Norman Bethune to the rescue!

Must-reads: Lawrence Martin on the RCMP “information czar”; Peter Worthington on what Hillary hath wrought; John Ivison on gas taxes; Margaret Wente on Chinese fishermen.

Must-reads: Lawrence Martin on the RCMP “information czar”; Peter Worthington on what Hillary hath wrought; John Ivison on gas taxes; Margaret Wente on Chinese fishermen.

Ooh! Ooh! Let’s call it Bikergate!
At least one B.C. columnist isn’t ready to let Maxime Bernier off the hook just yet.

“You’re darn right” the Foreign Affairs Minister’s girlfriend is “our business,” an unusually combative Barbara Yaffe argues in the Vancouver Sun, because “he must be—and be seen to be—above reproach in all things.” (We double-checked—she is indeed talking about Mr. Bernier.) Other than this sudden appearance of fallability, the only “concern” she raises is his—by which she presumably mean Julie Couillard’saccess to sensitive information. So, security checks for Cabinet Ministers’ significant others would be a good idea, right? Nope! “The only thing required to regulate these matters is ordinary good judgment and a watchful prime minister,” she contends. Problem is, the nation’s “ordinary good judgment” has pretty much declared this a non-issue, so we’d say the burden’s on Yaffe to make the case. It doesn’t help when Couillard has “pretty significant links to biker gangs” in the sixth paragraph but is only “connected—however circuitously and remotely—to members of an outlaw gang” in the 18th.

The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin is unconvinced that RCMP Commissioner William Elliott misspoke when he announced the creation of a new position, Assistant Deputy Minister Public Affairs, which would effectively have amounted to “having the government vet [the Mounties’] communications.” As a “former ADM himself (for Transport Canada),” Martin argues, Elliott “is well aware of the position’s significance.” More to the point, such a move would be entirely in character for this government. “A more likely explanation is that the plan … had been put in place by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and the Prime Minister’s Office,” Martin concludes, and was snuffed when fears arose that it would touch off a firestorm of protest.”

Canadians looking for price relief at the gas pumps may as well resort to prayer, the National Post‘s John Ivison advises, since the Conservatives have pitched all their bright ideas over the side since being elected. They promised to stop charging GST on the excise tax on gasoline, he notes, “and to drop the GST completely when prices exceeded 85¢ a litre.” They promised to eliminate the 1.5 cent-per-litre “deficit elimination tax,” which remains in place “a decade after the budget was balanced.” It will be no surprise, he warns, if Canadians are cool to Stéphane Dion’s assurances that his carbon tax won’t just be revenue neutral, but won’t raise the price of gasoline.

Southeast Asian bureau
“For the world’s benefit as well as its own,” the Toronto Star‘s James Travers argues, “Canada should maximize historic China ties extending from Norman Bethune to early diplomatic recognition.” In the coming decades, after all, “progress in too many sad and dangerous places”—Zimbabwe, Darfur, Burma, etc.—will be “impossible” without China’s engagement. With trademarked convolution, he argues that the government’s decision to instead “tug the dragon’s tail” is linked to our military focus on Afghanistan, which is itself a result of “cloning Washington’s foreign policy,” which makes it “more problematic … for this country to contribute to Middle East peace” (when did we do that again?) or push China to do good instead of bad. For our part, we see no reason Canada couldn’t stay the course in Afghanistan and improve relations with China.

“Not knowing for sure if Canada’s relief will ever reach the victims has given the government some cause to tread cautiously before unleashing a full emergency aid effort” in Burma, the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin concedes. But that alone, he argues, cannot justify the chasm between the hundreds of millions committed to tsunami relief efforts in 2005 and the piddling amount thus far pledged to cyclone relief.

The Globe‘s Margaret Wente suggests the best way to solve the problem of blameless Chinese anglers suffering racial abuse at the hands of small-town Ontario yobs would be to “translate the fishing regulations into Chinese” to weed out those anglers who are violating the law; “hire more conservation officers to enforce” the regulations across the board; “post some cops at prime spots on the lakes”; and “bust the stores that sell live illegal fish.” But she’s no expert, she hastens to add, and unlike the Ontario Human Rights Commission, she has no “empire to build.” Hence, the actual solution: “police helicopter patrols along our shores, as well as the concerted action of armies of teachers, mayors, anti-racism trainers and bureaucrats from every nook and cranny of government.”

Kabul, and future Kabuls
Sun Media’s Greg Weston accuses the Prime Minister of “re-announcing an already re-announced military strategy and calling it a 20-year strategy for the Canadian Forces.” Furthermore, he alleges that the promised funding boosts run below inflation, and the promised troop increases are such that “the ranks [may] actually shrink relative to the overall Canadian population.” Even furthermore, he continues, it’s impossible to predict what our military is going to be doing in 2028—who would have envisioned in 1988, for example, that we’d be up to our ankles in Afghanistan? Thus, says Weston, what we need is some vision of “Canada’s military role in the world could and should be over the next 20 years.” On that front, unfortunately, we got bupkis.

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno undertakes the impossible task of determining, from Kabul, just what US Marines have done and are doing in Helmand province, where they are tasked with “choking off Garmser”—a district that “has long been used as a planning, staging and logistics hub by the neo-Taliban.” Estimates of the number of families displaced, she notes, range from two to 4,200. “In the present vacuum of information,” she concludes, this is what passes for fact.

Republicans, and Democrats, in trouble
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson notes that Democrat Travis Childers’ win in Mississippi’s First Congressional District, a formerly “rock-ribbed Republican bastion,” comes on the heels of similar shockers in Illinois and Louisiana. As such, he says, the GOP is finally becoming aware of the looming threat of electoral catastrophe. So they launched a new platform—tagline: “The change you deserve.” “The blogosphere caught it first,” Ibbitson writes. The slogan “is also the trademarked slogan of the drug Effexor. It’s an antidepressant.”

“What Hillary [Clinton] has done … is split the Democratic party in a way that it’s not been divided before,” Peter Worthington argues in the Toronto Sun. “The Democrats traditionally get the African-American vote—but not in the 90% range that Obama is getting them,” he notes, adding that this fervent support risks a “backlash” among black voters if Clinton were somehow to win the nomination. At the same time, however, Clinton has vastly more appeal to “the average voter with a high school education whose fingernails dirty at his job and who can’t afford vacations abroad.” And especially after West Virginia, she can credibly pitch uncommitted superdelegates on the idea “that she has the broadest support across America and has the most competitive chance of beating McCain.”

Duly noted
Parti Québécois supporters unhappy with Pauline Marois’ leadership had their chance in this week’s by-elections to protest by abstaining, says the Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson, or by voting for “the minor sovereignist parties, left-wing Québec solidaire or the new, hardline Parti indépendantiste.” That didn’t happen; indeed, he declares Québec solidaire effectively “dead.” And with the Action démocratique thoroughly humiliated by the results, he opines, Marois has cemented not just her leadership of the party, but her party’s position as the real alternative to the Liberals.