Must-reads: John Robson on our “disgusting” politics; Don Martin on the Dion interview; Chantal Hébert on Harper’s Quebec debacle; Lorne Gunter on the Canadian economy; Rosie DiManno on negotiating with the Taliban; Jeffrey Simpson on Dion-mania.
“We got nothing”
In which Canadian politics touches bottom in the cesspool, and starts digging.
John Robson‘s column in the Ottawa Citizen isn’t about what you might think it’s about, but his lede is entirely apropos today: “With the election just days away, it’s not enough to declare that contemporary Canadian politics is disgusting. You need to show it.” His evidence, as usual, involves the dozens of asinine, self-congratulatory, “redolent of the frat house” press releases that arrive in his inbox every day during the campaign, and the unalloyed lies political leaders spew on the campaign trail—such as Jack Layton’s assurances, “despite clear evidence to the contrary from the Quebec National Assembly’s Journal of Debates,” that Thomas Mulcair never advocated exporting fresh water. “It’s the tone of angry self-satisfaction that I find not merely unjustified but actively disgraceful, given public disenchantment with the whole business,” he writes, eliciting firm nods of agreement throughout the land. “OK, guys. You got them, and they got you. But we got nothing.”
On the National Post‘s Full Comment blog, Don Martin contributes the best-yet reaction to CTV’s jaw-dropping hatchet job on Stéphane Dion. “Aside from the questionable ethics of CTV airing a segment when both Mr. Dion and interviewer Steve Murphy twice agreed to restart the interview to clarify the question”—questionable at best, we’d say—”this is a damning insight into how desperate the Conservatives have become in their battle to belittle a Liberal leader they never dreamed could pose a threat to their government,” and “may actually provide more telling insight into the character of Stephen Harper.”
Brows furrowed heavily in Winnipeg yesterday, Martin reports in the Calgary Herald, when Harper began referring to “Prime Minister Dion” and the various horrors he would unleash on an unsuspecting Canada. Why on earth would the Tory machine “even theoretically” apply the title to a guy they consider “a bumbling accident of convention voting who was supposed to be fending off a dump-Dion movement by now”? The aforementioned desperation, that’s why—desperation borne of the “Bob Rae chaos theory,” under which voters might sense undue complacency from the Prime Minister and rally behind the Liberals (much as Ontarians did with the New Democrats in 1990, that is, when they installed Rae as their most unlikely premier).
When we first read it, Greg Weston‘s column in the Sun Media papers struck us as somehwat gratuitous—quoting Dion’s twisted car-wreck English at length, breezily casting the wrath of Mike Duffy as a dead-simple question that our would-be Prime Minister couldn’t muster the cranial capacity to answer and suggesting it all might diminish Canadians’ ability to “imagine Dion as prime minister.” But reading it again, aside from the lack of, shall we say, background on the hatchet job, it seems more or less fair comment from a guy who would clearly prefer Dion not inhabit 24 Sussex. One of those quotes, uttered yesterday in Halifax after Dion’s teleprompter spit the bit, is as follows: “Thank you so much because what you have as an agenda is at the core of a plan that Scotch, um, Scott has shown, a plan that want development and for the next generations as well, build on the economy and environment together.”
Jeffrey Simpson‘s take in The Globe and Mail: Dion “ad libbed a bit in acceptable English.” Uh… huh. Anyway, Simpson’s larger, rather well-argued point, is that this much-ballyhooed Dion resurgence is a bit of a canard, considering “all these polls the media use to frame their coverage have the Liberal Party still below the share of the popular vote (30 per cent) it captured in losing the last election.” Dion’s leadership and the party outside Ontario are still in dire straits, he argues, “the Green Shift has been pushed to the margin” and, contrary to his image as a kindler, gentler sort of politician, his Harper=Bush ads are just as “low blow politics” as anything the Tory campaign has produced.
Also filing from Halifax is the Post‘s John Ivison, who also comes to bury “Dion-mania”—that “three-day-old irrational exuberance that results in its victims believing that Stephane Dion might actually become prime minister.” Even the partisans in the crowd seemed sceptical of his “messianic zeal” for the Green Shift, he suggests. Or perhaps they were just living in the real world, where “rolling out a transformative overhaul of the tax system at a time of economic uncertainty” is fraught with peril.
Forget Harper’s so-called empathy deficit, says the Citizen‘s Susan Riley. The Prime Minister is quite right that stock market slumps are good times to buy, and that “governments have no business compensating individuals for their lack of prudence.” But she argues his economic policies amount to nothing but “dispensing money to favoured groups with no significant social or economic benefit,” and at the considerable cost of weakening the government’s bottom line. “In fact, for a government that trumpets prudent management, many of these initiatives look improvised, illogical and arbitrary—the product of a campaign hotel room, rather than a bureaucratic policy shop.”
“Consumers’ and investors’ anxiety is as likely to cause a recession as any real, underlying problem with financial institutions,” Lorne Gunter writes in the Edmonton Journal. “In such an environment, stoking public trepidation is an irresponsible act. Yet that is exactly what Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton are doing.” And they’re not helping when they criticize the banks for not passing on the full half-point interest rate reduction to consumers either, he argues. That’s precisely the sort of prudence—along with the revolutionary concept of not “lending money to people who couldn’t pay them back”—that has us in a relatively secure financial situation to begin with, he contends, as helpfully illustrated yesterday when the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the most stable in the world. Of course we’re at risk, he concludes. But “it is juvenile and irresponsible to insist our government fund emergency packages when there is no emergency, yet.”
Harper is hurtling down a road towards a historic and crippling political injury in Quebec, Chantal Hébert argues in the Toronto Star—a rapid, altogether preventable dismantling of the pan-Canadian Tory coalition he was rebuilding for the first time since the Mulroney era. If the “debacle” indicated by current poll numbers comes to pass, she says it “will have profound consequences for Harper’s moral authority and, eventually, for his leadership.” And in the shorter term, it will have disastrous consequences for the quality of Harper’s Quebec caucus. “Ironically, the disgraced Maxime Bernier and the profile-challenged Josée Verner, who as heritage minister so mishandled the culture cuts that have undermined Harper’s campaign, are seeking re-election in two of the last few safe Conservative seats in Quebec.”
Mulroney faced a similar problem in the dying days of his campaign in 1988, L. Ian MacDonald notes in the Post. Whereas John Turner planted a “seed of doubt” about free trade, Dion planted one about Harper having no plan to deal with the economic crisis. But while Mulroney “was a great campaigner under pressure”—well, gosh, let’s just say it: he was all-fired terrific at just about everything!—MacDondald says “it’s far from clear that Harper and his brain trust know when to throw out the playbook, … think outside the box and simply campaign like everything depended on it.” And thus far, “connecting with voters” has proven much more of a challenge for Harper than it was for MacDonald’s favourite baritone.
Richard Gwyn, writing in the Star, adds his “Liberal-NDP-Green left-of-centre alliance” speculation column to the pile. It’s fairly standard stuff, though we don’t quite understand what good ten per cent of the popular vote is to a coalition government if it doesn’t come with any seats in the House of Commons.
Two opinions, one of them sane, about Afghanistan
Parts of the NATO alliance in Afghanistan have already negotiated with the Taliban, the Star‘s Rosie Dimanno argues, in reference to a British commander’s recent comments on the subject. For example, elders in the village of Musa Qaleh convinced British troops and insurgents “to disengage from stalemate combat and leave,” allowing them to run the show. “Five months later, the Taliban broke their agreement, stormed into Musa Qaleh, murdered the elders’ leader and hanged others.” This is the inevitable result, DiManno argues, of negotiating with people whose goal isn’t peace or political power, but “reversing any incremental gains Afghanistan has made since the Taliban was ousted.”
The Globe‘s Rick Salutin suggests Harper committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan as a way to spend great gobs of money—military spending being “the only big public spending neo-cons … are comfy with”—so as to have none left over to spend on all those social programs he hates so much. This is breathtakingly stupid, even for Salutin. It’s as if he believes history began on Jan. 23, 2006.
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