Must-reads: Jeffrey Simpson on Canada’s place in the world; Don Martin on neglecting Alberta; Greg Weston on Stephen Harper’s RCMP detail; Dan Gardner on cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax; Rosie DiManno on Sarah Palin.
It’s the economy, Mr. Dion
To hell with carbon emissions, the pundits declare, as their stock portfolios emit a descending slide-whistle sound effect.
This campaign is quickly shaping up to be about the economy first and everything else last, Chantal Hébert writes in the Toronto Star. Thus, she argues—apparently in earnest—”if the Liberals were serious about reversing the tide of the election campaign,” they would rubbish the “original game plan,” send Bob Rae and the lingering stench of his term of Ontario premier back to Rosedale and “pull Paul Martin from obscurity.” Not the Paul Martin who’s the “failed prime minister,” you understand—he can stay retired—but the Paul Martin who’s “the most successful finance minister of his political generation.” We’re sure Canadians, and especially the opposition parties, would respect the distinction.
“Canadians now face the worst of worlds,” Thomas Walkom intones, also in the Star: “stubbornly high retail gas prices (bad for consumers); declining wholesale oil prices (bad for Alberta) and a dollar that, while falling against Asian and European currencies, is still high relative to its American counterpart (bad for Ontario).” And that’s before world financial markets go pear-shaped, he notes, which they may well in the near future. What we need in these uncertain times is “a government willing to use the levers of the state (including, but not limited to, deficit financing) to shelter Canadians from the destructive savagery of capitalism’s dark side,” Walkom concludes. Instead, we have Harper’s “blithe” approach, which is, he says, “singularly unnerving.”
The issue of whether to tax carbon and/or energy consumption and cut taxes elsewhere to compensate or to institute a cap-and-trade system “shouldn’t be cast as [a] left versus right” issue, Dan Gardner writes in the Ottawa Citizen, but rather, according to Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw, as “experts versus laypeople.” So why does Stephen Harper, with his master’s degree in economics, find himself amongst the latter? Politics, says Gardner—the same reason, incidentally, that Dion’s Green Shift exempts gasoline. The consumer foots the bill under either system, he explains, but carbon taxation is much more efficient at properly allocating the costs. The sole advantage of cap-and-trade schemes, meanwhile, is that gas stations don’t advertise the direct cost to the consumer on giant signposts.
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin is quite aware of the near-inevitability of a Tory sweep in Alberta and (to a lesser extent, and with the exception, of course, of Ralph Goodale) Saskatchewan, but argues that’s no excuse for the party leaders to give the province “the 35,000-foot attention treatment” or for Albertans and Saskatchewanians to be denied their role in setting the country’s agenda. A bigger role for private enterprise in healthcare, western under-representation in the Senate and what appears to be a slowdown in the Alberta economy are all important issues of concern to westerners, Martin argues, and yet many of their MPs are currently busy knocking on doors for candidates in, shudder, Ontario. Shenanigans!
“When Canada does pull out [of Afghanistan], where will the withdrawal leave Mr. Harper’s already threadbare boast about Canada’s being back as a real force in the world?” Jeffrey Simspon asks in The Globe and Mail. “The only tangible commitment underpinning that boast was the Kandahar commitment,” after all, and that will soon be over, leaving the following evidence that Canada remains a major player on the world stage: an absolutely useless foreign affairs minister, assuming another Tory government; antagonistic or indifferent relationships with the world’s emerging economic powers; complete lack of interest in the United Nations, including a seat on the security council; a U.S. president who’s in some way been slighted by the Canadian government; laughingstock emissions targets; and a commitment to “stupendously high tariff walls around supply management in agriculture.” The Liberals’ squishy record of multilateral do-nothingness notwithstanding, it’s a pretty compelling argument that if you want Canada to matter on the world stage, you shouldn’t vote Tory—not, as Simpson notes, that anybody’s going to even mention foreign affairs during the campaign.
Sun Media’s Greg Weston cocks an eyebrow concernedly at RCMP officers essentially being asked to “use their authority to protect Conservative photo ops” on the campaign trail, including corralling protestors safely away from TV cameras and muzzling them when they get too close, and being used as “backdrops” at events. Weston suspects the officers “are embarrassed all to hell at having to dirty their hands in political swill.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe assesses the Green Party’s chances of finally electing an MP, and they’re not all that super, by the looks of it, despite the free publicity over Elizabeth May’s initial exclusion from the leaders’ debates and her “personable, warm, outgoing, plain-talking” demeanour. And really, when the following sentence appears in a major metropolitan newspaper—”The Greens’ best opportunity should be in Central Nova”—you know they’ve got problems.
Gilles Duceppe must rue the day he brought his checkerboard to Stephen Harper’s chess game, L. Ian MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazette, referring, naturally, to the House of Commons resolution on Quebec nationhood—a Bloc Québécois gambit that blew up in its own face, salved decades of soft-nationalist grievances, and now threatens the very future of separatism. MacDonald adds, ludicrously, that Harper’s completely political gesture, which wasn’t his idea in the first place and that has no force whatsoever in law, represents “a kind of Nixon in China thing.”
At least she’s consistent
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno has no problem with Sarah Palin’s pro-life beliefs such as they are, because she applies them, so to speak, religiously, and she suggests Canada’s pro-choice camp is capable of just as much “absolutism” and fuzzy thinking as your average evangelical Christian. For example: why this obsession over Palin’s opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest? “Intellectually, if one supports the basic premise of a woman’s singular right to choose, how the fetus got there is not germane,” DiManno argues, and the same goes for ardent pro-lifers like Palin, for whom “there can be no compromise because the fetus is not to blame.” The real issue, she concludes, and the real reason not to vote for McCain/Palin, is that propagating those beliefs is a central article of the Republican agenda.
One of the biggest knocks against Barack Obama has been that he’s in the pocket of the teachers’ unions—but not for much longer, the Globe‘s John Ibbitson predicts, if his “largely ignored” speech in Dayton, Ohio last week is any indication. For one thing, he would “encourage the spread of charter schools”—independent, non-union, publicly funded and accountable schools, some of which have produced amazing results among at-risk youth. And Obama’s also on board with paying high-performing teachers more than low-performing ones, Ibbitson notes, which is the sort of unwelcome intrusion of reality that union types simply will not tolerate.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford profiles Sam Gualtieri, the homebuilder from Caledonia, Ont., who’s suing the Ontario government for not protecting him from a group of native protesters that allegedly attacked him inside his own home last year, inflicting a lasting brain injury. A sign near the disputed subdivision reads, “The law of the land prevails; the tree of peace still stands,” Blatchford notes—”a splendid example of what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, called doublespeak.”