Must-reads: L. Ian MacDonald, John Ivison and John Ibbitson on hiding from John McCain; Rex Murphy on the Green Shift; Dan Gardner on Equatorial Guinea; Lorne Gunter on good parenting vs. idiot judges.
The politics of adolescence
Why the government avoided John McCain en masse (they’re a bunch of wusses), and what it means for Canada-U.S. relations (little to nothing).
“The last thing Canada needs is a protectionist in the White House,” John Ibbitson writes in The Globe and Mail, “especially since every indicator is pointing to major Democratic gains in Congress.” And yet for many reasons—some ideological, some honest, some downright stupid—we continue to overwhelmingly favour Barack Obama’s stated protectionism over John McCain’s stated promises to defend NAFTA and, perhaps more importantly, to “reduc[e] border lineups and streamlin[e] regulations.” For our own sake, let’s hope America doesn’t get the change it so desperately needs!
Clearly both candidates are intent on winning friends north of the border, John Ivison suggests in the National Post. After all, Obama dismissed his own past trade rhetoric as “overheated and amplified,” and went out of his way to tell Fortune magazine that he’d spoken to Stephen Harper after securing the Democratic nomination. In fact, though McCain and Obama might just be lusting after our “ample natural assets—those being our reserves of oil and natural gas”—Ivison believes “all the signs point to the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Canada, whoever becomes the next president.”
And “in an adult country,” L. Ian MacDonald suggests in the Montreal Gazette, the Prime Minister would have been as happy as his British and French counterparts to shake McCain’s hand and listen to his speech. “But this is Canada, the most self-absorbed country in the world, where it is always about us, even when it isn’t.” And while the media and opposition receive much of the blame for this state of affairs, MacDonald is quite clear that Harper himself dropped the ball too. “He should have received McCain in his office or for a working breakfast at 24 Sussex,” he argues, which “would have enhanced his own international credentials.”
Roll up for James Travers’ Magical Mystery Tour in the Toronto Star—it’s dying to take you away! Satisfaction guaranteed! Hang onto your hats as Travers, who has long insisted the infamous NAFTA memo was leaked by the Prime Minister’s Office as a calculated attempt to help John McCain, now suggests Tory MPs stayed away from McCain’s speech because he isn’t conservative enough for Harper’s tastes, and as such, he’d prefer to “have someone in Washington he can work with closely without making voters at home queasy” until Jeb Bush or some other spittle-flecked ideologue can take the reins. You must be at least this bewildered to ride! It’s got everything you need!
Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, sees Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift primarily as “an attempt, by the audacity of its central idea—taxing energy in a time of the highest energy costs we have known—to sweep away the air of compromise and centrality that has marked his term as Opposition Leader, to reassert his presence and centrality with one large (and, to many, noble) initiative.” It helps that “he sees it as the right thing,” too, of course. But in general we agree with Murphy: what’s of primary importance is that Dion now has something to fight for, an agonizing 18 months after his installation as party leader.
Sun Media’s Greg Weston explains the Green Shift via a bizarre imagined conversation between Dion and the “Wizard of Odd,” a sort of political genie-in-a-bottle who invented the plan as a revenue generator to allow the Liberals to finance all manner of other vote-buying initiatives. Dion is enthused until he learns that despite gasoline being exempt from the carbon tax, it will “eventually … be passed down to consumers anyway” by the oil companies. “This is nuts,” Dion complains, and the Wizard agrees. “But there’s a chance voters will think that anyone willing to try something this crazy must be a bold and visionary leader.”
If Harper “is so clearly incensed by Mr. Dion’s green plan,” the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin says he “should welcome the opportunity to debate him” on the matter—as Dion has suggested they do over the summer. The idea is partly meant to compensate for the fact the Tories have more money to fight the Green Shift than the Liberals do to flog it, Martin concedes, but then again, Harper is at least fluent in English. And “the level of political dialogue from both major parties is so low in Ottawa now that something is needed to uplift it.”
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin surveys the scene in Ottawa heading into the summer break and concludes that by “opt[ing] to spend the summer campaigning for a carbon tax instead of their own mandate,” the Liberals have “surrendered the best scenario for gaining ground to hopes that an economic downturn in the fall will backlash against the government.” They’d certainly be vulnerable in such an event, Martin argues, if for no other reason than that “old-timers can’t recall a crankier, more divisive, acrimonious atmosphere” than the one currently pervading federal politics—despite several accomplishments (immigration reform, the residential schools apology, etc.) the government can legitimately claim.
Orwell rides again
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui seems ready to pronounce Maclean’s guilty—or whatever it is a human rights tribunal pronounces those of whom it disapproves—of crimes against Muslim Canadians’ human rights, but it’s so difficult to discern what his point is that we can’t be totally sure. But “beyond the law,” he says, “there’s self-restraint. Most media exercise it, every day. We do not publish racist cartoons and anti-Semitic rants. That Maclean’s published a series of virulent articles about Muslims itself speaks volumes.”
George Jonas, meanwhile, compares the Canadian Human Rights Commission to Orwell’s Ministry of Love, and says it’s highly unlikely that the independent review of the organization’s approach to “hate messages,” announced last week, will result in anything but “self-justification.” After all, he’s sure that “Waterloo University’s Richard Moon, the law professor retained by CHRC to head the review,” is a “goodthinker, fluent in newspeak,” with a “capacity for doublethink” and an appreciation for “the importance of keeping anything mal-reported out of the public discourse, especially away from such prolefeed as the Internet.” Well okay, actually, he doesn’t know diddly-squat about Moon—indeed, he doesn’t even know which university he teaches at—but he’s sure the CHRC thinks he has all those qualities, and he has no time, apparently, to do any research. Weak.
“Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre is not free speech, but incitement to panic,” says the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington. And “we have libel laws that curb outrageous accusations, and laws against sedition, intimidation and threatening.” Limits on free speech beyond that, he argues, are “characteristic of tyranny.” Why, “under today’s laws, Winston Churchill would have been convicted of hate crimes in the 1930s for his warnings about Hitler”! Er…yeah. Now, moving swiftly on…
Activist judges strike again!
In a separate edition, Worthington files the beginning of a very reasonable column about the proposed anti-spanking law, arguing “it’s a good thing that corporal punishment is passé” but noting its potential for abuse by “extremists or fanatics” who want to criminalize time-tested parenting methods. The rest, however, is more or less just a personal reminiscence of his own experiences under the schoolmaster’s strap.
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, says all that need be said about the case of the 12-year-old girl from Quebec who successfully had her grounding overturned by a court: “The judge should have thrown it out immediately and reprimanded the lawyer… for even dreaming to waste the court’s time making family decisions.” As he says, it’s particularly ironic that the court would deem her transgressions—inappropriate use of chat rooms and social networking websites—unworthy of punishment in the same week a missing 13-year-old Quebec girl was found in a Montreal hotel room in the company of a dodgy Belgian she’d met over the Internet.
Porn comes to Afghanistan; victory declared
“Kandahar city is usually depicted as a demented place,” writes the Star‘s Rosie DiManno: “perilous, xenophobic toward non-Afghans—indeed, toward non-Pashtuns—seething with Taliban plotters and schemers, the rump of an insurgency that has grown broad in the beam these past few years.” And that’s pretty much the case, she concedes. But it “has palpably progressed, reinvigorated itself, its streets swarming with life,” she notes, citing everything from a proliferation of satellite dishes to “Western pop music blar[ing] from loudspeakers along with traditional Afghan music” and an exponential uptick in the availability of pornography. In a separate piece, DiManno visits the Afghan-Canadian Community Center in Kandahar, which she describes as an oasis of unfettered access to education for Afghan women at a time of discouraging statistics on that front.
Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, goes all the way to Kandahar to interview provincial governor Asadullah Khalid and winds up “interviewing him by phoning his hotel room in Washington.” Among other things, Khalid responds to Maxime Bernier’s call for his ouster: “Let us not forget that (Bernier) took back those same words almost immediately and made an apology,” he says, like a consummate politician. “Corruption is a very serious allegation to make against someone, and he should have realized that you cannot make such statements lightly.”
18 alleged terrorists, two very different journalists
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford believes what’s most disturbing about the testimony of the ongoing Brampton, Ont. terrorism trial is is just how free the alleged leaders felt to preach and publicly discuss their “almost magnificently ungrammatical, near-illiterate, Koran-ignorant hysteria”—outside mosques, for example, in at least one Toronto restaurant, and at the Tim Horton’s the gang frequented while attending their hapless “training camp” in the wilds of the Kawarthas. That no one called 911, Blatchford somewhat plausibly suggests, speaks to a “unique combination of innate Canadian politeness and the racial politics of [Toronto].” But the thing is, the Timmy Ho’s in question wasn’t in Toronto. And so we lose her completely when she suggests people at a location “in Red Deer or Timmins or Rouyn” would behave differently.
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom, meanwhile, continues in his role of media conduit for the other accused—one is launching a hunger strike over trial delays, and the other notes that CSIS “have in the past used ‘National Security’ to cover up their dirty work.” This is true, Walkom notes, “in general—if not necessarily in this case.” And he suggests that two “odd characters” introduced in testimony—particularly Qari Kifayatullah, whom RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh claims was the first to mention building a fertilizer bomb—may have been moles. How else to explain that they don’t even seem to have been interviewed by police?
The government ordered the Canada Wheat Board to stop advocating for its own continued existence “in part because it recognized that there are at least as many farmers who want out of the board’s grasp as there are who want it continued,” Lorne Gunter writes in the Post. “So board spending on lobbying amounts to robbing those who want out to pay for efforts to keep them in.” As such, he argues, the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the “gag order” was misguided. And the solution, as ever, is to “give farmers true control over the CWB, but make participation in it voluntary.”
The Globe‘s Margaret Wente visits the Tsawwassen First Nation reserve in Vancouver, which recently came to an arrangement allowing the local port authority “to build on a tract of valuable agricultural land” in return for “lucrative development rights, a big pile of cash and sweeping powers of self-rule.” The problem is, “most of the 360-odd band members live off-reserve”—some “as far afield as Alabama and California”—and their interests are colliding with some actual residents’. Generally speaking, with land claims being resolved at a quickening pace in advance of the Olympics, Wente says the “process has ratcheted up aboriginal expectations and been muddied by side deals motivated more by expediency than principle.”
The Star‘s Chantal Hébert marvels at the turnaround in Jean Charest’s fortunes over the past year, to the point that losing a “heavyweight” Cabinet minister like Philippe Couillard isn’t all that big of a deal. In addition to Charest’s “stronger ministerial team,” she attributes the rebound to the Action démocratique being even more useless than most had expected, and the Parti Québécois’ inability to make much headway no matter what it tries.
If you know anything about Equatorial Guinea, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner suspects it’s the details of the failed “spy novel” coup attempt, which is alleged to have been financed by Mark Thatcher (son of Margaret) and “a shadowy Lebanese businessman.” What you should know, he convincingly argues, is that for all his smiling encounters with world leaders from Colin Powell to the Pope, Equatorial Guinea’s leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is a vicious, kleptocratic sack of crap.