The Canadian conundrum
Are we more afraid of change or of Stephen Harper?
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson says Harper both expects and “needs” to win a majority on October 14, based on his party’s “huge fundraising edge” and tax-cutting record, and the allegedly poor leadership of Stéphane Dion. But what about Harper’s stated expectation of a minority? Rubbish, declares Simpson, pointing to “pre-election polling” that he says promises gains in Quebec and what Harper’s “friends say privately.”
It’s good strategy on Harper’s part to say he expects a minority, Lysiane Gagnon opines in the Globe, because Quebeckers are fond of minority governments but not so much of the dreaded right-wing agenda a Harper majority would purportedly usher in. In other words, ironically, signs of an impending surge in Quebec “could hurt the Tories if people ever become convinced Stephen Harper is on the brink of winning a majority government.”
Meanwhile, over in the National Post, John Ivison suggests Harper’s modest, “he’ll do the least harm” pitch, “which concentrates on the shortcomings of the opposition parties, could suffer from its lack of ambition.” For a party that’s been known to shoot itself in the foot every now and again—Ivison suggests their enthusiastic embrace of arts funding cuts, which had been suggested by bureaucrats, as an example—and a planeload of journalists “slobbering in their sleep” at the prospect of a similar story, low expectations can quickly be undone by low performance.
There’s nothing modest about an election in which, “for the first time in four decades, the issue of Quebec’s place in the federation will not be central,” Chantal Hébert argues in the Toronto Star. And not only are Bloc Québécois votes up for grabs for the Tories and NDP, she says, but judging by Elizabeth May’s “Obamaesque” performance yesterday, Canada’s “progressive movement may be about to experience the same gut-wrenching turmoil” that gave birth to the modern Conservative Party of Canada. “As much as the makeup of the next government,” Hébert concludes, “the future shape of the opposition is in the balance of this election.”
Aside from Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift, the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe argues that neither would-be prime minister can lay a solid claim to any one issue. And she suspects, unfortunately for Dion, that Oily the Splot fans and Green Shift fans are likely to “cancel each other out” on October 14. Which means this whole mess is a sort of referendum on leadership, Yaffe concludes, but one akin “to a supermarket taste test in which shoppers are asked to choose between two different brands of tapioca pudding.” (Stephen Harper would be vanilla, we think; Stéphane Dion would be sugar-free vanilla.)
In fact, David Warren argues in the Ottawa Citizen, our five main political parties represent “five slightly different grades of vanilla,” the Conservatives’ flavour being the most obnoxious “because they promise chocolate chips”—i.e., “faith and freedom” ideals—but “don’t deliver.” There’s something amiss, he suggests, in a country where all five options promise the preservation of “socialist health care,” the overregulation of business, overtaxation, the extension of the leaden hand of government micro-mismanagement into every aspect of our daily lives” in the name of the global warming “imposture,” the continued neglect of even “the most elementary rights of free speech and free press,” and “the preservation of [the] unfettered legal right to kill … unborn children.” Hose off all the hyperbole and there’s a fair point in there about Canadian timidity.
Not that we’re surprised, but the Star‘s James Travers sees things rather differently. The Tories are certainly banking on that fear of change, he concedes; “history suggests voters often trade policy differences for strength and never more willingly than in troubled times.” But he insists Canadians are, in fact, facing “starkly contrasting visions”: “picket-fence families,” loosening the federation, “military solutions over diplomacy, beliefs over science and wedge politics over consensus”—oh, how we miss those days of the pan-Canadian consensus!—versus a brand of “stewardship” that “sees government as part of the solution, not the problem.”
The Globe‘s Lawrence Martin observes the party leaders’ kickoff speeches and divines their intended new campaign trail personas. Harper: “soft and modest”; Dion: “Quebec nationalist”; Jack Layton: Prime Minister of Canada. These framing exercises are manifestly laughable, of course, but Martin deems them “novel,” and declares Sunday to have been a good “opening day … for all three party chiefs.”
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin was particularly impressed by Dion’s appearance last night in Ottawa, which he describes as “a knock-me-over-with-a-feather glimpse of … a charismatic politician… willing to self-deprecate his uneven English and launching pointed jabs at the Conservatives while mocking the New Democrat leader.” And he was particularly unimpressed by Duceppe’s “fresh reasons for Quebec to feel insulted,” namely, “an over-the-top smearing of Harper as an oil-loving capital punisher.” This, says Martin, is “ridiculous.”
Sun Media’s Greg Weston agrees that Dion “seems all pumped up and ready to go,” which makes it particularly unfortunate that his campaign plane isn’t yet ready to spirit him off to impress the masses outside Ottawa. “Ordinarily, leaders and their parties try to seize the momentum of an election by bursting out of the starting blocks with a fast-paced, well-run campaign that inspires voter confidence and grabs daily headlines with politically sexy announcements,” he writes. “Dion, not so much.”
“Anyone who believes warmth is a defining Harper strength might also believe that the leader best suited to manage the economy is the one edging a huge inherited surplus to deficit’s brink,” James Travers writes, decrying the multifarious absurdities with which we are now faced: Jack Layton “mak[ing] nonsense of the NDP’s rooted commitment to multilateralism” by demanding an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan; Gilles Duceppe promising to fight tooth and nail for Quebeckers “even as the ruling party throws the province bone after bone”; Elizabeth May seeking a Green breakthrough in a riding she cannot win; Harper flogging a law-and-order agenda in an election that itself violates the spirit of a piece of his own legislation; and Dion, forgetting “every lesson Harper learned from Jean Chrétien,” allowing himself to be the underdog in such a scenario.
In the Herald, Nigel Hannaford proposes a realistic expectation of honesty for a Canadian politician: that he “took the job because he wanted to do something, or to be something,” and that “his government makes decisions in the best interests of the country,” not just his party. On point one, based on Harper toughing through “the wilderness years of Reform and the Canadian Alliance,” Hannaford has no doubt. Point two is a draw. The un-fixed election was certainly a partisan gambit, he argues, but “it’s also for the country’s good.” Better to “drop the gloves and have it out” than “walk the edge of a precipice for another year while nothing is done.”
Greg Weston has a rather more cynical take on the ballot question: “What’s worse: Harper and the Conservatives for another term, or entrusting the country to Dion and the Liberals?” That’s about the level of insight you’re dealing with here, unfortunately.
After two-and-a-half years “Canadians know the leader they’ve got,” writes Rex Murphy in the Globe, “and the greeting-card fuzziness of the ‘At home with Stephen Harper’ ads … is not going to attenuate the very strong image they already have of him”—namely, a “competent and determined” leader who’s a “decent” guy and not prone to gaffes. This is bad news for Dion, Murphy believes, who had an uphill climb to the top of Mount Leadership in the first place even without Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff showing him up at every turn, and even without a possibly “noble” environmental initiative to sell that’s “too cluttered in its details and too diverse in its potential impact to provide a rallying point.”
Harper isn’t “a regular guy, so there’s no use pretending,” Randall Denley argues in the Citizen. And his record thus far isn’t exactly a litany of brave decision-making either, with the notable exception of the income trust flip-flop—a “tough call” for which the Prime Minister now, most curiously, refuses to take credit. At a time when “aboriginal spending, … the effects of our immigration policy” and the role of the private sector in healthcare cry out for “honest discussion,” Denley sees the Prime Minister executing “carefully calculated moves designed to show hard-core Conservatives that Harper is their guy, without actually doing anything important.” If Harper’s interested in accomplishing anything beyond staying in power, Denley suggests he indicate as much on the campaign trail.
The fact Harper was even willing to entertain the warm-and-fuzzy ads—the sort of treacle he generally abhors—indicates that he’s anything but complacent, John Ivison argues. Combined with what seems sure to be an unambitious, frugal, stay-the-course kind of campaign, he suggests they’re basically an appeal to Canadians’ inherent fear of change, even when it means turfing a relatively newly arrived prime minister. “Politics is the art of the possible,” Ivison concludes, quoting George Bain, “and, in Canadian politics, not much is possible.”
Dion, on the other hand, seems determined to rely on factually challenged condemnations, random references to George W. Bush and on what Don Martin calls “the Really Big Smear”—that this megabucks-spending, MDA takeover-nixing, auto industry-bailing out government is “the most right wing … in Canadian history.” Instead, Martin suggests they might want to “sell the team,” or maybe even announce a sort of fantasy cabinet, to offset fears about Dion’s leadership. This strikes us as a very logical and saleable proposition.
The Star‘s David Olive polls various bigwigs on the biggest issues facing the Canadian economy and compiles a list of things that you are unlikely, he says, to hear a peep about on the campaign trail: whether we can “tolerate a deficit,” in the words of BMO’s Doug Porter; how to reinvigorate GDP growth in a declining manufacturing market; the impact of falling commodity prices; lubricating the 49th parallel; “enhanced labour mobility”; and “a credentialing system that more rapidly integrates skilled newcomers.”
Columns about Liberal money woes are a little tiresome at the best of times, but now? “The Liberals say they’ll come up with the $19 million they’ll be allowed to spend in the official campaign,” Don MacPherson writes in the Gazette, even if they have to borrow some of it. But then what?” Then… we don’t know… whatever. It’ll sort itself out somehow, surely. We should be talking about Bush Clone and Not-a-Leader!
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Post, pleads for politicians to put some meat on the bones of their environmental plans: who’s going to donate their land, build and pay for all these wind turbines, where’s all the extra electricity going to come from for hybrid cars, that sort of thing. Dion, he alleges, simply promises to “tax bad things (fossil fuels, automobiles, Alberta) and reward good ones (the poor, farmers, truckers and fishermen), and that will—somehow—prod the creation of a future in which everyone has a job, income is fairly distributed and children can gambol all day in pristine flower meadows.” (To be fair, we think he might be thinking of Susan Riley’s Green Shift pitch, not Dion’s.)
L. Ian MacDonald, writing in the Gazette, compares and contrasts the impending Canadian and American elections. We didn’t come across a single original thought.
That other election
Megapundit’s going to be concentrating heavily on Canadian matters until October 14, but we’ll still cast an eye to Washington every now and again.
Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain offered plausible strategies at their respective parties’ conventions for balancing the budget, weaning America off foreign oil, carbon taxation or competing against “China, India, Brazil and the return of Russian chauvinism of 19th-century variety,” Jeffrey Simpson argues in the Globe. Despite this, he assures us, “Americans want change.” He just hopes the presidential debates will hammer home the fact that “whoever wins on Nov. 4 will have more challenges on his plate than any incoming president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.” (They’d better, given the number of times Simpson has assured us the Americans will soon be taxing the living bejesus out of carbon!)
If John McCain’s going to tell the story of how he met his wife, and Sarah Palin’s going to “parade her very pregnant teenage daughter onstage, [and] pass her special needs baby around the convention floor,” then the Citizen‘s Dan Gardner thinks it’s totally fair to mention McCain leaving “his first wife—a woman who stuck by him through his five years as a prisoner of war—for a 24-year-old beauty queen,” and that it’s totally unfair for Palin to “loudly object that the Obama campaign is using her family for political purposes.” Especially, he adds, since the Obama campaign wasn’t doing so in the first place. Shouldn’t all these people be talking about something other than hockey moms and mooseburgers? Gardner asks. Capturing Osama bin Laden, perhaps? The economy?
“Ms. Palin didn’t invite this scrutiny by bringing her family to St. Paul with her,” Christie Blatchford counters in the Globe, declaring herself an unapologetic fan of the would-be vice-president. “They’re her family. What parent, winning an award or being feted, wouldn’t want to share it with kids and spouse?” And without naming names, Blatchford calls out certain members of her profession—who wouldn’t dream, by contrast, of outing a closeted gay politician—for “wallow[ing] in young Bristol Palin’s situation”
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno examines exactly what “hockey mom” means in an American context, and concludes the term is in danger of being devalued.
Hearts and minds
Having attended the repatriation ceremony for Corporals Andrew Grenon and Mike Seggie in Trenton, Ont. on Saturday, the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford muses on her fascination with and appreciation for Canadian soldiers. “They are the shadows on my heart,” she writes of Canada’s fallen in Afghanistan. “I didn’t know them in the flesh … but I know well some of those who served alongside them, and feel oddly connected to them all.”
“Even the most willfully blind can no longer deny that the security situation is spiralling out of control” in Afghanistan, Scott Taylor argues in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, noting the increasing frequency and complexity of Taliban attacks on coalition troops. And “unless there is a dramatic shift in strategic direction” from the Americans and NATO officials in charge—plausible, forceful solutions to the opium and Pakistan problems, most notably—”the battle for Afghan hearts and minds will be lost, the wider war will remain unwinnable and the casualties will continue to climb.”
Norman Spector, at his chick-baiting best in the Globe, wonders why CanWest’s female journalists haven’t latched onto the tale of B.C. NDP leader Carole James—a strong, civil politician who has brought her party back to within spitting distance of the premier’s office without playing the gender or victim cards. “I raise this point because many have been whining for years about the shortage of elected women and have been beating the drums to do something about it,” Spector writes, we imagine, with a smarmy little grin on his face. Could it be, he wonders, an ideological inversion of the same phenomenon that makes Sarah Palin so unpopular among left-leaning female pundits?