Must-reads: Dan Gardner on tobacco advertising; Thomas Walkom on our elusive recession; John Ivison on equalization.
Land of Confusion
The Supreme Court is anti-canine and has too few Newfoundlanders. Our recession is missing. The NDP suddenly isn’t so sure about biofuels. And the in-and-out affair remains beyond the comprehension of a notoriously pro-Conservative columnist. What a day!
If you were looking for a weird, poorly informed take on the Supreme Court’s decision on sniffer dogs, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington has everything you need. “No argument that the cops shouldn’t conduct searches on the basis of no evidence, or for no reason other than prejudice or hunches,” he begins, but “a sniffer dog is utterly without prejudice and is guided only by evidence.” Quite reasonable. How is a sniff from a dog any different than an x-ray search at an airport, he asks? Also reasonable, though he probably should have known that legal experts say the ruling doesn’t apply at airports, where a diminished expectation of privacy is as implicit as overpriced coffee. But then, the anti-fascist medication wears off and things take a disturbing turn. “Maybe we put too much value on privacy,” he muses. Why not fingerprint every baby at birth, for example, or extract DNA samples from them and store them in a well-administrated federal database? You’ll thank him when they grow up and carjack your grandmother!
Jeffrey Simpson assesses the likelihood that a Newfoundlander may finally take his or her rightful place on the Supreme Court of Canada when a replacement is chosen for outgoing Justice Michel Bastarache. Thomas Cromwell of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal “is described as the sharpest intellect on any bench in the region,” he writes, but Margaret Cameron of the Newfoundland Court of Appeal—currently presiding over the inquiry into the province’s breast cancer screening fiasco—is also a strong contender. Her appointment would tickle Danny Williams pink, Simpson assures us. Better news for Stephen Harper—so good it sends metaphors flying about The Globe and Mail‘s Ottawa bureau—is that it would “burnish his tattered credentials” when it comes to appointing women to the highest levels of office.
(An aside: Simpson says Rick Hiller was Newfoundland’s “most senior person on the national stage.” But we’re sure that’s exactly what it says on Rex Murphy’s business cards.)
The current equalization formula, introduced just last year, was drawn up by people who never envisioned the price of oil cresting $60, John Ivison writes in the National Post. Which is a big part of why Newfoundland is set to become a “have” province for the first time and Ontario is set to become a “have-not” province, even as its GDP grows and its residents “contribute $20-billion a year more to federal coffers than they take out.” “The story is no longer about ‘have’ and ‘have not’ provinces,” Ivison argues. “Rather it is about ‘have oil’ and ‘have no oil’ regions of the country.” As such, he believes the entire idea of equalization needs to be rethought—or, which is preferable but “unthinkable,” scrapped entirely.
“If Ontario is in an economic recession,” the Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom writes, “it’s an odd one.” Unemployment is still low, and new house and resale prices are still rising. And despite the geographic proximity of the dire-looking American situation, we’re at least partially insulated from the fallout by the strong Canadian dollar (which protects us from inflation) and the fact that we simply don’t have the sub-prime mortgage situation to worry about. “None of this means that matters won’t get worse,” he hastens to add, if things go even more pear-shaped in the U.S. or Canadian governments “fixate on deficits” and needlessly cut spending. But for now, Walkom assures us it’s safe to come in off the ledge.
Look, we’re only human. We don’t like picking on columnists—well, a couple of them we do, but in general we care only about truth and justice. So we would stop ragging on Lorne Gunter—honest!—if he’d stop writing things like the following: “Elections Canada is investigating … whether the national Tory campaign bought more advertising than it was allowed in the 2006 campaign by disguising some of its national ads as local ones.” (Our italics.) That’s his lede in today’s Ottawa Citizen, and it misses the point entirely. It’s called the “in-and-out” affair, as our own Kady O’Malley recently explained in prose so entertainingly straightforward that an Edmontonian could understand it, because money allegedly went into local riding accounts and then out of them, back to party headquarters, before it was actually spent. This needn’t for a second compromise Gunter’s central point, which is that campaign finance laws in general “do violence to our freedom of speech and association.” So why misrepresent the issue?
Legislation to mandate biofuel targets in Canadian gasoline “seemed like a political masterstroke” just a year ago, Don Martin writes in the Calgary Herald. “Happy farmers, grinning greenies and oblivious motorists, even as renewable fuels moved to displace one million cars worth of greenhouse gases.” But as concerns mount over the effect of biofuels on the world food supply—and, in Canada, on the price of beer and popcorn—Martin says the NDP’s uncharacteristically cautious call to delay the legislation pending a reexamination makes a good deal of sense.
The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner understands why Ontario’s decision to ban cigarette “power walls” in convenience stores smacks of political expediency. Dalton McGuinty is something of a grand master of political expediency, after all, from pit bulls to bisphenol-A to pesticides. But with all due respect to the editors of Maclean’s, Gardner insists those power walls are a tobacco “marketer’s dream.” For all the advertising restrictions they face, cigarette companies can still put up what amounts to a billboard “in a place where teenagers buy pop and potato chips and smiling parents treat their children to lollipops. Such nice memories. Such compelling associations.” Behavioral science, which big tobacco understands better than just about anyone, dictates that familiarity lowers the perception of risk. Reduce Ontarians’ encounters with cigarettes, Gardner argues, and smoking “will become strange. Positive feelings and associations will fade. Perceived risk will rise.”
“All in all,” the Globe‘s John Ibbitson writes, “in the last half of the 20th century, there was more wisdom to be found in Reader’s Digest than in the collected work of the entire Western intelligentsia.” (We are left more or less to take his word on that.) This is why voters in English democracies are so wary of elitism and so fond of salt-of-the-earth populism, he argues, and why Barack Obama’s opponents have seized so firmly on his guns-and-God comments. “But Hillary Clinton is never going to convince anyone that she’s just a working girl running against an egghead,” says Ibbitson, and Obama retains enough of his skills on the basketball court to have a very good shot at winning over the regular guys and gals of Indiana.