Must-reads: Colby Cosh on arts funding.
Welcome to the ‘final desperate phase’
Elbows up! Brass knuckles on! Steel-toed boots at the ready!
The Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom attributes the ongoing Liberal turnaround, if that’s what it is, to Stephen Harper’s “muffed” reaction to the financial crisis and also to Stéphane Dion’s performance in the debates, which, “after watching months of Conservative ads attacking the Liberal leader as weak,” finally gave Canadians the chance “to judge [him] themselves.” (Hmm. He did make a few speeches here and there, didn’t he?) Nevertheless, Walkom didn’t really appreciate the fact that the Grits might “pull off a coup” on Tuesday until he witnessed a waiter in a hotel banquet hall react to a Dion speech with “furious” applause and the following outburst: “That’s my party, man. Doesn’t matter whether you like the candidate or not. Focus on the party. That’s my party.” Dude sounds like either a plant or a speed freak to us, but perhaps we’re just being cynical.
George Jonas casts caution and reams of polling data to the wind and predicts a Harper majority, based on his performance in the leaders’ debates. The opposition leaders must “have figured that if they could taint the Conservative leader with a trace of conservatism, or reveal him to be anything but an unconditional supporter of the left-liberal, invasive, soak-the-rich, cradle-to-grave regulatory state, Canadians would have nothing to do with him,” he writes in the National Post. Instead, “exhibiting generalship Prince Mikhail Kutuzov would have envied, Harper lured his hubris-ridden opponents to their doom, just as Russia’s steadily retreating saviour lured Napoleon after Borodino by surrendering the fatal charms of Moscow to him.” (Damn! We were going to say that!)
“News flash for Stéphane ‘Dr. Fun’ Dion: The arts aren’t just for watching, but for participating in,” writes the Post‘s Colby Cosh, who thinks the Tories were on to something good with their emphasis on piano and ballet lessons for kids as a means of enriching the arts in Canada. Indeed, as he says, their “$150-million in tax credits … for youth arts education dwarfs the $45-million” in cuts to “concerts-for-consultates.” This, he argues, “was ground they could have fought on, and the opposition had no possible defence to offer.” But instead they’ve backed off, negating any positive effects and leaving Quebeckers genuinely annoyed. Cosh suggests this is a symptom of just how young and inexperienced the Tory “high command” is, despite its many notable successes.
“I’m criticized because I stand back, but surely to God people want a prime minister who will stand back from panic in the market and make good decisions,” says Harper. “Good point,” the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin concedes, but “the problem for the Conservatives is they now face an electorate that isn’t behaving rationally.” We’re “lash[ing] out at political authority,” apparently, “believing somebody should pay a heavy price for financial losses beyond any prime minister’s ability to control.” This doesn’t “smell” like a Liberal victory, Martin hastens to add, but when the Prime Minister unveils his own mother as evidence he’s plugged into our financial worries, you know the campaign has “entered its final desperate phase.”
Harper looked a gift horse in the mouth this week, Sun Media’s Greg Weston opines, when he declined to rain hellfire on the banks for only passing on half of the interest rate cut to their customers. Nobody likes “greedy banks” to begin with, and we’re talking about a significant pile of cash—$1,000 a year saved on a $200,000 mortgage, as Weston notes—so it was a no-lose proposition for a politician desperate to appear empathetic. “Instead, it has all been the perfect fodder for Stéphane Dion.”
Forget the empathy deficit, a charmingly annoyed Randall Denley fumes in the Ottawa Citizen; let’s talk about the “intellectual deficit” in the Conservative platform, which is “weak” on all the issues that currently “matter to Canadians.” It offers no money and no specifics on how it will boost the number of doctors and nurses and no “real strategy” to accompany the hundreds of millions for industry and various “platitudes” about the economy, for example, and “has there ever been a more mundane main spending plank of a major party’s platform” than the two-cent cut to the diesel tax? And what the hell kind of leader compares himself to Noah, Denley barks, thus evoking “images of Harper with a flowing beard, welcoming Conservatives of all types onto his ark. Marching up the gangplank in identical blue suits are CEOs, bank presidents, chief financial officers and chartered accountants. They are joined by angry seniors, cowboys, hunters and Cheryl Gallant. Artists would be stopped by security.” He then concludes: “Feh! Gah! Yaaaaaaargh!” Okay, not really.
If nothing else, the Tories remain well-placed to pull out a victory thanks to their well-researched strategy of focusing on “in play” seats, says the Star‘s James Travers, in full knowledge that “fewer than 15,000 votes spread over a dozen seats elected a minority Conservative government” in 2006. Dion’s Lazarus act will likely not be enough to overcome this tactic, he argues, and the Liberals’ neglect of it constitutes a “critical error.”
The seat projection calculators are predicting “anything from a Conservative near-majority to a Conservative near-defeat,” Don MacPherson notes in the Montreal Gazette, but perhaps it doesn’t even matter. “The future of [another] Conservative government would depend upon the state of the Liberal Party after the election, and how soon it would be ready to face another one,” he argues—and if that involves another leadership campaign, then the state of the Liberal party isn’t likely to be good. So Harper “might be able to govern even longer [than their first term] as if it had a majority, without fear of being defeated.”
We know what you’re thinking: time for a far-fetched scenario involving one or several of Dion, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton visiting Rideau Hall! Enter The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin, who believes we may—”emphasis on may”—be entering a new era of coalition politics. He bases this mostly on logic, of all things: the Liberals may wind up in a position to team up with the NDP or the Bloc; Canadians won’t want yet another election if the next government falls quickly; and both Layton and Duceppe will be desperately in need of “new purpose and new influence” if they don’t fare well on Tuesday. Martin provides real-world confirmation in the form of a phone call with a “senior Grit” who confirmed he had “just been talking about that very thing with my colleagues.”
If the Greens are for real and the Bloc Québécois is indeed a permanent fixture, then the era of “national parties as indispensable links in a pluralistic, geographically huge, linguistically split country” may be over, declares the Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson, who seems particularly annoyed with Quebeckers for sanctioning their province’s effective “withdrawal from the governance of Canada.” But if this is the case, then he says “parties are going to have to learn to work together, either inside or outside formal coalitions. Parliamentary rules are going to have to change, so that co-operation prevails over confidence votes and other blunt instruments of division.” One way or another, “Canadian politics, and therefore Canada, will never be the same.”
The Star‘s inimitable Bob Hepburn suggests the Green Party can’t “rightfully argue it should remain a separate party,” and should thus dissolve itself or merge with the Liberals sooner than allow “Stephen Harper and his eco-unfriendly Conservatives to win a majority.” That’s logically suspect on any number of levels, perhaps most notably when one considers the Liberals’ execrable record on climate change, and truly obnoxious through and through.
And we can’t really think of anything to say about Haroon Siddiqui‘s effort in the Star except that it consists of two completely unoriginal, unfinished columns tacked together with a horizontal line between them. Hardcore Siddiqui-ites will find it here.