Trapped in Jeffrey Simpson’s cocoon of fear

Chris Selley


Must-reads: Scott Taylor on Andrew Leslie; Doug Saunders on Afghan corruption; Greg Weston on waiting 25 years for helicopters; Margaret Wente on Obama; Jeffrey Simpson on productivity.

This is why we can’t have nice debates
The following topics are too contentious for federal politicians to risk talking about, pundits allege: free speech, immigration and productivity. And in the case of the Tories, pretty much everything else too.

Rex Murphy, writing in The Globe and Mail, is amazed that the Tories would be willing to “to declare Bill C-10, dealing with tax-credits that support the making of Canadian films, a matter of confidence,” but not even utter a peep about the “noxious blot on the central dynamic” of Canadian democracy that our various human rights commissions have become. But C-10 is about all sorts of other things too, of course—many of them, we suspect the government would argue, far more important than whether David Cronenberg’s Crash would have received funding under the new regulations. (We suspect a crushing majority of Canadians would agree it shouldn’t have, incidentally, but never mind the rubes.) The Harperites aren’t touching the human rights commissions, we suspect, because talking about them makes Canadians go crazy.

We can’t have a debate about the declining fortunes of immigrants to Canada “because political actors are afraid of alienating ethnic groups,” Jeffrey Simpson writes in the Globe. (We’d suggest it’s more basic: talking about immigration makes Canadians go crazy.) But those declining fortunes are a big part of the reason Statistics Canada’s new figures on middle class income stagnation look so bad, he insists. They’d have looked bad anyway, mind you, because of another debate politicians are too scared to have—the one over productivity. “And so we stagnate,” he concludes, “cocooned in our fear, while a few benefit from the current state of affairs, but most citizens do not.”

“All comparisons are odious,” says the Toronto Star‘s James Travers—including, presumably, the one he makes between Canada’s situation and the so-called “Dutch disease,” in which “resource exports … drive up [a] currency making other, often more sustaining, industries uncompetitive.” Things aren’t all that terrible here, he concedes. But, like just about everything in Travers’ universe, the oil boom and the automotive bust are intricately connected to all the unanswered questions over the RCMP’s role in the Conservative election victory in 2006. How? Why? Because politicians are in charge of both the economy and national institutions like the RCMP. (At this point, please imagine the sound of a quickly deflating balloon.)

On the occasion of Brenda Martin’s return to Canada, the Star‘s Thomas Walkom renews his objections to the government’s manifest unwillingness to extend the same degree of help to Canadians like Bashir Makhtal (imprisoned in Ethiopia), Abousfian Abdelrazik (imprisoned in Sudan) and Omar Khadr (imprisoned at Guantanamo). While lobbying Mexico City is a decidedly different thing than lobbying Addis Ababa or Khartoum, the point is fundamentally sound.

The Globe‘s Lawrence Martin angrily recaps the Tories’ most recent crimes against transparency, accountability, credibility and, particularly when it comes to Peter Van Loan, tolerability. He suggests “the fiery Scot, Doug Finley”—one of the two Tory media whizzes last seen fleeing a pack of journalists down a hotel fire escape—may be the guy who convinced Harper “to engage in the gutter politics that has alienated voters.”

Military intelligence
The Globe‘s Doug Saunders plumbs the depths of corruption in Afghanistan, from local leaders skimming hundreds of millions of dollars off the opium trade to the surprising number of disgraced government officials who pop up in similar positions some months later. The question is whether the government of Hamid Karzai—whose family are no angels on the corruption front, Saunders notes—is in a credibility death spiral among its citizens and in the international community, or whether the current state of affairs is a necessary stop on the road to transparency. “Gen. [Dan] McNeill, the U.S. commander of the NATO coalition, likened Mr. Karzai’s position to that of a second-tier soccer club with a weak bench,” Saudners writes. The west can complain about his corrupt appointees all it wants, in other words, but when he “turns to his bench,” McNeill asks, “what do you think he sees?”

Neither “domestic political pressure” nor “the threat of cross-examination” by lawyers for Croatian war crimes defendant Gen. Ante Gotovina could keep Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, one of Scott Taylor‘s primary candidates to replace Rick Hillier as Chief of Defence Staff, from testifying at Gotovina’s trial in The Hague. This is very much to his credit, Taylor writes in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. But some backup would be nice, considering the aspersions defence lawyers are casting on Leslie’s achievements. Eight years ago, after a British general questioned the Canadian Forces’ pluck, “Art Eggleton stood in the House of Commons, shook his little fist and shouted” in their defence. As such, Taylor writes, “one would expect to see a purple-headed Peter MacKay kicking over garbage cans and demanding apologies on behalf of our maligned soldiers … instead of meekly accepting Croatia’s membership into NATO last month.”

Sun Media’s Greg Weston looks at the latest chapter in Canada’s epic quarter-century quest for new helicopters, in which Sikorski has upped the “fixed price” by ten per cent and pushed back the delivery date by four years. Public Works Minsiter Michael Fortier is quite justifiably “going orbital” over the latest hiccup, Weston writes, but sources tell him “most people involved at the time [the contract was signed]—including Canadian defence and contracting officials—had to know Sikorski could never deliver its promised aircraft on time.” If only Jean Chrétien hadn’t cancelled those Cormorants…

Canadian soldiers contribute both to the Canada Pension Plan and to their military pensions, the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington notes, but at age 65 the CPP benefits are clawed back from the payments they get from the military. This makes no sense, he and many others quite logically argue, and ought to be changed.

Eat your sundae while ye may
Lysiane Gagnon
, writing in the Globe, begins with some rather pedestrian poll-grazing, noting that “no more than half of the Liberal supporters [in Quebec believe] that [Stéphane] Dion would be the best prime minister”—a phenomenon she terms “the black cherry on the melting sundae” of Liberal support. (Lovely image; no idea what it means. Is the black cherry poison?) She then switches gears and excoriates Canadian voters for installing these ghastly, do-nothing minority governments in Ottawa and Quebec City. Either we “like impotent governments,” she concludes, or we’re “just too indolent to face change.” Question for Ms. Gagnon: How many ballots do you cast in federal and provincial elections? Because we only get to cast one—and it’s secret to boot. Therefore, we accept no responsibility for the final tally.

Perhaps it all started going wrong for Mario Dumont on election night, L. Ian MacDonald muses in the Montreal Gazette, when “rather than giving a gracious and generous speech, calling for all parties to work together in a minority legislature, he delivered a mincing and sombre address.” Voters hate sore winners even more than sore losers, he argues. This presumably explains why the Action démocratique’s polling numbers peaked five whole months later. Hang on a tic—it doesn’t explain that at all! Well, never mind. It’s mostly just a Jean Charest puff-piece anyway, masquerading as a Dumont hit piece for the sake of (relative) novelty.

The Quebec Court of Appeal, “successive governments, federal and sovereignist alike,” federal politicians and “media watchdogs” finally seem willing to consign the ballots from the 1995 referendum to the shredder. The Gazette‘s Don MacPherson is not.

Dead ducks and Nova Scotians
The Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson accuses the provincial government of typically ham-handed crisis management in the case of Syncrude Canada Ltd. v. anas platyrhynchos. It “has been by turn secretive, defensive and combative,” he argues, “when it should have been simply sorry, sorry, sorry.” And what about Premier Ed Stelmach’s point that 30,000 or so birds die every year in the U.S. at the hands of wind turbines, which we thought was a rather trenchant bit of context? Thomson calls it “an oddly hard-hearted defence, akin to dismissing an airplane accident because more people die in car crashes every year.” Of course, it is illogical to go crazy over a single plane crash when so many people die in car accidents, but hey—it’s politics, we suppose. Perception rules. Go back to mourning the ducks, Canada.

The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe looks at Liberal industry critic Scott Brison’s attempts to fill pages of the next party platform with talk of “pouring money into research and development to promote clean-energy technologies,” standardizing environmental standards across the country, and generally “develop[ing] a cutting edge eco-economy.” If we don’t do it for environmental reasons, she argues, we could at least do it to be competitive in the new world economy.

In search of equality
Where Terence Corcoran took Statistics Canada to task for favouring individual over family income measurements, Lorne Gunter objects to their using income figures that exclude taxes to and benefits from the government. “The fact that the wealthiest 20 per cent in Canada are roaring ahead in some idealized, unreal, statistical Neverland”—i.e., where rich people don’t pay taxes and poor people don’t get money from the government—”is only of significance to people who are eager to feed their own prejudices about the uncaring ‘rich’ and the ‘invisible’ poor,” he writes in the Journal. And he wishes StatsCan would stop facilitating such “liberal-left” nonsense.

As the one-year anniversary of Jordan Manners’ shooting death at a Toronto high school approaches, the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford reports that principals in the troubled Jane-and-Finch area have a very basic request: “Feed our kids.” The neighbourhood is poor, it has nation-leading rates of diabetes and obesity and, Blatchford says, “there’s no mystery about what hunger does to a teen, smack in the middle of a time of enormous physical growth as well as surging hormones.” There’s no “straight line” between hungry teenagers and Manners’ death, she concedes—nor does she quite explain how they’re going to force teenagers to eat if they don’t want to—but it’s certainly true that “a child who is hungry can’t learn.”

The end of Israel?
Maclean’s has it the wrong way around” when it comes to Israel, George Jonas argues in the National Post. “Israel can survive without being a democracy. It’s democracy that may not survive in the Middle East without being Jewish.” How this relates to the rest of his column—about how Zionism was once popular among rabid anti-Semites—pretty much escapes us, we’re sorry to say.

“We may not see our destiny as inextricably linked with Israel’s,” Lorne Gunter writes in the Post, but “jihadis of every label” do. Thus, he predicts, if we comfy westerners ever gave up on Israel, said jihadis would quickly set about testing our willingness “to give up on Quebec, Mississauga, Michigan, Birmingham and the Paris suburbs.” Luckily, we know very few people who would support a wholesale takeover of Israel by militant Islamists, or who would be inclined to “give up” if such a thing were to occur.

From Indianapolis to Riyadh, via Tel Aviv
“All the hoopla surrounding this week’s primaries” is overshadowing Hillary Clinton’s “truly extraordinary” proposal “to extend the United States’s nuclear umbrella over” Israel and “friendly Arab states as well,” the Globe‘s John Ibbitson argues, likening it to a “Middle Eastern version of NATO.” This raises no end of questions, he notes—for example, is it “strategically appropriate to equate Riyadh with Indianapolis?” Would the rest of the real NATO “be invited to join”? Would these friendly Arab states trust that an attack on them really was the same as an attack on the U.S.? Indiana pales in significance by comparison, Ibbiston suggests

Barrack Obama can claim that Reverend Jeremiah Wright “has changed” until he’s blue in the face, says the Globe‘s Margaret Wente. But she suspects it’s Obama who changed—from a younger man preoccupied with “black identity” who found a home in Wright’s church into a politician who’s only too aware of how such “fiery rhetoric” can confuse his message of “transc[ending] race.” “We imagined that one man might be able to accomplish something an entire society could not,” Wente concludes. “Maybe that’s not his fault, but ours.”