Ducks, seals and polar bears first. Then women and children if there's room.

Must-reads: Chantal Hébert on Ottawa’s sorry state of affairs; Dan Gardner on official bilingualism; Rosie DiManno on the burqa in Afghanistan; Colby Cosh and Don Martin on the woebegone polar bears; Richard Gwyn on the responsibility to protect.

Dawn of the philistines
From Question Period to the Portrait Gallery to Peter Worthington’s desk, it has been another unedifying week in Canadian politics.

Jeffrey Simpson owes us a beer for reading past the first eight words of today’s effort: “In the centre of the Australian capital, Canberra…” (For the uninitiated, The Globe and Mail‘s eminence grise went walkabout last year, and it eventually became… insufferable.) We are, however, sympathetic to his point, namely, that it’s “sheer grubbiness and … intellectual tawdriness” to “farm out” the National Portrait Gallery to a city other than Ottawa, and to shoehorn it into some kind of “mixed-use development” wherever it’s eventually built.

In the Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert attempts to figure out how a party (i.e., Reform) that “provided a lot of the policy impetus of the last Liberal era, notably on the fiscal, justice and unity fronts,” merged with the remnants of another big-idea party (i.e., the Progressive Conservatives), won an election, and produced a government with “a chronic deficit of policy ambition”—not to mention a parliamentary dynamic in which the level of “animosity … is inversely proportional to the issues that are at stake,” and a Prime Minister who won’t change strategic tack even as he fails to make up ground against a hobbled and poorly-led opposition. We’re not sure she succeeds, but she lays out the problem beautifully.

Against all the laws of probability and logic, Susan Riley‘s one-column-a-week schedule seems to have made her even more quixotic than before. In today’s Ottawa Citizen, she suggests Canada’s “non-Conservatives” need to “reclaim the language of political discourse” from the Tories, “substituting optimism, scrupulous fairness and tolerance of other views for the strident, fear-based, divisive dialogue Harper has used so effectively.” We still don’t understand why people believe Dion to be capable of such things. And “reclaim,” last we checked, means “to claim again.” At what point in the Liberal party’s past—or any political party’s, for that matter—should we start looking for this “scrupulous fairness and tolerance of other views”?

Peter Worthington offers Toronto Sun readers a big load of drivel about Roméo Dallaire and how his “abysmal failure in protecting human rights when he was a general in command of the UN mission in Rwanda in 1994” make him ill-suited to “lecture others”—i.e., the Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which presumably invited him to appear—on what should be done with Omar Khadr, two words that instantly short-circuit Worthington’s brain. “Khadr had little choice but become what his father and family made him,” he writes. And then, six sentences later, “he knowingly made his choice, as many underage Canadians did when they joined the army in World War II.”

Somewhat less negative news about politics
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe reads all five articles in the current issue of Policy Options about the Liberals’ woes, so you don’t have to! It’s like Megapundit within Megapundit, complete with a musty platitude from L. Ian MacDonald (in Yaffe’s words): “Ontarians won’t vote for a candidate who fails to pass muster in Quebec.”

L. Ian MacDonald himself, meanwhile, attends a roundtable of “nearly 30 members of Quebec’s political intelligentsia” on “federalism and the future of the Canadian federation” and reports in the National Post of an unprecedented consensus—that the sovereignty battle has been replaced, in the words of Mel Cappe, with an “outward-looking nationalism” that pushes for Quebec’s interest within the federation.

Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, looks back on all the times Stéphane Dion dissed carbon taxes and pledged never to campaign for one as Liberal leader. Given this rather remarkable about-face, and “the long tradition among Liberal leaders” of giving Alberta the shaft, Gunter asks why on earth he should believe Dion now when he says the new tax will be revenue neutral.

The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner appreciates Graham Fraser’s opinion, in response to an earlier column, that since “members of visible minority groups are just as bilingual (English-French) as Canadians whose mother tongue is English,” official bilingualism doesn’t impede the establishment of a talented and suitably diverse civil service. The problem with that argument, Gardner writes, is that “the rate [of bilingualism] among anglophones is abysmal” in the first place. “Roughly nine in 10 cannot speak French.” Meanwhile, Statistics Canada tells him, just 5.4 and 4.2 per cent of the visible minority populations in Toronto and Vancouver, respectively, can speak both official languages. How, he asks, does that not constitute “a barrier to recruitment”?

The poor, poor polar bears
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin finds it ironic that the mighty (and mighty cute!) polar bear, designated a “threatened” species by the Americans this week, “has a particular culinary affinity for” for the adorable seal pup,” which “it grabs by the head and chews.” This is especially relevant, he argues, since the climate change-related panic over ursus maritimus, like the anti-seal hunt rigmarole, is itself predicated so much on symbolism—”only two of the 13 pockets of population [are] experiencing any decline and the rest [are] enjoying a boom,” he notes. (For our part, we continue to find it ironic that many Canadians seem to want to save the planet as much for the benefit of man-eating bears as for their own. But we’re among the philistines, clearly.)

Colby Cosh, writing in the Post, finds it odd that outifts like the David Suzuki Foundation are taking the Bush administration’s word on polar bears and demanding that Canada immediately follow suit, effectively overruling the month-old recommendations of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Any claim by an observer of the polar bear issue that future global warming is purely hypothetical and not yet predictable with confidence would be met with shrieks of rage against ‘climate deniers,'” Cosh writes. “But these same acolytes of the Holy Temple of Science are now urging John Baird, the Environment Minister, to trash the [month-old] recommendations of his own scientific committee.” Indeed, the hypocrisy stinks like… well, like a polar bear.

From Kabul to Rangoon
“The burqa remains stubbornly ubiquitous” even in Kabul, the Star‘s Rosie DiManno reports from Afghanistan, noting that women who ditched them after the Taliban were deposed “now wear skirts that cover nearly as much leg and long-sleeved tops no matter how hot the weather.” DiManno then takes us inside the fascinating world of burqa production, including a visit to a home business where children pleat material using “what looks like a medieval torture apparatus” and “ancient irons … heated on a propane flame.”

“The shambles in Iraq … has had a deeply sobering effect on public and governmental attitudes” since the “responsibility to protect” doctrine was agreed to by UN member nations, Richard Gwyn argues in the Star. And the United States—a necessary partner in any intervention in Burma or anywhere else—”has lost its international moral authority.” The very predictable danger with each crisis in which the doctrine isn’t invoked, Gwyn argues, is that “a mood, if not of indifference then of helplessness, and so of an emotional distancing may now begin to take hold.”

To wit: Lloyd Axworthy’s plan for helping the citizens of Burma amounts to “a massive amphibious assault on a steaming, immense, swampy river delta half-way around the world,” in John Robson‘s estimation, which is “about the level of practicality one had come to expect from him.” The fact is, he argues in the Citizen, we basically “have no options” when it comes to “inflicting aid on Burma by force.” It’s just “a bunch of politicians yakking” about the “responsibility to protect” doctrine—or, in Axworthy’s case, an ex-politician who “spent years [in Liberal government] bloviating about [it] while signally neglecting its practical counterpart, the ability to do so.”

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