Must-reads: Chantal Hébert, Josée Legault and John Robson on the battle for the political centre; Dan Gardner on the Green Shift; Colby Cosh on Alberta politics.
Battle of the centrists
Three absolutely excellent columns about the state of the Liberals and of Canadian centrism, and some mercifully interesting (if misguided) post-election roundups.
The Canadian left “is inhabited by parties which do not or cannot aspire to replace the Conservatives,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Toronto Star, and the Tories have no choice but to move further towards the political centre—either strategically under Stephen Harper or naturally under his successor, who “could well be more progressive.” As such, she argues, the political centre “is where the action … will be in the next election,” just as it was on Tuesday night—in Quebec as well as the Rest of Canada—and so the Liberals need to correct their leftward drift immediately. And, crucially, they need to realize they can be a legitimate threat in Quebec again, but only if they “set their watch to 21st-century-Quebec time and stop looking for a separatist bogeyman behind every tree.” We suggest the Liberal brainboxes print this column out, frame it, and fit Justin Trudeau for a muzzle.
The Montreal Gazette‘s Josée Legault agrees entirely with Hébert, arguing “it was mind-boggling to see how Dion gave up on the Grits’ traditional centrist branding and let Harper claim falsely that the Tories were now the more pragmatic, mainstream option.” Practically speaking, however, the Grits are cash-poor and have, shall we say, a penchant for internecine bickering. As such, Legault says if they are “to have any shot at rebuilding, unity will be a must, even if they have to take it intravenously.” Paul Martin’s “Chrétien-bashing memoirs” couldn’t have come at a worse time, as she says, but he could use his book tour, if he so chose, “to band together rather than lashing out at his predecessor.” And Jean Chrétien could, if he so chose, shut his gob.
In the Ottawa Citizen, John Robson establishes three requirements for “sorting out” Canadian politics: one, the Liberals must admit they are no longer the natural governing party; two, the NDP must “abandon the belief that they’re still on the verge of that big breakthrough they’ve been expecting since 1961”; and three, the Quebec conundrum—that for 15 years Quebeckers have given “a majority of their seats … to the one party that will never form even part of a government,” yet they don’t seem to want to separate—must be resolved. Social democrats must demand to know “what policies the Bloc, and their supporters, want implemented in a separate Quebec that could not be implemented across Canada by a social democratic government,” and if the answer is none, explore possibilities for a merger. It’s not that Robson particularly wants a united left, he stresses. He “just want[s] an explanation of why the social democratic majority doesn’t either.”
In the National Post, Colby Cosh suggests we look at Edmonton Stratchona for evidence that at least “informal grassroots co-operation between the parties of the left” is possible, reporting that Liberals in the riding “decided to rally around the NDP’s [Linda] Duncan, spreading the word by back channels and on the net” and leaving their own candidate, “Claudette Roy, an Order of Canada laureate and the acknowledged leader of a sizable federally-supported francophone enclave that lies within the riding,” with a mere nine per cent of the vote. Cosh’s main purpose, however, is to defend Albertan voters from various charges from the Rest of Canada: excessive conformity, espousing “alien, savage values,” etc. “The mere fact that most of us agree with one another” is no justification for such contempt, he argues, and it’s not as if those who run for other parties are shunned by polite society.
Richard Gwyn finds the record-low turnout for Tuesday’s election particularly jarring considering it was a close race and that “two issues with an emotional content to them—Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and action to reverse climate change”—were theoretically in play, not to mention “the possibility of an outright depression.” Yet we didn’t talk about climate change or Afghanistan, he laments in the Star, and “Quebec acted as if completely disengaged from the national political process.” Meanwhile, south of the border, Barack Obama showed that “excitement, enthusiasm and, in consequence, a larger turnout—can actually be done.” Electoral reform is just a “technical fix,” Gwyn argues, anticipating the inevitable calls to abandon the first-past-the-post system. “We need new leaders ready to take the dare of trying to inspire us.” (We agree. But in the meantime, we think adding “none of the above” to the ballot would be a beautifully simple way to quantify both the apathy and the genuine disaffection in the Canadian electorate.)
The Citizen‘s Susan Riley, who’s in an understandably foul mood given how essential for our continued survival she believed the Green Shift to be, protests: wasn’t “decent, honourable” Dion was precisely the “different kind of political leader” Canadians had ostensibly been “clamouring for”? “Didn’t we want fresh ideas and a sense of optimism about our future instead of constantly being told what we can’t have, what we dare not do?” she asks. “I guess we forgot to mention an important caveat: no accent”—which is, in our view, an unconscionable and childish smear against Canadian voters. Dion’s chief oratorial handicap in English isn’t his accent, but his periodic outbursts of complete incomprehensibility.
“Not even a salesman like Bill Clinton could close that deal,” the Citizen‘s Dan Gardner writes of the Green Shift. “And Stéphane Dion is more Willy Loman than Bill Clinton.” Of course he deserves credit for his honesty, decency, forthrightness and all those other good things, Gardner stresses; “his heart was in the right place.” But his failure to sell the policy killed the whole idea of carbon taxation, which is absolutely necessary if we ever want to break free from oil dependency—particularly if the price of a barrel continues to fall. And for that, Gardner concludes, Dion “still deserves one hell of a kick in the shin.”
In the Edmonton Journal, Lorne Gunter dismisses proportional representation on grounds that “Canadians would no longer elect the people who would represent them and the riding they live in,” but instead “vote for parties, the leaders of which would choose who become MPs and who do not.” Oh sure, there are different kinds of PR, he concedes, but “there would not necessarily be someone from your riding in Parliament.” We’re not fans of mixed-member proportional representation, the particular brand of PR Gunter’s attacking even as he concedes there are all manner of other models, but the sheer breadth of the misrepresentation and oversimplification in this column really is quite breathtaking. Most notably, there absolutely would be someone in Parliament representing your riding. MMP as proposed in last year’s Ontario referendum only proposed cutting 17 local seats out of 107.
The Liberals are uneasily waiting for Dion to do the right thing and step down, the Post‘s John Ivison reports, but he’s apparently not talking to anyone and nobody quite knows what he’s thinking. “Party power-brokers are now caught between giving Mr. Dion time and space to make a dignified exit and the need to prepare for a potential leadership race,” he writes, and if he dithers too long or “is seen as frustrating the ambitions of Bob Rae or Michael Ignatieff, you can be sure that the first trickle of public criticism will soon become a torrent.” Stop cogitating and quit already, Ivison advises.
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson is confident Harper’s second minority will be a great deal more arduous than his first, for the simple reason that unless “everyone who follows economic developments is wrong,” something will have to give under the pressure of a global economic downturn. With significantly less government revenue to work with, he’ll either have to “throw [some] campaign promises on the bonfire of illusions” or run a deficit, “abandoning his vow not to countenance one.”
“Harper offended Quebecers on culture and it cost him his majority,” screams Barbara Yaffe‘s headline in the Vancouver Sun. Holy cow, columnists—enough. The last Canadian who didn’t know this—a deaf, dumb and blind man living under a bridge in Nunavut—became aware of it on Thursday morning when his Braille copy of the Gazette arrived. Please, please stop telling us about Harper, Quebec, arts funding cuts, youth justice proposals and squandered majorities!
How big is thy lead?
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson explores the possibility of a Republican “purge” from the Senate right down to local sheriff elections, but warns “predictions of congressional catastrophe for the Republicans are based in part on the assumption that [Barack] Obama has established a commanding lead in the polls.” And “there are some who think that’s hogwash”—not 10 or 14 per cent, in other words, but an entirely surmountable four or five.
The Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall, counting all her eggs as chickens, suggests the over-the-top McCain-Palin attack ads linking him to a former terrorist may “become as important a lesson in campaigning as the anti-Goldwater [“Daisy”] ad,” but in reverse—i.e., a lesson that going neg doesn’t always work.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford and the Star‘s Rosie DiManno update us on the trial of “JSR,” the youth accused of contributing to the hail of gunfire in which 15-year-old Jane Creba was killed on Boxing Day 2005 in downtown Toronto. Not much to say except that proceedings had barely got underway before a juror fell seriously ill. (We understand this is a very important trial, but we sure hope one or both of them can make time for the David Frost trial too.)