In praise of the open-face sandwich

Must-reads: Rosie DiManno on Afghan politics; Terence Corcoran and Greg Weston on immigration reform; James Travers on access to information; Jonathan Kay on Selwyn House.

Must-reads: Rosie DiManno on Afghan politics; Terence Corcoran and Greg Weston on immigration reform; James Travers on access to information; Jonathan Kay on Selwyn House.

Backlogged and gob-smacked
It’s not as easy to process 900,000 backed-up immigration claims as you think!

“There must be better ways to tame an unruly bureaucracy” at Citizenship and Immigration Canada than to hand unprecedented control over immigration to the minister, Terence Corcoran argues in the Financial Post. Bill C-50, which proposes to do just that, leaves the system vulnerable to “arbitrary political power and abuse,” he argues, and he doesn’t even understand how it’s going to solve the backlog. The big questions still need to be answered, he insists. Why issue temporary worker permits to people whose skills we need, and permanent status to hundreds of thousands whose skills we don’t? And why are we admitting no more immigrants today than we were in 1992?

Sun Media’s Greg Weston has discovered another “rather significant glitch” in the government’s plan to wade into the backlog and pluck out the people we need: “officials tell us there is nothing in their computers to distinguish the doctors from the ditch-diggers.” Weston is supportive of the initiative in general, arguing that legally mandated reporting by CIC would reveal any abuse from the minister’s office. But before it can get underway, he warns, “the immigration department may first have to blow a small fortune going through every application from every foreign worker in order to identify what kind of skills, exactly, each person has.”

We had assumed that nobody would describe Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s latest report as “gob-smacking.” But then along came the Toronto Star‘s James Travers, whose gob was smacked silly by the 41,000 unaccounted-for folks awaiting deportation from Canada, and even more by the fact that Fraser lauded Canada Border Services “for finally figuring out just how many illegal immigrants … qualify for the bum’s rush.” This is a perfect metaphor for the state of access to information in Ottawa in general, he suggests, where “progress is measured here by moving from knowing nothing to knowing what isn’t known.”

Department of homeland security
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin gives the government “some credit” for “pledging annual money boosts, a major manpower increase and orderly equipment upgrades” for the Canadian Forces. Unfortunately, he reports, the 20-year plan that an unusually poorly briefed Stephen Harper attempted to articulate in Halifax yesterday amounts to “45 paragraphs of background rhetoric, all of it regurgitation from earlier budgets.” A concrete plan may exist “locked inside [Harper’s] brain,” he speculates. But he says “it’s clearly presumptuous to envision Canada’s place in the world two decades hence without providing any clear emphasis or directional preference for domestic, continental or international challenges.”

The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe speaks to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, who directs his opprobrium, as per usual, in the direction of Canada’s defence spending. More interesting—but also rather suspect—is his contention that RCMP short-staffing is “directly linked” to what Yaffe calls “a recent spate of Taser deaths.” “The proper police response in many cases is to talk someone down, or stay there and wait and call for backup support,” Kenny argues, but many officers aren’t calling for backup, knowing it probably won’t be forthcoming. All of which raises the question: if three burly Mounties aren’t enough to “talk down” or otherwise subdue an enraged Polish immigrant without resorting to the Taser, just how many do you need?

The Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Wente provides a good example of what Stéphane Dion will be up against when and if he finally buttresses his third pillar with a carbon tax proposal—that is, the belief, correct or not, that Canadians will sooner throw him to the lions than accept such a tax at a time when fuel prices are already high. “He’s not a coward,” an unidentified individual tells Wente. “That’s for sure,” she retorts. “Neither was General Custer. And the wrath of Crazy Horse wasn’t much, compared to the brewing rage among the seniors’ lobby.” Indeed, we think it will be very interesting to see how Canadians, who are ostensibly very concerned about climate change, react to Dion’s proposal, assuming he locates the gumption to table it.

Two solitudes
The Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson is amazed to find a hardcore sovereigntist—namely Jean-François Lisée in l’Actualité—who proposes to address the decline of French on Montreal Island through measures other than strengthening Bill 101. It does not appear that Lisée still has Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois’ ear, however. Recent fulminations both from her and from her language critic, Pierre Curzi, confirm that a strengthened (if not completely unworkable) language law, and other “identity” initiatives, are “now the PQ’s priorities.”

Meanwhile, over at the National Post, Jonathan Kay assures us that posh Montreal boys’ school Selwyn House has transformed itself from a “dusty old WASP enclave” into “a yuppified microcosm of the new Montreal”—from a place where “oddball bachelor[s]” were free to go “joyriding … around New England” with their students in their convertibles to one where “modern, professional educators” are kept in check “by hyperprotective supermoms.” All of which makes Friday’s news of a Selwyn House teacher charged with possession of child pornography “particularly heartbreaking,” he suggests. He hopes the school’s frankness in dealing with his arrest, in contrast with its past cover-ups, “will register in the public consciousness.” We can assure him it will not, for the simple reason that people enjoy seeing the posh suffer.

Duly noted
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson writes yet another column about Gordon Campbell, for God’s sake, but at least this one’s not about his precious carbon tax. In fact, it’s about something the mighty Campbell can’t do—namely, get healthcare costs under control. In B.C. as elsewhere in Canada, Simpson laments, “there is no realistic, sensible debate” on how to get a grip on them. “Even a combination as resolute as Gordon Campbell and Carole Taylor can’t prevent health-care spending from distending their province’s budget,” he concludes.

Legendary Uzbek warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum was “last seen… standing on the roof of his rococo palazzo [in Kabul], shaking his fist at police,” after beating and kidnapping his electoral rival when he refused a “conciliatory drink.” Now, the Star‘s Rosie DiManno reports—in another terrifically entertaining piece—he won’t even talk to a reporter face-to-face, preferring instead to hole up “in his pastel-painted mansion and ignoring a warrant for his arrest.” Dostum, who once led an army “known for raping-and-pillaging,” earned himself “10 per cent of the vote in the last presidential election,” DiManno notes. “This is Afghan politics.”

The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford files an intriguing but somewhat odd look at the trial of an unnamed 20-year-old, one of the so-called “Toronto 18” terror suspects, who said last week he was “stepping out” of his trial—firing his lawyers, refusing to acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction and promising not to attend—but has now reconsidered and is back in the dock. The question, Blatchford suggests, quoting the suspect’s inane courtroom ramblings at length, is whether he was having some kind of “emotional breakdown.” We’re not entirely sure why that matters, given that he easily meets our “nuts” threshold.

Andrew Cohen‘s tour of northern Europe continues in the Ottawa Citizen. Today, he tells us how great Denmark is, and how happy all its resident Danes are. (We thought he’d already done the land of Hamlet, but that must have been Sweden.) It’s all very readable and avoids looking down on Canada from a Scandinavian perspective—perhaps our most hated of op-ed tropes—but it does suffer from the following sentence: “The open-face sandwich is an architectural and aesthetic wonder.”