Must-reads: Christie Blatchford and Chantal Hébert on the leave-behind scandal; Dan Gardner on perfectly safe pesticides; Rosie DiManno on love in Afghanistan; John Ibbitson on Hillary Clinton.
His only crime was loving too much. And leaving all those documents at his girlfriend’s house.
It’s official: appointing an unqualified libertarian economist as foreign minister just because he’s from Quebec isn’t a good idea. Live and learn.
The Globe and Mail‘s Christie Blatchford charts Julie Couillard’s romantic trajectory, “from Gilles Giguère, a loan shark and biker associate” who ended up dead, to “Robert Pepin, a fellow convicted of possessing stolen goods in connection with truck hijackings and who later committed suicide,” to Maxime Bernier, “Canada’s hapless foreign affairs minister whose association with Ms. Couillard led merely to the death of his political career,” and finds herself with very little sympathy for the poor dear’s predicament-especially since it appears she’s never had “a career” or even a “proper job,” preferring to rely on her vast, ahem, “tracts of land.” (Source of Blatchford’s obscure reference at 1:10 of the following clip.)
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin reluctantly tears his eyes away from Ms. Couillard and assesses the possible political and security ramifications of this whole mess. They include a potentially catastrophic credibility loss over the length of time the Prime Minister’s Office was unaware of the missing documents, the lack of security checks run on Couillard, and the possibility that her bedroom may have been bugged at the government’s behest (which is gross). Meanwhile, overseas, he suspects our NATO allies will be “baffled,” and that it may even impact Canada’s chance at a seat on the UN Security Council, thus denying us the much-coveted status of Belgium, Panama and Costa Rica on the world stage.
“It is always sad when a career of exceptional promise is derailed,” L. Ian MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazette, “but Bernier’s plight is entirely of his own making.” At foreign affairs, he says Bernier had a dedicated team of civil servants who “instinctively want to help, and be proud of, their minister”-as they were of Peter MacKay, around whom “the department rallied” after his shaky start. Bernier, on the other hand, “seldom took advice from his own officials,” who were thus willing to “allow him to fall on his face.” Which he did. Several times.
This week’s events are highly indicative of Stephen Harper’s “preferred style of crisis management,” Norman Spector argues in the Globe-which is far more à la Chrétien than it is à la Mulroney. And while Bernier brought a reputation for “indiscretion” and “serial bungl[ing]” to Ottawa from his days at an aide to Bernard Landry, Spector is loath to apportion too much blame to Harper for appointing him in the first place. He was, after all, “restricted to those whom the voters have sent [him],” and it’s “no small challenge” to “add Quebec voices to his cabinet” with that lot to choose from.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe agrees, but suggests Harper has also “overlooked competent players like James Moore … and Diane Ablonczy” in forming his Cabinets thus far. Still, she writes, “past governments have tended to boast a roster of political veterans,” while Harper’s has the remains of the Common Sense Revolution and assorted “one-time municipal councillors [and] bureaucrats.”
The Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert is more than willing to blame the Prime Minister, however, arguing that Bernier “raised enough red flags” at Industry to warrant a demotion, not a promotion, and never mind Quebec’s representation in Cabinet. But even having made that blunder, she argues, echoing Spector, Harper has once again been undone “by failure to defuse a controversy at the earliest opportunity.” And this time, she adds-after describing the Elections Canada fiasco, somewhat oddly, as on “the political margins of parliamentary life”-the leave-behind affair (as we’re calling it) “involves a central function of the government and the managerial competence of the Prime Minister.”
“Supposedly, the cabinet documents contained data about Afghanistan. Big deal,” Peter Worthington scoffs in the Toronto Sun. “It’s a challenge to imagine anything about our role in Afghanistan that could be damaging.” We’ll just leave you with that little morsel of weirdness and move on.
More bad news for the federal government
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom reports on concerns that Canadian troops are violating a UN agreement on the treatment of child soldiers by handing over Afghan detainees under the age of 18 to local authorities, where they may face “brutal interrogation[s].” Human rights advocates such as Amir Attaran and Andy Knight suggest Canadian forces instead transfer minors to UNICEF, which “so far has successfully demobilized 7,400” child soldiers in Afghanistan.
Health Canada recently declared the pesticide 2,4-D “safe when used as directed,” Dan Gardner notes in the Ottawa Citizen, and nobody told Canadians about it-not the media, not “physicians and activists” who have championed the link between chemicals and cancer, and certainly not politicians like Dalton McGuinty, who has been “posing as a white knight defending children against evil chemicals.” On this occasion, Gardner argues, “the cost” of this alarmist, deliberately moronic approach to science “may be an unnecessary proliferation of dandelions.” But what happens when it’s something critical?
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson renews his call for Canada’s China policy to appreciate how far the country has come towards liberty and capitalism, rather than focusing on how far it has to go. Comparing ourselves to Australia on this front-and just about every other front, to hear Simpson tell it-is both “painful and revealing,” since Canberra manages to “engage the Chinese in discussions about human rights” even as it considers friendly bilateral relations a top priority.
Hillary attacked, defended
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson is sure Hillary Clinton doesn’t want Barack Obama to get assassinated, but “she’s thinking something almost as bad.” After all, he notes, the only thing that could possibly unseat Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee would be “a scandal-unearthed by either her operatives or by the Republicans-that so contaminates his campaign that either he drops out or the superdelegates defect en masse.” This latest, most odious rationale for carrying on the Clinton campaign is “an argument too far,” he concludes.
“There’s only one question that needs answering at this point,” says the Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall, which is: “What woman in her right mind would ever run for a nomination again?” That’s right, folks. The reaction to the Bobby Kennedy remark, the calls for her to drop out for the good of the party, the widespread desire for a shift away from dynastic politics-it’s all because she’s a woman. At what appears to be significant risk of being branded as raving sexists, we’re going to go ahead and dismiss this amazingly facile argument.
The Star‘s Rosie DiManno crawls headfirst into a concrete bunker in Balkh, near Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, to find what purports to be the sarcophagus of Rabi’a Balkhi, “Afghanistan’s earliest Sufi poet.” One of very few female figures “venerated” in Afghan society-“naturally, she has to be dead,” DiManno quips-a ninth-century myth has Rabi’a falling in love with a slave and either being killed or committing suicide as a result. DiManno reports that her tomb-which is almost certainly not her tomb, according to unromantic archaeologists-is now a sort of pilgrimage for lovelorn Afghan girls.