All is well in Quebec. And here’s how to fix it.


Must-reads: Dan Gardner on African agriculture; Rosie DiManno on Khale Farm and Mazar-i-Sharif; Rex Murphy on the Democratic campaign; Thomas Walkom on Omar Khadr; Barbara Yaffe on apologies; Don MacPherson and Lysiane Gagnon on Bouchard-Taylor; Don Martin on the Lynch Report.

What Charles and Gérard hath wrought
Lysiane Gagnon, writing in The Globe and Mail, believes the perception that Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor “put Quebec’s 400-year-old culture on the same footing as the various cultures of newcomers” in their landmark report will prove excellent fodder for the likes of Mario Dumont and Pauline Marois. And while the report is “an interesting reflection on immigration and the need to provide jobs for immigrants,” Gagnon can’t help thinking that having concluded the reasonable accommodations debate was almost entirely a fabrication, its authors might have abided by the “if it doesn’t itch, don’t scratch it” principle rather than “rewrit[ing] the landscape.”

The Toronto Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui can’t understand how Bouchard and Taylor could on one hand argue that “the right to freedom of religious includes the right to show it,” and that legislating otherwise would alienate certain communities from the public service, and on the other hand suggest judges, crown prosecutors, police officers and certain other officials be “barred from wearing religious signs and clothing on the job.” He suggests this was a “sop” to the Bloc Québécois and the Council on the Status of Women.

The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson agrees the whole mess was “much ado about nothing” in that the incidents that gave rise to it were “exaggerated to the point of deformation by journalistic sensationalism and political opportunism.” But by “talk[ing] these tricky matters through,” he suggests Quebec society “may have slain certain demons in the process.”

The Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson says that by immediately rejecting the idea of removing the National Assembly’s crucifix—and phrasing the decision in partly religious terms rather than purely cultural ones—Quebec’s elected officials rudely rejected “the principle of religious neutrality so important to Bouchard and Taylor.” Whether this was “a strategic concession to the majority intended to make the wearing of symbols of minority religions in public institutions more acceptable,” or just a political symptom of Jean Charest’s besiegement by nationalist foes, “remains to be seen.”

Still in the Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald says Jean Charest got it just right on the matter of the crucifix. (Imagine that!) That hunk of wood “goes back to the Quebec Act of 1774,” he’ll have you know, which “explicitly guaranteed the freedom to practise the Catholic faith,” kept New France out of the American Revolution, “enabled the emergence of Canada nearly a century later,” and “guaranteed the survival of the French language and culture” in North America. “Jean Charest saw this immediately when he received his copy of the Bouchard-Taylor report,” the Premier’s Office said in a pres release… wait, no, it’s still MacDonald. So while the pro-crucifix motion was certainly designed to prevent any “blowback from Catholics,” MacDonald says Charest “has the history exactly right.”

Enter Guy Giorno; exeunt, Canada Human Rights Commission
What Ian Brodie’s departure means for Canadian politics, a Shakespearean interpretation of the Human Rights Act’s limitations on free speech, and various other Ottawa miscellany.

“36 interviews” and the use of “big brotherish technology” couldn’t find the source of leaked documents concerning the famous trade-related discussion between a Canadian diplomat and a member of Barack Obama’s campaign team, the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin notes, and he suspects that’ll suit the Tories just fine. Indeed, he writes, the “single-minded preoccupation of [the Lynch Report‘s] authors was to demand greater secrecy in a government that already adores secrets.” How delightfully convenient.

“Politics was never Brodie’s strength,” says the Star‘s James Travers, while Guy Giorno is the consummate “wise-guy Ontario strategist Harper needs to make wedge politics work” in that province. But for the NAFTA Disasta, he says Brodie might have left town wearing the same cloak of anonymity that now belongs to Giorno. But in this government—which is, according to a “long-time insider,” “the most closed” to “policy and ideas” in recent memory—the position is one of precious few in Ottawa that carries any influence at all and is, as such, important.

The Globe ‘s Lawrence Martin suggests Giorno’s arrival, “roundabout the same time as [a] projected cabinet shuffle,” would be the perfect time to overhaul the government’s attitude. They should “clean house in [the] public relations shop,” he suggests, starting at the top with Sandra Buckler; install a less “pugnacious” presence as Minister of Finance (he suggests Jim Prentice); appoint the experienced Senator Hugh Segal or the “quick learner and effective communicator” Monte Solberg to Foreign Affairs; and get rid of Peter Van Loan as House Leader. By now, you are probably wondering why anyone would expect Mike Harris’s former chief of staff to oversee such a transformation. And indeed, Martin eventually notes, there’s little reason anyone should. It’d just be nice, is all. We can’t disagree.

“Ottawa should raise hell when citizens are abused” by foreign governments, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington fumes, and “quiet diplomacy be damned.” By this he means citizens like Huseyin Celil (imprisoned in China) and Mohamed Kohail (facing a death sentence in Saudi Arabia), along with foreign justice escapees William Sampson and Brenda Martin. He certainly does not mean citizens like Omar Khadr, who are “obvious law-breakers or criminals.” We would refer you to previous columns by Mr. Worthington in which he convincingly argues that Mr. Khadr wasn’t breaking any laws at all, but it’s really not worth it. He has shown himself, on at least a dozen occasions, to be utterly incapable of rational thought on that file.

Less important than Friday’s Supreme Court ruling on Khadr is the reasoning the Justices used in arriving at it, the Star‘s Thomas Walkom argues—namely, that the legal framework in effect at Guantanamo at the time Canadian officials interrogated Khadr was in violation of international, and thus Canadian, law. “For the government, the message should be clear,” says Travers: bromidic assurances of “humane treatment” are “not enough. Even our staunchest ally can break the law. And when the Canadian government plays along, it breaks the law too.”

“Some might say that restitution initiatives are getting out of hand,” the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe writes, pointing to forthcoming apologies for national misdeeds against native Canadians, Sikhs and Jews and wondering where on earth it’s going to stop. It also “might be asked,” she continues, whether such apologies are successful “in quelling the angst of communities who suffered.” Who would make such precocious inquiries? Yaffe herself, as it turns out, though it takes a while. “Regret probably is the best that can be sincerely expressed by any community not directly responsible for a given injustice,” she eventually concludes—but then again, she notes, in trawling for ethnic votes, the Conservative government may not be too concerned about sincerity.

George Jonas mounts a production of Hamlet, in the National Post, in which Rosencrantz represents the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Guildenstern is the Canadian Jewish Congress, the letter to the King of England is the Canadian Human Rights Act, the contents of the letter—i.e., the request to do away with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—is Section 13(1) of said Act, and the Dane himself is “Canada’s Charter guarantee of Free Thought and Expression.” Regular readers of Mr. Jonas will find his opinion of the whole foofaraw has changed little, but it’s an entertaining ride nonetheless.

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Susan Riley wishes the Liberals, Dippers and Bloquistes would realize how much “overlap” exists in their anti-climate change proposals. “It doesn’t have to be a carbon tax, versus cap and trade, versus the Tory emphasis on technological fixes,” she writes. “Reversing climate change needs all of the above.” Recognizing that this will never happen—though we think “All of the Above!” has a nice campaign-trail ring to it—she suggests Jack Layton lay off Stéphane Dion for a few minutes, explain “his own convoluted green plan,” and devote some energy towards attacking Harper, who is “the main obstacle to a green future.”

The CBC “ceased to be accountable to viewers years ago,” goes Lorne Gunter‘s tiresome (not to say incorrect) refrain in the Post. “It wants a seven-year budget so it no longer needs to be accountable to government. And now it wants no ads so it isn’t accountable to sponsors, either.” Nuts to that! Gunter says now, just like all the moments in history before it, is precisely the time to “wrap up” the Mother Corp. After all, he argues, the only ones who’d complain would be “the few tens (occasionally hundreds) of thousands of smug, liberal-left elitists who are left watching or listening.”

On the ground in Afghanistan—and in the air
Scott Taylor
, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, examines some of the contradictory thinking in which Canadians indulge to justify the Afghanistan mission. If we are there “to protect the weak and the innocent,” for example, shouldn’t “the fact that we are engaging and being engaged by 10-year-old boys … give us pause for thought’? We may be there “at the request of the democratically elected government of President Hamid Karzai,” but doesn’t Maxime Bernier’s call for a local governor’s ouster suggest a certain marionette quality about that administration? We need to set aside our self-centred view, Taylor concludes, and “start seeing ourselves through the yes of those we purport to be assisting.”

All agree that three men were killed during an American assault on the Afghan village of Khale Farm. The rest, the Star‘s Rosie DiManno notes, having taken statements from all sides—including angry villagers, who protest innocence of Taliban associations and level various accusations of various degrees of believability—is pretty much unknowable. Nevertheless, she argues, it’s “a story that needs to be told. Because Khale Faram is every village in Afghanistan where the population is seething over civilian deaths caused by foreign troops conducting military operations.”

In a separate piece, DiManno ventures north to the relative serenity—or security, anyway—of Mazar-i-Sharif, a city that has always been “a bit more liberal” than the Afghan norm. “Smiles come more easily” there, she notes, western music is commonly heard, and “in the Mazar version of drag-racing, youngsters stand upright in the open trunks of speeding cars, as if they were charioteers.”

Sun Media’s Greg Weston has the latest in our government’s tortuous attempts to buy, rent or steal some unmanned spy planes. The saga includes an all-but-done deal for some American-made planes that was scuppered by a minister who’s “an unabashed booster of all things Israel,” he reports, followed by a long period of inaction, and now a desperate bid to rent some of the aircraft, complete with operators, from one of the two Israeli companies in question. All of this, Weston sarcastically notes, “shows just how much federal contracting has changed since the bad ol’ Liberal days.”

Duly noted
There would be no food crisis if African agriculture were more productive, Dan Gardner argues in the Citizen, and African agriculture could be made more productive—like Asia’s and India’s before it—if NGOs would abandon their scientifically illiterate objections to genetically modified foods. This is the premise of a new book by Harvard University agriculture expert Robert Paarlberg and, says Gardner, it’s quite likely to be “dismissed as ‘right-wing'” despite endorsements by Jimmy Carter and green pioneer Norman Borlaug.

If anyone’s wondering where Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft has disappeared to, the Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson can report that he’s simply “taking a two-week Mediterranean vacation—in the middle of the spring sitting of the legislature.” Particularly considering Taft’s history of railing against Ralph Klein’s attendance record, Thomson suggests this trip may suggest his imminent departure. “Taft looks like he’s following the lead of another Liberal leader but instead of taking a walk in the snow, he’s taking a stroll on the beach.”

The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford is unimpressed by a Texas appeal court’s ruling that (in her words) “but for drinking the girls-are-sexual-playthings Kool-Aid, none of the boys at Yearning for Zion were in any danger, nor were those girls who hadn’t yet had a menstrual period.” Authorities may well be guilty of overreaching in seizing so many children from their polygamous parents, she concedes, but it’s yet another example of a corrosive tendency in both American and Canadian justice to go easier on abusers when they are family members—especially, she concludes, when it’s “coat[ed] with a heavy dose of God’s will.”

Rex Murphy, writing in spectacular form in the Globe, says under no circumstances would he “pay 20 bucks to watch Harrison Ford in his arthritic phase bullwhip some camp Nazi” when he can sit back and watch the Democratic campaign for free. Hillary Clinton “has the imagination of a Gothic playwright,” he argues, noting her recent references to the abolitionist and suffragette movements, and to Zimbabwean politics, all in an effort to overturn a decision on the Florida delegates she had once supported. “Indiana Jones and the Doomed Coconut over this?” he scoffs. “Pshaw! I say. Not when the real raiders of the lost ark, Hill and Bill Inc., are still dodging the great rolling boulder of their possible defeat.”

Looking for more?

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