Must-reads: Rosie DiManno on female police in Afghanistan, and on American troops’ enemy-making skills; Scott Taylor on Kandahar prison; Daphne Bramham on the children of the FLDS: Lawrence Martin on Liberal incivility; Thomas Walkom on Roy Romanow; Dan Gardner on pesticides and science; Greg Weston on the lost promise of openness and accountability.
It’s official: the pundits have absolutely nothing good to say about federal politics. And away we go…
If anyone’s going to investigate the unlikely prospect that Maxime Bernier’s left-behind documents represented a security breach, Lysiane Gagnon suggests it be the foreign affairs department, and if necessary CSIS and the RCMP. Committee hearings would be “a joke,” she writes in The Globe and Mail—a “partisan circus,” just like they’ve been at the Schreibergelder hearings. If MPs are really this desperate for something to occupy their well-paid time, she suggests they discuss military equipment, Omar Khadr and the private members bills “that many fear might eventually lead to the criminalization of abortion.”
The Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert says Stephen Harper’s “crafting [of] a bipartisan consensus on the future of the Canadian mission in Kandahar” was a rare snapshot of successful “Conservative statesmanship”—a triumph of “finesse” over his manifest preference for “brute strength.” This recollection seems a tad airbrushed to us, but she’s quite right that the government’s been pretty much crap since then, if not before. The positive contributions of Jim Prentice and David Emerson in cabinet are routinely undone by Peter Van Loan’s “overly partisan tone,” she argues, and it’s needlessly damaging the government’s reputation.
And they haven’t even delivered on their simple promise of a more open and accountable government, Sun Media’s Greg Weston argues. In fact, he says, the government’s Accountability Act “is a sham”—it has led to less openness, which is exactly what critics said it would do “and exactly what [Harper’s] strategists planned.”
Then there’s the Liberals, clutching at every two-bit scandal that’s befallen the government “with the fury of a drowning man grabbing a passing twig”—as Rex Murphy puts it in the Globe. “Scandals are a proven shortcut to power,” it’s true, but while they “subtract from some of the public’s consistent, if grudging, esteem for the Prime Minister,” Murphy suspects they won’t really help the Grits. Certainly, he argues, “a sensible recommendation … on a real issue—say, gasoline prices”—would help them more. (The problem is, if Stéphane Dion comes out forcefully against fuel prices going up—especially now that he’s pro-carbon tax—he comes off as a bit of a hypocrite)
Dion is right about the Tories being incapable of anything but “the politics of destruction,” says the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin. But he’s incapable of capitalizing on it because the Liberals’ “indignant fury” and demands for “cabinet resignations by the hour” aren’t much different. “Where’s their plan to change the system?” he asks—to “clean up” the PMO, to “have a Speaker of the Chamber who exercises the power he has to keep the debate civil?” Especially since the Van Loan Brigade is so obnoxious, Martin suggests the Liberals have been “presented with a spectacular opportunity to show a new ethic.
Indeed they have. It’s difficult to conclude anything except that they like it this way. And frankly, we’re forced to question how serious Martin himself is about parliamentary reform after reading this piece, in which he refers to Pierre Poilievre as an “impressive young Conservative MP.” That is a shocking misstatement of fact. Yellow card.
From the Big Cod to the… Quiet Walleye?
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford interviews outgoing Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier, who says a bunch of reasonably interesting things, but none quite as odd as his effusive praise for The Canadian Politician. Why, he wonders aloud, would they “impose upon themselves the burden of being political leaders in a country which treats its political leaders like dirt”? Why must Canadians regard them with such “cynicism, indeed even suspicion”? We expected a punchline, but none came. So we propose the following experiment: Hillier gets politicians to stop insulting Canadians’ intelligence on an hourly basis, and we’ll see if the attitude improves.
Lt.-Gen. Walter Natynczyk is “an unblemished appointment” to succeed Hillier, says the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin—”one endorsed as first choice by both Hillier and [Defence Minister Peter] MacKay.” But while recouping some civilian control from the independent-minded Hillier is a plus, he says Natynczyk is ill-suited to take over the role of “chief salesman for the difficult deployment in Kandahar.”
We’ve made two passes over James Travers‘ piece in the Star in search of usable content, and he seems to be saying much the same thing: Natynczyk’s the same as Hillier, only quieter and less ambitious. But that might actually be good for the Harperites, since John Manley told them to dial the war back a bit.
Natynczyk “has more extensive experience at high command during warfare than any living Canadian,” says the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington, and as such is “a superb choice.” The fact that much of this experience was gained as deputy commander of the U.S. Army’s III Corps in Iraq is ironic, he suggests, given our self-satisfied abstaining from that conflict. But the trust of the American military is also a huge positive now that U.S. forces are re-engaging in southern Afghanistan.
You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno gingerly approaches a stationary American military convoy on a gridlocked highway near Kabul to request that an ambulance be allowed to pass, has a machine gun pointed at her, gets in a profane shouting match with a soldier over his treatment of her “Afghan colleague” (we’re not sure exactly whom she’s referring to), and muses over how many “enemies were made on this afternoon.” The ambulance, for the record, got past.
DiManno also speaks to Malalai Kaker, who’s the first Afghan woman she’s ever seen smoke a cigarette and, far more impressively, was “the first girl—just 14 years old—to enroll in the Kandahar Police Academy.” About 20 years later, she’s a deputy commander fending off daily death threats from the Taliban, toting an AK-47 and investigating various crimes—rape and domestic abuse, most notably—that generally go unpunished in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, by law, she can’t even drive herself to and from these engagements.
Elsewhere in Kandahar province, the unembedded Scott Taylor decides to drop in on the notorious Kandahar prison—with just 90 minutes notice!—and finds a vastly improved facility where prisoner safety and rights are being monitored by Afghan, NATO and Canadian officials. He interviews three inmates for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald—”two policemen who either failed in their duty or deliberately sold out their comrades and an illiterate teenager”—and concludes that while they’re hardly “the backbone of the Taliban, … their tales certainly shed some interesting light on a complex and challenging insurgency.”
Graham Thomson bids Edmonton Journal readers farewell for a year. He’s off to Afghanistan for CanWest, and then to the University of Toronto’s Massey College, under a Canadian Journalism Fellowship, to study “the environmental impact of the oilsands and [to] investigate … whether the capture and storage of carbon dioxide underground is a viable idea.”
Health and happiness
Roy Romanow’s landmark report on Canadian healthcare had significant, unarguable benefits, the Star‘s Thomas Walkom argues, chief among them that it “reminded the country that national public health insurance exists in Canada because Canadians want it and because it works.” That established, however, Romanow is profoundly dispirited about the half-measures, at best, governments have taken to implementing his recommendations.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner sifts through the mountain of opprobrium he received after quoting a Health Canada study showing that the “there is reasonable certainty that no harm to human health, future generations or the environment will result from use or exposure” to the pesticide 2,4-D. He discovers two main themes: one, that “reasonable certainty” isn’t good enough for our children, of whom we must at all times be thinking, and two, that Health Canada’s panel of scientists was somehow “incompetent.” On the first matter, he responds, “reasonable certainty” is all science can ever give us about anything; and on second, he notes that if they are incompetent and wrong, at least they have company in the World Health Organization and “regulatory agencies in Europe, the United States and New Zealand.”
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Post, takes issue with the idea—as espoused, for instance, by William Gorton—that an abundance of “freedom, individualism, [and] autonomy” may actually be behind increasing levels of unhappiness in western societies. Gunter suspects we’re actually becoming less happy because the appearance of freedom is being “undermined by a growing, rapacious state”—human rights commissions, the Canada Wheat Board, seatbelts, bicycle helmets, anti-smoking laws, etc.—that tries to legislate what was once adequately enforced by common sense. It’s a nice theory. It’d be even nicer if he had a shred of evidence to back it up.
Roll over, Explorer
The Star‘s David Olive recounts the history of the SUV, from the “pug ugly” 1963 Jeep Wagoneer to the groundbreaking Ford Explorer to Detroit’s disastrous over-reliance on the genre while more prescient automakers anticipated a shift towards fuel efficiency, to the inevitable crisis now unfolding at North American auto plants.
Meanwhile, back in the present day, the Star‘s Thomas Walkom bemoans the fact that governments still think handouts and subsidies are the best way to keep the automakers afloat. If the issue were purely economic, he suggests, that might work. But GM’s Oshawa plant is “one of its most productive.” So in a rational, purely economic world, it should be shifting production of more fuel-efficient cars northward and shutting down factories statestide—but as an American icon, it simply can’t. As such, Walkom concludes, the solution to Ontario job losses needs to be far more complex.
The Globe‘s Margaret Wente talks to Research in Motion gazillionaire Mike Lazaridis, who’s pouring his own money into organizations seeking to “harness brainpower in a way that will eventually benefit all mankind.” She thinks we should be hearing more from such “techno-optimists” in the media and less from aggrieved auto workers—who are, with all due respect, the past. Lazaridis and his brainy industries are the future.
The Hillary conundrum
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson previews the Barack Obama-John McCain battle and suggests it’s very much a return to the 1960s. “Mr. Obama’s own campaign narrative is lifted straight from that decade’s youth movement,” he argues, with its “efforts to create a more just society, to lift up the poor, to advance the black American, to provide health care and quality education for all”—all of which “are being frustrated by an unjust and unpopular war.” McCain, meanwhile “is the man who answered the call to duty, suffered in that foul war and then returned to serve his country.”
George Jonas, writing in the National Post, doesn’t envy Obama for having to decide what to do with the Clintons, whom he describes as “a pair of decaying teeth in the mouth of the Democratic party.” On the one hand, there’s a blue-collar-to-red-neck coalition that would have voted for Clinton but that’s happy now to vote for John McCain. Put her on the ticket, however, and “those Democrats who put Bill and the Missus in a league with the bubonic plague … may head for the hills.”
With two consecutive CROP polls showing the Quebec Liberals in majority territory, the Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson feels safe in declaring it “a trend.” And the temptation for Jean Charest to call an election must be significant, he muses, despite the government’s disavowals. But with little in the way of “controversial legislation” to get the opposition’s dander up, and little incentive for the Parti Québécois and Action démocratique to vote together against the government, MacPherson says it may be a difficult task to send Quebeckers to the polls without looking opportunistic.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham reports that Teressa Wall has settled her child custody dispute with Roy Blackmore—of the polygamist, Bountiful, B.C. Blackmores—and will now settle down in Idaho with her three children, free from the oppressive lifestyle of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Wall’s sister Elissa, meanwhile, has also had her children returned to her—by Texas authorities, in the wake of the state supreme court ruling on the raid of the FLDS compound. Her children, by contrast, “will grow up within in a reclusive, polygamous sect where toys, television and books are banned and where church, not family, comes first.”