By Andrew Coyne - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 113 Comments
Whatever their motives might be, the CBC’s antagonists are, on the whole, right
There is an undeniably sinister quality to the apparently coordinated campaign of harassment currently under way against the CBC. Were it just occasional sniping from the Tory backbench, were it simply the Quebecor/Sun Media empire beating its favourite hobby horse, were the National Citizens Coalition merely on one of its crusades—were it even all three together—you might call it business as usual.
But when you consider the links between these different organizations—the Prime Minister’s former communications director Kory Teneycke is vice-president of Sun News Network, while the director of the NCC is the former Conservative candidate and online maven Stephen Taylor—the whole thing takes on a different cast. At what point do we conclude that this relentless public mauling at the hands of government MPs and their private sector proxies is intended not merely to expose the CBC to proper scrutiny as a public agency, but to intimidate it in its function as a news organization?
The problem the CBC faces is that whatever their motives might be, its antagonists are, on the whole, right (you should pardon the expression). They are right in terms of the immediate controversy, i.e., whether the corporation is obliged to comply with access to information requests, even from its competitors: clearly, under the law, it must. While the law makes exception for certain types of documents, it cannot be up to the CBC alone to decide which documents qualify for this exception, as a court has lately ruled.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, December 5, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 2 Comments
On Europe’s crisis, ﬁghting inﬂation, and his new job heading the financial stability board
He’s among the most respected voices anywhere on ﬁnancial regulation and monetary policy, and the Canadian closest to the centre of efforts to solve the European debt crisis. Governor of the Bank of Canada since 2008, Mark Carney, 46, was also recently named head of the Swiss-based Financial Stability Board. He’s a leading ﬁgure in the struggle to shore up a fragile world economy.
Q: Let’s talk about Europe. You hear people saying we may be in the last days of the euro. What is the way out of this crisis?
A:Let me say two things. One, there are longer-term issues that absolutely have to be addressed. They have to rework the way the monetary union functions—fundamental questions of competitiveness in these economies—which require multi-year reform programs. Those absolutely have to be done for this thing to work in the medium term—and there’s no point saving it in the short term, if it’s not going to work in the medium term. But in terms of creating the bridge so there’s time to do all of that, we have long advocated that they create a mechanism—a ﬁrewall—that ensures that all eurozone countries can fund themselves at sustainable rates for the next two, three years. And that is a requirement that is at least on the order of a trillion euros.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, November 28, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 37 Comments
Andrew Coyne on an institution that’s largely irrelevant and increasingly impotent
This year’s Parliamentarians of the Year awards were, as ever, a grand occasion, and while I’d quibble with one or two choices, the recipients were all deserving enough. The premise of the event is a good one: there are decent, conscientious people in politics who take Parliament seriously and treat each other with respect, and it is worth recognizing them, if only to encourage others to follow their example.
Yet it was hard to escape a certain rage-against-the-darkness feeling about the whole thing. We can point to this or that exemplary individual, but it does not change the reality that Parliament is dying. Largely irrelevant, increasingly impotent, it is treated with contempt by those in power, matched only by the indifference of the general public.
The institution is caught in a death spiral, wherein each new assault on its prerogatives makes the argument for the next. The more degraded it becomes, the harder it is to rally people to its defence: it’s only Parliament, after all. So even after an unprecedented seven invocations of “time allocation”—a politer form of closure—to cut off debate in as many weeks, it wasn’t until Pat Martin’s foul-mouthed outburst on Twitter last Wednesday that the press gallery, who are paid to pay attention, could rouse themselves to make an issue of it. But their enthusiasm soon passed. All it took was last Thursday’s question period: by common consent the worst in years. Who, in all seriousness, could mount a defence of Parliament’s right to debate who had actually watched Parliament in debate?
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 52 Comments
COYNE: The assumption the Liberals have a guaranteed place in Canadian politics is obsolete
The best way to understand the situation facing the Liberals is to think of the party as a hockey team. It has won several Stanley Cups in a row, but by the last of those cups, it was relying on a clutch of 43-year-old veterans. With their retirement, the team has no option but to spend a few seasons in the basement, rebuilding. If it learns patience, while the draft picks mature and the losses mount, the team may in time become a winner again. If it does not, it becomes the Leafs.
It is still not clear whether the party fully understands the predicament it is in. To be sure, it understands it lost the last election, and lost badly: the worst defeat in its history. But even if Liberals grasp the magnitude of their defeat, they do not seem to grasp its implications.
A case in point is the “road map to renewal” the party’s national executive released last week. The document is properly proud of Liberal achievements, and properly bracing about the task ahead. Yet it remains ﬁxed in the belief that nothing fundamental has changed for the party, or needs to. It just has to do the same things, better: better fundraising, better organizing, better communications, better outreach.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, November 14, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 7 Comments
Carney understands that policy isn’t just about making new rules
At 46, Mark Carney manages to look both younger and older than his years. This is fitting, as his approach to the economy combines a commitment to old-fashioned central bankerly verities—sound money, prudent risks—with a modish flexibility as to how these are to be secured.
That has been an unavoidable necessity in what we should perhaps now refer to as his day job, as governor of the Bank of Canada. Gone are the days when central bankers could simply focus on keeping the so-called monetary aggregates—M1, M2, all the gang—to a fixed annual growth rate, as monetarists had advised. While this approach had succeeded in reining in the Great Inflation of the 1970s and ’80s, it eventually fell victim to Goodhart’s law, named for a former adviser to the Bank of England: namely, that the moment you target any particular measure of the money supply it loses its usefulness—because people in financial markets find ways to innovate around the constraint. Central bankers have since had to steer by a variety of other measures, even as the overall objective—stable prices—has remained unchanged.
The lesson of that experience, that policy does not consist in simply issuing a set of rules, but rather exists as a continuing process of interaction between the regulators and the regulated, appears to inform Carney’s views on the causes of the financial crisis, and how to prevent another—a subject that will be his focus in his new, part-time job as chairman of the Financial Stability Board, the international body tasked with coordinating and overseeing the reform of global banking regulations. In speeches and interviews the governor has given, a number of related themes and concerns emerge. Among them:
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 12 Comments
What’s the result of the hundreds of billions of dollars the government spends on innovation? Bupkes.
For more than 30 years, people have been sounding the alarm at Canada’s disturbing decline in relative productivity, at our appalling lack of innovation, at a record of investment in R & D that can only be described as depraved. And for more than 30 years, governments have been doing something about it.
Have they ever. The federal government helps industry to innovate to the tune of $5 billion every year, delivered through more than 60 programs spread across 17 different agencies: the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), the Business Development Program (BDP), the Technology Demonstration Program (TDP), the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI), the Automotive Innovation Fund (AIF), the Strategic Network Grants (SNG), the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR), the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE), the Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence (BL-NCE), the Centres for Strategic Research on Innovative Technology Networks (okay, I made that one up), on and acronymically on. And that’s just the feds. There are hundreds more innovation programs at the provincial level, and who knows how many others lurking among the nation’s municipalities and universities. The agricultural sector in Ontario alone requires no fewer than 45 such programs, courtesy of seven federal and provincial departments. All on top of the flagship federal tax incentive, the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit. Altogether, Canada is reckoned to provide among the most generous systems of R & D support in the world, behind only Spain and France.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, October 31, 2011 at 5:27 PM - 82 Comments
Weeks after the whole sorry mess began, we’re still being treated to deep thinkers pronouncing upon the Occupy gatherings as if they meant something Deeply Significant. This piece in the Vancouver Sun is a classic of the genre: inequality soaring, incomes stagnating, etc etc. All of which would be terribly concerning if there were any factual basis for it.
I’ve tried to deal with this elsewhere in prose, but sometimes there’s just nothing like a graph. Here, then, courtesy of Statistics Canada, is that runaway trend towards a society divided into haves and have nots, the “growing gap” you’ve been hearing all about:
Appalling, isn’t it? Why, in less than 20 years, the share of pre-tax incomes going to the top 20% has soared from 50% to … 52%. If this trend keeps up, by 2031 it will still be in the low 50s.
For those who’d like to check, the graph is from StatsCan’s CANSIM database. The numbers in HTML form are here (look under “All Family Units”), or you can have a look at my spreadsheet here. Continue…
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, October 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 14 Comments
Keeping meddling politicians out of the shipbuilding contract decision worked. Is there a lesson here?
The Conservatives are most anxious that everyone should know what an independent and impartial process was used to decide the recent competition for $33 billion in federal shipbuilding work. And by all accounts it was. Ministers were kept far away from the file. The task of assessing the competing bids, from shipyards in B.C., Halifax and Quebec, was left to a team of senior civil servants. A “fairness monitor” vouched for their handiwork, with the help of two outside auditors. And so on.
All of which would be a lot more impressive if a) it had not already been decided at the political level that no foreign shipyards would be allowed to compete, reserving the bidding to a handful of high-priced domestic yards, b) it had not similarly been decided in advance that the work would be divided between two yards, meaning two of the three bidders were guaranteed to win something, and c) one of the three, Quebec’s near-bankrupt Davie Yards, had not been shoehorned into the bidding at the last minute thanks to a political decision to extend the deadline. Indeed, it is hard to escape the impression that all this scrupulousness was based less on principle and more on protecting the government from the inevitable blowback from whichever province lost, naming no Quebecs.
But why quibble? It would be a stretch to say the best bid won, but at least the worst bid lost, which is a lot better than these things usually play out. Indeed, the process was such a success some have been moved to ask: why don’t we do this . . . all the time? If it is a good thing to keep politicians’ thumbs off the scales on a major shipbuilding contract, why is it not also a good thing to get the politics out of procurement generally? Not only would it spare the taxpayer needless expense, but it would spare the country the regional resentments, lobbying wars and suspicions of corruption that go with most such decisions.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, October 24, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 234 Comments
Andrew Coyne on why the Occupy Wall Street movement has it wrong
Was there ever a more ersatz political movement than that which purported to “occupy” Canadian cities over the last week? The Occupy Wall Street protest on which it was modelled may betray the same cartoonish understanding of the world, but it at least reflects the genuine despair felt by many people in a country with a number of deep and serious problems: a housing collapse that left millions with homes worth less than their mortgages; a financial sector that, having lent the money to buy these homes to people who couldn’t afford them, then resold the bad loans via opaquely bundled securities to others—then had to be bailed out when the whole house of cards collapsed; high and seemingly intractable levels of unemployment, poverty at a 17-year record, declining social mobility, and a general stalling in income growth. The reasons for these may be debated, but if you lived in the United States, you would have good reason to be ticked.
By contrast, well, let’s just run down the list, shall we? Canada did not have a housing bubble, hence had no housing collapse, nor the resulting epidemic of mortgage failures. Our banks did not get overextended, did not have to be bailed out, and are lending, again unlike the U.S. banks, at a good clip. Unemployment is not rising in Canada, but has been falling steadily for more than two years: at 7.1 per cent, it is still above its pre-recession lows, but remains lower than at virtually any other time since the 1960s. Ditto for poverty: even when measured against a moving target like Statistics Canada’s low income cut-off, it is just off its 40-year low, at 9.6 per cent, from a peak of 15 per cent in the mid 1990s.
The observed stagnation of income growth in recent decades is more a phenomenon of periodic recessions, and associated spikes in unemployment, than a generalized inability to get ahead. Outside of recession years, median incomes have in fact grown steadily. In the long boom from 1993 to 2008, for example, median family income grew by 21.5 per cent after inflation. Indeed, it is hard to reconcile the supposed stalling of living standards with the spread in ownership of a wide range of household appliances that were once affordable only to the few. Since 1980, the percentage of Canadian homes with a dishwasher, for example, has more than doubled, from less than 30 per cent to 60 per cent. Fewer than one in 10 homes had a microwave oven in 1980; today it is upwards of 90 per cent. Washing machines, colour televisions, computers, cellphones and so on: the trend is the same.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 7:40 AM - 20 Comments
From mere number-crunching marvels, Jobs made computers into tools for the artistic imagination
When I was growing up, the world was in the grip of what was then called the Computer Age. Computers, everyone knew, were where things were going. And so we were all given training in computer science to prepare us for the Jobs of Tomorrow, which as everyone knew were in computer programming.
To program a computer meant poking little holes in punch cards, stacks and stacks and stacks of them, which you then handed in to the computer lab. When your turn came in the queue, they would feed your stack of cards into the computer; you would get your homework back the next day in the form of a printout. If, as often happened, you had made some small mistake—somewhere—and the computer, bafﬂed, had responded with a string of hysterical gibberish, you simply repeated the whole fiddling, nitpicking exercise.
And for most of us, that was that. The premise, that we were all going to be computer programmers, was false, and we knew it. Computers were for geeks, science fiction enthusiasts and others even further beyond the pale. Though in some ways my own mildly obsessive-compulsive nature made me a natural for it, my teenage identity was even then coalescing around the idea that I was actually some kind of artsie, or at least destined for the humanities.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, October 7, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 79 Comments
Andrew Coyne on the big leads squandered by the Manitoba and Ontario Tories
Six months ago, the Progressive Conservative parties of Ontario and Manitoba were riding high. A Winnipeg Free Press poll in March gave the Conservatives a 12-point lead over the incumbent NDP, 47 to 35. The trend in Ontario was broadly similar: a March Nanos poll put the Conservatives nine points ahead, while as late as June, a Toronto Star poll had them 15 points up.
Yet the Manitoba Tories were defeated Tuesday, and the Ontario Tories suffered the same fate. What happened?
Neither could pretend they were up against an insurmountably popular leader. Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal premier of Ontario, was regarded as such a liability for his party—a poll in March put his approval rating at 16 per cent, just slightly ahead of Jean Charest among premiers—that they began the campaign with ads featuring McGuinty talking about how unpopular he was. Greg Selinger, the former NDP finance minister turned premier of Manitoba, was often compared to Paul Martin or Gordon Brown: solid enough, but without the popular touch of his predecessor, in this case the invincibly likeable Gary Doer.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 4:26 PM - 11 Comments
Jobs’s story reminds us not only of the heroism of the entrepreneur, but of the nobility of craft
Someone was on CNN last night comparing Steve Jobs to Edison, Ford and Disney in one, and for once it didn’t seem like the usual Apple fanboy hype. Jobs had Edison’s flair for innovation (and his ruthlessness in exploiting others’ ideas), Ford’s concern for process, and Disney’s sense of the culture.
So much of what the computer became was made possible or driven by Apple that it’s difficult to separate the two, just as it’s difficult to separate Apple’s story from Jobs’s. Often he wasn’t the first, but he took things that others had tried and failed with and made them succeed, by doing them better (Microsoft’s formula was a little different: it took things that others had done first and did them worse.)
His emphasis on the primacy of design, his fanatical attention to detail, his strategic vision—standing by the closed, proprietary, all-in-one model even after it had been “proved” wrong, long enough to see it triumphantly vindicated—would make him a business legend quite apart from any innovative wonders. That’s significant not only for Apple, but America—at a time when the Big Three and other long-time industrial titans were being eclipsed by foreign competition, often from low-wage economies, Jobs showed how advanced economies could still compete: by innovation, design, quality. And of course, marketing: there really was none better at delivering the sizzle with the steak.
And there’s the sociological impact: more than anyone else, Jobs made technology cool, and not just technology but business itself. I can’t remember young adults discussing business strategy, back when I was one of them, with the intensity that today’s young adults do about Apple’s, at least among the tech-minded. But these days that’s just about everybody. He not only made geeks hip, but made everyone into a geek, at least a bit—including, not insignificantly, women, who in the computer age’s early years would have not been caught dead using a computer, should anyone have thought to ask them.
Before Apple, the scientific and artistic worlds rarely intersected. After, a “techie” was as often as not a creative type. With a Mac, technology could be used not only to make things, but works of the imagination. Artists, musicians, photographers, film makers, even writers—one by one, they all entered the digital world.
I can’t think of any other business figure whose death would have prompted such widespread mourning, especially among people you would not ordinarily have thought would have any interest in business. One well-known tech-girl tweeted last night that she was hugging her MacBook Air while she watched the TV coverage. I don’t think it was just because he made great products. I think it’s the vision he offered of what business could be, what it could mean—that being in business could be a meaningful way to spend your life. Jobs’s story reminds us not only of the heroism of the entrepreneur, but of the nobility of craft: of what an honourable activity it is to make useful, beautiful things for each other, even if you make a fortune doing it. .
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 4:30 PM - 8 Comments
COYNE: You’d think provinces would not have to be bribed to act in their own interest
So the harmonization comedy continues. Scant weeks after the people of British Columbia, in a magnificent fit of self-destructive fury, voted to unharmonize their provincial sales tax from the now-misnamed Harmonized Sales Tax, word came that talks between Ottawa and Quebec on a plan to compensate the province for harmonizing its own tax were at an impasse.
You could tell the talks were at an impasse because the two sides put out a press release announcing the talks were going swimmingly. “HST and QST harmonization,” it read: “Discussions proceeding normally.” And so they were, if by “normally” you mean sailing past the Sept. 15 deadline for an agreement to which the federal Conservatives had pledged themselves in the recent election campaign. The most they would say now is that they hoped to have a deal by the end of the month.
Mind you, it was always a mystery just what they had to talk about, the feds having already promised, publicly and often, to yield to Quebec’s demands. They’d even named the figure, $2.2 billion—by a remarkable coincidence, the very sum the Charest government had asked for at the start. What was there left to negotiate?
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 19 Comments
Who said Canadian history was devoid of excitement?
Chances are you missed it, but something quite significant happened on the CBC Monday night. Indeed, I may say it was an event of some importance in the life of the nation: the historical drama John A: Birth of a Country. It is rare enough to see any Canadian history on Canadian television, and rarer still something of this quality. There have been subtler dramas, there have been more exact histories, but this is the finest historical drama to appear on the CBC since The National Dream almost 40 years ago.
Explaining the road to Confederation through the personal and political battle between Sir John A. Macdonald and George Brown, it should dispel forever a pernicious myth: that Canada’s founding, like much of its history, was a dry bit of horse-trading, devoid of interest or excitement. On the contrary, as any viewer of John A will be convinced, it was the creation of men of extraordinary passion and conviction, driven by personal ambition but guided by their own greatness toward an end much larger than themselves. The last half-hour, in particular, is simply riveting: the scene where Macdonald seeks to persuade Brown to join his cabinet—on his terms—is a study in psychological and political acuity.
That the show brings Macdonald so vividly to life (Shawn Doyle is marvellous in the part, wobbly accent notwithstanding) is an achievement, though not entirely surprising: he remains one of the richest, most colourful subjects in all of political history, a brawling, drunken, cheerfully unscrupulous rebuke to the whole “Peace, Order and Good Government” theory of Canada’s development, which has bored two generations of Canadian schoolchildren.
But we know Macdonald was great. Of much more significance is the treatment of Brown, at last restored to his true position in the historical firmament, second only to Macdonald among the Fathers of Confederation, and perhaps not even second. It is to Brown that we owe much of the design of the country: not only his famous insistence on “rep by pop,” or representation by population (apparently still a controversial idea), but the very principle of federalism, against the unitary state that was Macdonald’s dream. And it was his momentous decision to cross the floor, joining Macdonald in the grand coalition that would pursue federation with the other scattered colonies of British North America, that made the whole enterprise possible. All that we are, everything this country has become, can be traced to that supreme act of statesmanship.
Yet in popular terms at least, he remains very much the forgotten man of Canadian history. There are no highways or airports named for him, as there are for Macdonald and his Quebec lieutenant, George-Étienne Cartier. The last major biography him was J. M. Careless’s—52 years ago. He simply does not fit into the dominant, Macdonald-centred view of Canadian history as an orderly series of public works projects. He was a Victorian liberal: reform-minded, pro free trade, skeptical of government, with unfortunate (though by no means unusual for his time) views of Catholics and the French. As such he was an inconvenience, and so was made largely to disappear. With any luck, John A, and Peter Outerbridge’s doughty performance as George Brown, will begin to change that.
Good as it is, I do not see John A as an argument for public broadcasting (the question is not whether I like a particular show, but whether I can justify forcing others to pay for my pleasures; the subscription model, à la HBO, has more to recommend it, both on artistic and philosophical grounds). But if we are going to have public broadcasting, surely this is exactly the sort of thing it should be doing. Which makes it a mystery why the CBC should seem so intent on burying it. It’s bad enough that it has taken the corporation decades to produce a show on this, the single most important event in our history, but it has thus far committed only to this first instalment in what I gather was planned to be a four-part series on Macdonald’s life (drawing on Richard J. Gwyn’s shrewd biography, John A: The Man Who Made Us). For goodness sake, we’re only up to 1864: the adventure has barely begun.
What’s truly unforgiveable, however, is the lack of promotion. At a time when the network is blanketing the airwaves with ads for Battle of the Blades and other bilge, you’d think it could spare some of its PR budget for a project as important as this. Yet people working at the CBC were unaware it existed until a week ago. If the corporation were in any doubt of what it had on its hands (it shouldn’t: the producer, Bernard Zukerman, has a proven track record, as does director Jerry Ciccoritti and writer Bruce Smith) it cannot be now.
It is just too much like the CBC to turn what ought to have been a moment of triumph into a fiasco. Fortunately, there is a remedy. We’ve seen the pilot. Now green-light the rest of the series. Give it a decent time slot. And maybe tell the odd person it’s on.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 6 Comments
The election talk in Ontario over “foreign workers” has reached a new level of “huh?”
Every now and then the province of Ontario takes leave of its collective senses. Grown men jump at shadows. House cats are conjured into dragons. For a time it seems as if the only thought on anyone’s mind is the length of their own toenails. We call these periods “elections.”
Just now this province of 13 million souls is preoccupied with a vast and far-reaching proposal on the part of the governing Liberals to give every new job that comes up to a foreign worker. You read that right: if the Liberals are re-elected, they will make the province’s unemployed sit at home—I believe the slogan is “Ontarians need not apply”—presumably until the supply of foreign workers is exhausted. Indeed, so determined are the Liberals to see these itinerant labourers take over the province that they are actually paying employers to hire them: $10,000 a job.
Quite why the Liberals should wish to do this is unclear, but I have it on no less authority than the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. The party has been blanketing the province with advertisements to that effect, while its leader, Tim Hudak, hammers the point home at every opportunity.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, September 9, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 42 Comments
Andrew Coyne on why this is a case where two and two sum to a good deal less than four
At the height of last week’s frenzy of speculation, argumentation, insinuation and accusation over the possibilities of a Liberal-NDP merger, I half expected to see the headline: “Opposition divided over unity.” Not only were the parties no closer to agreeing on a merger than at any time in the past: the suggestion seemed if anything more likely to divide each of the parties in two.
Those who dream of uniting the “progressive” vote under a single party should take heed. The premise that there is a natural anti-Conservative majority just waiting to be consolidated may appear to make arithmetic sense—the Conservatives having obtained just less than 40 per cent of the vote in the last election—but rests upon a misreading of politics, of history, and of human nature. Whether we are talking about the parties themselves, or their support in the electorate at large, this is a case where two and two sum to a good deal less than four.
The voters first. The assumption underlying the merger argument is that the votes of the two parties can simply be added together. This assumes, in turn, not only that the two have more in common than divides them—that their voters really do vote against the Conservatives, rather than for either party—but also that each party’s supporters could be herded obediently into the merger corral. It assumes, in other words, both that voters have no particular loyalty to either party, and that they are so loyal as to remain in the fold even after both have been extinguished.
By Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells - Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 12 Comments
Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells debate the successes and failures of the world’s response after 9/11 and how safe we are today
ANDREW COYNE: Perhaps the best way to think about the legacy of Sept. 11 is to think of all the things that haven’t happened. Most obviously, there has been no successful terrorist attack on American soil since then—nor any attempted attack originating from Canadian soil. Neither have there been any of the consequences that might well have followed from a second, possibly worse attack, or in some cases were predicted to follow from the first: no wholesale victimization of Muslims, no long, black night of repression of dissent, no cataclysmic clash of civilizations, and so on.
This is of more than theoretical interest. If, 10 years later, al-Qaeda seems a depleted force, there was no guarantee things would turn out that way, nor did it seem likely at the time. Reviewing television footage from the day, what is striking is the sense of bewilderment in the voices of the normally phlegmatic anchormen, as the planes keep dropping out of the sky. Who could blame them? As of about noon that day, you could have told me California had fallen into the sea and I’d have believed you.
The audacity of attacking the world’s most powerful nation in such spectacular, head-on fashion still has the power to shock. More than anything else, Sept. 11 was a show of strength: look what we can do to you, it announced. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, September 2, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 40 Comments
Andrew Coyne on how Layton inspired the public even in the shadow of death
In ancient Athens, attendance at the theatre was compulsory. The theatre was where the politics of the polis were acted out—not in the everyday sense of how to collect the garbage, but of what it was to be a man: social being, plaything of the gods, contested ground of character. It was the duty of the citizen legislator to watch, and reflect.
If the theatre is no longer where we conduct our politics, politics remains a kind of theatre: not only the arena for deciding who should have power, but a stage on which we see acted out great questions of character and judgment, some of which might find some echo in our own lives. We watch the players struggle—against each other, against their fates, against themselves—and we reflect.
So it was as we watched Jack Layton dying. It is his death, of course, that the last week was about. Had we been marking merely his retirement from politics, and not his passing from the Earth, there would not have been anything like the same reaction. That he was a fine man, dedicated to important causes, decent with others; that he had a successful career, a loving family, in all a full life: all of these would explain why so many people were fond of him. They do not explain why thousands filled the streets.
By Andrew Coyne - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 10:15 AM - 24 Comments
Andrew Coyne on the facile explanations being used to explain the London riots
What can explain it? How to account for such a fit of collective madness? Do we blame the schools? The parents? Perhaps it was a cry for help, the bitter fruit of lives without meaning or hope? Whatever may be the cause, we can see the results, the single largest outburst of journalistic nonsense in a generation: swarms of unhinged pundits running wild through the op-ed pages, leaving a trail of broken syllogisms in their wake. Such mindless mindlessness can only be condemned in the strongest terms…
But of course the same thing happens every time, doesn’t it? Wherever and whenever some outrage or atrocity occurs, there is always an army of “root-cause” rationalizers close behind, ready to supply the deeper meaning of it all. And though the explanations vary, the one constant is to shift the blame from those who commit the crime to other, more politically useful villains. Marc Lépine was no mere nutter with a grudge: he was a product, or at least an extreme example, or at any rate a symbol, of a generalized male hatred of women. Jared Loughner was not, as he claimed, chiefly concerned with the power of grammar to control the mind, but rather was the inevitable outgrowth of hot-headed Republican rhetoric. And so on.
With something as widespread as a riot, let alone the cascade of riots that spread across Britain, we are more obviously dealing with a genuinely social phenomenon. Though every individual is ultimately responsible for the choice to do good or to do ill, when so many people make the wrong choices at the same time, there is clearly a wider context to be considered: they can’t all be mad. But there’s a key word in there. Maybe you’ve spotted it: considered. Many of the instant analyses I read expressed a certain peevishness toward dissenters, as if the failure to adopt their own pet theory was a rejection of thinking itself. Well, no. It’s a rejection of simplistic, reductionist thinking. It is one thing to attempt to understand why people do what they do. It is another just to draw up a list of everything that’s been bugging you about society for years, then scrawl QED under it. Thus, if you are on the left: consumerism, individualism, poverty, Thatcher, unemployment, Thatcher. And if you are on the right: gangsta rap, Jamaican patois, multiculturalism, liberal elites.
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 5:26 PM - 82 Comments
Once again my colleague John Geddes has written a sensible, sober reminder that not all is as we imagine it to be, that things are not as simple as they appear. And once again it falls to me to point out that, actually, they are.
This time, John’s point is not that spending can’t be cut, but that it wasn’t cut. Or not as much as people say. Contrary to the received wisdom, much repeated these days by our admirers in other countries, that Canada balanced its books in the late 1990s through deep spending cuts, John argues that in fact economic growth did most of the job. To be sure, “spending was restrained,” but “by far the main reason the red ink evaporated… is that the Canadian economy grew smartly year after year during that period, and tax revenues more than kept pace.”
“The real history of the Canadian fiscal reversal,” he summarizes, “is that firm but hardly harsh spending restraint proved sufficient because the economy cooperated by expanding steadily and rendering up taxes.”
Okay. But this formula — moderate restraint, coupled with steady growth and rising revenues — why wasn’t it tried before? Continue…
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 112 Comments
That’s the average value of a milk quota per cow under a supply-management system
I have a proposal I’d like to run by you. As you’re no doubt aware, the Canadian pundit industry has been going through some difficult times of late, not—God knows!—through any fault of our own, but what with the economy, and fluctuating advertising revenues, and that whole Internet thing . . . Anyway, we’re a resourceful industry with a proud history, so we’re not looking for any handouts, but what I was wondering was if maybe there was some way just to bring some order to the marketplace, so we wouldn’t have to deal with these wild swings in market conditions that, I can tell you, make it impossible to plan.
What I have in mind is some sort of scheme whereby the government would restrict the supply of opinion in magazines and newspapers to some fixed number of column inches per year, with a view to propping up—er, stabilizing—salaries at a target rate. Naturally I am sensitive to the concerns of magazine readers, not to mention magazine owners, but I don’t imagine it would raise the cover price of magazines by more than about 200 per cent or so.
No? Foolish? Extortionary? Outrageous? Then allow me to introduce you to the world of supply management: an actual policy pursued by the governments of Canada and the provinces for the past 40 years. Only I’m not talking about comparative fripperies like magazines (we have our own indefensible support programs, though not, ahem, on the same scale). I’m talking about basic foodstuffs, the kind the typical Canadian family eats every day: dairy products (milk, cheese and butter), eggs, and poultry (chicken and turkey), whose prices are maintained, by means of a strict regime of production quotas, at two and three times their market levels.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, July 25, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 4 Comments
COYNE: In the U.S. and Greece, fears of debt spirals compete with fears of default
On either side of the Atlantic, the scene is the same: dramatic closed-door negotiations; days and nights of brinksmanship and finger-pointing; fears of debt spirals competing with fears of default.
What is different is the reaction to each. The American economy is the largest in the world, its government the biggest spender and heaviest borrower in the world. The consequences if the United States were to default on its debts would be incalculably greater than if Greece were to, harming not only its own borrowing ability but the whole structure of international credit. If the “full faith and credit” of the United States of America is not a safe bet, after all, what is?
And yet, with a possible default just days away, investors seem unperturbed. The interest rate on American 10-year bonds remains among the lowest in the world, and has been falling for months. It is tiny, perennially penniless Greece that has the financial markets in an uproar. This week’s meeting of European leaders is being pitched as a last chance to avert disaster, with agreement on a bailout (a second, actually) far from assured.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 13 Comments
Andrew Coyne on how the culture of corruption did not just infect Rupert Murdoch’s empire, but much of the British establishment
Scandals used to be so simple. Power corrupts, we were taught, and scandals were the business of those few who held power. Teapot Dome, which before Watergate was what you thought of when you saw the words “American political scandal,” involved the payment of kickbacks to a single cabinet secretary. The Pacific Scandal was essentially a matter between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Hugh Allan.
In this democratic age, however, the locus of corruption has shifted. Now, scandals belong to everybody. The corruption more typical of our times—perhaps Watergate marked the transition—infects an organization generally, an “everybody does it” mentality in which large numbers of people who never thought of themselves as criminals become ensnared. Think of the huge numbers of people who participated in or at least knew about the various exchanges that went into the sponsorship scandal. The phrase popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, social epidemic, seems apt. The culture of corruption spreads from person to person, encouraging each to adopt a standard of behaviour that, as individuals, they might otherwise find repulsive.
And so we come to the phone-hacking scandal—the second epidemic of corruption to strike the United Kingdom in recent years, after the parliamentary expenses scandal that led to charges being laid against more than half a dozen MPs and ended the careers of dozens more. It is by now well established that the hacking of personal phone messages by journalists at the News of the World was not, as was maintained for several years, a matter of a rogue reporter and his private investigator accomplice. Nor was it confined to the peccadillos of celebrities or royals.
It extended, as we now know, to literally thousands of people, including the widows of dead soldiers, the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and, most infamously, a missing 13-year-old girl, later found murdered, whose voice messages were not only intercepted but, when her mailbox became full, deleted, thus leading her family to believe she was still alive.
The invasions of privacy went beyond voice mail to include personnel records, bank accounts, and medical files—lawful in certain circumstances, but only where a public interest can be shown, as in cases of corruption. That would not appear to cover, for example, the news that the infant son of Gordon Brown, then the chancellor of the exchequer, had cystic fibrosis, discovered and splashed across the front page within days of the Browns learning it themselves.
This behaviour involved not only reporters at the News of the World, but at least in the Brown example, also the Sun and Sunday Times, sister papers in Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire. (The Sun denies it used Brown’s son’s medical records for its story.) In the fullness of time we shall learn whether it extended to other news organizations, though it is already established that some have hired the same private investigators.
If that were all, it would be shocking enough: the famously slipshod ethics of the British tabloid press spilling over into outright criminality. But it is the intersection with other pillars of British society that takes this story to the outer limits. Much of the confidential material sought by Murdoch’s spooks was supplied to them by police officers, often on the payment of bribes. Other police officers turned a blind eye to the News of the World’s phone-hacking activities, including those explicitly assigned the task of investigating how widespread the practice was, after the first cases came to light—in part, it seems, because their own phones had been hacked, and the evidence of professional and personal misconduct thus obtained. Even after it was revealed that News International had paid huge sums of money to other victims to settle their claims out of court, Scotland Yard somehow concluded there was no story here.
And overseeing all this, the political class of Britain: all of it, it seems, or nearly so. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher, leaders of both major parties have courted Murdoch with lickspittle zeal, in hopes of his papers’ endorsement. The current prime minister, David Cameron, employed one former editor of the News of the World as his communications director, and is close friends with another.
It wasn’t only political or personal connections that moved so many politicians to play nice with Murdoch. It was, as we are now learning, fear. Politicians who crossed him or his minions were openly threatened with the publication of embarrassing personal information. Only now that he is on the run, so to speak, are many daring to speak up. This was not so much a news organization as a bribery and blackmail racket.
The culture of corruption, then, did not just infect the Murdoch empire, but much of the British establishment. To be sure, it had its roots in power, as of old: the kind that comes with owning four national newspapers with a combined 40 per cent of total circulation. The reporters who stole people’s private information could not have done so without the approval of their editors, who in turn would have taken their cues from those higher up. All of them must have come to believe they could get away with anything. Who would dare stand in their way?
But it required also the acquiescence of hundreds of others, outside the News International ranks. Yes, they may have been acting, or failing to act, out of fear, or at least a sense of helplessness. But that is debauching in its own way. Power may corrupt, but so, it seems, does impotence.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, July 8, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 224 Comments
COYNE: Perhaps we’ve grown out of our insecurities—and growing into the monarchy
Even before Prince William and his bride Kate had arrived in Canada—before they had visited their first cancer patient, or listened to their first war vet, before they had thrilled hundreds of thousands in Ottawa or talked with street kids in Quebec or surveyed the efforts to rebuild Slave Lake, Alta.—the nation’s newspaper columnists were sounding the alarm at the invasion. When, they sighed, would Canada grow up? Wasn’t it time to slough off these last vestiges of colonial rule? Of all the irrational, outmoded ideas: to choose a head of state on the basis of heredity.
As the trip wore on—as the prince greeted crowds in English and French and Dene and Inuvialuktun, visited the cradle of Confederation in Charlottetown, played road hockey in Yellowknife—the pundits’ mood only seemed to grow sourer. These hicks waving happily at the couple as they passed: was it not obvious they were simply in the thrall of celebrity? Could they not see the prince and his glamorous consort for the foreigners they are?
Nothing new here. The same party-poopers write the same diatribes every time royalty comes to town. But they have seldom seemed quite so out of step with the times, so…dated. In truth it is not the monarchy that is outmoded, it is the critics, invariably of a certain age, who seem unable to escape a time when asserting the country’s identity meant rejecting not only monarchy, but a long list of things that were supposedly holding us back. Perhaps what we are discovering on this tour is that the country has grown out of such adolescent insecurities. Perhaps we’re growing into the monarchy.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, July 4, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 40 Comments
Andrew Coyne on why the Senate is intolerable
The Senate is Confederation’s original sin, the great stain on the fathers’ handiwork, from which much greater evils have flowed. Structurally, it has contributed to the divisions and weaknesses that have bedevilled the federation. Without some constitutionally appropriate vehicle for expressing the concerns of the regions in federal politics, it has been left to the premiers, inappropriately, to do the job.
Worse, however, has been its corrosive effects, compounded over time, on our political ethics. It is of course intolerable that a free people should be governed, even in part, by those to whom they did not expressly grant such power. That would be true even if the Senate were filled with Solomons, and not the bizarre cargo of bagmen, strategists, failed candidates, criminals, cranks and other political problems that prime ministers have traditionally solved by the expedient of the Other Place.
Yes, some senators do good work. Committees of the Senate often produce thoughtful reports. But they have no more democratic right to translate their views into law, to move, amend, pass or reject bills and otherwise exercise the powers of legislators than I do. Though by convention the Senate’s powers are less than they appear on paper, they are still more than any patronage house should rightfully have, and have been exceeded on more than one occasion.