Wake us up when we get to the Third World

Must-reads: Dan Gardner on gas prices and climate change; Terence Corcoran on the income gap; Daphne Bramham on women in Iraq; Colby Cosh on Albert Hofmann.

Death of the Canadian dream
Statistics Canada’s latest figures on income equality send Canada’s op-ed pages into a highly predictable tizzy. Our kingdom for a universally agreed-upon definition of poverty!

Terence Corcoran, writing in the National Post, accuses StatsCan of fomenting “class warfare” with its news release, which he says focused too heavily on the changes in earnings of individual low-, middle- and high-income Canadians since 1980. “Media Web sites flamed with indignation over the growing rich-poor earnings gap,” he notes, but family income provides, in the words of StatsCan’s media guy, “a better picture” of the real situation. (The report itself has plenty of information about family incomes, for the record.) “In 1980,” Corcoran notes, “the lowest 20% of families had income of $21,134. By 2005, the lowest group earned $24,379, for a gain of $3,245 or 15%.” As such, he suggests cancelling the Les Misérables revival.

Alas, the Toronto Star‘s David Olive already has tickets. He argues that the Canada represented in yesterday’s report—with its 3.5 million residents, 900,000 of them children, “liv[ing] in poverty”—”would be unrecognizable to social-justice pioneers Tommy Douglas, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.” And he says the “stagnation” in the earnings of middle-income Canadians is nothing short of a “crisis,” suggesting we could soon join the United States among the world’s “richest Third World nation[s].” This strikes us as just a wee bit over the top. And it remains incredibly frustrating to see people like Olive automatically equate the “low income” measurement—the source of the 3.5 million and 900,000 figures—with poverty, against StatsCan’s expressed wishes.

The Star‘s Thomas Walkom, meanwhile, has appointed himself Canada’s first Psychoanalyst Laureate. “In the fictional universe created by Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien,” he ventures, “we would be Hobbits—daring when necessary but otherwise cautious and just a bit square, a people who aspire to a life that is comfortable but without ostentation.” “Untrammelled success” is all well and good for those ghastly Americans, he continues, but “the Canadian dream consists of decent holidays and a house in Etobicoke.” And thanks to the decline in unionization, the government’s failure to tackle outsourcing, and plain old plutocratic greed, as Statistics Canada has now shown us, that dream is dying.

Hey, Saskatchewan—got any spare change?
Just when we were getting used to the idea of being part of the newly indolent Ontario (we haven’t showered in days!), the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe adds her voice to the chorus arguing that the current equalization formula—under which Canadians are asked to believe “a province that accounts for 40 per cent of Canada’s GDP [is] needy”—is hopelessly flawed. Scrapping equalization entirely is out of the question because it would make Quebec politicians cry, she notes, so “the challenge for have nots [under a modified equalization formula] will be to spend prudently and nurture economies that suit the times.” Alberta, meanwhile, ought to stop “behaving like a drunken cowboy, doling out cash in ways that clearly wouldn’t be sustainable should its oil bounty become depleted or unmarketable.”

Oh, great. Now The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson is imploring the Rest of Canada to care about us. Our decline isn’t a relative phenomenon, he insists—not just the province doing well, in other words, but not as well as Alberta. “Ontario now is falling in absolute terms, too.” The province still absorbs the lion’s share of new immigrants and “bears the brunt of immigration (and refugee) policy failures,” he notes. Flotillas of Chinese automobiles are threatening to descend on Windsor and Oshawa, we still have to pay for massive nuclear cost overruns before we undertake massive new nuclear investments, and health care costs are soaring. Sure, he concedes, we voted for the clowns responsible for all this. But “when a country’s largest province and big paymaster staggers,” Simpson chides the RoC, “the effects extend beyond its borders.”

In today’s performance, the role of Winston Churchill will be played by, um, Stéphane Dion
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Susan Riley reports that Liberal MP John Godfrey—who, perhaps tellingly, is about to flee the House of Commons forever—thinks Canada is ready for an “adult conversation” on just what it’s going to take to tackle climate change. But “changing our habits, paying more for energy, slowing down or halting further oil sands development, [and accepting] job losses in some regions and sectors” will be a mighty tough sell for any political leader, she argues, especially up against “the old politics, perfected by the Harper team, based on fanning fear, provoking divisions and parroting shopworn ideological certainties.” What we need, Godfrey suggests, is someone like Winston Churchill to sell it to us. So, you know, if you encounter anyone like that, please buy him or her a bus ticket to Ottawa.

The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner, meanwhile, has devised a foolproof test to identify politicians who are “pandering jackasses”—namely, whether they claim to support the war on climate change but also pledge to tackle high gasoline prices. “Very simply, high and rising gas prices will reduce emissions,” he writes. “Thus, anyone serious about climate change must support high and rising gas prices. There’s no way around it.” Politicians failing the test include John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper. A passing grade goes to Dalton McGuinty, and an incomplete to Stéphane Dion, who doesn’t seem to have said anything about gas prices at all. (Alternatively, Gardner concedes, it may just be that “no one pays attention to what he says.”)

Hope under fire
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson explains the unenviable situation in which Barack Obama finds himself in states like Indiana—an underdog, besieged at all times by negativity from the Clinton camp but supported by thousands of young idealists who might very well jump ship if he went negative himself. Further compounding the situation, Ibbitson notes, is that “there aren’t enough of [the young idealists] to counter the dominating power of the middle-aged masses who still control the political process.”

Some of Obama’s more “star-struck supporters” seemed to expect “a miraculous laying on of hands and an instant, complete national cure” to the United States’ racial divisions, John Robson writes in the Citizen. This was fatuous even before Rev. Jeremiah Wright turned out to be an unhinged merchant of hate and despair, he argues, but it’s especially fatuous now that we know Obama, for all his audacious hope, did not find Wright’s sermons “walk-out-of-the-room outrageous.” None of this unwelcome realism need be fatal to Obama’s campaign, however, Robson hastens to add. “Right now [he] is looking like a devious man but, when cornered, a healer,” he concludes. “I’ll take it.”

Duly noted
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham looks at the deteriorating conditions women have faced in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s ouster, and recommends a forthcoming documentary as an interesting examination of whether democracy is compatible with Islam—i.e., whether it can be “something other than liberal and secular.”

Colby Cosh, writing in the Post, looks back at the career of the chemist Albert Hofmann, inventor of drugs used to this day to prevent everything from dementia, obstetrical bleeding and migraines, but best known for his “problem child,” known in the lab as lysergic acid diethylamide.

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