Must-reads: David Olive and Don Martin on the auto industry; Dan Gardner on oil addiction; John Ivison on losing confidence in the Tories; Chantal Hébert on Jean Charest and Dalton McGuinty; Christie Blatchford on the Toronto 18.
The death of the truck
Things aren’t as bad as they look for the internal combustion industry… yet.
Auto industry consultant Dennis DesRosiers has last month as “the second best in the history of Canadian auto manufacturing,” Don Martin notes in the Calgary Herald, and even as GM slashes jobs in Oshawa, Ford is adding 500 in Oakville to make the “new Flex crossover vehicle, complete with what sounds like a beer cooler in the console.” This is what happens when gasoline crests $1.30, he argues, and Buzz Hargrove “is clearly off his meds if he truly believes this truck sales skid is preventable or reversible.” Far more sensible than propping up production of gas-guzzlers, as McGuinty seems determined to continue to do, would be to invest in “advanced efficiency or environmental technologies for the auto industry.”
“This is the great reckoning,” David Olive writes in the Toronto Star. This is what Detroit gets for betting the farm on “gas-guzzling but high-margin SUVs and heavy trucks” when $1.30 gasoline was “foreseeable,” while mulishly refusing to invest in their own hybrid vehicles. And this is what Dalton McGuinty gets for not tying “auto-sector subsidies to a Detroit commitment to small, fuel-efficient vehicles.” “The new Motown bosses reject the … tradition of satisfaction with intermittent profits,” Olive concludes, “and will be dispensing still more bitter medicine” in hopes of stable profits and stable employment for its workers. There isn’t a thing Hargrove can do about it but “fulminate.” And away he goes…
The 1973 oil crisis is often attributed to OPEC’s embargo on the United States, Dan Gardner writes in the Ottawa Citizen, but the US was paying just as much for oil as any other country; they just had to buy it from middlemen nations to which OPEC would sell. Oil is a fungible commodity, he notes, meaning a barrel costs the same everywhere in the world no matter what its provenance. Thus, he argues, the still-unlearned lesson of 1973 was that reliance on “foreign oil” isn’t the problem—reliance on oil, period, is. As such, he isn’t quite sure what Michael Ignatieff is on about with his musings on trans-Canada “pipelines and whatnot.” “What does it matter if Ontario gets its oil from Alberta or the world market?” he asks, when Ontario will pay the same price regardless of production fluctuations in far-flung petro-states.
The biker chick and the crisis of confidence
“Much of the fury” about Julie Couillard “seemed to be directed at the low-cut dress she wore to a stuffy event in a stuffy town,” the Montreal Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall complains, which led to all sorts of “over-heated labels” being applied: “adventuress”; “self-made woman”; “not the kind of woman a high-level politician would have as a wife.” We don’t see what’s wrong with the first two, frankly, and as “Victorian” as the third sounds, there may well be something to it. It’s not as if it’s been 20 years since she was hitched to a single biker gang member; there were three biker gang members, and she only parted way with the last in 2005. It’s definitely true that “it was Bernier who chose to make her problem the nation’s,” but who told her to shop her story to the Star or go on TVA? We’re having a hard time sharing Bagnall’s sympathy.
Questions about Stephen Harper’s competence in the wake of Bernier’s leave-behind-gone wrong aren’t entirely fair, L. Ian MacDonald argues in the Gazette, especially when it comes to appointing him to foreign affairs in the first place. “Monday-morning quarterbacking,” MacDonald sniffs: Bernier was “a coming man” when he was appointed, and Harper needed someone to soothe jangled Quebec nerves over the Van Doos’ deployment to Afghanistan. But taking the scandal on tour in Europe was a “misbegotten” venture even before the whole “Italian caveat” disaster, he concedes, and Bernier’s various gaffes at foreign affairs are a legitimate concern. Conventional wisdom holds that Tory governments will survive a reputation for “heartlessness” so long as they’re “perceived as competent,” MacDonald notes. Harper had better mind the gap.
Though recently passed immigration reforms were “poorly sold,” the National Post‘s John Ivison says they were a rare example of the Tories espousing “a real vision of how to make government work better in the interest of the majority of Canadians.” Most of the government’s other attempts at “reconnecting with voters smack of meanness,” he argues—notably its opposition to Insite and to Omar Khadr’s repatriation, and “the repeated assaults on Dalton McGuinty’s government by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty”—and are increasingly running afoul of public opinion to boot. Ivison suspects the Tories are simply “tired” after 18 months on “election red alert,” but they’ll need to wake up quickly “to arrest an incipient crisis of confidence among voters.”
Two solitudes, one battle
On the role of the federal government, on Senate reform and House of Commons rebalancing, on equalization and even on climate change, Chantal Hébert says Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest are about as naturally opposed as any two Canadian premiers could be. So what Cupid pierced their hearts with his gold-tipped arrow? “It took Stephen Harper to bring these two unlikely soulmates to the altar of this week’s joint cabinet meeting,” Hébert writes in the Star. “McGuinty and Charest’s opposition to the direction of the Conservative government on core issues such as the environment and the economy now outweighs the impressive sum of their reciprocal disagreements.”
“Ontario and Quebec regularly announce they have rediscovered the historic partnership that gave rise to Confederation 141 years ago,” pshaws the Star‘s Thomas Walkom, though he provides only two examples: Mitch Hepburn’s partnership with Maurice Duplessis against Willion Lyon Mackenzie King and Mike Harris’ partnership with Lucien Bouchard against Jean Chrétien. What’s different now is the oily stench of fear that drives the two premiers, he suggests. “Canada’s two big provinces are unnerved,” says Walkom. “The system in place since 1989, whereby Ontario built things, sold them to the U.S. and used some of the money earned to subsidize its next-door neighbour …, is breaking down.”
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson lays out Barack Obama’s choices when it comes to picking a running-mate: Hillary Clinton (would win votes in the heartland, but comes with a very obvious, silver-haired downside); a “surrogate” for Clinton such as Ohio governor Ted Strickland or Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (problem is, neither is a woman); pick a “reflection” of himself such as John Edwards; or go totally off the board. After all, Ibbitson concludes, “there is no real evidence that, apart from [Lyndon] Johnson and Texas in 1960, a vice-presidential candidate ever contributed much to getting a president elected.”
“Of all the specious tactics trotted out by the enemies of marijuana legalization,” Jonathan Kay writes in the Post, “by far the most annoying” is their tendency to “compose odes to alcohol’s virtues that would make a Bacardi marketing executive blush.” But he suspects most social conservatives—like, er, his mother, Barbara Kay, whose reefer-prohibitionist ramblings are commonly sighted on Post property—don’t really care about what marijuana does. They just want “to freeze-dry our society in its current (or, better yet, past) form,” he suggests, “complete with senseless hypocrisies.”
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno reports on the death of Capt. Richard Leary in the Panjwaii district in southern Afghanistan yesterday. Details are scarce. But as “this was the second Canadian soldier killed in a gun battle on a dismounted patrol in the past month,” she thinks it safe to conclude the Taliban have “twigged” to the fact that more such patrols are taking place—”not so much because they want to show their faces … but to more cautiously scour the ground for things that might go BOOM.” Unfortunately, old-fashioned small arms fire, such as killed Capt. Leary, remains a constant threat.
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington doesn’t think the Toronto Police, under mayor David Miller’s supervision, are doing enough to investigate gun violence in the city’s black community or to gain a comprehensive understanding of the “groups” to which both the victims and the culprits tend to belong. As such, he asks, “how can we, as a society, expect the victims of shootings to speak up” when they “may well be the next victims.” Clearly this is of no concern to Miller, he sneers, who’s busy “fearlessly stand[ing] up to legal gun clubs.”
Recorded conversations among the so-called “Toronto 18” terrorism suspects are of “breathtaking inanity,” the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford concedes as the trial of one youth in the group gets underway. But “the popular refrain” in the media seems to be that “this hapless lot couldn’t organize a one-car funeral, let alone anything more sinister,” and she assures us that many of the recordings—inanity aside—are genuinely frightening. “Why was the group so surveillance-conscious,” she asks, if they were just horsing around? “Why the lengths to disguise, however ludicrously, what they were talking about?”