Canada—Stagflating towards the poorhouse since 2008


Must-reads: Doug Saunders on “re-Talibanization”; Scott Taylor on Rick Hillier’s successor; James Travers on our crumbling democracy; David Olive and George Jonas on air travel; Greg Weston on the in-and-out.

Law and Order: Canadian Criminal Intent
In which rowdy hockey fans put cops to the test, star chambers impose human rights orthodoxy on unsuspecting Christians and the Supreme Court vows to keep dogs out of our backpacks.

Lysiane Gagnon, writing in The Globe and Mail, accuses the Montreal police of incompetence in the violent aftermath of the Canadiens’ first-round victory over Boston. “It seems the police are terrified of being filmed by one of those ubiquitous cellphone cameras and ending up on YouTube beating or rudely restraining someone,” she suggests. Perhaps. But far more scandalous—almost unfathomable, really—is her contention that she’s “never watched a hockey game in [her] life.”

Lorne Gunter charges to the defence of the indefensible in the Edmonton Journal in the matter of Police Constable Shane Connor, a.k.a. the guy who slapped a handcuffed woman to the pavement during Oilers-related mayhem two years ago. “When a suspect is powerless to raise his or her hands in self-defence against a blow, police have a double duty to ensure they use force only as a last resort,” he writes. So far, so good. But Connor says the woman was making a run for it, and that, apparently, is enough for Gunter to give the Constable the benefit of the doubt. Especially when the woman in question is—are you ready for this, Canada?—”a (sic) un-smart (sic?!), profane, cop-resisting street partier.”

Meanwhile, in the Post, Gunter says he accepts the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s argument “that when Christian or other belief-driven organizations become subcontractors for government policy, they cannot object to the state imposing its morality on their operation.” So far, so good. But this position makes it more difficult for him to get upset over the HRC’s ruling that Christian Horizons, an “evangelical organization” that runs group homes in Ontario, cannot discriminate against homosexuals. So he simply crawls inside the HRC’s institutional mind and finds that it “also wants to stamp out political views at variance with those favoured by the Commission.” We’re no fans of the OHRC and its tone-deaf Chief Commissioner, but Gunter’s account leads us to believe it got this one right.

The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford files a somewhat blustery piece examining the implications of a defence argument in the “Toronto 11” terrorism trial, namely, that “the Canadian Criminal Code definitions of ‘terrorist activities,’ ‘armed conflict,’ ‘combatant’ etc. are so broad and vague that they breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Had the argument not been dismissed, she argues, it could have established a “Charter right to jihad“—even to the point of “blow[ing] up a Canadian base, … armed resistance or defensive fighting.” But, um, it was dismissed.

Colby Cosh, writing in the National Post, parses the Supreme Court’s decision on whether searches by police sniffer dogs violate the Charter of Rights. It’s so nuanced and complex as to not be much good to anyone, he concludes, but it also suffers from some logical flaws. “If a police officer catches the sour scent of marijuana coming from your backpack, that isn’t a search,” Cosh argues, so why is it when “the officer’s partner pup catches the scent?” The objection is particularly odd, he suggests, seeing as the SCC has accepted “infrared imaging of the thermal interior of an otherwise unsuspicious home” as a legitimate means of discovering a marijuana grow-op.

The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington tries and fails to understand the point of prohibiting suicide bombing in the Criminal Code. “How to punish the guilty?” he asks. And by defining terrorism to include acts such as suicide bombing, he suggests, there’s a risk that “other undefined violent acts can be argued as not being terrorism.” If anyone needs to define terrorism, he continues—and we lose the thread here somewhat—it’s the United Nations, but they dare not “for fear of offending member states where terrorism is practiced.”

Bring out your dead!
The Canadian economy prepares to follow Canadian political culture into the crapper.

The Toronto Star‘s James Travers sings the praises of Donald Savoie’s latest paean for Canadian democracy, in which he examines (Savoie’s words) the broken “chain of accountability” from the “voter to MP, from MP to PM and cabinet ministers” and eventually to civil service managers. What we apparently have instead is a Prime Minister’s Office with all-but “unfettered clout … to shape debates, reach conclusions and make arbitrary decisions.” The system is appealing, says Travers, because at least superficially “it works.” But “along with making MPs and even cabinet ministers superfluous, the problem is the spectre of abuse”—whether it’s the fiasco of the gun registry or Jean Chrétien’s unilateral decision to sit out the Iraq war.

The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson files a wholly negative and, it must be said, achingly boring piece on where the commodities boom in western Canada is taking our peaceable Dominion. “Even more people will migrate to these provinces; even more investment will flow there; even more of the country’s wealth will be generated there,” he predicts, leaving the industrial economies of Ontario and Quebec to stagnate and grow bitter over subsidizing Atlantic layabouts. Meanwhile, in the western capitals, politicians seem content to “let the good times roll” without a thought to how they might position themselves as global leaders in sustainable development.

Watch out for stagflation too, the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin warns. “If forecasts come true” we’ll soon be pining for the days we worried about climate change, health care, and the war in Afghanistan. Heck, says Martin, we’ll be lucky to keep Confederation together as “regional tensions” mount and our oil reserves prove insufficient to “insulate [the economy] from a big foreign tumble.” The Tories will suffer as Stéphane Dion cashes in on the Chrétien-Martin record of fiscal management. And folks like us will be wearing barrels around our midriffs to preserve what little dignity we have left and following Conrad Black’s limousine around in hopes he might throw some loose change out the sunroof. Or something like that. That’s if forecasts come true, remember.

How easy it would have been, Sun Media’s Greg Weston muses wistfully, for the Conservatives to just drop the matter of their $700,000 in rebates from Elections Canada. They “could have been contrite, admitting what they had done was perhaps an error in judgment, if not in law.” It’s not as if they’re short on cash, after all. But instead they sued Elections Canada, stonewalled a Commons committee’s inquiries into the affair “with antics befitting a kindergarten,” hinted at an evil Liberal conspiracy and resorted to all manner of other “inane political spinning”—just as they always do, says Weston, and always to their detriment.

Leadership in, and on, Afghanistan
Doug Saunders
, the Globe‘s man in Kabul, visits a private television operator whose two most popular shows, both Indian soap operas, have recently been shut down by the Ministry of Information and Culture—to howls of protest from the populace and foreign democracy buffs. “We are headed toward the re-Talibanization of the Afghan government,” Jahid Mohseni tells Saunders, who admits there are many troubling signals. But for whatever the distinction is worth, he argues the crackdown on independent television is more a matter of corruption than of fundamentalism. “What really raises the ire of ministers are [Mohseni’s] investigative-news shows,” he notes—which routinely expose widespread corruption, “pedophilic cops” and other unpleasantness—and they’re willing to bleed him dry any way they can.

Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, handicaps the hotly-contested race to succeed Rick Hillier as Chief of Defence Staff. Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, for example, is experienced and media-friendly, and has a PhD in Afghan studies, but “he never fully bought into Hillier’s blueprint for the Canadian Forces of the future.” Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson, meanwhile, would please Navy brass, but “his soft-spoken and painful shyness in the media” will not play well among a rank-and-file that’s spent three-and-a-half years “on a Hilliermania high.”

Flying the tacky, unprofitable skies
George Jonas
, channelling John D. Rockefeller, complains in the Post about all the “surging throngs,” “screeching children,” “leisure-suited slobs,” “hirsute backpackers” and “luggage-laden vacationers” who turned the pleasantly aristocratic pursuit of commercial air travel into a nightmarish encounter with the unwashed hoi-polloi. “It’s hard to say what has ruined the travel experience more,” he moans, fingering his monocle and puffing on his pipe. “Mass-man types who blow up terminals and planes, or mass-man types who use them for their intended purposes.”

And despite all this hideousness, David Olive notes in the Star, the airlines still can’t make any money—nor, apparently, can they figure out how to save themselves except with dubious merger proposals. “Merging Delta and Northwest,” for example, “each of them recently emerged from bankruptcy protection, appears to be the yoking of two troubled enterprises to create a larger troubled company.” And while the pre-deregulation business environment in Canada “restricted competition and kept fares artificially high,” he writes, it’s also true that “Air Canada’s history as a private company is one of declining service standards, ill-conceived mergers, chronic losses, a stay in bankruptcy protection and the destruction of shareholder value.” Anyone with new ideas, please raise your hand.

Duly noted
“Both the Leger and CROP [polls] are very encouraging for Harper, and very discouraging for both Duceppe and Dion,” L. Ian MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazzzzzzzz… spu-wha? Damn. Sorry, L.I.M. put us to sleep yet again. But you already knew the story: Jean Charest and Stephen Harper, yay! Stéphane Dion and Mario Dumont, boo! Hiss!

The Journal‘s Graham Thomson doubts Greenpeace’s “impressive piece of protest art” at a speech by Ed Stelmach on Thursday—or any of its lofty rhetoric lumping the Premier in with “whale hunters and baby-seal killers”—will have much of an effect. Albertans don’t much cotton to hyperbole, for one thing. And besides, Thomson notes, “if Stelmach is an environmental villain, Albertans are just as guilty. They voted for him.”

The Globe‘s Margaret Wente, who enjoys looking at home décor magazines, argues that “the illusion of living simply and in harmony with nature has now become the highest expression of refined taste.” “Enviro-chic” is also delusional and hypocritical and has just as much to do with generating envy in one’s friends as older brands of chic did.

The rules of identity politics mean that “in a contest in which no white man even made it into contention, it nonetheless falls to ‘racist white men’ to determine which of the two actual contenders, the woman or the black man, will lose.” So says Rex Murphy in an oddly strident and unconvincing tirade in the Globe against another strident and unconvincing tirade in the Huffington Post by the woman who wrote Sleepless in Seattle. “What’s a white man to do?” Murphy asks. (Tune out shrill hysteria and vote his conscience? Just a suggestion…)

“Why does Tibet light up the West’s imagination and not, say, Chechnya or the Trans-Dniester Republic?” the Star‘s Thomas Walkom asks. Because we associate Tibet with the stoically peaceful Dalai Lama while we associate Chechen rebels with the mass murder of innocent children and couldn’t even place the country Trans-Dniester is trying to separate from on a map? Pshaw, says Walkom. It’s because of our “historical ambivalence toward this populous and powerful empire,” as formerly represented by novelist Sax Rohmer, who warned in 1913 of “the phantom Yellow Peril [that] materializes under the very eyes of the Western world.”