Must-reads: Rex Murphy on our crummy debates; Chantal Hébert on the economy as non-issue; George Jonas on plagiarism; Dan Leger on Stéphane Dion.
Dear Mr. Prime Minister
A long-awaited biography of the Prime Miniser, and various other insults, plaudits and nuggets of advice.
“He has not introduced himself to Canadians,” an unidentified Tory comments of our Prime Minister, so please, allow The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson and Brian Laghi to do so at truly monumental length. (“Page 1 of 11?!” you might exclaim, having clicked on the link. Yes indeed, page 1 of 11.) It’s a very readable and interesting examination of the cipher that is our 22nd Prime Minister, and pretty much impossible to summarize, but if you ever wanted to know everything you didn’t know about him, this would be a damn good place to start.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford projects her own views on arts funding—that it’s important, just like art itself, but perhaps philanthropy and self-sufficiency should play bigger roles—onto Stephen Harper, suggesting his comments about galas and the whinging artists who attend them were really meant as an argument against the idea “that Big Brother must be the only funder of the arts.” We think Harper’s smart enough to have said what he meant or to have clarified it afterwards, and while we welcome any discussion about arts funding, we’re sick of people espousing intelligent anti-subsidy arguments as if they were defending the Conservatives. It’s quite obvious to us that the Tories simply wanted us to be outraged that tax dollars helped out Holy Fuck.
Someone asked us the other day how we’d describe James Travers‘ narrative voice. Saturday’s column about sums it up; let us count the metaphors. The Liberals “hitched themselves to a political apprentice,” he writes in the Toronto Star, thus positioning themselves “too far left of [the party’s traditional] political sweet spot.” This was “arrogance swaddled in optimism,” and they’ve come to their senses too late. Canadians now wonder what Harper will do with a strengthened mandate. “Never feathery, the question gains obese weight from current events”—i.e., our imperiled finances. That’s the first four paragraphs. Anyhoo, Travers’ contention is that Harper’s going to massively cut spending—despite having boosted it until now, no doubt as a decoy strategy—more or less in line with his beliefs as expressed as head of the National Citizens’ Coalition.
(Hey, while we’re here, has anyone read the Liberals’ platform? It promises to cut program spending by 1.8 per cent. That’s $5 billion. Just sayin’.)
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin can’t understand why everyone’s gagging for a Conservative platform, since “an analysis of the 2006 [edition] showed barely half their promises were kept and, as a party holding a major policy convention next month to chart its future, everything they propose now seems subject to change.” As for the idea that the delay is down to something nefarious—a “hidden Harper agenda or a government with nothing worth standing on for re-election”—Martin simply notes all the advantages of a late release, such as the ability to tweak and tinker until the last minute. We’re sure he’s right about the lack of nefariousness, but we think parties might at least commit to releasing their platforms before advance voting commences.
Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, directs Harper’s attention to John Manley’s report on Afghanistan, and specifically to its recommendation that (in Taylor’s words) “any future pullout from the mission should be objective-driven, rather than based on an arbitrary deadline”—one for which “the Conservatives never even put up a pretence of compliance.” While Harper’s perusing that document, Taylor suggests he take note of all those other recommendations, “establish a clear set of objectives [to be] achieved by the end date,” and undertake “a complete rethink of how we approach this mission, as simply doing more of the same has not proven successful.”
“By next week”—that’d be this week—George Jonas, writing in the National Post, suspects Harper’s plagiarized speech “will be last week’s news.” (Confused? Just trying to keep y’all on your toes!) “A candidate will make another kind of slip launching another set of sharks, and moralizing pundits won’t be able to give away stories on plagiarism,” he predicts. But as much as plagiarism “doesn’t always feel like stealing,” he argues, it is stealing. And even if it only substitutes “the platitudes of the ink-stained wretch who wrote John Howard’s speeches” for the platitudes of Harper’s “own ink-stained wretch,” Jonas cautions “it’s certainly not something to be encouraged in prime ministers, aspiring prime ministers, or their speechwriters.”
The Tories haven’t mired themselves in scandals of Mulroneyesque or Chrétienite proportions, the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin concedes. “This government’s uniqueness, rather, is in the breadth and degree to which it has ethically debased the system in such a short time”: in-and-out, the NAFTA disasta, the Cadman and Bernier affairs, killing the CAIRS information registry and generally “mocking” its own accountability legislation, slandering various opposition MPs as enemies of the state and generally behaving boorishly. Perhaps, Martin suggests, the Liberals, with their leader “who gets points for integrity and honesty,” might have considered playing that up. But alas.
Stand by for disaster
In which the Canadian economy takes a merry cruise down the Niagara River.
At least one of Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion should have been able to make hay on the economy, Chantal Hébert argues in the Star, but they didn’t, thanks to “a set of strategic miscalculations that were programmed in the Conservative and Liberal hard drives long before last week’s debates.” The Liberal malfunction was Dion’s insistence on running on the Green Shift, against to the pleas of his advisers. The Tories’ system error, if the long leash attached to Ontario-bashing finance minister Jim Flaherty is any indication, is that the party simply “did not see the necessity to shore up their economic flank.”
Harper’s praise for our sound economic fundamentals is reassuring “up to a point,” L. Ian MacDonald argues in the Montreal Gazette, but wasn’t that “what John McCain was saying two days before he suspended his presidential campaign two weeks ago?” Voters know that if the U.S. catches economic “pneumonia,” we’re at least going to get an economic cold, he argues, and Harper needs to better position himself as the man they can “trust with their money”—especially since, in MacDonald’s view, the opposition leaders’ reactions have themselves been so woeful.
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom renews his call for Canada’s political parties to abandon their opposition to deficit financing in tough times, but he’s most unnerved by Stephen Harper’s refusal to acknowledge there’s even a financial problem to be confronted. The credit crisis and falling commodity prices expose Canada “to the worst of all possible worlds: a manufacturing slump in Ontario coupled with a commodity collapse that affects much of the rest of the country,” he argues. Now is not the time for expressions of faith in “untrammeled free markets.”
“Harper’s reassurance that Canadians are only worried about losing their shirt, not their home, is particularly comforting to those of us investors now suddenly looking at the Freedom 105 retirement plan,” Sun Media’s Greg Weston sneers, noting that most Canadians whose jobs and homes are at risk inhabit Tory-unfriendly regions of southern Ontario. Unfortunately, he continues, the only legitimate alternative plan—Dion’s, with its multiple meetings and caucuses of economists and regulators—would have struck “investors who have been watching their family stock portfolios turn to wallpaper … [as] something from another world.”
Might as well take delivery on those gold futures and hole up in the bomb cellar, Randall Denley argues in the Ottawa Citizen, since the man in charge refuses to acknowledge the problem and his four competitors have nothing but bad solutions to offer. “If our economy were a boat drifting toward Niagara Falls, Dion would form a committee to consult about the wisdom of getting out the oars, Layton would blame the oil companies, May would praise the falls’ green power and Harper would pretend the sound of the roaring water was nothing to worry about,” he writes.
Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, believes our leaders’ debates are too few, unfair in that they pit four against one, and, even worse, utterly “vacuous.” “How can five people in a jumble of crosstalk and one-upmanship have anything to say of merit or depth on Afghanistan in 15 minutes?” he asks. “Or culture? Or the economy?” We deserve far more and far better oratory from our leaders, he argues (not for the first time)—not in television studios but in front of real Canadians, all across the country.
Psychologists have shown that there’s practically nothing a political candidate can do behind a podium to put off his or her devoted fans, Dan Gardner notes in the Citizen. “If a politician stated flatly that he is incompetent and criminal and should never be elected, many of that politician’s committed followers would not accept that he is unfit for office. Instead, they would rationalize like crazy—That’s so courageous! He’s so honest!—and feel all the more certain they are backing the right man.” And if you don’t believe him, just check out the absurdly different ways in which Republican and Democrat bloggers scored the Biden-Palin debate.
Speaking of cognitive dissonance, the Gazette‘s Don MacPherson declares Dion the loser of the English debate in no uncertain terms, arguing he showed no “solid grasp of the issues,” couldn’t properly express himself and generally “looked and sounded nothing like a prime minister, but rather some small, terrified animal, eyes wide and voice high-pitched and occasionally trembling.” And here we were thinking he did rather well!
The Chronicle-Herald‘s Dan Leger agrees with us, calling Dion’s inspired “more movies, more music, more theatre: more fun!” promise during the English debate “one of the best impromptu campaign pitches in years.” But alas, he says, such moments have been few and far between—particularly when it comes to explaining the apparently Byzantine Green Shift. “Finally, during the debate, Dion found the words. The Green Shift, he said, would make Canada ‘richer, greener, fairer.’ Now, why didn’t he say that in the first place?” he asks. (To be fair, “Richer, Fairer, Greener” is, um, the title of the Liberals’ platform.)
Duly noted—election edition
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui lionizes Stéphane Dion—at least we think that’s what he’s up to—by comparing all his purported faults to those of widely respected leaders (e.g., he is “disliked in Quebec. So were Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien”) and suggesting, if nothing else, that he’s better than what Harper offers. “The real rap against Dion is that he does not inspire people. Harper inspires fear. Take your pick.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe recaps what seems to have been a rather uninspiring debate between Michael Dukakis and Paul Cellucci on Canada-U.S. relations in the Bush and post-Bush eras. We’ll give you a hint: one of them thinks everything’s hunky-dory, and the other thinks Washington has horribly neglected its friends it Ottawa. No prize will be awarded for guessing which is which.
For his next trick, John McCain will make the economy disappear
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson lays out the increasingly unlikely scenario under which John McCain could win the presidency. It goes as follows: he needs to luck into “a month of steady markets, available credit and no bank failures”; he needs to gamble that Sarah Palin’s improved debate performance can hold and send her out on the campaign trail more; he needs to “move to Pennsylvania,” which is his “last, best chance” of winning a blue state; and he needs to “make it about Obama”—i.e., his “lack of experience, exotic background and alleged arrogance.”
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno would be disappointed by the second prong in Ibbitson’s attack, we imagine, since, having accepted that Palin “won [the vice-presidential] debate, ephemerally, if merely by not making an ass out of herself,” she’s now looking forward to the campaign refocusing “where it should be: the top of the ticket.”
Thomas Walkom declares the free market dead, and argues the United States now faces two choices: “authoritarian capitalism” such as practiced in “China, Singapore and (with less success) Russia”; and “social capitalism” such as was practiced in many western nations until the Thatchers and Reagans of the world crushed it under their heels. Walkom naturally fears America will adopt the former, and suggests Tony Blair’s Britain—in which Thatcherite economics have been combined “with police-state methods designed to keep disruptive and marginal groups in line”—offers a possible model. Yes, we know that sounds like something out of Children of Men, but it is indeed in the Star.