Do we dare eat an American peach?

Must-reads: Chantal Hébert on Elections Canada’s risk exposure; Dan Gardner on bisphenol A; Christie Blatchford on the Toronto 18; Graham Thomson on the Alberta budget.

In and out and on with the rest of your day
We were expecting wall-to-wall in-and-out on today’s op-ed pages. Mercifully, there was also petropolitics, Sino- and Indo-Canadian relations, and the demon bisphenol A.

Some portion of the Tories’ neck is definitely on the chopping block in the in-and-out affair, Chantal Hébert writes in the Toronto Star, but the Liberals’ “resilience” in the wake of the sponsorship scandal shows “that it takes more than a bit of acid to permanently corrode a major political brand.” In fact, she suggests, Elections Canada is the institution with the most to lose. If it turns out to have “overplayed its hand,” she argues Canadians may start to believe allegations of anti-Conservative “vindictiveness.” (This would be more likely if it weren’t for all the documented anti-Elections Canada vindictiveness on the Conservatives’ part, but we digress.) If the Tories manage to win a majority despite the allegations and the charges against them turn out to be groundless, Hébert predicts a rapid and significant curtailment of Elections Canada’s mandate.

Like a newly tapped oil well in a Looney Tunes feature presentation, L. Ian MacDonald gushes over Stephen Harper’s performance on the NAFTA file in New Orleans. We’re open to renegotiations, Harper essentially argued, but a Democratic president could count on Canada leveraging its position as “the United States’ number one supplier of energy” at the bargaining table. “I think quite frankly we would be in an even stronger position now than we were 20 years ago and we’ll be in a stronger position in the future,” said Harper. “He played Canada’s high card … and he played it extremely well,” MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazette. We’d say he was just doing his job.

The government may protest that relations with China and India are perfectly hunky-dory, The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson writes, but “they’re not, because the government spends little sustained time thinking about Asia, and had a counterproductive approach to China and too many illusions about India.” This column is perhaps most notable for the peculiar number of unsourced, unexplained facts it presents: India “considers Canada to be a rather second-tier country,” for example. If this is the case, we are left to wonder, why are our opinions on nuclear proliferation and greenhouse gas emissions apparently so poisonous to bilateral relations?

Concluding that “it is better to be safe than sorry,” as Health Minister Tony Clement did recently on bisphenol A, is “a fine way to do politics,” says the Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner. But the “precautionary principle” is pretty much useless when it comes to “crafting public policy,” because it doesn’t involve examining the risks inherent in the alternatives. If you’re worried about vaccinations causing autism, for example, then just don’t vaccinate your kids—problem solved, so long as “you don’t know what diphtheria is.” So what happens when other plastic bottles replace the bisphenol A-tainted ones? “Do glass bottles pose a hazard? Do the replacement bottles cost more and, if so, what effects will that have?” Gardner doesn’t know, and he’s “not sure Tony Clement knows either.” (That’s very diplomatic. We’re positive he doesn’t.)

Canadian justice
Ricardo and Julita Bain still believe Robert Baltovich killed their daughter, Elizabeth, and “the law will allow them that intransigence,” Rosie DiManno writes in the Star. “For anyone else to say so would be libellous.” But doubting a man’s innocence isn’t libellous, she notes, and plenty of people—detectives, jurors who convicted him in 1992 and, ahem, “journalists who covered the original trial”—are going to go ahead and do so.

The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford agrees with the Star‘s Thomas Walkom that the truth about the so-called Toronto 18 terror suspects will only come out once the trial starts. But unlike Walkom, the evidence she’s seen (which she can’t disclose) leads her to believe that despite the staying of charges against several suspects, “the Crown will indeed have people to try and a case that endures.” Just as in The Wire, she suggests, it can be difficult to “get past the cartoonish aspect” of the accused—not knowing the Prime Minister’s name, for example, or not knowing where Parliament Hill was. But “being unsophisticated, or strikingly handsome, or a student who loves a basketball team … are no barrier[s] to criminal lethality.” (We must be consistent and deduct points for using fiction to prove a point, especially when recent non-fictional history offers the columnist so many mule-stupid terrorists as exemplars.)

Duly noted
As far as the Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson is concerned, the only “refreshingly new” message in the Alberta budget tabled yesterday is a firm promise from the Finance Minister to “get serious about saving money,” instead of “putting money away as an afterthought once the budgetary carcass has been picked clean by ravenous government departments.” The rest of it is a painfully conventional combination of profligate spending with warnings that it can’t last—except it always does, Thomson notes. “Alberta’s finance ministers should deliver their budget addresses wearing a sandwich board with a smiley face on one side and a death’s head on the other,” he writes.

The Star‘s Thomas Walkom laments the evil megacorporation CanGro’s decision to close two fruit-canning plants in southern Ontario, which comes hot on the heels of Cadbury-Schweppes’ decision to stop using “the Niagara peninsula’s distinctively zesty Concord grapes to make Welch’s grape juice.” This is all symptomatic of “an economic system that no longer focuses on content,” he writes, and he’s probably right. But we simply cannot bring ourselves to care where canned peaches come from.

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson handicaps the May 6 Democratic primary in Indiana—another close race, he declares, but one that’s very winnable for Barack Obama. And if he does win it, then “the superdelegates will surely then decide that the party has spoken” and spare the party any more self-destruction. Why do we feel like we’ve read this before?

The Montreal Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall deplores the sexist pronouncements of Silvio Berlusconi (“Right-wing women are definitely more beautiful than left-wing ones”) and Vladimir Putin (Russian women are “the most talented and beautiful” in the world, with only Italian ones for competition). These comments are easily dismissed as “the last gasp[s] of unreconstructed male chauvinism,” Bagnall writes, but in reality “they create mischief, and harm.” And their effect, she concludes, is “to keep women from power.”

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