Must-reads: Peter Worthington on Rick Hillier; Lysiane Gagnon on China.
The long, cod-flavoured goodbye
The official mourning period for outgoing Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier is now over. Let the backlash begin!
Here’s The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin on November 8, 2007: “Gen. Hillier has done his thing and has done it efficiently. It is no longer imperative that he stay on as our military leader.” And here he is today: Hillier’s resignation is “disappointing and objectionable”—all the more so if a “concrete long-term offer” was on the table for him to stay on—because Afghanistan is “his war,” because “by most accounts, [it] is not being won,” because “he let down the troops he loved and who loved him,” and because “he still had much to do in terms of the military restructuring.” Wha’ happen, Mr. Martin?
Hillier presided over “a slight improvement” in the number of regular force troops, Scott Taylor writes in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, “but this does not match the projected expansion that the Big Cod envisioned.” Recruitment will struggle to keep up with retirements, he predicts, “the transformation of the Canadian military command structure is not yet complete,” and there’s the small matter of the Afghanistan mission itself to manage. “Relaxed, confident and oozing self-deprecating Newfoundlander down-home charm, Hillier had the media once again eating out of his hand” last week, says Taylor. But regardless of why he left, his “successor will have some enormous shoes to fill.”
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington accuses Canadian journalists embedded in Afghanistan of “so-so” reporting when it comes to issues like reconstruction work, the performance of Canada’s new tanks and especially the activities of the JTF-2 commando force. But it’s difficult, he concedes, to report effectively when you’re hamstrung by regulations from a government that wants “to harness the unexpected popularity of soldiers, but at the same time cut any risk for embarrassment.” “Having a secret army within the army is neither democratic nor traditional in our military,” he writes of JTF-2. And he implores the media to find some way of not letting the micro-managing feds get away with it.
A spring election… about abortion?
L. Ian MacDonald believes the departure of former MPs and current Liberal candidates Eleni Bakopanos and Paddy Torsney from Stéphane Dion’s “close circle” of advisors—and the “fond farewell” Dion released to the press—could be indications that the Grits are “finally getting ready to break camp and force an election, with the immigration-reform bill as the trigger.” The Conservative brand certainly hasn’t been this weak in a while, he argues in the Montreal Gazette, given Maxime Bernier’s Afghan pratfalls and the RCMP’s raid on Tory HQ, and there are, as always, plenty of restless Liberals dying to hit the campaign trail. (Blows to MacDonald’s anemic credibility in today’s effort: (1) referring to the pretty much debunked theory that Elections Canada tipped off the Liberals to the raid as fact; (2) misspelling Torsney’s name throughout the column.)
Chantal Hébert, writing in the Toronto Star, assesses the chances that Ken Epp’s private member’s bill on “injuring or causing the death of an unborn child while committing an offence” might make abortion a preeminent and wholly unwelcome election issue. Considering the “solid social conservative group within the Liberal caucus,” she argues, Dion’s insistence that he has the votes to defeat the bill—which some see as a backdoor approach to recriminalizing abortion—may be “wishful thinking.” And Stephen Harper’s stated promise not to reopen the issue extends only to the end of his first mandate. The Liberal-dominated Senate would almost certainly kill the legislation, she notes, but if that’s “all that stands between an attempt to recriminalize abortion and a future Parliament,” she says that’s bad news for the Tories.
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson predicts “a modest but respectable victory for Ms. Clinton in Pennsylvania tomorrow.” This, he hastens to add, “is as good as another defeat,” because only a big win could “stem the steady trickle of superdelegates” towards Barack Obama. That’s pretty much the whole column right there.
Lorne Gunter, writing in the National Post, suspects Earth Day in Edmonton was a bit of a flop on account of all the wintry late-April weather. But he’s also sure that wintry late-April weather won’t calm the global warming fanatics. Faced with a planet that hasn’t warmed appreciably in a decade, he says, they’ve already switched to calling it “climate change”—”so any weather extreme [can] be interpreted as an omen of impending doom.” Other than that, it’s pretty much your standard anti-hippie rant: “composting your own human waste” or otherwise not flushing it down the toilet, “chickpea patties,” etc.
Back in the day, Norman Spector writes in the Globe, a British Columbia Premier’s international obligations went little further than the odd trade mission. No more. And Gordon Campbell doesn’t seem to be handling the transition particularly well. His promise to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing while most other politicians around the world declined or hedged seemed clumsy, says Spector. And his government’s persistence on the biofuel issue while food riots spread across the Third World will, he predicts, “reinforce doubts … that the gain the Premier sees accruing from his [climate change] policies is worth the pain he is asking the rest of us to bear.”
It takes a great deal of myopia for western nations to look at China’s arms-for-oil arrangement with the Sudanese and not see parallels in their own dubious histories, Lysiane Gagnon writes in the Globe, and “it takes a great deal of bad faith not to recognize that the Chinese are much freer (and considerably more prosperous) today than 20 years ago.” Bashing Beijing may be morally exhilarating, she argues, but systematically humiliating a relatively progressive nation as it “emerges on the world scene after a prolonged period of isolation” cannot possible be a good strategy. (Nor, we would add, is giving such a country the Olympics.)