Megapundit: Are the Tories ‘off the hook’?


Must-reads: Rex Murphy on debate reform; Rosie DiManno on Malalai Kaker; Don Martin in southwestern Ontario; Lawrence Martin on Paul Martin on the economy; Lorne Gunter on Lesley Hughes.

Majority report
Stephen Harper’s victory march may not go through Quebec after all. But it’s still a victory march.

The Tories’ youth crime crackdown and arts funding cuts are playing badly in Quebec, L. Ian MacDonald concedes in the Montreal Gazette, but the arts community’s outrage “doesn’t translate into many votes,” and hey, at least Harper can lay sole claim to the “constituency that believes if you want to go to Cuba, fine, pay your own way.” (For the last time, the government asked Gwynne Dyer to go to Cuba! Yeesh!) More problematic as campaign strategies go, MacDonald argues, was having Michael Fortier lead the attack painting the Bloc Québécois as a completely useless political entity. “However useless Bloc members might be,” MacDonald notes, at least “they’ve been elected.”

Chantal Hébert, writing in the Toronto Star, believes the arts funding/juvenile delinquent combination may well have taken “a made-in-Quebec Conservative majority” off the table; the province, she argues, is “once again Gilles Duceppe’s to lose.” But luckily for the authors of those two campaign clunkers, she says a “made-outside-Quebec majority [is] actually within Conservative reach. And “if the debates reinforce these mid-campaign trends,” she expects the front lines of the campaign to move rapidly westward from Quebec into “the trenches of Ontario.”

If “lawn signs and coffee shop conversation” are any indication, the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin says the Tory MPs in southwestern Ontario are “reasonably safe”—which is remarkable, really, given the rapid, highly visible decline of the region’s manufacturing industry under the Conservatives’ watch. Amidst the layoffs and abandoned factories, the CAW is preparing to endorse the Liberal candidate in Chatham-Kent, Martin notes, and yet the incumbent, Dave Van Kesteren—who founded a Hyundai dealership, of all crazy things—won’t even agree to speak to Martin about the local economy. If the Tories can get away with this down Windsor way, he suggests, they might just be “off the hook everywhere.”

The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington isn’t interested in where the majority is won; he just thinks Harper better win one. “He’s somewhat dogmatic, a bit arrogant, and one who doesn’t relish dissent in his caucus or cabinet. But he’s also an effective PM.” If he can’t parlay that into a majority against Stéphane Dion, Worthington rather trenchantly asks, how’s he going to do it against Bob Rae or Michael Ignatieff?

The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin speaks to Paul Martin (no relation) about North America’s ongoing financial woes and what might be done about them. Most notably, says Paul, we should be pursuing trade ties with China and India “flat out.” “The subprime crisis essentially means that the Western world can no longer lecture the emerging economies,” Paul tells Lawrence. “We have now got to sit down with them on the basis of equality.” Instead, Lawrence laments, the Prime Minister has all but ignored these emerging markets and seems content to “hunker down,” promising “modest improvements in crime fighting,” distributing “a few bucks here and there,” and giving “that bowling league in Fredericton a new set of duck pins.”

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Randall Denley profiles Brian McGarry, the Tory candidate in Ottawa Centre, whose offer to step down after his wife took gravely ill was rebuffed by Harper—much to McGarry’s appreciation. “I left [the meeting with Harper] with a weight off my shoulders. I really appreciated his answer,” he tells Denley. “I want to do it, I just don’t want to let down the party.”

Man the lifeboats!
, Star readers, to the James Travers Awkward Metaphor Awards for September 2008. This month’s inductee: “Conservatives have built a multi-lane trust bridge between Harper and once warier Canadians.” We will attempt to play along. The Liberals needed to bomb the living hell out of that trust bridge—”to make this election about a controlling Prime Minister and an agenda well outside Canadian norms, not about Dion and the Green Shift”—or at least to, uh, block off the trust bridge with, erm, flaming tires, perhaps. But they didn’t, so now they’re going to lose.

“Among a dozen veteran Liberal stalwarts and strategists we interviewed this week,” Sun Media’s Greg Weston reports, “most privately admit they are no longer worrying about winning as much as losing in a carnage that could deep-six the party for a decade or more.” Even that may be optimistic, says Weston, considering they can’t ditch the Green Shift without orphaning $40 billion in spending promises, and considering that Dion is still Dion. The debates offer him a last chance at redemption, says Weston, but it’s a slim one.

The National Post‘s John Ivison explains what more the universe might do to humiliate Dion and when it might happen. Answer: party executives might cut local campaigns loose to “do whatever they can to save their own seat”—which would mean officially heave-ho-ing the Green Shift, according to Ivison—and cut back on advertising spending during the last two weeks of the campaign so as to have a few bucks left to fight another day. Assuming things don’t turn around immediately, that could all happen… well, soon.

Nigel Hannaford, writing in the Herald, believes the proof of the Liberals’ existential crisis lies in its woebegone fundraising efforts. People simply won’t donate to a party that’s coming off over a decade of clinging to power at all costs, looks destined to lose two elections in a row, and still hasn’t redefined itself. Meanwhile—perhaps surprisingly, we’d say, but clearly it’s true—”there’s still more than enough faith among members that the Tories stand for something.”

On the Post‘s editorial board blog, Lorne Gunter suggests Michael Ignatieff’s warning that “if you don’t vote Liberal, Canada will go into a major economic crisis” is a classic example of the Grit self-delusion as “the party of the meritocracy, the intellectual elite”—the idea that “no one else knows Canada well enough to government (sic) it.” We wonder, then, what it illustrates when Harper makes pretty much exactly the same argument.

Dippers on the march
The Post‘s John Ivison opens with what sounds like a reasonable case to take Jack Layton seriously—if not for his policies then for his proximity to the Liberals in the polls—but soon makes his intentions clear: “The problem is, if he ever made it to 24 Sussex Drive, an almost pathological hostility toward the corporate sector would quickly turn Canada into a North American Zimbabwe.” Even Gary Doer “seems to believe that keeping corporate tax rates competitive is a sound investment,” says Ivison, as do just about all economists and politicians… except Layton. And that, he concludes, is why we should take Layton’s campaign successes seriously: because he’s bloody frightening.

Sun Media’s Greg Weston dissents somewhat, arguing that “relative to the usual NDP platform of a chicken in every pot and handouts for all, the Dippers’ latest fiscal recipe is remarkably staid”—particularly in contrast to the Liberals’ strategy “to leave no voter unbought.” This newfound “prudence” is serving them well as the Grits hit the skids, he argues, noting the unprecedented media turnout for the Dippers’ campaign launch. “In short, the NDP are desperately trying to convince Liberal voters the house that Jack built isn’t a leftie hall of horrors.”

The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson wants none of this, and can’t wait for the campaign to be over so we can all go back to ignoring the NDP again and stop pretending that “a series of direct subsidy programs combined with higher business tax rates, as the NDP proposes,” is anything but “just about the worst combination” for creating jobs, spurring business growth or fixing climate change.

The inconvenient truther
The idea that “Jews were behind 9/11—either directly or indirectly—and tipped off other Jews so they could all save themselves” is arguably anti-Semitic, Lorne Gunter argues in the Edmonton Journal, and the concomitant idea that “in the seven years since, the scores of Jewish planners and the 4,000 claimed Jewish survivors have all kept quiet … rather than tell the world the truth they know and risk being despised” is even more so. It “assumes a level of venality on the part of Jews that can only be described as racist.” Without knowing anything about Lesley Hughes’ brain, we somehow suspect these points never crossed her mind—which would make her, above all, a dimwit. And that, as Gunter says, is the real firing offence here.

The most “wonderful” thing about Hughes comeuppance, the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford suggests, is how unjust she feels it is—so unjust, in fact, that she compared it to a soldier dying “in the trenches.” She’s “had such a good go of being such a proper little Canadian lefty … that I have no doubt she’s genuinely bewildered,” Blatchford writes. “She’s played by all the rules as she knew them, embraced all (well, okay, almost all, the Sept. 11 conspiracy theory, being a shade out there) the right causes, and what, now this kick in the teeth?”

Campaign miscellany
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald‘s Dan Leger oversells the certainty of a Tory majority, we’d say—that is, he says it’s a near certainty, when it clearly isn’t. He’s quite right, however, that such an event would energize a unite-the-left movement far more than another minority would. If the Dippers, Grits and Greens “can hold their noses and get the job done, they can counterbalance long-term dominance by Conservatives,” he writes. Or, they can just keep on losing. Not a tough choice.

Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, safely predicts the party leaders will exhibit “all the spontaneity, but not the elegance, of a marble block” at this week’s debates. They will begin with “pure teleprompter chloroform,” delivered with a “fixed doltish smile”; the real “debate” portion will offer “no flow, no encounter”; and all the ostensibly “smart” comebacks will have been “prepared by communications hirelings.” We need wholesale reform, Murphy argues: many more debates held across the country, involving no more than two leaders at a time, in which each is “expected to speak at length, take rebuttal, and re-argue stated positions.” That would be completely out of keeping with a Canadian election campaign, as Murphy says—but that’s precisely why we agree it would be a good idea.

In the Citizen, David Warren comes to praise REAL Women’s brave, tireless, independently funded efforts against the efforts of “movement feminism” to sequester all Canadian women in the same pigeonhole. “The Nanny State cannot provide the human touch,” he argues, “can only provide ukases and directives and the horror of vast, Procrustean bureaucracies that dole out resources with ludicrous inefficiency, on the inevitable principle of ‘one size fits all.'” And if you want an idea of the vitriol women face when they buck the trend, he suggests casting an eye at “the sheer, pathological hatred directed by movement feminists against Sarah Palin.”

The Gazette‘s Don MacPherson suggests that if protecting citizen’s right to “exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” isn’t enough to get the Montreal Police out to the Jeunes Patriotes’ various protests, perhaps their history of inciting minor riots might be. The lack of violence outside Justin Trudeau’s headquarters on Wednesday “might have been due as much to chance as to yet another tardy intervention” by the fuzz, he argues. So why does this “goon squad” get so much rope?

Trouble for McCain
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson scores Friday’s presidential debate a win for John McCain on foreign policy, “especially Iraq,” but believes Obama’s “entrenched” advantage remains. “To overcome [it], Mr. McCain keeps jumping on the scales”—mocking Obama as a celebrity after his European trip, bringing Sarah Palin on board after the “high-voltage” Democratic convention, and trying to cancel the debate in the face of the financial crisis. But none has provided any lasting effect, Ibbitson believes. Obama, meanwhile, is staying the course. And that just might be enough.

“General hilarity greeted this latest McCain stunt,” the Star‘s David Olive writes of his I’m-needed-in-Washington gambit. “By his own repeated confession, McCain is untutored in economics. At best, he could help with the Thai food orders that sustained the congressional negotiators in their late-night sessions this week.” He looked foolish, Olive contends, and what’s worse for his campaign overall, “the Palin effect is waning”—”even before her straight-to-YouTube encounter with Katie Couric in which [she] tried to establish her foreign-policy credentials by correctly identifying Russia and Canada as her state’s neighbours.”

Duly noted
The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner likens the listeriosis outbreak to the late-1990s panic in Ontario over tires coming loose from 18-wheelers, in that the number of incidents bears little relation to the level of media coverage and public concern. “The perception of the risk … went from zero to red alert and back to zero,” he writes, even as the actual risk remained relatively constant (and minute). Likewise, he reasons, the fact that nearly all contaminated non-Maple Leaf products recalled were withdrawn after the Maple Leaf scandal broke “strongly suggests the numbers don’t expose a real surge in listeria contamination. They show producers and officials got strict about inspections and recalls after the crisis broke.” The more you look for deadly food-borne pathogens, in other words, the more you find them.

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno eulogizes Malalai Kaker, the Afghan policewoman killed by the Taliban over the weekend, as “one of the bravest women I’ve ever known”—”no, make that one of the bravest people.” In the face of a standing death warrant, she refused to wear the burqa on duty; investigated assaults against and crimes committed by women, whom male officers aren’t allowed to search; and steadfastly vowed to uphold the Afghan constitution’s commitment to women’s rights. “When last I saw Kakar—a kiss on both cheeks—she was lighting up a smoke, waving farewell from the courtyard of the police station,” DiManno recalls, “urging me to be careful.”

The youth convicted as a would-be terrorist last week “may well have been a pathetic individual,” DiManno writes elsewhere—stupid, hapless and hopelessly ill-informed about Islam. But the point of his conviction is simply that “he was not so stupid … to have been unaware of what was up and what was intended.” The likelihood of success for the gormless gang may have been small, she concedes, but its leader was, at the end of the day, “associated with a man arrested at the border when he tried entering from the U.S. with two handguns taped to his inner thigh.” And the fact remains that the idiots of the world are capable of terrible carnage.

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