LONG WEEKEND ROUNDUP
Must-reads: Scott Taylor on Serge Labbé; George Jonas on Solzhenitsyn; Graham Thomson in Afghanistan; Conrad Black on the future of the West; Dan Gardner on the precautionary principle; John Ibbitson on U.S. immigration reform.
Politics in summer? Non, merci.
By-election fever cured by beautiful weather, grudging acceptance of status quo. Film at 11.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe suggests the Conservatives take time out from torquing the Sept. 8 by-elections as a referendum on Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift and consider what they have to lose themselves. “Uh, but they have nothing to lose,” you might say. No no, says Yaffe, that’s just “media manipulation.” If the Tories want to be the “party to represent Quebec’s soft nationalists,” as Stephen Harper clearly hopes, then Guy Dufort (an employment lawyer) should be “aspiring to win” Westmount from Marc Garneau (a freakin’ astronaut… in Westmount). For the record, in 2006, the Conservative and Bloc Québécois candidates combined were 6,400 votes—15 per cent of the total—shy of the Liberals. We’ll say it again: it’s just not going to happen.
Immigration reform will be a major plank in the Liberal election campaign, The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin reports. The theme, according to his sources, will stress expansionism and “nation-building”, but will also enhance the provincial nominees’ program, whereby the provinces determine their own immigration needs. The Liberals have always benefited from the immigrant vote, Martin writes, but given that they refused to vote against the ostensibly disastrous Conservative immigration policy just months ago, it’s going to be an uphill PR battle.
Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, seems strangely impressed with Stephen Harper’s admonition to Stéphane Dion to “fish or cut bait” when it comes to criticizing the government but not forcing an election—indeed, he argues it single-handedly rescued the sport of Canadian politics from a summer of doomed carbon tax advertisements and waiting for Julie Couillard’s book to come out. “Not quite Barack Obama in Berlin, but still pretty good,” he says. We wouldn’t be even close to that impressed if it had been the first time Harper had dropped this particular “bomb,” which, of course, it isn’t.
No one should be surprised at the Conservatives’ numerous vacations from ideological principle, says the National Post‘s John Ivison, such as Jim Prentice’s “busy summer [of] blocking takeovers, handing out government subsidies and threatening giant corporations with regulation if they don’t mend their ways.” It’s just standard retail politics, he argues—and straight out of Tom Flanagan’s book to boot. Besides, says Ivison, Canadian politics has always been about “the subordination of substance to trivia.” Perhaps, but we don’t see why Terence Corcoran or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (whose naïve appeals to principle Ivison notes), or anyone else for that matter, should be satisfied with that state of affairs.
But it is summer, mind you, and the Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson believes Canadians simply don’t want to hear from politicians when it’s nice outside. They certainly don’t want to hear people like Denis Coderre criticizing the choice of Adam van Koeverden to be the Olympic flag-bearer because he’s not fluently bilingual, says MacPherson. And given the enthusiastic reception Paul McCartney received on the Plains of Abraham, despite the Parti Québécois’ embarrassing fulminations on the subject, he says you’d think MPs would take a hint. (Coderre doesn’t take hints, as MacPherson well knows.)
The Toronto Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui looks at the efforts of Jameel Jaffer, a Canadian lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, to pry loose the details of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and of the Bush administration’s tacit approval of torture. It would be a moderately interesting read if Siddiqui hadn’t insisted on crowbarring Canada into the narrative, which results in this somewhat gratuitous kicker: “It is good to know that a Canadian is exposing [the Bush administration’s behaviour], especially at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper finds very little wrong with it.”
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin reports on two “surreal” events: one, witnessing Ralph Klein interviewing Jean Chrétien as a guest host on CBC radio; and two, comparing them to their damp squib successors and actually missing them. “It would be hard to imagine the personality-challenged antagonists of today… engaging in respectful chummy talk now or even a few years after they leave office,” says Martin, and he’s right. On the other hand, we’d rather our politicians be earnestly antagonistic towards each other than be in it—as Chrétien told Klein—just “for the fun of it.”
We cannot, and will not, read another column by L. Ian MacDonald arguing that “the road to a Tory majority runs through small-town Quebec.” We just can’t. You’ve said it so many times, sir. Please stop it. (For the benefit of our self-flagellating readers, it’s in the Gazette—here.)
Collateral, and political, damage
The Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson profiles Elissa Golberg, our top civil servant in Kandahar, who is first and foremost a relentless optimist. “The spectacular jail break at Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City in June… would clearly seem a huge setback for the Canadian mission,” says Thomson, but Golberg argues it was simply an opportunity to introduce “new management techniques” to Afghan prisons—and, by gum, they had the front entrance to that smashed prison fixed in 36 hours flat! She does concede, however, that it’s hard work luring other senior civil servants to “one of the most dangerous postings in the world.”
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington suspects Stephen Harper’s penchant for micromanagement is creeping into the military arena, based on stories “one hears … of soldiers being told to shoot only at people who are armed”—a dangerous concession to the enemy, in his view, who will just better conceal their weapons. Managing “collateral damage” such as the children killed by a Canadian soldier last week is difficult enough without political meddling, Worthington believes, and we’re sure he’s right. It’d just be nice to know whether Harper was actually sticking his fingers in the pie.
Scott Taylor is shocked, appalled and confused by the retroactive promotion of Col. Serge Labbé—commander of the disgraced Canadian deployment to Somalia—to brigadier-general. His supporters believe his “12-year banishment from Canada” constituted cruel and unusual punishment, Taylor notes in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, but in that time he became “a key player on the international scene” working for NATO in Brussels, and was handsomely remunerated for his efforts. “Not bad,” he concludes, “for an officer whose men were jailed, his regiment disbanded, and he himself found to be a ‘failed commander’ by a public inquiry.”
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson surveys the scene in Manassas, Va., home to some of the country’s toughest anti-illegal immigrant measures, and finds Latinos fleeing in droves to adjacent counties, elsewhere in the U.S., and, in a surprising number of cases, back to Mexico. This is a nationwide phenomenon, Ibbitson notes, with huge implications for agriculture and other industries, and yet immigration reform has barely registered on the campaign trail. “It’s an issue that divides the country,” an immigration expert tells Ibbitson, “and neither [John McCain nor Barack Obama] wants that issue to come to the forefront, because it divides their base.”
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson believes Canadians need to “take off their rose-coloured glasses” and examine just what Barack Obama is “indirectly asking of” American allies: more of a commitment to Afghanistan (a request to which Canada could reasonably claim already to have fulfilled, Simpson notes); signing on to a continental cap-and-trade scheme and to ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets (which may reemerge from Congress as not-so-ambitious targets, Simpson concedes); and just generally dealing with a bunch of protectionist Democrats on a daily basis. We have to say, that really doesn’t sound too bad at all.
In the Post, Conrad Black politely takes issue with Robert Kagan’s theory that international relations will soon (in Black’s words) “retreat toward the Great Power world before 1914, and a world divided between alliances of democratic and autocratic states.” Kagan overestimates these nascent “great powers,” Black argues: Russia’s inexorable demographic decline is only eased by rising oil prices; China has little history of “strategic impetuosity”; and the European Union is “an over-bureaucratized shambles” that’s in need of “leadership from an American president to whom it cannot condescend.” In short, he concludes, unless Western leaders really bugger things up, “a Grand Alliance, led by the United States, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, and India should always be able to outbid China or Russia for any country’s goodwill, including each other’s.”
Just three days until the Olympics of Shame!
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno is struck by the lengths to which ordinary Beijingers are going to accommodate their foreign guests, “as if the very success of these entire Olympics depended on their own tiny contribution.” (They’ve even stopped spitting in the streets, she notes in a separate piece, albeit under threat of a fine.) This is “very sweet,” DiManno argues, but somewhat naïve given the anti-China pile-on currently underway in the world’s media and the promise of protests of one sort or another dominating the news in the coming weeks.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham argues that many of the IOC’s stipulations to host cities, most notably restrictions on where and when protests can take place, violate the same spirit of openness and democracy that the media now insist China adopt. It’s a fine point that’s somewhat spoiled by the opinions of University of Toronto sociologist Helen Lenskyj, who argues, among other things, that most Olympic athletes aren’t good role models because they don’t “align themselves publicly with progressive social movements such as civil rights, feminism, or in the case of Paralympians, disability rights movements.” Ghastly, isn’t it? We’ve heard some Olympians don’t even vote NDP!
George Jonas eulogizes Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Post, noting the “nearly insuperable odds” he had to beat—Hitler, Stalin, etc.—to live to 89 and to die a free man in Russia. It’s twistedly ironic, he argues, that the Soviet regime, which “killed millions who could and would have done it no harm,” failed to do away with the man whose “role in pulling down Marxism’s hideous house of cards” was exceeded only by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Ehud Olmert’s tenure as Prime Minister has left Israel in a full-blown crisis, Jonas argues in a separate piece, but Olmert was just a symptom. “Few nations have been stressed for as long as Israel,” he argues, so what we’re seeing may be “the political equivalent of metal fatigue.” Or it could be a “structural flaw” in Israeli democracy. But it’s just as possible, Jonas believes, that the original goal of the Israel experiment—i.e., “solving” anti-Semitism—has been proven a terminal failure. “If anything,” he writes, “establishing Israel … intensified existing Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism to European/ Christian levels and beyond, without reducing it elsewhere.” In Israel’s politics, newspapers and artistic output, Jonas sees “an old and exhausted nation.”
The collapse of the Doha trade talks is not the end of globalization or of trade liberalization, David Olive argues in the Star—as some “gloomy assessments” have posited—but the end of “the unwieldy process of trying to get representatives of 30-plus nations and trading blocs to agree on anything in a pressure-packed nine-day period.” The fundamental disputes over trade liberalization “were resolved long ago,” he argues, and we’ll now see bilateral trade negotiations accelerate.
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Journal, takes several hundred words to convince us that the most terrifying part of Tim McLean’s savage murder aboard a Greyhound bus is how random it was. If any of our readers didn’t conclude that within hours of the story breaking, we’ll buy them a Coke.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer looks at British Columbia’s growing list of road-related nightmares, from billion-dollar highway extensions to crumbling bridges to crap-tonnes of boulders raining down on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. They all share three qualities, he notes: they are “critical,” they are “controversial,” and they are “costly.”
The Financial Post‘s Terence Corcoran reiterates his belief that no matter what polls, statistics and the New York Times say, the North American romance with the automobile still has plenty of spark. It is, after all, “the great North American freedom machine.” He may be right, but what we can’t figure out is that Corcoran seems to think it’s a good idea for everyone to keep driving just as they were. We understand the thrill of proving the Times wrong, but shouldn’t even a climate change skeptic be able to appreciate the benefits of driving less?
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner suggests that modern-day application of the precautionary principle when it comes to carcinogenic cell phones, Bisphenol-A, breast implants and other health scares is “almost the mirror image of the tobacco industry’s doubt campaign” in the 1950s—i.e., where Big Tobacco pitched absolute certainty as the minimum threshold for action, governments and advocacy groups now believe the mere possibility of a threat is reason to act. They never mention the “trade-offs” and “unintended consequences” of such moves, Gardner argues—including, in the case of BPA, the fact that “millions of parents now worry they have poisoned their children.”
And now, for something completely inconsequential
We are considering allowing David Frum back into the Megapundit fold after his Giuliani-related banishment, but he seems to have stopped writing about politics altogether. Instead he regales Post readers with the following story: he was alone in Washington for much of the summer, and struggled to find activities to keep him occupied, but now he’s meeting up with the wife and kids in Muskoka. It wouldn’t even be a half-decent blog post, really.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford tells the class what she did on her summer vacation.
And the Globe‘s Margaret Wente continues her Ripken-esque streak of non-must-read columns with a piece on how bewildering technology is to old people. We like the part where she marvels at all the things you can do on an iPhone: Baseball scores! Movie showtimes! Recipes! It’s called the Internet, ma’am. They just put it on a phone now.