May 9 shall henceforth be known as National Embarrassment Day

Must-reads: Daphne Bramham on polygamy; Jeffrey Simpson on the refugee system; Susan Riley and Chantal Hébert on l’affaire Bernier-Couillard; Rosie DiManno on the Afghan food shortage; Colby Cosh on uniting the Alberta left.

Bad, Canada. Bad!
From the Creston Valley to the Alberta oil sands to Ottawa—especially Ottawa—we should all be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.

“Two generations have grown up during the period the B.C. government has hidden behind undisclosed legal opinions that polygamy is the cost of religious freedom and because someone somewhere says the government might lose in court,” the inimitable Daphne Bramham writes in the Vancouver Sun. Texas prosecutors have “plenty of evidence that abuse is endemic” among the dozens of children seized from their parents, she notes, but the province still hasn’t sent “any lawyers or social workers down to check on [Canadians among the victims], find out whether they went there willingly or even to take a look at what evidence Texas has collected.” It is time, she argues—still, again, and always—to put an end to this national embarrassment. (We particularly like her idea that the children of Bountiful might eventually launch a class action suit against the B.C. government for allowing them to be treated like low-grade veal. It would be the perfect comeuppance, we think.)

An unusually obstreperous Jeffrey Simpson argues that many of the administrative shortcomings Auditor-General Sheila Fraser appears to reveal in her reports are actually systemic issues. “We could double the number of officers hunting down illegals from the refugee pool or those who enter Canada on a visitor visas and then go underground, but we’d only increase by a few thousand the number we catch and deport,” he writes in The Globe and Mail. The underlying problem is the granting of Charter rights to refugee claimants, he suggests, and the myriad “procedures, appeals and delays” go with it. It’s all too easy for the opposition to bitch and moan about Fraser’s findings, in other words, but “the system is the ass.” Unfortunately, no government in Ottawa would risk the ire of “refugee lawyers, ethnic leaders, [and] church groups”—not to mention that selfsame opposition—to try to institute a systemic fix.

Also among our national embarrassments, L. Ian MacDonald suggests in the National Post, is the state of 24 Sussex Drive—which Fraser recommended be renovated immediately, to the tune of $10 million, lest it cost much more in years to come. This “political cover” for finally bringing the Prime Ministerial residence up to snuff is a gift horse, MacDonald argues, and Harper is making a mistake by looking it in the mouth. “But he’s also making a political calculation,” he continues, based on the media’s “drive-by shootings” and the traditionally “shocked and appalled” reactions of opposition parties whenever someone suggests prettying up the place “we invite the Queen and the president of the United States for lunch.” This, MacDonald quite rightly concludes, is “a pity.”

The Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe looks at the “slow and bureaucratic” progress Canada is making towards embracing carbon sequestration as a means of meeting, or not falling disastrously short of, our greenhouse gas emissions targets. But even as governments come on board, at least in theory, she notes that some environmentalists have shifted their concerns to the unpleasant matter of the bill. “Ecojustice … argues that oil companies should finance a cleanup of their emissions, considering that they benefit from roughly $1.4 billion a year in tax subsidies from government,” Yaffe writes, arguing they “have a point.”

John Robson, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, advises readers of Donald Savoie’s probe into “the breakdown of government in Canada” to also read Jean Louis de Lolme’s 1784 masterpiece, The Constitution of England. “I wish some grounds existed for thinking those involved in the creation of the modern Canadian constitution, not just the appalling Constitution Act of 1982 but the entire structure of modern governance, had any acquaintance with de Lolme’s or any other book on the merits of the existing system,” he writes. The whole thing is rather dense.

Bitter separatists and biker chicks
Perhaps it’s “a bit rich” for Stephen Harper to so forcefully dismiss the furor over Maxime Bernier’s ex-girlfriend as the prattlings of “gossipy old busybodies,” the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin suggests, “given that this prime minister’s office scolded Bernier for allowing [Julie] Couillard to dress so provocatively at the Rideau Hall swearing in. Busybody indeed.” Questions about background checks are legitimate, he argues, and her requests “to sit in on media interviews with Bernier” to have “access to his confidential meetings”—all of them rebuffed—did suggest “a slightly unsettling political curiosity.” But to suggest that her decade-old relationship with an unsavoury character renders her “unsuitable for dating by a rookie politician is ridiculous.”

The Citizen‘s Susan Riley wonders what Michael Ignatieff was hoping to ferret out in his Question Period fulminations over Bernier’s curvaceous ex. “Damage to Canada’s international reputation as a people of Victorian rectitude and modest dress?” she suggests. “Potential leaks of UN resolutions on the illicit drug trade to the Hells [Angels]?” “It takes a more conspiratorial mind than mine (Liberal MP Denis Coderre, perhaps?),” she concludes, “to imagine how this relationship could affect Bernier’s job performance”—which has plenty of black marks against it, she adds, without dragging romance into the equation.

“It is just about unprecedented for a Quebec party to venture into the private life of a political opponent in this fashion,” the Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert notes of the Bloc Québécois’ interest in Bernier’s affairs. But as the party’s raison d’être continues to lose relevance, she says “desperate times… call for desperate moves.” This would also explain Gilles Duceppe’s multiple blown gaskets yesterday over Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s visit to France, where Nicolas Sarkozy threatens to “re-triangulate the Ottawa-Quebec-Paris relationship to treat Canadian unity as a given.” Hébert suggests we all enjoy this “rare peek into sovereignist angst.”

The conspiracy unfurls itself
“Mr. Obama’s emphatic win in [North Carolina] and wafer-thin loss in [Indiana] revived his campaign,” says the Globe‘s John Ibbitson, “leaving Ms. Clinton with no discernible route to victory”—just like he’s been saying for months! And now that Clinton’s campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, has opined that the Democratic candidate will have been chosen by June, Ibbitson says the party can finally take heart that “one way or another, this thing will soon be over.”

Open your eyes, man, says the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington, accusing the “dear old Globe” of missing the point entirely when it comes to “those devious Clintons.” Clinton’s goal in staying in the race is to ensure Obama loses to John McCain, he argues, thus allowing her to campaign in 2012, by which time Obama will have become “a footnote.” “If Hillary were to withdraw now, and Obama had clear sailing to the White House,” Worthington reasons, “he’d certainly contest the 2012 election—and Hillary would become the asterisk.”

Duly noted
Colby Cosh
, writing in the Post, examines the various scenarios under which Alberta’s beleaguered Liberals, Dippers and Greens might join forces against Ed Stelmach’s Tory juggernaut. On the face of it, 19 seats—which a united left would theoretically have won in the last election—beats 11. But, says Cosh, “the Liberal and NDP brands are not as easily trifled with as were those of the federal right-wing parties” that amalgamated to form the modern-day Conservative Party of Canada. “Like small communities of persecuted religious recusants everywhere,” he warns, “Alberta’s opposition parties have become stubborn, proud and inbred over time.”

“The global food crisis has slammed Afghanistan hard, despite a good grain harvest last year,” the Star‘s Rosie DiManno reports from Kabul. “Flour, beans, rice, pulses—they have become like saffron, relative to the ordinary Afghan’s income.” Ironically, she notes, despite soaring grain prices and a worldwide shortage that means aid agencies struggle to purchase staples even when they have the money to do so, there’s still “little financial incentive for Afghan farmers to switch over from growing poppies. A farmer can still make between six to 12 times as much from a narcotic yield.”

Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, compares the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council to Freedom House’s list of the “least free” countries in the world—and, predictably, the HRC comes off looking rather silly. “One [member]—Cuba—is among the eight most-repressive governments in the world, as judged by FH,” he writes. “And two more—China and Saudi Arabia—are among the bottom 17 countries in respect for human rights.” This, he concludes, “goes to show how useless the UN is at protecting human rights.”

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