The delicate art of apology
Can Stephen Harper summon the sincerity to apologize for his country’s—and various conservative parties’—past?
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson isn’t quite sure what today’s apology for Canada’s aboriginal residential school system is supposed to accomplish that Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart’s apology didn’t in 1998—and neither is his newspaper’s editorial board, he notes, which lauded Stewart’s effort at the time but now deems it woefully inadequate. How receptive can Canada’s First Nations be, he wonders, to an apology from a party whose “antecedents … never spilled their guts for aboriginals,” and from a man who refuses to ratify the Kelowna Accord? And how genuine will Canadians consider their PM’s words when he and his good-time boys so routinely insult their intelligence?
“It’s doubtful,” says the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe, “that Harper is undertaking his gesture as a direct means of increasing his party’s Commons seat count”—which is awful nice of her to say. Nevertheles, she believes the apology could “soften an image of the Conservatives that often has looked excessively partisan, brittle and mean-spirited,” and, which is better, could “enhance Parliament’s relevance for aboriginals.” But none of these positive developments, she warns, are likely to happen overnight.
The “symbolism” of Jean Chrétien’s 1995 parliamentary resolution that would have recognized Quebec’s distinct society “was lost to the sense that he was offering a meaningless consolation prize,” the Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert argues, and the Reform Party and Bloc Québécois opposed it. But the Quebec nation resolution, which was more carefully worded and had all-party support, has now apparently become “a marker against which progress will be expected and measured.” This is proof, Hébert says, that the proper words, delivered in the proper tone, can have a real impact on seemingly intractable situations—whether it’s Quebec’s place in Canada or the fallout from residential schools. Thus, if we might extrapolate, what Harper needs to do today is deliver an incredibly vague speech full of undefined terminology that not even its authors will be able to explain to Canadians.
On the 25th anniversary of Brian Mulroney’s election as leader of the Progressive Conservatives, L. Ian MacDonald assesses his legacy in the Montreal Gazette. Deficit financing, not referring Meech Lake to the Supreme Court and the small matter of Karlheinz Schreiber’s “retainer” are found on the negative side of the ledger, but no one will be surprised to learn that by and large, ol’ Byron Muldoon was flat-out terrific. (“I covered the 1984 election from the press section at the back of the plane, and participated in the 1988 campaign from the staff section at the front,” MacDonald writes. Some would suggest he never made his connecting flight.)
“Taxes have often been put to good uses,” the Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner suggests, “like paying for bypass surgery, a teacher’s salary, and winning the Second World War.” That’s part of a charmingly earnest debunking of the Tories’ stance on Stéphane Dion’s carbon tax, and specifically the “pseudo-populist” anti-Dion juvenilia at willyoubetricked.ca, where all taxes are evil plots to take money out of your jeans and gas out of your truck. It won’t be possible to judge Dion’s proposal until he proposes it, of course—any day now, guys; seriously, no hurry—but “in making his proposal at the time and in the fashion he did,” Gardner says he “revealed much about how he sees the world.” And Harper’s response does likewise. “Stéphane Dion is a bit of a Pollyanna,” Gardner concludes. “Stephen Harper is Richard Nixon on a bad day.”
RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar may well be right, the National Post‘s John Ivison concedes, when he says that “whoever screwed up” on Julie Couillard’s security clearance—”[Maxime] Bernier, Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office, or CSIS, which conducts security clearance checks—it wasn’t the new, improved, washes whiter, 50% less salt RCMP.” But “we’ll never know,” since Souccar “went all coy” when asked if the Mounties had reported Couillard’s links to organized crime to the government. Thus far, it seems only Bernier himself is likely to take the fall.
Canadian justice, and the American brand
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford has picked her favourite (as is her wont) in the terrorism trial of one of the youths charged in the “Toronto 18” plot, and it’s RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh. “This is one very bright, likeable, educated fellow with a well-developed sense of humour who is a muscular salesman for his beleaguered faith of Islam,” she writes, and “a good Canadian boy with Canadian sensibilities” to boot. Why, he couldn’t even say the n-word when asked what name his alleged partners in crime used to describe their black 9 mm pistol! The defence will likely try to portray Shaikh as an “instigator” in the plot, Blatchford notes, but she believes “wiretaps refute this pretty solidly.”
Once again the Star‘s Thomas Walkom reports from the same courtroom on the same day as Blatchford, and once again you’d hardly know it. He chooses to focus on mysterious Afghan-Canadian taxi driver Qari Kifayatullah, to whom Shaikh was introduced by one of the alleged ringleaders and who “discuss[ed] the relative merits of truck bombs and assault rifles.” (He hasn’t been charged, and is “now reportedly a volunteer for the United Nations in Afghanistan.”) Walkom also chooses to describe Shaikh, weirdly, as an “advocate of sharia law,” which is true—but its relevance completely escapes us.
The appellate court judges who heard oral arguments on Conrad Black’s appeal last week “gave an inspired imitation of a bunch of lazy and even biased jurists who hadn’t done their homework, haven’t bothered reading the defence briefs, and haven’t got a clue about the case,” George Jonas writes in the Post, before rehashing all the reasons Black is, as he always has been, innocent. But perhaps, Jonas suggests, “shocking defence lawyers is [the judges’] purpose. … It may be how Yanks do the Socratic method.”
The new Washington
“[Hillary] Clinton’s loss is not a setback for women in politics or in any other public sphere,” says the Montreal Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall, who’s still sure sexism played a leading role in her second-place finish. In fact, she says Clinton’s gutsy performance “made it easier for other woman” to follow in her footsteps. “When people think of female candidates now, they’ll have an image in mind: A serious-minded, well-prepared woman who wears trouser suits and doesn’t always say or do the right thing,” she argues. “The mystery around how a female president might look or behave is gone.” (This strikes us as a rather odd argument; if we made it, we’d half-expect to be called sexist. Wouldn’t president Condoleezza Rice look and act rather differently than president Hillary Clinton, much like president George W. Bush looks and acts rather differently than president Jimmy Carter?)
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson looks at the positive demographic developments in Washington, D.C. that have resulted from rising incomes among African Americans, crime reduction in formerly sketchy areas, and the return of many white families from the suburbs to the city proper. “It really does seem … that the barriers are finally coming down, that people are finally learning how to live together, despite the weight of the past,” he writes. But a recent spate of shooting deaths in the rapidly gentrifying Northeast, and the angst it has provoked, is proof that setbacks are never far away.