Must-reads: Colby Cosh on the economic meltdown; Chantal Hébert on Gerard Kennedy’s big mistake; John Robson on Elections Canada’s censors; Rosie DiManno on Jeremy Hinzman.
Wayne Easter’s revenge
Why can’t the Harperites shut up and play nice?
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin believes the Liberals got off lucky yesterday with Gerry Ritz’s gallows humour dominating the news instead of whatever Stephen Harper, who recently described a $9-billion promise as “mind-boggling,” might have said about Stéphane Dion’s $70-billion infrastructure plan. In these trying financial times, Martin suggests we’re less in the mood for twelve-figure “vote-buying tactics” than we are for modest measures like, er, cracking down on banana-flavoured cigarillos. Lehman Brothers and AIG be damned, we’d respond—we want good roads and kids not to smoke, and we won’t be convinced it’s not possible!
Sun Media’s Greg Weston summarizes Harper’s response to the Ritz crackup as follows: “While [he] may have insulted and otherwise upset the families of 17 Canadians killed by tainted meat under his watch, that ‘should not detract from the good work that he has done,'”. (We’re not sure you can really “insult” someone in a private conversation to which he or she isn’t party, and suspect whichever bureaucrat leaked the conversation probably took far longer away from his or her job to do so than Ritz did to make his off-colour jokes. But never mind.) In any case, says Weston, each of these ongoing Tory gaffes and the ensuing apologies “likely negates a dozen of Harper’s homey sweater ads,” and not only do they throw the campaign off-message, they force Harper to actually “praise the public service” in hopes of plugging any future leaks. Gross! Like kissing your sister!
Harper has proven himself capable during this campaign of “defend[ing] his views without raising his voice, or resorting to personal abuse,” the Ottawa Citizen‘s Susan Riley observes. The question, then, is this: why, if Harper’s big-meany image is such a turnoff among all those estrogen-laden voters he’s so intent on wooing, does he insist on giving “puerile attack dogs like … Jason Kenney” and “sketchy operators like campaign guru Doug Finley” such prominent positions in his war room? After all, as she says, “ideology aside, the prime minister whom Harper most resembles is Jean Chrétien: an incrementalist, an autocratic manager disdainful of windy speeches and grand visions.” So why mess with Chrétien’s rather successful formula?
The Montreal Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall dismisses Harper’s suggestion that Canadians have become more conservative over the past 20 years, arguing we’re no fonder of “God and guns” than we ever were and that despite living through years of deficit financing, we’ve always been fans of “living within our means.” Pride in the military? Pshaw, says Bagnall. That’s only “because fellow Canadians are in constant mortal danger, carrying out missions on our behalf and at the behest of the government,” unlike… uh, whatever it is, other than that, that militaries are supposed to do. Nor is the party truly moving to the centre, she argues, if its lax reaction to the listeriosis outbreak, its cuts to arts funding and its “obsession” with crime-fighting amidst falling crime rates are any indication.
(A brief digression: Criticizing the Conservatives’ crime-fighting methods and rhetoric is totally onside, but we are well sick of this argument that because crime rates are falling, the government shouldn’t prioritize lowering them further. Imagine applying the same theory to a 102-degree fever that had been 104 the day before.)
How bad is it for the Liberals? Well, says The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson, they “lost a by-election to the NDP in Westmount, which was like the Conservatives losing Calgary Southwest.” Jeezum crow, what year is this? Have we been in a coma? Is this some sort of Orson Wells-esque radio play meant to send Grits into mortal panic? Or is it just an utterly baffling error? The Liberals lost a by-election to the NDP in Outremont, it is true, but as the riding went Tory in the Mulroney days, that doesn’t really seem like the Conservatives losing Calgary Southwest at all.
Gerard Kennedy “belongs to the school of Liberals—largely Ontario-based—for whom the Fathers of Confederation erred when they designated health care and education as exclusive provincial responsibilities,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Toronto Star. Dion “is of a different persuasion”—one that respects provincial jurisdictions and doesn’t automatically bristle at asymmetrical applications of federalism. That, Hébert argues, is just one of the miscalculations Kennedy made in throwing his support behind Dion at the 2006 leadership convention, thus installing someone who’s completely unsaleable in Quebec at precisely the time the Liberals needed someone to slot into the new, post-separatist mindset. Thanks a lot, GK!
In the National Post, L. Ian MacDonald assesses the Harper Gang’s efforts to capitalize on all those shifting nationalist dynamics Hébert was talking about, including an advertisement in which the Prime Minister and his Quebec caucus sit “around a breakfast table at Harrington Lake… discussing all they’ve done for Quebec, while the Bloc does nothing.” It seems to be working, if poll numbers are any indication. But with Julie Couillard’s “kiss-and-tell memoir” on the way and the Tories “getting pounded on their cuts to cultural programs,” MacDonald warns they may be “peaking too soon.”
With the Vancouver Board of Trade and Union of B.C. Municipalities expressing doubts about Gordon Campbell’s carbon tax and Dion’s Green Shift proposal presenting at least a theoretical threat of double-taxation, the Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer notes that Victoria is frantically re-branding it as a “pollution tax on carbon emissions.” It’s “important to make that last bit clear,” quips Palmer, “otherwise some joker may point out that the supposed pollution—carbon dioxide—is also a by-product of breathing.” Photosynthetic British Columbians might also quibble, we’d add.
Perhaps Canada’s healthcare system isn’t as bad as Romania’s, Lorne Gunter writes in the Edmonton Journal—Where did we get that fool idea, you ask? Why, from the headline!—but a recent study comparing Canada’s system to those of European nations shows we’re middle-of-the-road at best despite spending “as much per capita on health care as any European nation.” The tragedy, Gunter contends, is that supporters of the idealized version of Canadian healthcare “have so politicized it that discussions of other models have become electoral poison”—which is why nobody’s talking about it on the campaign trail.
The Citizen‘s John Robson decries Elections Canada’s silly rule demanding that the first media outlet to report on a poll include the number of Canadians surveyed and the margin of error as both a dangerous, censorious precedent and as completely useless given all the other ways journalists are free to torque, mangle or otherwise misrepresent the news. In other words, as Robson quite nicely puts it, “if I say Stéphane Dion is a Martian, the law lets you make up your own mind about the reliability of the claim. But if I tell you 68 per cent of Martians support the Liberal leader, I’m obliged to disclose how many little green men I talked to with how large a margin of error, lest you be hoodwinked into some harmful voting behaviour impossible to specify.”
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno has no time for Jeremy Hinzman’s justifications for fleeing his U.S. Army unit before it was deployed to Iraq in 2004, or for Bob Rae, who has taken up his cause. But even if one accepts that all American soldiers in Iraq are nothing but trained killers, she suggests the proper thing would be to send Hinzman back home to take his lumps for his ostensibly principled stance, not grant him refugee status. We couldn’t agree more. The day we decide that imprisonment for desertion is cruel and unusual punishment is the day our refugee system is, against all odds, in even more trouble.
End of the line
In the Post, Colby Cosh looks back on the career of clueless real estate speculator and self-confessed mortgage fraudster Casey Serin, who actually blogged about his exploits, as a perfect emblem of the financial crisis now facing the United States. “If home lending practices were really as insane as he has demonstrated, using nothing but a head full of self-help nonsense and the guts of a burglar, how much abuse was perpetrated by bright people who really knew how to game the broken system?” Cosh asks. It’s unknowable. “All one can do is tremble with dread for the fate of the republic.”
Richard Gwyn is pretty sure he knows what’s about to happen, though: a recession, for one thing, “say of three or four years, quite possibly longer”; the possible collapse of all big three automakers; “deep cuts in government spending matched by tax increases to bring in additional revenues”; the abandonment of the War on Terror as too expensive; and an “agonizing rethink” in Washington about America’s “place and role in the word,” to be followed by a retreat to an “inward”-looking, if not outright “isolationist” worldview. All this will drag Canada down too, but—here’s the good news!— “less dramatically and painfully.”