Must-reads: Rex Murphy on Stéphane Dion; David Olive on the Wall Street crisis; David Frum on Stephen Harper in a liberal world; Dan Gardner on Canadian history.
The healing path
What, and who, lies ahead for Canada’s natural governing train wreck?
Stéphane Dion “wears his party’s loss,” Rex Murphy argues in The Globe and Mail, just as “he would have been showered with hosannas had he won.” But “there is still something unseemly, bordering on cruelty, in the speed with which he is being marked as rubbish and consigned to the bin.” Let him have a few days to engineer a dignified exit, Murphy urges, and in that time, Harper should contemplate what Dion’s brief tenure atop the Liberals has to teach him. Dion “was not the leader Canadians wanted, but his openness and ‘exposure’ implied a trust, a faith in the people whose support he sought.” Harper, Murphy opines, doesn’t seem to trust Canadians, and Canadians continue to return the favour in kind.
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin attributes Dion’s undoing in large part to his innate stubbornness, “wrapp[ing] himself in a campaign silo, seeking bone-headed counsel in his own intellectual superiority” while seasoned campaign veterans implored him to focus on the economy and not the environment. Even on election night, Martin reports, his “initial response was, incredibly, to fight anew”—until, that is, he was “told flat out he could not survive a leadership review.”
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, warns that nobody can help the Liberals if the party doesn’t come up with a good reason centrist Canadians should vote for them—”a succinct vision of what Canada would look like if they won.” Most memorable about this column, however, is Gunter’s apparently earnest contention that on the Sunday after the 2006 Liberal leadership convention, Air Canada held connecting flights for delegates coming from Montreal as a partisan gesture. But no, that cannot be. That’s just too nutty a thing to say with nothing to back it up. He must be kidding.
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson believes the Liberals need, first and foremost, a leader who will recognize just how screwed they are—that it’s no longer the “natural governing party” but rather the party of “Atlantic Canadian strongholds, Montreal ridings with lots of ethnic voters, the Greater Toronto Area, and scattered ridings such as one in Regina and the Yukon seat,” and that it doesn’t even have the fundraising prowess to fix itself. Simpson sees a “disturbing paucity” of people who might be able to assess the full extent of the damage and fix it.
The Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert nominates Elizabeth May, who, “for better and for worse, has all the makings of a power politician.” The recent resignation of high-profile Green David Chernushenko likely portends “more acts of dissent” in her and the Greens’ future, says Hébert, and, dissent or not, May would likely find herself “spinning her wheels” if she ever did manage to win a seat in the House of Commons. It would make sense for all involved, therefore, if May took out a membership in the Liberal Party of Canada and threw her hat into the leadership ring. (It’s a good idea unless she wins, we think. Imagine the terror inside the convention hall if she finished third on the first ballot.)
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford is not a fan of Ms. May, however, in that she “whinged her way into the television debates … and set the precedent that a party without a single elected MP can participate if only its leader bitches enough.” This contributed to Blatchford’s overall distaste for our 40th general election, and so annoying did she find it that she can’t even bother to figure out whether it was Dion or Jack Layton who made her “nearly [lose her] lunch” by saying “it’s the job of the prime minister to care.” (For the record, it seems like neither of them said it.)
Once Dion does step down, Sun Media’s Greg Weston notes he will be even less of a “drawing card for those $500-plate fundraisers” the Grits so desperately need to pay off Dion’s leadership debts and finance the party’s return to glory. “People are even talking about the possibility of bankruptcy,” one “long-time Liberal insider” tells Weston. Weston, however, thinks that’s “surely over the top.”
Indeed, L. Ian MacDonald thinks it wouldn’t be “a big deal to get 200 cheques for $1,000, post-dated to the first of January, 2009,” which would take care of Dion’s remaining leadership debt—the elimination of which the Liberals “can and should” make a priority. But that’s all the party owes him, MacDonald argues in the Montreal Gazette, considering he ran, “by the numbers, … the worst Liberal campaign ever.” And in return, he must leave quietly and quickly, rather than “hanging on to the drapes at Stornoway.”
Can you feel the recession?
The Star‘s James Travers accuses all three parties of dishonesty—gasp!—in campaigning as if their platforms, which were built “on early spring budget projections that were ludicrous anachronisms by late summer,” were still viable even as the economy circled the bowl. The Liberals, he says, actually “debated coming clean” on the possibility of a deficit, but concluded it would only be grist for the attack ad mill. But that bit of political expediency was out of line with Dion’s overall campaign, says Travers, which was “brave enough to ask the country to confront” global warming. (Just not by asking us to pay more for gasoline.)
At this point in our economic downturn, the Halifax Chronicle-Heralds Dan Leger believes “we know more about what Harper won’t do”—i.e., raise taxes or run a deficit, attend the premiers’ economic summit today or “go overboard guaranteeing bank deposits or stretching the treasury to prop up failing businesses”—than “what he will do.” But with the election over, Harper must now concede the problem is real, says Leger, who’s sure “the gnomes in federal Finance are already proposing ways to cut spending.” So, he asks of Harper, “what is the plan?”
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom notes that R.B. Bennett, as Prime Minister during the Great Depression, had to sacrifice many of his arch-conservative ways on the altar of pragmatism and, in fact, became “one of the most interventionist prime ministers the country has ever seen.” And given Harper’s already-abandoned objections to things like single-payer healthcare and corporate welfare, Walkom suspects he’ll play against his stereotype during the economic downturn—not focusing on spending cuts or “deregulat[ing] further in order to let the much-vaunted genius of the private sector flourish,” but instead doing… er, something else.
Whatever he does, David Frum notes in the National Post, he’ll do it alone. So lonely, and so sadly alone. Where Jean Chrétien had his Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder, and Brian Mulroney had his Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Harper now confronts “a global economic crisis, a grinding war on the other side of the planet and an ageing population that will require more and more public support.” The bad news is “Canada’s reliably left-tilting media”—which endorsed the Tories en masse; sorry, we interrupted—”will soon be taunting Harper as an international outlier, a sorry holdout against the glamorous new ideas of President Obama.” The good news, however, is that in their exile, “the Harper government have gained a real opportunity to redefine the centre-right for the 21st century.”
The Globe‘s Lawrence Martin also observes that while fiscal and foreign policy conservatism are being rapidly discredited in the United States, and seem likely to be “repudiated” on Nov. 4, “the conservative grip is stronger on [Canadian] culture today than it ever was [in Bennett’s day], or perhaps at any other time” in history. So what does that mean for your weekend? Don’t ask Lawrence Martin—he’s not Kreskin. Suffice to say “the likely arrival of the Obama Democrats” in Washington at a time when Ottawa is staunchly conservative “brings us into largely uncharted territory.”
Based on a preponderance of the evidence, the war in Afghanistan now “appears even more doomed than the war in Iraq once was,” writes the Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui. (This raising an interesting question: can something have been doomed, but not be doomed now? In that case, wouldn’t it not have been doomed?) Canada and Harper are alarmingly alone among NATO countries, he alleges, in refusing to acknowledge the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan and not participating in the “political and diplomatic rethinking” that’s currently underway.
State of the Dominion
The Gazette‘s Don Macpherson isn’t buying the claims that Jean Charest promised not to criticize the Tory campaign, and that he “blindsided” them by coming out against cuts to cultural funding programs. Firstly, he reasons, “it seems unlikely that a premier with a need to strengthen his credentials as a defender of French Quebec would promise not to join in the public criticism of what was (wrongly) framed as an attack on French Quebec culture.” Secondly, and more to the point, “the Conservatives’ complaint that they weren’t prepared to defend their policies against Charest is self-damning, because it means they had anticipated no need to justify them to anybody else.” Precisely. In any event, Macpherson concludes, Harper should resist the temptation to sulk and make up with Charest, as it’s in both their best interests.
Self-interested Quebeckers have every right to be pleased with the current state of political affairs, Jeffrey Simpson writes in a lengthy essay on the state of federalism: “three sides all trying to impress [them] by defending their interests more resolutely than the other.” And, somewhat amazingly, it seems Stephen Harper will continue to play the game even after his first, enormously expensive round of Quebec-appeasing gestures “blew up in [his] face.” But all of this will surely bring us back to the age-old question, Simpson concludes: Why should Ottawa keep playing this “losing game … in which demands are met but never suffice, and in which a majority of francophones in Quebec send MPs who want no part of governing Canada”? ‘Tis a fine question indeed; answering it would have made an even finer essay, we think.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner decries our tendency to view Canadian history as something that’s confined within our borders, thus neglecting the complex identities of latter-day Canadians. In the Passchendaele film, for example, Gardner says Paul Gross draws a “sharp division … between Canadian and Brit,” reflecting the contemporary view of the British Empire as, “at most, an embarrassing reminder of the time when we were colonial subordinates.” But the “overwhelming majority of Canadians of the time saw ‘Canadian’ and ‘British’ as overlapping identities,” says Gardner. And to ignore that—and the wider world’s overall contribution to our own historical narrative—is to render our own history “parochial.”
Powell piles on
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson assesses the significance of Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama, calling it a “stunning repudiation” of a party that Powell feels “betrayed him and besmirched his reputation” with the Iraq debacle. From Barack Obama’s standpoint, meanwhile, Ibbitson says this could hardly have come at a better time. “A declaration of support … by such an influential and moderate Republican, with such a distinguished background in the military, national security and foreign affairs, may bring to Mr. Obama some of the remaining undecided voters who worry about the thinness of his résumé.”
Most of the women the Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham talks to believe Sarah Palin is “stupid, awful, grossly unprepared for office and an embarrassment,” and that they have nothing to learn from her. Bramham respectfully disagrees, noting that research in Canada has found “fear of not knowing the answer [to questions] and fear of ‘how the media might treat the average soccer mom'” were key factors in keeping women out of political races. Now, says Bramham, “they no longer need to be afraid.” Just as long as they’re sufficiently attractive and properly packaged, they “can wrap men around their little fingers.” (To us, this doesn’t sound like particularly good news, yet Bramham’s tone seems curiously upbeat. We’re willing to entertain the idea that we’ve missed her point entirely.)
The Star‘s David Olive dismisses the idea that some wholesale rethink of capitalism is underway in Washington, arguing the rot is confined to just one branch of the tree and that “the partial privatization of leading U.S. banks announced by Washington early this week has ample precedent”—notably post-World War II and during “the savings and loan mess in the 1980s.” If history is any guide, he says Washington will get out of the banking and insurance businesses as soon as they possibly can, and all will return, relatively speaking, to normal. He also dismisses the idea, apparently widely held across the pond, that the European banks are blameless in this fiasco. Just about all of them bet heavily “that U.S. housing valuations would rise indefinitely,” Olive argues.
Scott Taylor, writing in the Chronicle-Herald, explains the volatile situation along the Iraq-Turkey border. We couldn’t possibly summarize it, but suffice to say Iraqi oil revenues, Kurdish geopolitics and the American debt to the Kurdish Workers’ Party guerillas who helped them attack Iraq from the north combine to form a heady brew. It’s also “a stark reminder of the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy,” says Taylor. Having gone to war “to protect itself from Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, … now it denies Turkey the same right to protect itself from a terror threat”—i.e., cross-border incursions by Kurdish fighters—”that’s constant and all too real.”