Must-reads: Christie Blatchford on Gerry Ritz; Doug Saunders on the Eurabia hypothesis; David Olive on uniting the left; John Ivison in northern Ontario; Rosie DiManno and Peter Worthington on Afghanistan; Scott Taylor on Canada and the Caucasus; Konrad Yakabuski on Justin Trudeau; L. Ian MacDonald on what Jean Charest’s up to.
On the issues
Behold: all the things we’re not talking about!
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington is not impressed by the “tomb of silence” in which the Harperites have sealed all matters military: notably, committing to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 and replacing the outspoken Rick Hillier with Walter Natynczyk, who seems more shy about vocally “standing up for soldiers and reviving our combat character”—both of which, in Worthington’s view, seem to make the Prime Minister “nervous.” The army needs at least “an additional brigade,” he argues, and ideally to double in size, but recent events lead him to fear that “lethargy is again taking over before the military rebuilding job is done.”
“The yearning for peace in Afghanistan hasn’t dwindled,” the Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno assures us, but “there is growing disenchantment with NATO, which clearly can’t contend with a resurgent Taliban.” American troops redeployed from Iraq might be able to do the job, she argues, but “the whole point of NATO taking over responsibility of Afghanistan—besides justifying its existence post Cold War—was to put a multinational face, earnest and humanitarian, on the mission.” Due to many factors including the component nations’ inability or unwillingness to commit enough troops to combat duty, DiManno seems more or less ready to call that mission a failure.
Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, is struck by Harper’s ongoing insistence that admitting Georgia into NATO would have prevented Russia from flexing its muscles in the region—a position that has no more been vindicated by the South Ossetian fracas than the opposite, held by European members of the alliance, that it would have represented a serious provocation. “It would be difficult for Canada to plot any alternative course due to the fact that we maintain absolutely no diplomatic footprint in the entire Caucasus,” Taylor concedes. But that alone is probably reason enough not to be “blindly supporting Bush’s position in this developing drama.”
The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin interviews former Canadian diplomat James Bissett, a longtime and vocal critic of Canada’s immigration system, who believes Canadians and their politicians are “sleepwalking into the 21st century”—afraid of having an honest debate on immigration lest they be labelled a bigot. (Martin himself provides a perfect example of this timorous state of affairs, we think, when he notes that Bissett “has a son married to a black woman and a daughter married to a Cuban. Who the bloody hell cares?)
“Supposedly free-market Republicans are nationalizing insurance companies in New York and supposedly prudent Conservatives are subsidizing auto plants in Ontario,” observes the Chronicle-Herald‘s Dan Leger. The end times may very well be upon us, in other words, and “what do we get from our political leadership on both sides of the border? Slogans and bafflegab.” Stephen Harper, against all logic, promises “economic certainty”; the Liberals “seem entirely unprepared,” perhaps hoping their reputation as “master improvisers, wizards at muddling through” will carry the day; and Layton wants to raise taxes on corporations that employ tons of people and use the money to subsidize other companies that employ tons of people. (We’re headed down to Costco tonight to stock up on Spam, bottled water and multivitamins, incidentally. If anyone wants to carpool, drop us a line.)
We can only hope John Ralston Saul does a better job in his new book than Haroon Siddiqui does in the Star of explaining what seems to be a manifestly preposterous theory: that Canada “is not a civilization that emerged out of the Judeo-Christian line,” but rather a “Métis civilization” in denial of itself—”inspired as much by four centuries of life with the indigenous civilizations as by four centuries of immigration,” yet perennially and mistakenly obsessed with the empires of the day. This disconnect, Saul apparently argues, explains everything from why we allow so much foreign ownership of our corporations to why border guards now carry sidearms. We cock a very skeptical eyebrow in this argument’s general direction.
Life after the Green Shift
“Two weeks into the election that Harper desperately desired, he hasn’t offered the public a single significant policy or spending plan,” Randall Denley observes in the Ottawa Citizen. “And that might be exactly what the public wants.” Denley certainly doesn’t think the Liberals’ and NDP’s dueling massive spending proposals are what Canadians want—especially when, in the case of the Liberals’ $70-billion infrastructure plan, under which new money would only in during “the imaginary second Dion mandate,” the proposal in question is a “masterpiece of packaging and little more.”
In the Edmonton Journal, Lorne Gunter counts the many ways in which Stéphane Dion’s claim that the Green Shift never constituted a major Liberal policy is utterly ridiculous. Indeed, he asks, if climate change is really (in Dion’s words) “the greatest ecological threat that humanity has yet faced,” how could it not be?
Not a major campaign plank, eh? “That would explain why Dion has talked about little else since the carbon tax was unveiled [in] June, and [the] $15 billion of Liberal campaign promises [that] are supposed to be funded from the scheme,” Sun Media’s Greg Weston responds. It really is a rather pathetic manoeuvre, we agree, though perhaps a necessary one. So what next? Open mutiny? Weary Liberals concede to Weston there’s little they can do. But, one adds, “if it looks as though we are going to be incinerated at the polls, you never know what people will do to try to save the furniture.”
Most people in northern Ontario seem to be “too conservative to vote Conservative,” the National Post‘s John Ivison reports, having knocked on doors and hit the local Tim Horton’s locations. Instead, he observes, many Sudburians, both anglophone and francophone, seem annoyed that Harper called an election in the first place—”defying the predictions of the armchair pundits who said [the broken promise on fixed election dates] would be forgotten on day one of the campaign—and with no obvious reason to swing to the NDP, seem ready to vote the way they always have: Liberal. “I expect things’ll just stay the same,” one coffee-drinker remarks—”to no one’s great chagrin,” Ivison adds.
The meaning of Gerry Ritz
For a government running for reelection based on “coffee shop wisdom” and lack of risk, the Star‘s James Travers says the listeriosis outbreak represents a significant problem—or it should, anyway. Indeed, he thinks the real significance of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s off-colour jokes was that they represented “an untimely peek into laissez-faire government.” (This is a somewhat odd contention, it seems to us. Surely the agriculture minister not having a discussion about the outbreak would have made a better peek.)
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom believes the comments were “unnerving” because they’re “far too indicative of the Conservative government’s casual attitude toward an epidemic that has already killed 18″—an epidemic that, if the Canadian Medical Association Journal is to be believed, might be directly traceable back to regulatory changes made by Liberal and Conservative governments. That’s a better argument than Travers’, but we can’t help thinking that until we know what, if anything, the government or Ritz himself did wrong, his jokes were just that—jokes—and completely beside the larger point.
To the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford, the imbroglio represents “the epitome of the insufferable, sanctimonious orthodoxy which now reigns in the land.” Circle gets the square! For starters, as she says, “the lines are funny,” and the fact that he’s a public servant is irrelevant because “he wasn’t making a public statement”—just like foul-mouthed journalists aren’t making public statements when they make far worse comments every day in newsrooms, she adds, expressing befuddlement at the CBC’s cluster-bomb coverage of the affair. What Ritz did was exactly what surgeons do once the patient is under, what teachers do “in the privacy of the staff room” and what nurses do “on their breaks,” she contends, and has no bearing whatsoever on Ritz’s performance.
Votez for me, le son de Peter Trudeau!
The Globe‘s Konrad Yakabuski goes a-door-knockin’ with Justin Trudeau in Papineau and finds its denizens more than enthusiastic about his candidacy. But first Yakabuski wants you to know about Trudeau’s “bizarre” campaign videos “in which he repeatedly shifts from French to English in the same sentence and displays the kind of overwrought elocution of a poor thespian;” that he rocked up to Canada Day celebrations in Montreal “wearing his father’s famous fringed buckskin jacket”; that, among other gaffes, “he has championed the Charter rights of extraterrestrials”; that “he often comes off as neither well read nor self-aware”; and that his entrée into politics “has not been preceded by any identifiable achievement.” (Oh, but he is well-read, Mr. Yakabuski. Just ask him. While lesser children were engrossed Little Red Riding Hood, he was reading Joyce.)
Wonder no more what Jean Charest is “up to” with his tacit or overt support for various Tory candidates in Quebec. His policy, as L. Ian MacDonald explains in the Montreal Gazette, has always been to back “the federalist candidate [in any given riding] … who has the best chance of beating the Bloc Québécois”—particularly, as is currently the case with André Bachand in Sherbrooke and Michael Fortier in Vaudreuil-Soulanges, when those candidates happen to be close associates of the Premier and (in Fortier’s case) can help him form a free trade pact with the EU.
When Thomas Mulcair, Jack Layton and company voted in May to extend Bill 101’s purview to the federal government in Quebec, Don MacPherson writes in the Gazette, they had a legal opinion in their hands stating the move might infringe on “the fundamental rights of English-speaking Quebecers.” And they did it anyway. This is unfortunate, says MacPherson, considering the unpopular, principled stance the NDP took in 1970 opposing the suspension of civil liberties while we dealt with the FLQ. (We think linking the two things is a bit of a stretch, frankly.)
The final humiliation: uniting the left
“It is virtually impossible to find a single progressive voice that has anything good to say about Stephen Harper’s record or the prospects of his re-election,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Star. “But the country’s environment movement, its articulate cultural community, its activist social movement and its outspoken intellectuals are united only in opposition to Harper” when they might more logically be rallying behind the Liberals or NDP. There may be a “sound rationale” for this, she concedes—i.e., each party’s supporters generally think the others are eeeeevil—but “the message to voters is more perplexing than illuminating.”
The idea of uniting the Canadian left is “something of a misnomer,” writes the Star‘s David Olive, as the resulting party ” would be an awkward coalescence of corporate-apologist Liberals, capitalist-bashing Dippers, the separatist Bloc Quebecois and libertarian Greens.” (What in holy hell… the libertarian Greens?! He must be talking about a different party we’ve never heard of.) But the time for such a move, Olive argues, is right. The Dippers are no longer completely beholden to the unions, and “the NDP that sought to quit NATO and nationalize banks and oil companies is long past”—indeed, why bother pulling out of NATO when you can just summarily abandon your commitments to it, say, by pulling out of Afghanistan immediately? And the Liberals, meanwhile, have “lost most of their right-wing stalwarts” but not their unslakeable thirst for power. Expect discussions to begin in earnest on Oct. 15, Olive advises.
About those Greens…
Having spent some time with Elizabeth May, Margaret Wente‘s overall impression of the Green Party leader is of “an energetic parish priest, delivering hope and a message of uplift to whoever wants to listen”—”someone who wants to knit together a community, and find a better way to live.” In short, Wente argues in the Globe, it’s pretty well impossible not to like her. Unfortunately, neither a BMO economist nor the president of the Greenhouse Emissions Management Consortium commissioned by Wente to examine the Greens’ platform thinks much of it. (The latter, in fact, suggests “her budget doesn’t balance unless we massively increase our carbon emissions.)
“The Greens, like the NDP, take themselves very seriously indeed,” says the Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson, but having read through their platform, he says they “are fortunate that most Canadians do not.” Withdrawing from NAFTA, corporate tax hikes and enforcing a 35-hour work week are pure pie-in-the-sky if not flat-out bad ideas, he maintains. On climate change, however, where they support a carbon tax over the more politically advantageous cap-and-trade scenario fronted by the NDP and Tories, they’re just super!
She can’t bomb it if she can’t find it
The positive way to look at Sarah Palin’s otherwise jaw-dropping candidacy for vice-president of the United States, Dan Gardner ventures in the Citizen, is to reason that “given the unchallenged supremacy of the American military and the temptations of empire, it speaks well of Americans that they prefer to stay home and eat hot dogs rather than conquer foreign lands”—or even visit them, in the case of Palin, who has held a passport for less than two years. We Canadians are in no position to accuse anyone of parochialism, as Gardner says. But while Americans can reasonably conclude foreign affairs are unlikely to impact “the product purchases and backyard barbecues to which their lives are devoted,” we Canadians must tremble in fear at the mighty swath a Palin vice-presidency (or—gulp!—presidency) might cut.
“A year ago, I wrote that democracy may come to Pakistan, and with it, catastrophe,” George Jonas recalls in the Post. “Both seem to be proceeding on schedule.” And while the thought of “Palin leading the free world requires a leap of faith I can’t muster,” he continues, at least she “offers the possibility of a pleasant surprise.” Joe Biden, apparently, would be far worse, though Jonas neglects to explain just what specific grievance he has with him.
Barack Obama’s “narrative” is “the very Perrier water (or is it San Pellegrino now?) of the better campaign reportage,” Rex Murphy writes in the Globe. “Take no hike up Pundit Mountain without it.” But as the election nears and Obama attempts to take all the hopes and dreams that have been projected onto him to the White House, Murphy believes the romance has faded. “He has shrunk into a combative partisan. He crowds his own screen, leaves less space for projection. Others are not writing his narrative now—he’s inscribing his own.” It doesn’t mean he can’t win, of course; it just means there’ll be a smaller choir of angels at the victory party.
If the U.S. government expects to get 80 per cent of the value from all these crap mortgages they’re absorbing, Terence Corcoran asks in the Post, then why were Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers forced to record those assets at 22 and 39 cents on the dollar, respectively, thus “trashing their balance sheets?” It’s a fine enough question, but with all due respect to Corcoran, we—economic ignoramuses that we are—still can’t help thinking that something other than over-regulation contributed to this wee mess we’re in.
The Globe‘s Doug Saunders agrees with Mark Steyn that “Islamic faith is bad for people, and political Islam is a threat that deserves to be likened to fascism.” He just doesn’t think it’s a particularly significant threat. And, he convincingly argues, the other two major planks in Steyn’s Eurabia hypothesis—i.e., the idea that Europe will in fairly short order be a Muslim continent, to everyone’s detriment—are unadulterated codswallop. Muslim populations aren’t breeding significantly faster than “native” ones, he notes, and their fertility rates are actually declining (though he concedes the overall Muslim population might reach a staggering six per cent, up from its current, soothing four per cent, by 2020). And Steyn’s idea that secularism is behind the drop in “native” fertility is fatally weakened, says Saunders, by the fact that the most religious nations in Europe (Poland and Italy) have the lowest birth rates—and vice-versa.