Three out of four ain't bad. It's a friggin' disaster.

Must-reads: Dan Gardner and John Ibbitson on Barack Obama; Don Martin on the big space sell-off;

Just quit now, Mr. Dion
Today’s lesson: nobody knows what Monday’s by-elections mean, but everyone is willing to venture an opinion. Also, Stéphane Dion is not a leader.

“In by-elections,” L. Ian MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazette, “turnout doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is the spread, in percentage terms” This seems to us a perfectly defensible position if one was also to argue that by-elections aren’t particularly indicative of anything at all. But naturally that’s not what MacDonald is arguing. Instead, he believes that in hanging onto Vancouver Quadra “by all of 151 votes”—which sounds suspiciously like turnout, and not spread—Stéphane Dion “narrowly” avoided a disaster of epic proportions. This “should give the Liberals pause before they start sabre-rattling about an election after the Easter recess.”

The National Post‘s John Ivison seems to believe only turnout matters when it comes to bashing Dion. “60,000 Liberals who voted for the party in 2006 stayed home this time,” he writes, which means “Mr. Dion has not persuaded Canadians it is time to change government.” Or maybe—maybe—people reasoned that a vote for Bob Rae in Toronto Centre is like a vote for the sun to come up tomorrow morning, and headed out to the pub.

Chantal Hébert echoes the prophecies of Liberal doom in the Toronto Star, and somewhat cryptically suggests that the results indicate Liberal weakness (and Tory winning conditions) in rural Ontario… which didn’t vote on Monday. Moving on to less confusing matters, she argues that the Green Party’s performance—they “did as well or better than the NDP in three of the four ridings at play”—instantly kills whatever momentum Jack Layton believed he was carrying from the party’s win in Outremont. He “might as well have spent the by-election campaign sunning himself on a beach,” says Hébert.

The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson, meanwhile, accuses the media of generally falling for Dion’s “three outta four ain’t bad” shtick. (He must mean television; the pundits, as you can see, predict nothing but plague and pestilence in Dion’s future.) Losing 13 points in Quadra “spells disappointment, if not trouble” for the Liberals, Simpson argues. And he says the loss in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River isn’t just a disappointment for the party, or for Dion, who handpicked losing candidate Joan Beatty over David Orchard; it’s a sad comment on the fate of Gary Merasty, the promising rookie aboriginal MP who apparently wasn’t made to feel welcome enough by Liberals in Ottawa.

“The last time Dion forced a woman candidate on a riding was in last September’s byelections that cost the Liberals the Montreal seat of Outremont, long considered one of the safest Grit bastions in the country,” Sun Media’s Greg Weston writes. “Call it zero for two for Stéphane. Nice work.” The biggest problem with that argument is that Jocelyn Coulon was, and so far as we know still is, a man. “Nice work,” indeed.

Tongue of silver, mind of gold
“[I]t is a dangerous thing for a politician to ask voters to own up to the lesser angels of their nature,” the Globe‘s John Ibbitson remarks of Barack Obama’s memorable speech on racism yesterday, in which he sought to explain his refusal to entirely disavow his incendiary pastor, Jeremiah Wright. And whatever Obama says, Ibbitson notes, the controversy “has allowed [Hillary Clinton’s] campaign to profit from the race issue, without actively stoking it.” Still, he concludes, yesterday’s speech “must rank as one of his most powerful testaments.”

“Dwight Eisenhower would do nicely” as a replacement for George W. Bush, Dan Gardner writes in the Ottawa Citizen. “A dreamer with sweet words would not.” But while Obama’s inexperience is often derided, Gardner sees ample evidence of a virtue that more than compensates—namely, a desire to inform himself about all sides of an argument, debate them, and adopt a position that’s as free from “politics and ideology” as possible. That alone would be a welcome change from the days of “incurious George,” Gardner believes.

Duly noted
“Canada’s niche as the leader of outerworldly robotics sits on display atop the planet’s most glamorous platform,” Don Martin writes in the Calgary Herald, referring to MacDonald Dettwiler’s Dextre, which was activated on the International Space Station yesterday. The company’s satellite technology, meanwhile, “was designed specifically to assert northern sovereignty, assess global warming’s impact on our crops, measure sea ice thickness and even spot submarines in shallow water.” As such, Martin asks, why would the government even consider “selling $430-million worth of taxpayer investment [in the company] south of the border for a $1.3-billion shareholder payday”?

The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford continues to report from the trial of three army reservists charged in the beating death of a Toronto man, Paul Croutch, and the assault of a woman who tried to intervene. She notes that two months shy of his 60th birthday, Croutch’s most prized worldly possessions were “two white cotton single-bed sheets; one white towel; … one dirty light blue polyester blanket with black trim; a watch and a wallet with several pieces of identification, some expired.” And he spent his last night on a park bench bisected by an armrest that “would render it difficult, if not impossible, for an adult to stretch out, and make it necessary to fold oneself up.”

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