Must-reads: Scott Taylor on Afghan governance; Christie Blatchford, Rex Murphy and Daphne Bramham on the residential schools apology; Greg Weston on Oily the Splot; Don Martin on the Couillard affair.
What can we learn from Julie Couillard?
And other pressing federal questions…
At this point in the Bernier-Couillard debacle—now that her “random dating pattern[s]” seem to have “jell[ed] into a potential purpose”—the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin says “circumstances have evolved” far past the point where the opposition’s questions can be dismissed as “sordid little inquiries.” Unfortunately, he notes, the government’s position on the matter—stonewall at all costs, basically—is stuck in the Neanderthal era. This cannot last.
If this whole affair isn’t enough to spur reforms on background checks, security clearances and sensitive document management, L. Ian MacDonald, writing in the Montreal Gazette, hopes a 23-year-old anecdote of his own experiences as Brian Mulroney’s speechwriter will do the trick. It involves everyone from Mikhail Gorbachev to Nick Auf der Maur, and its connection to the topic at hand is tenuous at best.
The affair represents a foothold for the Bloc Québécois on its precipitous drop-off towards oblivion, the Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert opines, and a rare moment of actual partisan advantage in the “zero-sum game [the opposition] parties have been playing in the battle for the title of progressive alternative to the Conservatives.” For example: Bob Rae’s by-election win in Toronto Centre cancelled out Thomas Mulcair’s in Outremont, while the NDP’s overall success in Quebec was offset by “a surge in support for the Greens” nationwide, which turned Vancouver Quadra from “a Liberal fortress into a winnable seat for the Tories.” In other words, Messrs. Duceppe, Layton and Dion might as well not even come back to Ottawa in the fall.
And don’t expect a Prime Minister with much of a new attitude either, Tom Flanagan advises the National Post‘s John Ivison. As devotees of Hayek and Burke, Ivison says the Harperites are all about change in “small, incremental steps.” And despite some notable hiccups, he argues they’ve done plenty that will “have a lasting impact on the way Canadians are governed.” Examples include the somewhat plausible (term limits for Senators, extending the Human Rights Act to cover aboriginal Canadians) to the highly ludicrous (raising the age of consent, which has not a thing that we can think of to do with how we are governed).
“People can’t locate a family doctor, waiting lists have increased, [and] hospital emergency rooms are as zany as ever,” writes the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe—and the Health Council of Canada, created in 2003 to monitor and report on the gazillions in new federal spending, has recently bemoaned the lack of progress and the “lack of activism” among Canadian politicians. The problem, Yaffe hypothesizes, is that political leaders “have become reluctant to champion health care solutions [since] success has been hard to come by”—but this, she argues, is “unacceptable.”
Sun Media’s Greg Weston happens across a curious request for bids from the Department of Natural Resources to evaluate and assess the efficacy of Liberal-era greenhouse gas emission reduction plans—the better to beat Stéphane Dion about the face and ears with, one presumes. Minister Gary Lunn pleads ignorance when contacted by Weston and yanks the request, wondering why on earth the government would be “evaluating programs that have already ended.” ‘Tis a fine question indeed.
A day, at least, of dignity
Just about everyone is on board with Wednesday’s apology for Canada’s residential school system for aboriginal children. But will the spirit of the day prevail?
Rex Murphy, writing in The Globe and Mail, lauds Jack Layton for leading the charge to have native leaders included in the apology ceremony. He says Phil Fontaine’s speech, for example, was “the best of the day” and essential to the proceedings—”simultaneously unsparing and generous, [with] no gloss over past injury but no embedded sense of grievance going forward.” And he applauds Stephen Harper and Canada’s other oft-infuriating politicians for abandoning “their rote partisan masks,” if only for a day.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford is dutifully moved by the apology, but can’t help being reminded of Charles Schulz’s Lucy “perpetually offering to hold the football so Charlie Brown could kick it—and then lifting the ball at the last second.” Indeed, she posits, even Lucy’s excuses—”A woman’s handshake is not legally binding”; “Peculiar thing about this document … it was never notarized”—sound much like Canadian governments’ behaviour on many interminable land claims disputes. She urges those governments to adopt the spirit of the apology and commit to “honourable” conduct in future.
“Dragging children away from parents to place them in residential schools is beneath contempt,” George Jonas writes in the Post, “but Mr. Harper didn’t do it. Expressing contrition for what one didn’t do is an unauthorized claim for a reward to which one isn’t entitled.” This very reasonable bit of devil’s advocacy is ruined by Jonas’s odious contention that the “censorious state’s intrusions into contemporary life under the pretext of ‘public hygiene’ or ‘human rights'” are analogous to the “entire country … being turned into a residential school.”
There are three times as many aboriginal children currently in the care of Canadian governments as there were at the height of the residential school system, Daphne Bramham notes in the Vancouver Sun. And until aboriginal women attain full legal status on native reserves, which would in turn help tackle the myriad social and chemical afflictions their families face, she believes the situation is unlikely to improve.
John McCain comes to Canada
Normally, says the Star‘s James Travers, Ottawa “would be rolling out the carpet” for John McCain. But his upcoming visit “is already refocusing attention on the leaked Canadian diplomatic memo that may have cost [Barack] Obama the Ohio primary”—a leak that Travers has originating squarely in the Prime Minister’s Office. And with the Tories “struggling to broaden support” among a population that overwhelmingly supports Obama, he says the Tories have been forced to “cool their welcome from warm to tepid.”
Given all these terrible optics and the prospect—no doubt welcomed by the McCain camp—of the NAFTA episode “splattered all over the front pages again,” the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin suggests the government abandon its “no objection” stance and “tell him to give his speech in North Dakota.” We, on the other hand, think it’s really quite “interesting … to have the Republican candidate for the presidency here,” in Martin’s words, and we hope he has a splendid visit.
But it won’t help McCain woo retired Jewish Floridian voters, whom the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington believes are crucial to his prospects. “Traditionally, Jews vote for the Democratic ticket,” he writes. But Obama’s unequivocal support for Israel, up to and including military action, is apparently not unequivocal enough in some quarters. This leaves McCain significant room to take advantage of Jewish votes, “influence and money.”
Prison Break: Afghanistan
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno assesses the fallout from the “brazen and emboldened and blow-out-the-doors spectacular” attack on Sarposa prison in Kandahar, which freed hundreds of Taliban fighters—though not, she notes, many “high-value detainees.” (If any were at Sarposa instead of at the U.S. prison in Bagram, she suggests it’s because of Canada’s political decision to stop transferring detainees to American soldiers—a decision she says may “cost dearly.”) NATO officials insist the damage to the mission is containable, but DiManno says it’s evidence of the Taliban insurgency’s formidable “playbook” if nothing else.
It is “regrettable” how many uninformed commentators are “applauding Pakistan’s peace deals with militants whose stated aim is to bring down Afghanistan’s democratically elected government and attack foreign troops,” DiManno writes in another piece. By allowing insurgents to refocus their efforts on the Afghan side of the border, she believes such accommodations “will get Canadians killed.”
Scott Taylor, writing in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, visits Sarah Chayes, a former National Public Radio correspondent who runs a co-op soap factory in Kandahar and lives alone in the city’s downtown—”undoubtedly one of the bravest women I have ever met,” he says. Her opinion, which is widely sought by Western officials on the ground, is that NATO needs to “clean house” in the corrupt Afghan government, and sovereignty be damned. “If the Afghan government is a criminal enterprise and Canada’s stated mission is to support the government of Afghanistan,” she asks, “then what the hell are you achieving?”
Free speech in Canada
We think there’s a case to be made against the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s decision in the matter of fanatical anti-homosexual “youth pastor” Stephen Boisson, but Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Journal, for some reason decides to rail against a decision the Commission didn’t make—namely, on the actions of the “Queer Militia,” which “invaded a fundraising event at which [Boisson] was speaking in Calgary and… pounded on the walls and chanted ‘Right-wing bigots go away, Queer Militia here to stay!,’ then stormed the podium and shouted ‘F**k your Jesus’ and other obscenities.” You just know they’d rule in favour of the Queer Militia on such a complaint, he sneers—but frankly, we don’t. And we find these increasingly common “imaginary double-standard” arguments really tiresome.
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui, meanwhile, argues that free speech should not be absolute, and that Canada’s hate speech laws are a fine example of that principle in action, and therefore—as far as we can tell—that there’s nothing wrong with Maclean’s being hauled before one or more human rights tribunals to answer for printing an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s America Alone. We wonder if he’s aware of what an extreme position that is: lots of people oppose legislative changes to the Human Rights Act, but very few—not including his own newspaper’s editorial board—support the complaint(s) against Maclean’s. Siddiqui also accuses Rex Murphy of “vili[fying] Muslims in general” on CBC television, which is just plain ridiculous.
Margaret Wente and her husband purchased an as-yet-unbuilt condominium without doing their homework, and are now appealing to Globe readers for sympathy.
Irish Euroskeptics may think they’ve accomplished something in voting down the Lisbon Treaty, but the Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson assures them they haven’t. They’ve simply outed themselves a bunch of ungrateful xenophobes, and he hopes they’re happy with themselves.
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom goes some way towards explaining his very noticeable skepticism over Mubin Shaikh, the RCMP informant in the so-called “Toronto 18” terror plot whom the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford has embraced as a sort of Islamic-Canadian folk hero. Among the “curious contradictions” in his character is his professed abhorrence of violence, in contrast with charges he’s facing for “assault[ing] two 12-year-old girls who, he said, mocked him as ‘Taliban-boy.'”