Must-reads: Colby Cosh and Richard Gwyn on Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac; Peter Worthington on the Israeli prisoner exchange; Daphne Bramham on addictions treatment.
The Friday miscellany
Among other things, Ottawa is: too profligate, too callous, too bereft of tourists, and too scandal-obsessed, or possibly not obsessed about the right scandals.
Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, has about ten different ways to say the Conservative government is spending too much damn money—and probably more than the 3.4 per cent increase, representing a total of $208 billion, at which Jim Flaherty promised to draw the line. Stephen Harper’s government is actually ramping up spending faster (gasp!) than Paul Martin’s, says Gunter, citing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. And while he’s somewhat sympathetic to the entreaties of Tory MPs, who say ” their spending has been of real value”—as opposed, say, to funding a rutabaga farm in Papineau—he says $46 million for Quebec’s quadricentennial and $300 million for Bombardier “to build a plane for which there are no firm orders yet” are definite red-flag issues.
Lorne Gunter doesn’t exist, L. Ian MacDonald argues in the National Post—well, not really. But his statement that “for once, the English-and French-language media have been on the same page, celebrating Bombardier as the Canadian world champion it is” in the wake of its C-series announcement, has been sadly tarnished. But we should all be on the same page, he believes, since government lobbying and financial input are, like it or lump it, an intrinsic part of the plane-building business. It’s interesting too, he suggests, that “the auto industry in Ontario and the oil patch in Alberta have never been held to the same standard” as Bombardier.
Pierre Poilievre surprised John Robson with three pointed questions during this week’s ethics committee hearings on election financing, he reports in the Ottawa Citizen. (If true, by our math, that leaves Poilievre only about 997 dumbass statements in the hole.) He made Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand squirm on three separate occasions, Robson believes: on some arcane but apparently crucial fine print in the elections act, on New Democrats using the same techniques for which the Tories are being raked over the coals, and on Mayrand conducting his own investigation into whether his department tipped off the press or the Grits as to an impending raid on Tory headquarters. “The more I watch this stuff,” he concludes, “the more convinced I am that if there’s a scandal here, it doesn’t involve the Tories. But nobody seems to care.”
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson explains why nobody visits Canada anymore, attributing woeful tourism figures to various factors beyond our control (“9/11 travel fears, the Homeland Security Department’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that led to endless confusion about necessary travel documents, border delays, taxes and fees piled on air tickets, our dollar’s appreciation”) and various factors well within our control: notably excessive airport rental fees and taxes. The government might also be able to convince Beijing to give Canada “approved destination status”—thus tapping into the exploding Chinese tourism market—if it was willing to sign an open skies agreement, he suggests.
Also in the Globe, an unusually cogent Rick Salutin suggests “the politics of fear since 9/11” have “override[n] the normal, sympathetic response” Canadians would have to Omar Khadr’s situation and to the recently-released tapes of his interrogation. This isn’t a new phenomenon, he argues, citing anti-communist hysteria in the 1950s and anti-Soviet paranoia in 1980s, and as ever, he says what’s sorely needed is an FDR moment: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Mercy for Fanny and Freddie
In the Post, Colby Cosh compares Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, the two recently bailed-out mortgage companies, to one of those “jerks” on television who buys a house, pays someone to slap some paint on it and then flips it, offering “nothing to the process but his mad, desperate faith that real estate always goes up.” What else but mad faith, he asks, could explain the fact that these companies couldn’t figure out “that a lot of people who were only borderline-qualified to pay back home loans at discounted up-front rates might have trouble once the real rates kicked in”? They were only one link in the chain of disastrous decisions, of course—from “bad-faith ‘buyers'” to “mortgage salesmen seeking to boost commissions and bonuses, to their bosses who couldn’t devise new market share-grabbing mortgage products fast enough” to governments demanding “cheap credit [for the] underprivileged”—but Cosh says history will note their role in the debacle.
In the Toronto Star, Richard Gwyn suggests that Washington’s decision to bail out Fanny and Freddie represents the real end of Alan Greenspan’s laissez-faire tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve. There’s nothing inherently wrong with greed, Gwyn argues, but “neo-conservative politicians and the slackening of moral standards among so many businessmen … have corrupted” the system, and “Greenspan’s awesome reputation and his ideological conviction ensured that [it] was extended to absurd limits.”
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno ruminates on Barack Obama’s decision to opt out of the campaign financing system that caps spending at $84.1 million per party and stick with his massive pool of private donors. It’s clearly an opportunistic decision, she says—the product of an “unexpected funding windfall” rather than a matter of principle. That, and flip-flopping in general, is “risky business for a candidate who leads with his outside-the-Beltway-box integrity.” But whatever Obama plans to do in the White House, she concludes, he knows the road to Washington “is still paved with green.”
In the Vancouver Sun, Daphne Bramham looks at the human toll of Vancouverites’ aversion to building addiction treatment centres anywhere near their homes, and at the remarkable turnarounds decent, affordable housing and community-based treatment for addicts can effect. It makes a valuable companion piece to Margaret Wente’s ongoing complaints that harm reduction takes the focus off treatment.
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington tells the gut-wrenching story of Danny Haran, the 28-year-old Israeli who was kidnapped and killed in 1979, along with his four-year-old daughter, and whose wife accidentally smothered their other daughter to death while trying to hide from their assailant—that assailant being Samir Kuntar, one of the prisoners returned to Lebanon this week, to a Hezbollah hero’s welcome, in return for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006. “Recovering their dead is important to Israelis, even if it means releasing individuals to Hezbollah who are regarded as heroic by Israel’s enemies,” Worthington notes. But, employing a seldom-used talent for understatement, he says Kuntar’s release is “especially galling.”