NAFTA-gate: ‘unimaginatively christened,’ ‘annoying labelled,’ ‘inevitably and drearily … named’


Must-reads: Scott Taylor on the Afghanistan 360; Chantal Hébert, George Jonas, Greg Weston and John Ivison on Canadian idiocracy; Don MacPherson on Pauline Marois’ “national conversation”; David Olive on the Clintonbama ticket; Dan Gardner on cheese-eating surrender monkeys; Haroon Siddiqui on Israel and Gaza.

Everybody knows the deal is rotten
There is little but well-deserved abuse for our politicians on the op-ed pages of the nation. And we suspect they don’t particularly give a damn.

“Readers screeching at Parliament’s fixation … on the Chuck Cadman caper and the unimaginatively christened NAFTA-gate controversy to the exclusion of reality issues have a point,” says the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin. After all, he notes, during a week in which the Liberals cemented their reputation as serial abstainers, the Canadian Wheat Board endured the first of a thousand cuts and a private member’s bill threatened to bestow “personhood” on Canadian fetuses, the lion’s share of the Parliamentary hooting and foot-stamping—and the attendant media scribblings—concerned a “three-year-old bribery allegation from a dead MP and an alleged comment on U.S. political doublespeak that the prime minister’s chief of staff can’t recall saying.”

Which is precisely what the Toronto Star‘s James Travers is worked up about. So worked up, in fact, that right after arguing that Harper is too experienced a politician not to have known his handling of the NAFTA-disasta would damage Barack Obama’s campaign even more than the original leak, he goes on at length about how “[l]etting stories spiral out of control”—on Afghan detainees, persecuting competent bureaucrats like Linda Keen, etc.—”is a repeating Harper pattern.” Are we to believe these debacles were deliberate as well?

“[I]t may be Harper planned the entire caper,” the Star‘s Thomas Walkom chimes in. “But it’s not clear why he would mastermind an operation fated to result in his own embarrassment.” After all, he notes, there’s no guarantee an Obama victory would benefit McCain—i.e., the “Evil Northern Republicans-lite ” theory—besides which, Democrats would be a great help to Canada in Afghanistan. We agree it makes little sense. But again, we would point Walkom in the direction of all the other times Harper has inexplicably soiled himself despite easy access to the lavatory.

“[S]imply bizarre,” is the verdict on last week in Ottawa from Sun Media’s Greg Weston—particularly when it comes to the NDP helping the Conservatives avoid embarrassment over the Cadman affair. “Damaging Harper and the Conservatives on ethical issues like the Cadman mess mainly helps the Grits, and that’s not in our gameplan,” a Dipper strategist has the unmitigated gall to tell Weston, who responds: “As for doing the right thing to ensure good government, the NDP are apparently content to leave that for another day.” Not that Stéphane Dion’s Liberals, who couldn’t be bothered to oppose a budget they ostensibly deplore, are covering the Hill with glory themselves.

The National Post‘s John Ivison, however, believes the Liberals had a terrific week, thanks to the passage of Dan McTeague’s private member’s bill offering a tax break for registered education savings plans. “[T]he Grits get all the upside of proposing a tax cut, without the inconvenience of having to balance revenues and spending,” Ivison says—particularly poetic justice, he argues, considering Jim Flaherty has deliberately “tried to drain the treasury” to make Liberal spending plans look impossibly profligate. “It’s brilliant,” Ivison concludes (though he believes the Tories will find some way to scupper it). “It’s a pity it didn’t come from Mr. Dion’s office.”

“Is there no way to support art without supporting smut?” George Jonas asks himself, on the subject of Bill C-10, in the pages of the Post. Answer: “If there is a way, it isn’t called ministerial discretion.” It’s all very well for the Heritage Minister to insist “mainstream” filmmakers would be exempt, he says, but artists “need to be free from bureaucratic interference when they’re on the fringes”—as mainstream filmmakers like David Cronenberg, now explicitly exempt from Josée Verner’s matronly scorn, once were. If the government wanted to stop funding Canadian film altogether, Jonas “might even applaud.” But he’s sure they don’t. They’re just bumbling around, as governments are wont to do, without much thought to the consequences.

“Canada doesn’t have a crime problem,” Lorne Gunter writes in the Edmonton Journal. “[I]t has a youth crime problem.” Indeed, recent Statistics Canada figures show that t
he 12-to-17 set is committing more crimes—and using guns more frequently—and yet spending less and less time in prison. The answer, naturally, is to throw everyone in the local Borstal and look forward to their reemergence as upstanding young men and women. After all, Gunter assures us, gang members and their leaders “aren’t stupid,” and will soon judge their nefarious deeds not worth the risk of incarceration. Leaving aside for now all the evidence that more incarceration doesn’t lower crime, gang members and leaders have always struck us as extremely stupid—for whatever that’s worth.

The Ottawa virus spreads south
L. Ian MacDonald
, writing in the Montreal Gazette, describes the now-infamous “NAFTA memo” from the Canadian consulate in Chicago as “a low-level, unclassified diplomatic note, … so insignificant it initially wasn’t even sent over to the Prime Minister’s Office,” and dismisses the entire story as a “Mickey Mouse” affair. He nevertheless expends several breathless column inches on baffling allegations of media malfeasance with regards to the affair.

“Could such things be?” a charmingly crushed Rex Murphy asks in The Globe and Mail, in the voice of the “say it ain’t so, Joe” kid. “Could the freshest, most inspiring presence in U.S. politics since John F. Kennedy be warbling of the New Jerusalem while on the campaign platform and practising the Old Washington shuffle … while off? Eek! I say, and I mean it.”

The Globe‘s Lawrence Martin looks at past American incursions into Canadian elections. Democrat James Clark’s ruminations that Wilfrid Laurier’s 1911 “commercial reciprocity” proposal (an early forbear of free trade) would lead to annexation helped install Robert Borden in the PMO, Martin notes. And let’s not forget the Kennedy White House’s “statement blatantly contradicting [John Diefenbaker’s] take on defence issues,” which immediately preceded his ouster, to Lester Pearson’s benefit.

“Too many Democrats want a woman to prove herself as president, and are convinced that Clinton has the temperament and experience to succeed as chief executive,” David Olive writes in the Star. “And too many Dems … think the first African-American head of government among industrial nations would be uniquely suited to end the gridlock in Washington … and mend fences abroad.” Thus, he argues, a holy Clinton-Obama alliance is the only logical path—and the ticket with the best chance of out-hustling and out-messaging John McCain. And it wouldn’t be any stranger, Olive suggests, than “yok[ing] an obscure, white-trash governor of a small Southern state with an affluent, cerebral Tennessee scion of the Washington establishment.”

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno, apparently unimpressed with Olive’s lively and informative take, blurts out a column about Obama’s recently revealed, and recently forsaken, cigarette habit. Nicorette isn’t nearly as “sexy” as the real article, she complains—”[c]an’t seductively ask a guy to light your wad”, she quips, disgustingly. She wants a U.S. president puffing, not chewing, when the crisis phone rings in the Oval Office.

The Globe‘s John Ibbitson breaks down the demographics of Michigan and Florida voters, and concludes that there’s significant risk for Obama there should the states get their delegates reseated—which neither the Obama nor the Clinton camp opposes. Thus, having written off Clinton (as we remember it) any number of times, Ibbitson now believes “[t]here is a way [she] could actually win the Democratic presidential nomination, fair and square. … Retake Michigan and Florida, and offer Barack Obama the vice-presidency.” No fuss, no muss.

Progress, and lack thereof, for women
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham applauds 35 years of service and advocacy by Vancouver Rape Relief. “A month after the Constitution was patriated,” she notes, “Vancouver East MP Margaret Mitchell rose in the House of Commons to talk about how the justice system failed to protect women and failed to prosecute wife-beaters and rapists,” and was shouted and laughed down for her trouble. Despite the modern backlash—the push for legalized prostitution, polygamy, and acceptance of sharia law, for example—she marvels at how far such organizations have allowed Canadian women to progress.

But not, the Star‘s Chantal Hébert notes, in the House of Commons itself. The current Tory Cabinet is the most masculine in recent memory, she writes—but then again, Janine Kreiber is “the most influential woman in Canadian federal politics” and she’s not even elected. On the Liberal side, there is the future promise of installing Louise Arbour or Carole Taylor in Ottawa. But why would such “superachievers” subject themselves to such an indignity? “[I]n their reluctance to plunge into the federal cesspool,” Hébert quite marvellously concludes, “Canadian men and women of talent have attained some measure of equality.”

A tale of two party leaders
There’s a whiff of Pierre Marc Johnson’s risible 1987 “Opération Grandes oreilles” in Pauline Marois’ proposal to begin a “national conversation” on sovereignty in Quebec, the Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson suggests. “If the PQ were interested in listening to the people about sovereignty, you’d think it might have got the message after holding and losing two referendums,” he writes—or, if not, from the fact that its last election running under a referendum banner reduced the party to third-place status.

Meanwhile, Jean Charest can crow about his massive 97.2 per cent approval rating at this past weekend’s Liberal policy convention, MacPherson allows in another piece. But the convention was designed “to position the party in the identity debate,” he argues, and it didn’t. Indeed, while some delegates appeared to favour “relaxing present language restrictions [over] tightening their enforcement,” the party at large is “so preoccupied with appealing to francophone voters in the regions that … [it now] has a president who can’t understand English, let alone speak it.” In other words: Enjoy your popularity, Mr. Charest, while ye may.

Duly noted
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford entertainingly profiles John Gibbons Counsell, a paralyzed Dieppe veteran whose advocacy for the disabled led to the foundation of Toronto’s Lyndhurst Centre for spinal cord rehabilitation. She suggests his desire for “independence and a full life, and damn anyone who dared object,” embodies the irrepressible desire of severely injured Canadians to get better.

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner surveys the latest in anti-European literature and singles out Bruce Thornton’s Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide for particular contempt. As with the rabid anti-Americanism the anti-Europeanists so despise, he argues, there are “grains of truth”—the continent has a pronounced demography problem, it rides on American defence coattails and it is afflicted by some measure of “delusion and hypocrisy.” But predictions of an Islamic takeover are not borne out by fertility statistics, Gardner insists, and he challenges those who link infertility to godlessness to explain Poland—”arguably more religious and conservative than the U.S.,” and yet with one of the lowest birthrates on the continent.

With NATO’s request to Moscow for help in Afghanistan, Scott Taylor is finally overcome by the crushing historical ironies at play in the Hindu Kush. We could not possibly do his rollickingly good piece in the Halifax Chronicle Herald justice in a paragraph.

The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui deplores the perdurable senselessness of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “[T]here is a difference between terrorists who target civilians and actions in self-defence that kill civilians,” he writes of Israel’s recent operations in Gaza. “But dead innocents are dead innocents. Infinitely more of them are Palestinians.”

Rosie DiManno bemoans the trend of people turning away from newspapers to “blogs and ‘social media’ networks that are all view, all comment, all personal whinge, graceless, and devoid of source reporting.” And yet, while she appreciates the “proprietary relationship” people have with their newspaper of choice, she says “the scolding can get a bit much. … It’s just a newspaper, people. If you don’t like what’s in it today, come back tomorrow – it’ll be different.” Unfortunately for DiManno, the Toronto Star‘s editorial pages are the worst possible place to mount that argument.

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