilarious take on what he sees as a decline in Tim Hortons’ status as a Canadian icon. Where “people used to smile at each other for the silly indulgence of lining up for a not-very-good cup of coffee,” he muses, now “they mutter.” Hearing people order a “double-double” now “gall[s],” he writes, “more than [it] please[s].” And roll up the rim to win is, in his jaded gaze, just a “farcical gimmick.” (As opposed to what, exactly? A solution to the energy crisis?) So how did this all happen? Murphy suggests it was when the proud old donut company “started self-consciously to see themselves as a symbol.”
You cannot stop Rosie DiManno
Residents of Maidan Shahr, capital of Afghanistan’s Wardak province, took to the streets over the weekend “to support a governor who last week submitted his resignation to President Hamid Karzai,” the Star‘s one-woman Afghan content machine reports. This highly unusual occurrence highlights just how rare “trusted political official[s]” are in Afghanistan, she argues, and “suggests at least some faith in responsive governance.” Wardak province “is how the grand scheme for reconstruction and redevelopment was supposed to work,” she argues, and maybe it still can. But for many reasons, “patience has worn thin,” she writes, and “goodwill [has] shrivelled.”
Moreover, she notes, the insurgency remains a bona fide threat even to Kabul—as evidenced by the near-panic that set in among security forces, foreign journalists and diplomats as a rumour of a massive impending suicide attack spread throughout the capital. Such an attack would of course devastate the families of victims, she writes, but the biggest effect would be to “scare away investment, send foreigners packing, chip away further at the central government’s legitimacy.”
But for all the setbacks, DiManno reports, a wholesale regression of Afghanistan into “the insurgency’s clutches” is “hugely unlikely.” “A keyhole view is often favourable to the Taliban as the shadow-government in this district or that region,” she notes, but “for all that the media focuses on ostensible Taliban achievements, they have not, in fact, taken or maintained control of any territory where forces—national and international—have been deployed to push back.”
New Canadians, new problems
“Australia is almost a perfect match for Canada in terms of demographics, culture, job markets, variety of source countries, and intake of visible minorities,” Margaret Wente notes in the Globe, and yet new arrivals are doing much, much better economically and professionally down under than they are in Canada. Australia’s secrets: tough language requirements and testing, in contrast with our “self-reporting” system; a real-world assessment of immigrants’ credentials and their relevance in the Australian market; and, more than anything else, a refusal to allow political sensitivities to trump the national interest.
Despite the protestations of the Bloc Québécois, Lysiane Gagnon argues the immigrant experience in Quebec is basically the same as in the rest of Canada. “Multiculturalism is just another word for tolerance and reasonable accommodation,” she argues in the Globe. “Cultural practices that go against basic Canadian values—arranged marriages, genital mutilation, polygamy, sharia-based family law—are actively discouraged.” The fact that new arrivals have to deal with two non-native tongues rather than one is a complication, she suggests, but the real reason Quebeckers tend to hatch “theories and plans” about immigration, while the rest of Canada integrates them “without much fuss,” is simply owing to the “Cartesian tradition.”
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford has summarized the case of Sharon Shore—a Toronto lawyer who’s doing battle with the Law Society of Upper Canada over charges of professional misconduct stemming from litigation that followed the death of her daughter at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children—about as far as it can be summarized. Suffice to say Blatchford hopes the Law Society is holding all its members to such a high standard, and not just those being targeted by other, more “august members” who might have payback in mind.
George Jonas, writing in the Post, compares Taiwan’s situation to Israel’s, and wonders, after decades of deference to Beijing over Taiwan’s status, whether we would come to its defence if push came to shove. “Should we defend Middle-or Far-Eastern democracies as if they were Western democracies?” he asks. “We had better. If we don’t, we’ll end up defending Western democracies as if they were Middle-or Far Eastern democracies.”
Tuesday, May 20, 2008