Megapundit: What would Louis St. Laurent think?

Must-reads: Barbara Yaffe on Insite; Daphne Bramham on the B.C. polygamists; Andrew Cohen on Maxime Bernier.

Pearsonian he ain’t
Canada’s most forgetful foreign minister continues to cast his handsome shadow over the capital.

The Bernier-Couillard affair raises lots of questions about the competence of a Prime Minister who’s spent a lot of time questioning Stéphane Dion’s, says the Toronto Star‘s James Travers. But the question of whether Stephen Harper’s office leaked the NAFTA-Obama memo to the Associated Press via a Republican operative in Wisconsin, and how the country’s “top mandarin” could ignore “obvious leads” to that effect in his inquiry, raise far more serious questions. (It’s awfully difficult to tell, at this point, whether Travers is presenting that sequence of events as fact or theory.) And since “awkward Liberal and NDP questions” about the NAFTA disasta must now “stand in line behind those about Bernier,” Travers suggests the whole rigmarole is actually a welcome “diversion” for the government.

Summer is the most welcome diversion, says the National Post‘s John Ivison. “What Mr. Harper needs now is a swift end to the parliamentary session, a successful visit to the Middle East later this month and, above all, no more screw-ups.” And he might thank his lucky stars—not for the first time, we imagine—that his chief opponent’s fortunes now seem to be pegged to a carbon tax proposal. “Perhaps the nation will rally to Mr. Dion once he unveils [it],” Ivison writes, “but where would you place your bet?” On the swaggering-if-oafish Harperites? Or “on a man who seems to have Van Gogh’s ear for the public mood and no talent for swaying it through the mass media?”

Andrew Cohen, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, still can’t get over the fact that “Maxime le Minimum” was kicked up to the ministry that was “once called the aristocracy of the bureaucracy”—former home of Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson, Paul Martin Sr. and Joe Clark—in the first place. “Not every one of his predecessors was a star,” he concedes. “But that this poseur could follow St. Laurent, Pearson, Martin, Clark and the others is an exquisite metaphor for a country that has so fallen in the world that, for the first time, we may not take our regular turn on the Security Council this decade.”

Considering that the portfolio under Harper’s watch “has been reduced to background décor for prime ministerial photo ops,” Sun Media’s Greg Weston doesn’t expect David Emerson—whose full attention will be needed at international trade once Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama begin “shred[ding] NAFTA”—to stay at foreign affairs for long. And don’t expect any fireworks, either. “If the PM wants to keep his cabinet shuffle as small as possible, he will move [Lawrence] Cannon”—who’s “capable and dependable”—”to foreign affairs and give the transport ministry to … James Moore,” who’s “young, smart, fluently bilingual” and has experience as a critic on the transport file.

Behind the scene the Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson reports, relations between Jean Charest and Stephen Harper are improving. Heck, the Prime Minister even finagled himself an invitation to the Premier’s 50th birthday bash. But on the scene, “what the voters have been seeing in recent days is a new deterioration in relations between the two governments,” notably over joint Ontario-Quebec climate change initiatives. MacPherson says it simply underlines how badly Harper erred by tethering himself to Mario Dumont’s star at the very moment it began to plummet to earth.

“The American century is over,” says The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin, and so is the heyday of “old-styled bilateralism” between Washington and Ottawa. We have more “leverage” with the Americans than ever before, thanks to our abundant “oil and gas and water.” We don’t need the “protective umbrella” of the US military like we used to. And “the sense of self-doubt and subordination” that came with our “colonial heritage” has yielded to “more outward-looking” younger generations. If that all sounds extremely vague and quixotic, and lacking in any practical suggestions for what the new world order will look like—as opposed to what it won’t—then we’ve summarized Martin’s column perfectly.

Drink beer, not heroin
“A community consensus has been reached” on Insite, says the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe in one of the better columns we’ve read in a while. “No one likes having to provide a supervised injection site but Vancouverites are prepared to recognize it’s doing good work.” The BC Supreme Court agrees, she notes, and its recent decision on the matter represented a golden opportunity for the Harperites to throw in the towel. Instead they look “like captives of right-wing ideology,” which won’t win them any votes on the Lower Mainland. And that’s infuriatingly ironic, Yaffe suggests, given that none of this would be happening if Insite was in Montreal. Afraid of jeopardizing even a single vote in the most favoured province, the government would “quietly okay an exemption from federal drug laws to enable the enterprise to operate legally,” she convincingly argues, “while pointing out that health care and community services are provincial matters.”

In the wake of the aforementioned court decision, the Globe‘s Margaret Wente believes we’ve arrived at the following “peculiar place”: “we have widespread public-health programs to warn teenagers of the perils of tobacco and AIDS, but hardly any to show them what happens to guys who start shooting heroin for kicks, or girls who become crack whores,” because “that’s way too moralistic.” If that sounds convincing, we suggest you have a drink, on Wente’s recommendation that “in general, [alcohol] enhances lives.” Or don’t, because that’s pretty much rubbish.

The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin evaluates yesterday’s Senate committee appearances by two of the candidates to replace Rick Hillier as Chief of Defence Staff. Lt.-Gen. Walter Natynsczyk’s personality, despite Rick Hillier’s endorsement, “seemed pale by comparison” to the Big Cod’s. Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, on the other hand, “delivered an effortlessly polished brass performance that sounded less bureaucratic than his competition and was candid in acknowledging the challenges confronting the land forces he controls.” In any event, Martin says the PMO had better get on with the appointment post haste. Hillier’s gone as of July 4, and “this isn’t a transition that can be accomplished over a long weekend.”

Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, isn’t a touchy-feely kind of place, Rosie DiManno reports. The locals have no sympathy for the hundreds of Taliban fighters captured in the region in 2001 who later died on their way to prison in shipping containers, for example, or those who were killed by US airstrikes during a prison uprising. But they do raise fine horses, she notes, and the city “has bounced back as a farming and marketing hub.” And in a rare example of an unalloyed good news story out of Afghanistan, the city, province and just about all of the northern part of the country has been declared free of polio.

Multiple wives, multiple prosecutors
Daphne Bramham
, writing in the Vancouver Sun, is far more conciliatory than we expected she’d be to BC Attorney-General Wally Oppal on the occasion of his hiring a third special prosecutor to examine the polygamy-in-Bountiful issue and, hopefully, recommend that charges be laid. He’s up against government lawyers convinced that the anti-polygamy law wouldn’t survive a Charter challenge, she reminds us, arguing “it’s an indication of his determination that he’s still trying to do what he’s wanted all along—prosecute.” Any eventual prosecution will be “hard” and “frustrating,” moreover, with no guarantee of a conviction. But “it’s necessary,” she adds. “What kind of a society doesn’t try all it can to protect children, even if it occasionally oversteps the bundaries?”

Oppal might not be around much longer to solicit further opinions anyway, the Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer reports. With political “soulmate” Carole Taylor having announced her imminent departure, and some lingering annoyances over being forced by his bosses to “justify the government’s ill-conceived decision to impose a sweeping ban on political advertising,” he suggests the Bountiful file—and the rest of them—may fall to one of the other lawyers in Cabinet, none of whom “rival Oppal in terms of stature.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.