You can’t beat the smooth, mellow flavour of a legally-produced cigarette

Must-reads: Barbara Yaffe on Insite; John Ivison on contraband smokes; Don MacPherson on corporate welfare bums; Graham Thomson on social funding in Alberta.

Ol’ Man Harper, he’s set in his ways
No drugs, no new ideas, no sassback—and put out that dodgy cigarette, you punk!

“Sadly,” writes the Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe, “the decision about Insite’s future will not be made based on what is good or bad for the addicts or for the city of Vancouver,” but instead “on political considerations.” Luckily, however, the preponderance of evidence is so supportive of the safe-injection site’s continued operation (even if only to study its efficacy further), and the advocacy from the medical, political and academic communities is so convincing, that “boarding up Insite would cost [the Tories] support.” Right-wing ideologues or not, says Yaffe, now “is not the time for Harper’s party, pretty well tied with Liberals in polls, to be making moves that could cost support.” This is all perfectly logical and faultlessly argued. The fly in the ointment is the Harperites’ well-established penchant for needlessly inflicting pain upon themselves.

The Harper gang “is all about old-time religion,” says The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin—”all boilerplate and old stuff, … as dated as an Ed Broadbent suit.” Don’t believe him? He’s got corroborating evidence. On the economy, it’s nothing but tax cuts, no matter how ill-advised; on foreign policy, we are apparently regressing towards “a First World War mindset.” Boss Harper cares not a whit for emerging superpowers like China, India and Brazil, he despises culture, he “cancelled the national daycare program.” To the best of our recollection, that program didn’t yet exist. But casting the Prime Minister and his minions as slavish adherents to conventional Ottawa wisdom is very much onside.

In today’s Ottawa, the Toronto Star‘s James Travers writes, people “with smarts and chutzpah lever limited institutional authority into sweeping informal influence. They slip though fissures to fill vacuums and shape policy.” Two such people, he contends, are outgoing Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier and the Auditor-General, Sheila Fraser. So far, so good. But while many observers complained about Hillier chipping away at the civilian oversight above him, we’re not quite sure why we should be alarmed at “how radically a sole actor can tilt the balance between democratic form and function” in Fraser’s case. As Travers says, her “criticism clings noticeably close to her mandate while staying away from sensation.” And she’s certainly found some big-time creepy-crawlies under some big-time rocks. What more can we reasonably ask of her office?

The National Post‘s John Ivison examines Stockwell Day’s thus-far futile attempts to secure American cooperation in the war on contraband tobacco, most of which is secreted across the border on the Akwesasne reserve by “organized criminal gangs.” Day has a high card to play, too—he “was at pains [in discussion with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff] to point out that cigarette and drug smuggling go hand-in-hand,” Ivison notes, which should have been a silver bullet. But the desire to avoid “confrontation” with natives seems just as strong south of the 49th parallel as it is to the north. At the moment, he concludes, Day’s request that we “please, please drive past smoke shacks selling 200 cigarettes in clear, plastic resealable bags for as little as $6 and instead fork over $75-$90 for legal cartons” actually seems less far-fetched than attacking the source of the problem.

Now it’s really, really over
The Globe‘s John Ibbitson lines up “the arguments Clinton supporters are making to the superdelegates, as she struggles to keep her campaign alive,” and knocks them down one by one. Obama can’t “win the white working-class vote”? Well, Clinton can’t win the “educated and more affluent” vote, so there. Why not hang on at least until May 31, when the Democrats will meet “to discuss what, if anything, to do about Florida and Michigan”? There’s nothing practical to do about Florida and Michigan, says Ibbitson. Or at least until June 3, when the last primary is held? “Oh, there are so many problems with this one,” Ibbitson chides. Most of the remaining states are small, he notes, and Obama’s going to win the biggest of them anyway. Please, Mrs. Clinton, just take your husband and go home.

That’s all well and good, says the Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington, but it’s not going to help either of Obama or Clinton take care of John McCain—particularly since “middle-class, white America is nervous about voting for Obama as president” and because exit polls show fans of both candidates willing to stay home or vote for McCain if they don’t get their way. “The best hope for internal reconciliation would be if Hillary and Obama were on the same ticket,” Worthington suggests, “but Obama would need a saliva test if he chose Hillary … because that would put Bill back into the administration with nothing to do but make mischief.” (We’re not sure what a “saliva test” is, but we assume it tests for insanity.)

Regional news
A “circus of 30 reporters and camera operators … showed up complete with live satellite trucks for a Greenpeace news conference” about the world-famous dead ducks of the Alberta oil sands, the Edmonton Journal‘s Graham Thomson fumes, while just “a couple of television cameras” and “half a dozen reporters” made it out to hear about a full-blown funding and staffing crisis at the Alberta Association of Services for Children and Families—a crisis that exists across the entire field of social work in the province, Thomson claims. Government promises thus far are “perhaps enough to increase wages by 30 cents an hour” in the non-profit sector, he estimates, but “they need 10 times that much to attract and retain workers.” In the meantime, it’s the most vulnerable who suffer.

The Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson provides an entertaining account of a good news story for the Quebec Liberals—Morgan Stanley’s decision to invest $200 million in a software development centre in Montreal—gone bad. While the Investissements Québec promised the development would entail “up to” 500 jobs, it turned out that 200 of them already existed. Despite that, it emerged that the company would reap the benefits of a new provincial tax credit offering salary rebates for new business investments. In fact, MacPherson notes, Vidéotron created a whole new subsidiary company, and planned to send 100 of its employees to work at it, just to take advantage of this rebate. “Now,” MacPherson he, with noticeable glee, “the government has to decide whether it will withhold a handout from a would-be corporate welfare bum from Quebec, while letting one from New York keep it.”

Duly noted
The Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall expects the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to disseminate the myriad “stories, bad and not-as-bad alike,” that comprise the history of Canada’s residential school system for native children—from previously reported physical and sexual abuse to allegations of “unreported deaths” and negligent anti-tuberculosis efforts at the schools. “Critics … suggest that … we are not like South Africa,” Bagnall comments. “But to each country its own version of the process: If we learn about our shared history, including this dark chapter, and reaffirm our commitment to human rights, it will have been worth every cent.”

The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui travels to Sri Lanka and finds distressing parallels between the government’s war on Tamil extremism and the worldwide War on Terror: “The patriotism of critics is constantly questioned. Caskets coming from the front are not allowed to be filmed. Journalists and other observers are barred from the front lines. Human rights violations are brushed aside, perpetrators never prosecuted.” We see one, maybe one-and-a-half, legitimate parallels there, not that that changes the fact that ordinary Tamils are suffering as the government in Colombo strives “to crush the [Tamil] Tigers.” “This has been tried before,” Siddiqui laments, “with no success.”

Having spent $65 for a tank of gas one too many times, the Globe‘s Margaret Wente now believes that in 20 years, her SUV will look as ridiculous as the power suits and shoulder pads she “used to wear in the 1980s” do now. “Urban moms drive them because they’re not minivans,” she opines, while “men drive them because they’re not station wagons.” But as cash flies out of her wallet and she debates between “a Yaris and a hybrid Civic,” the awful truth has finally dawned on her. “SUVs are the new station wagons—bourgeois behemoths that only aging people drive.” (For the record, we like station wagons. Very practical, even for the young.)

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