LONG-WEEKEND ELECTION DAY ROUNDUP!
Must-reads: Scott Taylor on shortsighted thinking in Afghanistan; Chantal Hébert and Dan Leger recap the campaign; Konrad Yakabuski on Harper’s Quebec caucus.
Wasn’t that fun?
Congratulations to Canada’s political leaders on a job… done. Now, let’s talk about high-speed rail!
Memo to anyone being interviewed by the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe: if she agrees to start the interview over again, she really hasn’t. “CTV was on solid footing,” she writes, in deciding to air Dion’s confusion over what she calls “a simple question.” Why? Because “voters surely were entitled to make up their own minds” about what, if anything, the exchange meant. This strikes us as rather weak, especially if CTV has any other political do-overs in the can, but we certainly agree with her second point—which is that Harper’s reaction to the tape represented yet another needless and counterproductive “meany” moment.
“Harper’s move was perhaps cheap and dirty,” says Sun Media’s Greg Weston, “but such is the current five-week mudfest.” Thankfully for Canadians, he adds, “Dion’s faulty earfull [whatever that is] didn’t happen during a crucial tete-a-tete between prime minister and president at the White House.” Indeed, we hear both John McCain and Barack Obama rely heavily on hypothetical questions that transcend the space-time continuum.
In another piece, Weston counts “among the failings of Dion’s troubled leadership” his inability to draw Liberals disappointed with his victory back into the fold. But then again, voters seem to be “staying away in droves” from this election in general, if Weston’s single conversation with an unimpressed “30-something marketing assistant” is any indication—which it isn’t, really, but we’d hardly be surprised if record numbers of Canadians “voted with their butts and stayed home.”
In fact, “a lethargic electorate is the Conservatives’ best friend,” Don Martin argues in the Calgary Herald, since “their get-out-the-vote ground game is without equal” and the Liberal equivalent is in dire shape even “in important regions.” In other words, the Grits better hope their supporters are “motivated” enough to get to the polls without directions or rides from the Big Red Machine.
Did someone order a big bucket of crazy? Michael Coren, writing in the Toronto Sun, believes this election is, among other things, “about people who were raised in loving families and in turn raise their own well-adjusted kids as opposed to those who think family a place of evil and oppression and would rather watch a subtitled documentary than take their son to a hockey game.”
In the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Cohen enumerates all the things that weren’t discussed seriously or at all during this uninspiring election campaign, from foreign policy to “the role and strength of the armed forces,” the “future of the oilsands, the urgency of alternative energy or the future scarcity of water,” high-speed rail, public broadcasting and, uh, obesity. For shame, Canada.
The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin proposes a novel theory of electoral morality: that it doesn’t matter how nasty your campaign gets as long as it’s in response to another nasty campaign. Thus, while “it’s correct to point out that the Grits have responded with their own cheap hits, the emphasis should be on the word ‘responded,'” he says. “The initiator since way back was Mr. Harper. There is no equivalence here.” His larger point, however, is to laud Jack Layton for running an uncommonly effective and “resonant” campaign. Unlike Dion and Harper, he says Layton “knew how to connect” with people. And since he doesn’t mention Layton’s various gusts of negativity, we’ll go ahead and assume it too was the good, reactionary kind.
The Citizen‘s Randal Denley recaps how an election that “promised to be one of the dullest in memory” turned into “a drama about people’s jobs, their life savings and their worries about the future”—and how an election that was superficially all about leadership suddenly became “a real-time leadership test” for the Prime Minister. He may have handled that test with skill, Denley concedes, but not with much sensitivity to Canadians’ purported desire to see their leaders “visibly doing something” in a crisis, “even if it isn’t actually useful.” (Busywork! Canadians demand more busywork!)
Maybe abandoning fixed election dates wasn’t such a great move for Harper in the first place, James Travers muses in the Toronto Star—not just because a majority now seems out of reach but because all the campaign rhetoric “moved the parties farther apart on the toughest challenges facing the nation—the economy, Afghanistan and the environment.” Maybe. But it seems to us that most of those differences either predate the election or have been hugely exaggerated for electoral purposes.
Whatever the outcome today, however Travers argues we’re in for a deeply unsatisfying outcome: a government whose self-destructive election tactics continue to raise “red flags about the risks of unfettered Harper control,” a 40th Parliament that’s just as precarious as the 39th, a weak opposition leader and a tanking economy. In other words, “38 days and some $300 million later,” we’ve arrived in the same “unsettled place” we started.
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, says “there would be some poetic justice” in an identical Tory minority, since “there was no need for this election” in the first place. Anything can happen today, he adds, there seems little reason to believe the Tories have counteracted the effects of the Wall Street crisis and will capture their majority. If so, he concludes, they will have “hoisted themselves on their own electoral petard.”
Despite all their external misfortune and internal blunders, the Herald‘s Don Martin says “a simple question of voting for the best leader for a lousy economy should’ve given the Conservatives advantage enough to give them the majority.” But alas, he posits that “self-defeat seems to be embedded in the DNA of Stephen Harper.” Casting arts funding as “a culture battle against snobbery and galas,” his “exuberant” backroom’s long leash and its crimes against “good taste,” and, last but not least, his “sneer” at Dion’s ill-fated CTV interview pissed it all away.
This, Dan Leger insightfully suggests in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, “is precisely the weakness of leader-centric parties such as the Conservatives: When the boss trips, the party breaks an ankle.” Exactly, exactly, exactly. Exactly. We kept telling Mr. Harper to rustle himself up a legitimate political team, and he kept ignoring us, and now look at the pickle he’s in. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you politicians.
Also compounding the Tories’ problems is that they’ve always “been happy to be defined by those who oppose them rather than by those they win over,” Chantal Hébert argues in the Star. This helps explain why Harper elicits “negative emotions of a visceral strength not registered on the federal political scale since Brian Mulroney” even though he has none of Mulroney’s NAFTA or GST baggage. For many Canadians, she says disliking Harper is a “uniquely personal” affair—and for that, Harper has no one to blame but himself.
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui largely agrees, noting the various “dust-ups” with civil servants and bureaucrats from various departments that have given the Prime Minister his “secretive and authoritarian” image. But naturally, because everything in your average Siddiqui column comes back to a certain Texas oilman, our antipathy is also due to the fact “he has been a clone of George W Bush on Kyoto, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Israel, Hamas and Lebanon.”
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson decries the Green, New Democrat, Liberal and Conservative parties’ economic platforms, in that order, as—respectively—”economic illiteracy of a high order,” “a recipe for capital flight, lower profits [and] job losses,” “more eyewash than substance” and a tragicomic rebuttal to the idea of their “being good stewards of the economy.”
Just as someone who has $10,000 but not $50,000 to put towards a down payment on a bungalow can find solace in bad times such as these, George Jonas writes in the National Post, so the Conservatives should be able to escape the natural fallout from the economic crisis—even though, ideologically, they are associated with the brand of “global capitalism that’s experiencing one of its periodic crises.” How, he doesn’t say—or we can’t decipher it, anyway—but it seems to have something to do with Richard III.
Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, characterizes the campaign as one designed purely for the politicians and their attendant “partisans” and “ideologues.” Until this ghastly financial business began, he says “those who ‘hate’ Mr. Harper (and how that crowd smacks his last name), those who delight in the mauling of Mr. Dion … and those who scorn Jack Layton and Elizabeth May as unregenerate ideologues … had it all to themselves.” But now, all of a sudden, the questions have become: do the leaders “‘get’ the popular mood,” and what do the plan to do “about this mess”? We must say, this doesn’t achieve the lofty standards of insight we expect from Mr. Murphy.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham also provides little in the way of original thought on the campaign and Harper’s purported “empathy deficit”—a term we could not be more sick of hearing. Bramham is keeping herself interested by contemplating the unlikely event of a Liberal minority, which, assuming Dion didn’t abandon his Green Shift, could usher in “one of the largest tax shifts in Canadian history and one of the most significant realignments in our thinking about the economy.”
In a withering rebuke of the Tory campaign in the Montreal Gazette, L. Ian MacDonald attributes the Quebec flameout to Harper entrusting “the ADQ braintrust, if you can call them that,” with the task of winning them 30 seats. Instead they’ll probably end up with a “handful,” MacDonald predicts—all thanks to “obtuseness and stupidity.”
This just won’t do for “a leader whose biggest achievement has been bringing peace to relations with [Quebec], the West and the United States,” John Ivison writes in the Post. Indeed, he notes, it’s rather remarkable that Quebeckers now “doubt his sincerity” towards them considering “he spent the previous 30 months transferring wealth from the rest of Canada into Quebec.” Ah, but it’s like the Beatles said—money can’t buy you love.
It’s come to our attention that we’ve been misspelling Don Macpherson‘s name for… well, forever, with a capital P. We apologize unreservedly, and direct readers to his latest look at the anglophone’s unfortunate lot in Quebec’s political life. For example, he notes in the Gazette, a simple request from the Quebec Community Groups Network for the parties to comment on issues like anglophone Quebeckers’ underrepresentation in the federal civil service and “funding for cultural and heritage activities for English-speaking communities” has gone unanswered except by the Bloc, of all parties, and the Liberals, who “dashed off” a one-page, typo-filled missive. Not all anglos automatically vote Liberal, Macpherson notes. If common decency isn’t sufficient reason to pay them some mind, then how about trying to win some of their votes?
“The idea of appointing Quebeckers to cabinet just to win Quebeckers’ hearts, that’s finished,” a “Tory insider” tells the Globe‘s Konrad Yakabuski. Also finished, by the looks of it, is Quebec’s interest in sending Cabinet ministers to Ottawa. With the Bloc’s resurgence, Michael Fortier’s all-but-certain defeat and Maxime Bernier’s time in the wilderness surely not yet finished, Harper’s second Quebec caucus promises to be very “slim pickings.” What’s interesting, as Yakabuski notes, is that the same could be said of the Liberals if they somehow “accomplish the impossible” tonight.
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom speaks to various architects of the 1985 NDP-Liberal coalition in Ontario that saw David Peterson installed as premier, sans election, and asks what the chances are of a repeat performance at the federal level. Prognosis: doubtful, especially considering the Liberals would likely need the support of the Bloc to pull it off. As Walkom says, another Conservative minority would be just as likely to ” strike its own deal with the Bloc to stay alive, a deal focusing on decentralization and more power for Quebec.”
Recommitting to Afghanistan
David Frum returns from an “eight-day NATO-sponsored tour” of Afghanistan and, in the Post, advises against negotiating with the Taliban… for now. Much of the government’s enthusiasm for the prospect is a matter of domestic politics, he argues, in that Hamid Karzai needs relative peace in the Pashtun areas—where much of the insurgency, and his political support, is based—in order to ensure his reelection. That enthusiasm may wane in 2009, in other words, which is when “substantially more NATO forces” will arrive in the country and, for all we know, significantly impact the insurgents’ fortunes. In the meantime, Frum suggests the U.S. and NATO make a final attempt to “talk more firmly and clearly” to Pakistan, and to make ending that country’s support for the Taliban their first priority.
Scott Taylor, writing in the Chronicle-Herald, provides a glimpse into the shortsighted thinking he says has always hampered the Afghanistan mission. Concluding that the Afghan army and police force were “a demoralized, inefficient, unreliable monster,” we decided to jack up the base salaries. The result: loads of teachers quit their jobs and enlisted, which from an overall nation-building standpoint amounts to “eating [your] seed potatoes.” The Americans were “absolutely gobsmacked” to learn of a new Canadian-German co-venture to train border guards over a period of two years, Taylor notes, but “nowhere in the Western world would we even contemplate putting on the streets an illiterate policeman with six weeks’ training, a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a badge.”
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford suggests the first people to make use of Ontario’s new apology law should be “Premier Dalton McGuinty and the present and former commissioners of the Ontario Provincial Police… , and all of those who have so betrayed Dave and his family”—Dave and his family being the Browns of Caledonia, Ont., who “have the extraordinary misfortune of living in a house … immediately next to the now-notorious ex-housing development called Douglas Creek Estates,” site of years of native protests and apparently considered a no-go zone for the provincial fuzz. The Browns, says Blatchford, have become “the symbol of our country’s failure to come to terms with aboriginal people.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe speaks to American political scientist Stephen Blank about the necessity of increased North American integration for the economic and environmental future of Mexico, Canada and the United States. He suggests the Security and Prosperity Partnership “be allowed to die, because it has become such a focus for alarmists,” and that “North American mayors should lead the charge to promote continental co-ordination” because “they’re best positioned to sell cooperative ventures”—and, we can only assume, because even alarmists trust mayors implicitly.