Paul Martin: Canada's Jimmy Carter

Must-reads: Margaret Wente on two-tier justice; Christie Blatchford on the army reservists trial.

Forty-nine and feelin’ fine!
As Stephen Harper blows out his candles, the pundits pay an inordinate amount of attention to his predecessors.

“Ottawa is as intellectually barren as the Manitoba steppe,” Lawrence Martin writes in The Globe and Mail—not a very nice thing to say about the Manitoba steppe, but we agree about the intellectual barrenness in the nation’s capital. The political class “talks a big game but plays small ball” when it comes to benevolent internationalism, he argues, and it’s time for someone to change that. Someone named Paul Martin. Says Lawrence Martin: “Despite the difficulties he experienced as prime minister, he still commands goodwill and respect.” (Pause for passing tumbleweed.) And he could put that purported goodwill and respect to the best use by spearheading “an influential [Jimmy] Carter-styled centre in this country—one that promotes a new era of global co-operation to replace that of empire, one that steers Canada toward the model of an unselfish society.” The problem we see with this plan is that Paul Martin happens to be a poster child for precisely the brand of politics Lawrence Martin deplores. Just ask Bono.

Greg Weston gleefully informs us how many of our tax dollars have gone towards RCMP protection for our former prime ministers. But while it sounds excessive to spend $440,000 guarding Paul Martin against… well, whatever it is they’re guarding him against, Weston never really comes out and says it’s excessive. Come on, Greg, let loose—it’s Sun Media, after all. Rant! Fulminate! Demand a refund!

“Happy birthday, Prime Minister,” L. Ian MacDonald whispers on bended knee in front of the fireplace at 24 Sussex Drive. We kid, it’s in the Montreal Gazette. Harper’s gift? Why, it’s a poll! And it shows that the Tories are (still) dominating the 418 area code, the Bloc Québécois is (still) tanking more-or-less province-wide and the Liberals are (still) toast off the Island of Montreal. “Wait,” we imagine the Prime Minister responding. “Didn’t you give me this for Christmas? And, like, eight times since then?” Well, kinda, L. Ian would admit. But the bonus this time is that the numbers mean there definitely won’t be a spring election. “Wait,” Harper would continue. “Don’t I maybe want a spring election?” Perhaps, MacDonald concedes. “But then again, [you’re] prime minister. That’s not such a bad deal on any birthday.”

Jean Chrétien on October 7, 2001: “I cannot promise that the campaign against terrorism will be painless, but I can promise that it will be won.” Defence Minister Art Eggleton on October 9, 2001: the mission of Canadian troops, under U.S. leadership, “is to weaken the terrorist organizations and to flush them out and to be able to suppress them.” The Toronto Star‘s James Travers today: “It took the federal government five years after 9/11 to admit to Canadians that the Afghanistan mission isn’t peace making, building or keeping.” Now, we would never, ever, accuse the Chrétien Liberals of excessive, or even nearly adequate, forthrightness. But Travers and his ilk have been called out on this “peacekeeping” fiction far too many times to make their persistence anything but a complete embarrassment.

“After the pain Canadians endured through the 1990s in the quest to balance the budget,” the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe writes, and in a climate of high prices for gasoline, electricity and food, “pity any government that would dare to run a deficit.” Balanced budgets are, she contends, “part of the national psyche.” This makes it all the more remarkable, she argues, that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty allowed himself such a “narrow margin of error” in his budget—that’d be our forecasted 2008 surplus of $2.3 billion she’s talking about; $1.3 billion in 2009.

Canadian justice
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports from the sentencing hearing for the two army reservists convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of Paul Croutch, a helpless 59-year-old who was sleeping on a park bench outside a Toronto armoury. His ex-wife’s victim impact statement noted he had been a “productive, engaged and successful person, a father, a husband, a salesman and entrepreneurial newspaper publisher,” before mental illness diminished his faculties. The parents of the accused testified as to their “guilt in a heinous crime that is at odds with everything [they] knew, or thought they did, about” their sons. And the accused themselves, in Blatchford’s view, spoke very convincingly of their “shame and regret.”

A good many people—a good many of them native Canadians—have a bit of a problem with a judge’s decision to grant bail to a police car-torching repeat offender on grounds of his aboriginal status, Margaret Wente reports in the Globe. But the principle of paying “particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginals” is the law of the land, she notes, and “separate justice for natives has plenty of defenders”—not surprising given the wholly negative images we see on television and associate with all native communities. But as Rhonda Kirby, a chief on the successful Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, asked on a Montreal radio show last week, “What about all the other people who were arrested that night? What about their background?”

Duly noted
The Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson says the death of several hundred ducks in a Syncrude tailings pond, thanks to a malfunctioning “noise cannon” that was meant to warn them away, “was an environmental protest as staged by Mother Nature—and couldn’t have been more effective if each bird had worn a little ‘Stop the Tar Sands’ T-shirt as it disappeared beneath the surface of the toxic lake.” And it could scarcely have come at a worse time for defenders of the oilsands, he notes, with Alberta officials currently in Washington trying to soft-pedal environmentalists’ concerns over the production methods.

If Pauline Marois were to somehow become premier and try to implement her proposals to extend French-language requirements to businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the Gazette‘s Don MacPherson figures the staff complement at the Office de la langue française “would grow from about 100 in 2007 to more than 3,000. And its budget would swell by more than a quarter billion dollars.” This suggests very strongly “that the practical limits of language legislation have already been reached,” he writes. “But that’s something PQ members don’t want to hear.”

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson surveys the scene in Indianapolis, where Barack Obama is trying to finally secure a win in “the white Midwest.” On the street where Obama and his wife were to have lunch with a carefully selected “Typical Working Family,” Ibbitson finds fans of both remaining Democratic candidates and, crucially, many of the undecided variety. But whether attempts to convince blue-collar types that the Obamas are just like them “will sell is anybody’s guess,” he concludes. States like Indiana have until now gone safely to Hillary Clinton. “And that was before [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright made a mess of things.”

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