Must-reads: Andrew Cohen on the meaning of Scotiabank Place; Jeffrey Simpson and John Ivison on the Liberal platform; Jonathan Kay on the new racism; Konrad Yakabuski on the arts funding fallout in Quebec.
Policy in the age of personality
Nice campaign platform you’ve got there, Mr. Dion. Be a shame if nobody paid any attention to it.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the platform the Liberals unveiled yesterday, says the Toronto Star‘s James Travers. The Green Shift is both necessary and “benign,” he argues, and the “numbers more or less add up. Manageable spending hikes and modest cost-cutting mean there’s not much to reinforce Harper’s caricature of Dion as a defty-lefty disaster waiting to happen.” But the problem is, Travers says, that’s not what this election’s about. “Come Oct. 14, it won’t matter enough that Liberals would rescue the cancelled court challenges program, reverse arts funding cuts or bring diminished foreign affairs back to glory,” he writes. These days, apparently, Canadians vote with their guts.
The National Post‘s John Ivison thinks slightly more of Canadian voters, suggesting they’ll be judging whether Dion is competent enough to effect “an ambitious shift in the tax system that yields a richer, fairer, greener Canada.” Unfortunately for Dion, Ivison believes it’s pretty much impossible to predict whether the Liberal leader can pull it off or not. “If the carbon tax works as the Liberal leader hopes, emissions will tumble as people substitute away from carbon,” he notes. “But if they tumble, so will tax revenue and what will then pay for the $55-billion plan that he has already set in place?” In general it’s folly to think of election platforms and their component cost predictions as anything but statements of “desired, rather than expected” outcomes, Ivison argues. But the Green Shift is ostensibly something much more fundamental and important, and thus more vulnerable to its own uncertainties.
For Sun Media’s Greg Weston, the bottom line on the Green Shift is this: “Families with more than $60,000 in income would be lucky to get back in lower taxes anything close to what they would pay in higher energy and other costs.” And the bottom line on the platform as a whole is this: too bloody expensive! Don’t you guys know there’s a war on? Or, well, a financial meltdown, anyway? And “did we mention Dion’s fiscal plan also promises to restore income trusts?” an unimpressed Weston asks. “Honest.”
Whereas Weston is skeptical of Liberal plans to squeeze money out of underperforming or unnecessary government departments, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Randall Denley thinks $12 billion in cuts over four years is “certainly achievable.” And he thinks Dion should have made more of his promise to axe the tax on income trusts (or reduce it, anyway), which would have highlighted the fact that the Tories brazenly violated an election promise by instituting it in the first place. But ultimately, he opines, the platform “has a reasonable degree of intellectual coherence, even if some of its premises are dubious,” and while it may be expensive, “at least the Liberals have numbers. The Conservatives have, as of yet, revealed nothing close to a coherent plan for the country, much less complete numbers.”
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson, meanwhile, assures us the Liberals’ plans to trim government waste simply “won’t happen.” Just look at the “political furor” over “small cuts to the arts budget,” he notes. “So there’s one big hole in the Liberals’ projections,” and here’s another: the whole plan relies on “strong economic growth, and therefore government revenue growth.” Have y’all been watching the news lately? The Green Shift, however, remains a very strong policy in Simpson’s eyes—just not one that’s marketable among the selfish philistines. “A whole lot of people (voters) don’t want to ‘confront’ a market price, or any price, for their polluting,” he argues. “Let somebody else do it. Let the big companies do it all.”
“Tory strategists in Quebec went into the election campaign confident that the arts cuts would have no resonance,” writes Konrad Yakabuski in the Globe, “especially with their target voters outside Montreal, who they figure are more likely to spend their nights watching the lower-brow fare on TVA” than fretting over the future of Radio-Canada under a philistine majority. Those Tory strategists were quite wrong, Yakabuski reports. “In Quebec, culture and nationalism go together like Stephen Harper and a V-neck,” and Jean Charest, for one, is quite happy to play to that market at the expense of the Tories.
The Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson officially declares the Bloc Québécois campaign a complete disaster, based on his “First Rule of Politics”—namely, that when someone invokes Yogi Berra to insist the election isn’t over yet, it is, in fact, over. Gilles Duceppe did just that last week, MacPherson notes. His declaration is also based on polls, we should add, and on the fact that the Bloc has no reason to exist anymore now that perennially aggrieved Quebeckers are suddenly fat, happy and full of nationhood.
Andrew Cohen, writing in the Citizen, tells a “tale of two capitals and where they built their arenas,” and of what happened next. “Washington chose downtown, which was what cities were doing in the 1990s. Their arena has become a catalyst for an urban renaissance,” he observes. “Ottawa chose the suburbs, which is what cities were doing in the 1970s. Their arena has become a catalyst for a highway interchange.” Zing! This, Cohen posits, is a perfect metaphor for a city that lacks vision, imagination, and the ability to resist the bad ideas (poorly located stadiums, hideous condos located near the National War Memorial, etc.) of people with money. He attempts to extend the metaphor to the nation as a whole, but given the downtown locations of GM Place, the Bell Centre and the Air Canada Centre, all of which were also built in the 1990s, perhaps this is an overpass too far. Also, we’d add, the Senators suck.
It’s a little chilly up in cottage country these days, and it’s Tuesday, but the Globe‘s Margaret Wente sure seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Reader’s Digest version of today’s column: You’re screwed, Mr. Dion, and I’m wallowing in your screwedness; luxuriating in it. Mmmmm.
Canadian justice, and the marsupial variety
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports from the courtroom where a prosecutor is trying to get Jean-Guy Tremblay, a serial assaulter of women with a bizarre sideline as an anti-abortion icon, designated as a dangerous offender. Past efforts to brand him as such have failed on grounds that he’s not among the so-called worst of the worst that the legislation is meant to target—”No one was killed, no one was tortured and no one was raped,” an Alberta judge noted eight years ago. And Blatchford notes the crime that has him in court currently was, in fact, non-violent—just profoundly creepy. The question, then, is this: “Should an incident with no violence or threats be enough to send a psychopath to jail indefinitely?”
“He has repeatedly pounded on women, unlawfully confined women, frightened women, threatened women, criminally harassed women and imposed his alarming attentions on women,” the Star‘s Rosie DiManno writes, and has steadfastly refused treatment for his mental illness(es) on grounds it would amount to an admission of guilt. Yet the current debate, amazingly, seems to hinge on whether harassing the owner of a used car dealership for five days, loitering on the premises “sometimes for hours, once for the entire day, at one point phoning the woman at home to inquire why she hadn’t gone into work and, without being asked, clearing snow off automobiles on the lot and shovelling the walkway to her office,” constitutes a “relationship,” which the conditions of his “long-term offender” status (as opposed to dangerous offender) prohibit.
The Post‘s Jonathan Kay profiles the latest absurdity from the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which recently ruled in favour of a Health Canada employee on grounds, partially, that one of his supervisors had expressed a fondness for visible minorities—in 1998, mind you, and, says Kay, simply in an effort to “reassure his audience that… he had lots of positive experiences working with people from different backgrounds.” John Ralston Saul seems to make a similar point in his dubious new book, Kay observes. “Perhaps sympathy and guilt are inappropriate and paternalistic and insulting,” Saul muses. “Perhaps our sympathy is just a cleaned-up version of the old racist attitudes.” Or perhaps, Kay suggests, this is all bloody ridiculous.