Must-reads: Rosie DiManno on Afghan corruption, Afghan weddings and US Marines; Scott Taylor on Canadian counter-insurgency training; Rex Murphy on Clinton Inc.; Lysiane Gagnon on immigration; Chantal Hébert on Stephen Harper and Quebec; David Olive on the New York Times.
Welcome to the James Travuniverse
Up is down. Wrong is right. Julie Couillard matters. The Prime Minister must not undertake home improvements, on pain of electoral disaster.
Despite what you may have heard or very reasonably concluded on your own, the Toronto Star‘s James Travers argues that Julie Couillard’s relationship with Maxime Bernier is very important. Why? Buckle up, Canada. It’s because Harper only appoints Cabinet ministers for reasons of optics and strategy, not competence—in Bernier’s case, “to put a pretty face on the unpopular Afghanistan mission while getting under Bloc Québécois skin.” Thus, it doesn’t matter that a past romance with a woman who once dated a Hells Angel is unimportant to the foreign minister’s job; it matters that it compromises the optical and strategic reasons Harper installed Bernier in the first place. Got that? Us neither. Luckily, none of it matters.
If Harper risks political suicide by following the Auditor-General’s advice by ordering repairs on 24 Sussex Drive, Sun Media’s Greg Weston suggests (apparently in earnest) that he move into Rideau Hall and kick the Governor General down the driveway to Rideau Gate. “Does a modern-day GG’s largely ceremonial job really require a 175-room palace, 27 outbuildings and 88 acres of prime real estate?” he asks. We have no idea. Nor do we understand what that has to do with the Prime Minister’s house. (Related discussion topic: Is there actually a single opposition member or pundit who would criticize Harper for effecting the repairs Sheila Fraser has deemed necessary? Or is this just another case of Received Ottawa Wisdom working to everyone’s detriment?)
When it comes to the Auditor-General’s findings on the Canada Border Service Agency’s difficulties in enforcing deportation orders, The Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford is most intrigued by the number of temporary residence permits (which are issued to people who would otherwise have been inadmissible) for which there are no justifications on file. “Senior officers must approve such permits; who are they?” she asks. “And by whom or by what means are the officials being persuaded?”
Still in the Globe, Lysiane Gagnon files her own attack on the immigration and refugee system, painting the latter (accurately, we’d say) as a hopeless series of appeals and overindulgences that benefit “bogus” claimants over legitimate ones. And she decries the fear-mongering that surrounds the government’s current attempts to favour immigration economic migrants over family reunification. Many immigrants’ parents have neither “the education nor the skills” to contribute to the Canadian labour market, she argues, and “can pose a large burden on social services and medicare without ever having paid taxes.” Besides, she asks, “who said it was a human right to live in the same city as your parents?”
Mel Hurtig’s latest prophecy of doom “tends to overlook such things as the country’s impressive economic growth rate of the past dozen years,” the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin concedes, which strikes us as slightly more than a niggling detail in a book that calls foreign takeovers “a disaster for Canada.” But perhaps we’re just finding fault because we’re one of these “establishment critics” who routinely dismiss Hurtig out of hand, despite “his basic message”—in Martin’s words, “that the more corporate interests have come to control the country, the more the country has slipped on the scales of social and economic justice”—having been proven correct.
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington takes the organizers of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival to task for cancelling a performance by the Falun Gong-linked Tian Guo Marching Band, apparently at the behest of the Chinese Embassy. “While this isn’t a big story, it reveals a form of misguided political correctness that infects … the thinking of those in power,” he argues.
Victoria‘s big idea
Never mind all the “issues of trade, tax fairness and effectiveness” that make carbon taxes like British Columbia’s a bad idea, Terence Corcoran advises in the Financial Post. More to the point for Stéphane Dion, who’s considering championing a similar strategy, he says carbon taxes are ruining politicians—from Gordon Brown, who has had to scrap a further tax hike on gasoline, to deposed London mayor Ken Livingstone, whose “draconian carbon-congestion charges” were, in Corcoran’s view, a primary reason for his ouster. There may be some truth to this, but Corcoran’s suggestion that carbon taxes may not actually “work”—i.e., that hiking the price of a commodity might not reduce consumption—grates noisily against our (admittedly rudimentary) understanding of economics, and warrants further explanation.
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson completes the latest chapter in his epic poem about Gordon Campbell, in which our hero returns from exile in China to find an enraged Demeter inflicting his conifers with pine beetles and Aeolus hurtling mighty winds at Stanley Park. “Prithee, what must I do to save my beloved province?” Campbell asks, falling to his knees. “Institute a carbon tax and we will be appeased,” the voice of Zeus echoes from atop Mt. Blackcomb. “And tell that prick Baird we’re coming for him next.” Federal politicians ignore Campbell’s tale of “bold action,” Simpson warns, at their peril.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer suggests Campbell’s recent resurgence in popularity can be traced in part to Finance Minister Carole Taylor’s “public sector pay framework, introduced in late 2005,” which he says “brought—’bought,’ some would say—much-needed peace with the public sector unions.” Her imminent departure will only highlight how much power is now concentrated in the Premier’s office, he warns. “With a one-man government, there’s no challenge in deciding whom to blame.”
All Rosie, all the time
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno, who’s back in Afghan hyperdrive mode, conducts what she calls an “astonishingly frank interview” with Abdul Jabar Sabet, the Afghan Attorney General, who laments that for all his power on paper, he still cannot get at “The Untouchables”—the most senior and most corrupt individuals who infect every level of the country’s government. She also speaks with US Brig.-Gen. Carlos Branco about the Marines’ aggressive new role in counter-insurgency efforts. The Afghan media are “caterwauling about a suddenly ‘Americanized war,'” she notes, and there may indeed be a price to pay for the Americans’ “propensity for using air strikes and artillery and mortar barrages in support of their ground troops.” On the other hand, kicking some Taliban ass—particularly along the Pakistani border—might not be a bad idea either.
Finally, DiManno provides her impressions from one of the ludicrously over-the-top Afghan wedding ceremonies—often costing “a whopping $25,000 in a country with a per capita income around $350—that are now overcompensating for years of Taliban-enforced austerity. “At least there’s no booze bill,” she quips.
Back on the home front, Scott Taylor visits CFB Wainwright’s supercool (our word, not his) new Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre—a 620 square kilometre counter-insurgency simulation featuring mock-ups of Afghan villages, actors portraying aid workers and diplomats, and technology that allows commanders to monitor every “shot” fired and estimate the severity of the ensuing injuries. “I did not fully comprehend … just how thoroughly our army has converted from teaching linear, conventional war procedures to a dedicated focus on not just counter-insurgency in general, but the campaign in southern Afghanistan in particular,” Taylor writes in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. Robert Gates, please take note.
The separatists’ lament
Ever since the Québécois nationhood resolution, the Star‘s Chantal Hébert argues, Stephen Harper “has relentlessly strived to redefine Quebec nationalism on Canadian terms”: he “starts media scrums in French,” heads to Quebec for St-Jean-Baptiste Day, and speaks about Canada’s French roots to foreign audiences even outside the Francophonie. She’s not suggesting he has “presided over a Quebec-Ottawa revolution,” but at the same time, she notes, “every sovereignist indicator is flat.” Clearly his approach works better than Jean Chrétien’s unity plan, which was essentially to “plaster the province with the Maple Leaf.”
Meanwhile, L. Ian MacDonald notes in the Montreal Gazette, Michaëlle Jean is off in France being treated like a “rock star” serenaded by Nicolas Sarkozy with unprecedented words of support for Canadian unity. “Had any other French personality … made what Le Devoir called such a ‘glowing declaration of love for Canada,’ the sovereignty leaders … would have denounced it as an affront,” he argues. “But it’s pretty hard to denounce the president of France, without looking like a pathetic country cousin.” No wonder Gilles Duceppe “had smoke coming out his ears” last week.
The Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson isn’t exactly on pins and needles awaiting Monday’s three provincial by-elections, noting that Quebec is about “to spend more than $1.5 million … to replace members of the National Assembly elected only last year, probably with members of the same parties.” This is particularly ironic, he argues, since the province is about to destroy “the evidence that would show the true extent of cheating by the sovereignists who controlled the polling stations in the 1995 sovereignty referendum (and who will control them in the next one)” at a whopping cost savings of $12,000 a year. Luckily, all this unpleasantness does at least give him a chance to bash the Action démocratique.
How to help Burma
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom suggests Western nations put aside their “squabbles with Burma’s government” and “just try to get the job done” on cyclone relief efforts. “Some [aid] will be skimmed off,” he concedes. “But some always is”—even in more enlightened locales such as Louisiana. The junta’s paranoia over foreign-aid workers doesn’t mean we have to stop sending rice, in other words.
Lorne Gunter, writing in the National Post, is more willing to admit defeat. “Pray for the souls of those who have died and pray again that those still alive manage somehow to survive,” he advises, “because … nothing can be done if the Burmese junta won’t allow it.” This is the sort of stark reality the compassionate west refuses to admit, he argues, pointing to the situation in Darfur. But we can’t just “go around invading sovereign nations each time some generalissimo or president-for-life decides to use a cyclone, drought, tsunami or social unrest to keep his people down and weaken his opposition.”
“The Canadian military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is exactly what’s needed right now,” Peter Worthington argues in the Toronto Sun. But, like Gunter, he doesn’t see it happening—nor does he foresee any significant change in the global cycle of disaster and silence on humanitarian issues like Darfur and Rwanda. As for Burma, he fears it might be “too late” anyway. “As disease spreads, it becomes even more unlikely that the regime will loosen its … restrictions,” lest outsiders see “too much of the humanitarian cesspool they’ve made.”
Someone call Hillary a cab
“There isn’t a scandal large enough to drive the remaining 259 superdelegates en masse into Ms. Clinton’s camp,” John Ibbitson argues in the Globe, and in any case, the Obama camp has already moved on to fighting John McCain. “The question,” he says, “is how and when to end her quest in a way that preserves her dignity, honours the choice of the many millions who came out to support her and maximizes her negotiating advantage in seeking whatever it is she might want from Mr. Obama.”
Rex Murphy, also writing in the Globe, isn’t holding his breath. Indeed, he imagines Clinton is a great fan of William Ernest Henley, “whose words are the anthem of every doomed enterprise that finds fuel for its continuance in theatrical self-regard.” (To wit: “In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced, nor cried aloud. / Under the bludgeoning of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed.”) This “self-drama, the livid allure of self flattering exhibitionism … makes Henley unreadable to all but adolescents and motivational speakers,” Murphy argues, but that’s exactly “the dynamic of Clinton Inc. in its declining hours.”
The Star‘s David Olive chronicles the New York Times‘ fading relevance, profitability and future prospects—even compared to the rest of the industry, which is suffering to some degree from the same malaises. The Times doesn’t have the diverse portfolio of holdings or the money to survive competition from Rupert Murdoch’s properties, Olive argues, at least not with a Sulzberger in charge. But “family members,” who have been made “several hundreds of millions of dollars poorer” under current management, are rumoured to be coming around to the idea of “a professional CEO [to] fend off Murdoch and achieve dominance as an online news purveyor,” he reports.
The Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson accuses the Alberta government of overkill, if not outright payback, in imposing a one-year ban on CBC reporters from gaining early access to budget documents and other sensitive information. The public broadcaster has apologized, after all. And, Thomson writes of the piece of leaked information in question, “nobody … made a killing on the stock market armed with knowledge the city of Calgary would be getting money to hire 41 more police officers this year.”
Israel—still controversial after all these years
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui parses the Prime Minister’s recent statements about Israel and concludes they are “designed to silence and delegitimize” criticism by equating “anti-Israeli” with “anti-Semitic.” He may be right, but the statements he quotes—that “groups and regimes who deny to this day [Israel’s] right to exist … hate the Jewish people,” and that “good old-fashioned anti-Semitism” lurks in “some circles” that are critical of Israel—don’t necessarily make the case. “One wonders what Harper would make of those Israelis, as well as Jewish Canadians and others, who do strongly support Israel but also question some Israeli policies,” he writes. If we were feeling difficult—and we are—we’d answer: that (a) those Israelis obviously recognize Israel’s right to exist, and (b) that these people don’t inhabit the “circles” Mr. Harper was talking about.
George Jonas, writing in the Post, files his rebuttal against Jeet Heer, who argued last week that “Israel was founded through an act of ethnic cleansing.” “80% of all nations occupy their current place under the sun because their ancestors have successfully ‘cleansed’ … some other group from a disputed geographic location,” says Jonas, which in itself is not a defence. “Israel’s defence is that it didn’t do it. What Israel did was to prevent itself from being ethnically cleansed—so far.”