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Must-reads: Jim Coyle on Ontario’s proposed new young driver regulations; John Ivison on Parliamentary decorum.

Must-reads: Jim Coyle on Ontario’s proposed new young driver regulations; John Ivison on Parliamentary decorum.

More caring. More sharing.
Welcome to your 40th Parliament. It’s gonna be different this time!

The Vancouver Sun’s Barbara Yaffe is in for a major disappointment if Canada’s federal politicians don’t, as promised, set aside all their partisan differences and petty squabbles in order to guide us safely through the economic crisis. ‘Cause she believes, boy howdy. You can see the new spirit everywhere, she argues: at the premiers’ meeting with the prime minister last week; in electing a Speaker of the House of Commons who promises to “improve parliamentary decorum” (she does know it’s the same Speaker, right?); in the sure-to-be-conciliatory and clearheaded Throne Speech today; at the Conservative convention on the weekend, where members showed themselves “to be pragmatic and responsible, … humble and non-ideological”; and even across the border, where Barack Obama “is said to be busy courting Republicans to sit in his cabinet.”

New speaker or no new speaker, the National Post’s John Ivison argues that “respect won’t be restored to Parliament’s institutions until power is devolved from the centre,” i.e., from the Prime Minister’s Office. Precious few debates of any real significance occur in the House, he says, and even the committees “have become largely irrelevant, thanks to the intense partisanship that has infected their operations.” The fact is, “the idea of learning anything from other parliamentarians is completely alien to the government’s way of thinking,” so there’s little point in wishing MPs would play nice—they still wouldn’t accomplish anything. And we agree. But the question remains: if Question Period is completely pointless theatre, then why must it be a theatre of over-caffeinated chimpanzees? We’d prefer it if they just sat in stony silence.

The Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom frets that having recognized we’re in dire financial straits, the federal government is going to do all the wrong things to address it: “flog[ing] assets at fire sale prices to balance [the] books” (as Jim Flaherty has hinted at) or “putting off anti-poverty measures until the economy improves” (as Dalton McGuinty has hinted at). Funding infrastructure projects is all well and good, but Walkom says “the spinoffs aren’t wide or fast enough.” People need money, dammit, so they’ll keep buying widgets from China, so China will keep buying the raw materials from us to make the widgets, so the whole system doesn’t come crashing down around our ankles. That means governments should focus on “efforts to raise wages and purchasing power—from hiking the minimum wage to encouraging unionization”—as well as extending E.I. benefits to more workers and cutting consumption taxes even further.

The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson asks himself why healthcare has all but disappeared as a topic of political discussion even though Canadians are clearly still worried about it, and concludes that (a) costs are spiraling out of control, (b) the provinces are no longer in a position to blame the feds for their money problems, and (c) nobody knows how to fix it, except perhaps to launch a national pharmacare plan. There’s no point in a politician bringing something up, in other words, because none of them have any solutions. (And unfortunately, Simpson notes, the cost of Quebec’s pharmacare plan has gone from $700 million in 1997 to $2.3 billion this year.)

Provincial affairs
The Star’s Jim Coyle makes a point that very much needed to be made—that in pushing through new regulations for young drivers based largely on an advertising campaign launched by a wealthy grieving father, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty unwittingly highlighted the fact that grieving parents who happen to be, for example, poor and black, can’t get an immediate audience with him and won’t get their proposed legislation expedited to the floor of Queen’s Park. We’re not sure we agree with Coyle that the substance of the legislation “is widely supported”—readers of his newspaper don’t seem to like it too much—but we certainly agree that the optics are horrendous.

The Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham provides the latest details on the quintessentially Canadian legal battle to get a court to order the Vancouver Organizing Committee to somehow compel the International Olympic Committee to allow women to compete in ski jumping at the 2010 Olympics—something Vanoc clearly cannot do. The lawyer representing the complainants professes to be “much more enthusiastic” about the case than when he took it, Bramham reports, having discovered precedent in a 1997 Supreme Court decision ruling that governments “can’t weasel out of upholding equality rights”—e.g., providing interpreters for deaf people in B.C. hospitals—“by delegating responsibility for programs and policies to private entities.” The main conceptual difference we see here is that while deaf people need to go to the hospital every now and again just like everybody else, nobody needs to ski-jump. But hey, the law is the law. Perhaps the courts will order the Olympics cancelled, and then everyone will be happy.

Also in the Sun, Vaughn Palmer divines two important lessons for British Columbia’s political leaders from the recent slate of municipal elections: one—and we don’t totally understand why, we must confess—that “party unity” is of paramount importance, as much “to those on the left as to those on the right”; and two, that as much as the NDP enjoys claiming a massive portside shift whenever one of their supporters wins a mayorship, the path to glory lies in the political centre.

Jean Charest is really saying “give me a majority and I won’t bother you for another four years,” L. Ian MacDonald argues in the Montreal Gazette, and by gum, it’s working! “CROP has the Liberals in majority territory at 42 per cent, 11 points ahead of the Parti Quebecois at 31 per cent, with the Action démocratique du Québec trailing badly at 15 per cent,” he reports, thanks in large part to the “big storm coming” on the economy and Quebeckers’ confidence in Charest’s ability to manage it. But hang on. A week ago today, CROP had the Liberals at 41 per cent and MacDonald was declaring them “short of majority territory.” It’s almost as if he had Charest’s campaign narrative drawn up before it happened. But that can’t possibly be the case.

Very loosely on the topic of marriage…
The Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner is struck by just how many people voted against California’s Proposition 8, which revoked gay marriage rights. It is California, he concedes, but still, it’s remarkable that while just 37 per cent of Americans nationwide support gay marriage, “slightly less than an absolute majority of Californian voters endorsed [it] on Nov. 4.” Or perhaps they didn’t. Gardner suspects that a good degree of “status quo bias” was at play, just as it has been in Canada throughout the gay marriage debate. “Remember the turmoil when Bob Rae’s Ontario government tried—and failed—to do something as modest as provide equal benefits for gay partners?” he asks. “That was 1994. Only a few years later, the courts ordered that this be done—and almost overnight, a change that was politically impossible to make became a status quo that is politically impossible to change.” None of which helps gay people in California very much.

The Star’s Rosie DiManno applauds the French court that ruled a man can’t get an annulment simply because his wife proved not to have been a virgin, and lets us in on a thoroughly revolting Sicilian wedding night ritual in the process. We are now drinking heavily in hopes we forget ever having read about it.

Duly noted
The Post’s increasingly inscrutable George Jonas muses over on rapid pace of change in human communications—“from inkwell to Internet” in a single lifetime. The Internet, he concludes, is “a channel for the conduit of both seminal fluid and bodily waste, imitating the Creator’s own frugal and magnificent phallic design.” Gross. And weird.

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