By selley - Monday, December 1, 2008 - 13 Comments
MEGAPUNDIT WEEKEND ROUNDUP
Bravo, Mr. Harper
What Canada’s politicians did this weekend instead of thinking about the financial crisis.
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson believes the debacle over the government’s fiscal update finally reveals “the kind of Conservative Party that all but its core supporters suspected would eventually be outed: a group of ideologues, led by a Prime Minister who discarded his campaign sweater to reveal an economist with a tin heart and a politician who looks everywhere for political advantage.” The latter isn’t really ideological, is it? Mostly, this whole thing confirms to us that Stephen Harper sees Canadian governance primarily as a game more than it highlights any particular policy motivation. But either way, it is indeed “enormously revealing” that at a time of crisis, Harper “acted in this fashion. … And very sad.”
On the other hand, as the Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom notes, only one thing links cutting public funding for political parties, axing a pay equity program that doesn’t seem to be “either iniquitous or expensive” and suspending federal employees’ right to strike at a time when no strikes loom—i.e., the three most contentious measures in the fiscal update. The common factor is that the targets of the measures share a “place in the Conservative party pantheon of villains.” So perhaps it really is an ideology eruption. But whatever else it might mean, Walkom argues, it confirms that “the Conservatives are neither serious nor united about tackling the economy,” and it confirms Harper suffers from a very serious self-control deficit.
By selley - Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 2:23 PM - 29 Comments
Aaron Wherry proposes Rob Oliphant’s speech, in which the Liberal MP excoriated the government…
Aaron Wherry proposes Rob Oliphant’s speech, in which the Liberal MP excoriated the government for misrepresenting the economy on the campaign trail, as a potential eulogy for Stephen Harper’s Tories. Said Oliphant:
I was impressed that the government seemed to indicate [in the fiscal update] that, despite all evidence to the contrary, it might actually believe that government can and should be a force for good in people’s lives, and that it is appropriate for government to intervene, act and ensure that our future, particularly our economic future, is protected.
What surprises me about this recognition is that it is simply not even close to what the honourable members on the other side of the House were telling voters during the election, week after week in the recent campaign. In fact, during the campaign, the Conservatives ran against incurring deficits and un-budgeted spending while continually denying that Canada was heading toward a recession.
The problem with that eulogy, I’d say, is that it overlooks the sheer madness of what Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty have done to themselves. The prime minister had already abandoned the campaign “against incurring deficits and un-budgeted spending,” and he’d already admitted we might be heading towards recession. He did it loudly and proudly and—as Thomas Walkom bemusedly observed on Friday—even “eloquently.” Wrote Walkom:
In Peru last week, the Prime Minister talked of the need to take “unprecedented fiscal actions if necessary” to fight the global recession.
A day later, he eloquently and deliberately compared the current crisis to the 10-year-long Depression of the ’30s, vowing that he would not make the same mistakes that governments made then by trying to balance the books at all costs at a time “when fiscal stimulus (raising spending or cutting taxes) was absolutely essential.”
A day after that, he chided those who insist that deficits must be avoided at all costs and called for a “somewhat less simplistic view” of government finances.
And then he came home just in time to watch Simple Jim deliver the same old nostrums yesterday.
In other words, the fiscal update was in many ways a return to what the government had campaigned on a few weeks ago, not a repudiation of it.
By selley - Friday, November 28, 2008 at 1:56 PM - 7 Comments
Must-reads: John Ivison, Chantal Hébert, Dan Gardner, …Jeffrey Simpson and Thomas Walkom, on the
Bad timing, at best
If you were as smart as Stephen Harper, then you’d know what he’s up to.
“There are valid reasons for the government to keep its powder dry” on stimulating the economy, Chantal Hébert argues in the Toronto Star—namely, that “in the absence of a definitive course from the new American administration, dealing with the crisis from Ottawa is a hit-and-miss affair.” But there was no valid reason to announce in yesterday’s fiscal update that political parties would be removed from the federal dole, she insists, suggesting such a move might better follow “a debate on electoral reform.” This is nothing more complicated than the Conservatives sacrificing the “goodwill in the House of Commons … on the altar of partisan self-interest,” she insists, which threatens to turn this parliament “even more toxic than its predecessors” at precisely the time it would be most damaging.
The National Post’s John Ivison, too, believes there’s a compelling case to be made to wean parties off the public teat, and insists “the Liberals only have themselves to blame for the fact that it still costs them 50¢ to raise $1 and that their donor base is only one-quarter the size of that of the Conservative Party.” But the timing, he argues, is indefensible. The public has “a reasonable expectation that Parliament should deal with one emergency before embarking on another,” he writes, “especially one of its own making.”
By selley - Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 1:03 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: …Vaughn Palmer on cutting costs in Victoria; Christie Blatchford on the “S.M.” trial.
In the spirit of brotherhood, we will now destroy you
The Conservatives revoke the opposition’s allowance, and other random federal matters.
The Vancouver Sun’s Barbara Yaffe chooses an unfortunate day to marvel at the “surprising air of maturity and confidence” Stephen Harper is exhibiting as he attempts to deal with the economic crisis—“in sharp contrast to [his] past political demeanour, widely criticized as petty, nasty and excessively partisan.” We assume Harper decided to bankrupt the opposition parties after deadline. Bummer. (Also, Tony Clement is not one of Harper’s “strongest performers.” That’s a ridiculous thing to say anywhere, but it’s an especially ridiculous thing to say if, like Yaffe, you support the Insite safe injection project and if, also like Yaffe, you have just applauded the government for abandoning its opposition to Insite—which is news to us, incidentally.)
The National Post’s John Ivison looks at the potential effects of revoking public financing for political parties, and sees no way the Liberals can “meekly stand in the House of Commons and support the measure as its fair share of the economic plan.” It represents upwards of 60 per cent of their funding base! “The chances of another general election in the near future have always seemed remote, on the basis that none of the combatants could afford it,” Ivison notes. But “with this proposal, they can’t afford not to.” We’re sure they’ll work something out.
By selley - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 1:57 PM - 5 Comments
Ontario’s Premier Dad, under fire for his proposals to slap restrictions on all young…
Ontario’s Premier Dad, under fire for his proposals to slap restrictions on all young drivers because one of their kind got drunk and drove off a cliff, suggests he may relent and allow teenage drivers to continue to chauffeur more than one other teenager at a time. But that’s madness, surely—the transport minister insisted just this week that the proposed legislation was based on statistics! Bosh to statistics, anyway. Everyone knows that teenage drivers reach an unacceptable distraction threshold when more than one other teenager is in the car with them, unless those teenagers are related to the driver, in which case their presence has no effect. Courage, Premier Dad! These quarrelsome child-adults know not what they do!
By selley - Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 1:29 PM - 11 Comments
Chris Selley’s Megapundit
Tightening the belt; opening the wallet
The pundits weigh in on deficits, stimuli, spending, and fish.
Stephen Harper must act quickly not just on our economic fundamentals, L. Ian MacDonald argues in the Montreal Gazette, but to assure Canadians that despite all appearances during the election campaign, he’s on top of the situation. “Harper’s initial response, that the fundamentals of the Canadian economy were strong, was as disconnected from reality as John McCain when he made the same comment in the middle of the stock market crash,” MacDonald observes, and he says Harper was lucky to escape the fallout with his political life. Now, he says, Harper must “level with the Canadian people about the size of the storm we are facing. This is a time for grown-ups, not playing silly games about whether we can run a deficit.”
Meanwhile, the Calgary Herald’s Don Martin reports, the government’s optics gurus will be busy enforcing austerity on politicians and civil servants. Tomorrow’s fiscal update will feature pay freezes, cuts to “discretionary spending and a clampdown on travel and assorted parliamentary perks” for our elected MPs and “top bureaucrats,” we learn. Junkets, friend-and-family travel, health benefits—all slashed, potentially. The combined effect of this will amount to “pennies” against the “megacuts needed to keep a large deficit at bay,” says Martin—but, monkeys that we are, the PMO presumes we will clap appreciatively and stamp our feet to see the bad times spread around a little.
By selley - Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 3:51 PM - 4 Comments
I agree with just about every word of Wesley Wark…‘s piece in today’s
I agree with just about every word of Wesley Wark‘s piece in today’s Ottawa Citizen, in which he argues that Canada’s policy on Omar Khadr has finally run up against “a realpolitik wall.” The new administration in Washington will want the remaining detainees at Guantanamo dealt with once and for all, and that means, like it or not, that Khadr must and shall come home. So, Wark suggests, let’s get on with figuring out how best to manage that eventuality. (The government, naturally, will have none of it.)
It’s only at the very end that I’d niggle with Wark’s argument. “Reversing course on Omar Khadr will be painful for the Conservative government,” he says. That makes sense intuitively, but recent weeks have brought the idea of political pain into focus. The Harperites are frantically jettisoning long-held economic principles, taboos and shibboleths as if Death himself was gaining on them in a speedboat race. Recession! Deficits! Corporate welfare, over the side! For the love of God, faster! That’s politically painful stuff, or it ought to be, especially given Stephen Harper’s still-wet assurances that the economy was pretty much okay. (We shall see how much of a price the Harperites do, in fact, pay, though logically it will have far more to do with what happens next than what’s happened so far.)
But repatriating Khadr? All our government has ever said is some variant on, hey, there’s a legal process underway in the United States, and aside from assuring he’s treated humanely, we’re going to let that process run its course. Continue…
By selley - Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 1:45 PM - 12 Comments
Must-reads: …John Ivison on abandoning Senate reform; Don Martin on embracing deficits; Jonathan Kay
The federal miscellany
Deficits, unelected senators, anti-Semites, etc.
The Toronto Star’s James Travers fingers the “brainy, focused and tough” Kevin Lynch, clerk of the Privy Council, as a good candidate to replace Michael Wilson as ambassador to Washington. But he notes there are “flies in this ointment.” One fly: “renewing the civil service, the Sisyphean task that drew Lynch home [from a position at the IMF], remains a work in progress.” (Indeed, being a Sisyphean task, it could hardly be anything but “in progress.” But we really must stop parsing Travers’ metaphors so closely; it leads only to heartache.) Two flies: Lynch led the “usefully inconclusive investigation” into the NAFTA disasta, which is ostensibly why Wilson has to leave in the first place. And three flies: successor boulder-pushers at the PCO “are in short, surprisingly reluctant, supply.”
The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson + fisheries quotas = barnburner! We kid. It’s a very sober and actually fairly interesting look at the benefits of switching from the “common property resource fishery” model—in which “the government establishes an elaborate system of allocations to fishermen and companies, all under the watchful (?) eye of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans”—to one in which “fishermen, communities, co-operatives or companies” are directly given “ownership rights to certain amounts of fish.” It’s better suited to sustainable fishing, we learn, because it takes politics largely out of the equation in establishing quotas. As it stands, “since people speak, and fish are silent, the minister usually heeds people/constituents and opens fisheries that should remain closed or raises allocations that should remain low.”
By selley - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 1:32 PM - 10 Comments
Must-reads: Conrad Black on a certain grotesque miscarriage of justice; Jeffrey Simpson on Henry Waxman; Don Macpherson on Mario Dumont; Greg Weston on Bob Rae; George Jonas on “Singapore of the North.”
Brother, can you spare a dime?
From Washington to Lima to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, there’s bad news on the economy. But you already knew that.
The National Post‘s Terence Corcoran asks us if we really want the future of the North American auto industry to be in the hands of politicians intent on aping Jerry Maguire (“Until they show us the plan,” said Sen. Harry Reid, “we cannot show them the money”) or who actually believe “GM would be better off if CEO Rick Wagoner wandered about U.S. airports in search of his luggage.” By all accounts, he observes, a bailout would mean “further suppression of market forces from an industry already burdened by regulations that have driven it into the ground” and the “continued existence of union protections,” among other impediments to future success. Let them go bankrupt, Corcoran implores, in hopes they might someday be able to recover “in a genuine market.”
Playtime’s over, the Ottawa Citizen‘s Randall Denley advises Canadian union members in both the private and public sectors. It may well be unfair that government workers should suffer for the fiscal mismanagement of city councillors or school board trustees, he concedes, but “the same accusation could be made about the management of many corporations that are laying off employees. That doesn’t create any more money for raises.” He suggests the brothers and sisters be happy just to remain employed, and believes “sharing the pain” with their fellow Canadians isn’t too much to ask.
By selley - Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 4:40 PM - 23 Comments
Margaret Wente …in today’s Globe and Mail:
The lesson of the black swan is
Margaret Wente in today’s Globe and Mail:
The lesson of the black swan is that the world is governed not by ordinary and predictable events but by extraordinary and unpredictable ones. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs is an example of a black swan. The Internet is a good black swan, the crash of ’08 a bad one. Except for one or two eccentric cranks, no one saw it coming.
An easily Googlable Bloomberg story, in which Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, insists the economic crisis is not—repeat, not—an example of a black swan, and explains that among other people he—Taleb—saw it coming some time ago.
“The financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic—when one fails, they all fall,” Taleb wrote in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, which was published in 2007. “The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup.”
Taleb said the current crisis is a “White Swan”, not a Black Swan, because it was something bound to happen.
“I was expecting the crisis, I was worried about it,” Taleb said. “I put my neck and money on the line seeking protection from it.”
Wow, is that ever embarrassing. And it’s precisely why we’re not reading Wente anymore unless someone calls our attention to something particularly extraordinary. In this case, that person is Dan Gardner, who politely notes this egregious error on his new blog.
By selley - Friday, November 21, 2008 at 5:23 PM - 5 Comments
A close look at what used to be known as the Big Three
As a rule, recent years have not been kind to automakers. But amidst the general chaos, the North American car manufacturers—formerly the “Big Three,” now more accurately known as the “Detroit Three”—have sunk well below the rest. As the CEOs of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler plead for mercy from Washington, Macleans.ca presents a statistical snapshot of their nightmare.
Highest stock price of the five largest publicly traded automakers as of the Nov. 20 close on the New York Stock Exchange: $59.79 (Toyota)
Toyota’s stock price on Nov. 20, 2007: $110.07
Best performance of those five stocks over the past year: -43.9% (Honda)
Poorest performance: -89% (GM) Continue…
By selley - Friday, November 21, 2008 at 2:27 PM - 13 Comments
Must-reads: …Dan Gardner on the McMurtry/Curling report; Colby Cosh on bailing out the oil
A long, bumpy ride
And so dawns the new age of economic consensus…
“Maybe I should simply be happy no one’s yet suggesting we rekindle inflation and see if it helps,” a predictably outraged John Robson writes in the Ottawa Citizen. “But I’m not.” Indeed, he’s borderline apoplectic at the speed and obtuseness with which governments abandon solid economic principles—balanced budgets, not “picking winners and losers” in the corporate world, etc.—when the economy goes south. In fact, he observes, most people pushing for some kind of Detroit Three bailout on the basis that allowing them to fail would be untenable have abandoned even the “pretence that GM, Ford and Chrysler are winners,” and yet they still want to throw good billions after bad. But alas, Robson laments, we are at these people’s mercy. Just stay the hell away from the stock market until it’s over, he advises.
Colby Cosh returns to the pages of the National Post in fine form, observing that lots of potential jobs are being lost in the Alberta oil patch thanks to “purely temporary business-cycle conditions,” and yet Tony Clement’s nowhere to be seen with a bailout proposal. What gives? Partly, Cosh argues, it’s the old political truth that the visible (i.e., existing jobs at crap Detroit-based automakers) trumps the invisible (i.e., potential jobs at viable but not-yet-built oilsands facilities) no matter how illogically. And partly, he suggests, it’s because Ontarians’ “understanding of the world remains heavily influenced by the opening credits of The Beverly Hillbilies.”
By selley - Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 2:17 PM - 4 Comments
Everybody hold hands…
Fear not, Canada. As soon as we’re back in the black,
Everybody hold hands
Fear not, Canada. As soon as we’re back in the black, our politicians will go back to hating each other.
“Glittering through [the] bleakness” of recession, deficit and abandoned election promises, the Toronto Star’s James Travers also espies Stephen Harper’s “commitment to suspend the politics of division in favour of partnership.” It’s nothing less than a “seismic shift,” he enthuses, as evidenced most compellingly by his recent meeting with the premiers. And with the opposition parties in no position to trigger another election, Travers expects a new, congenial tranquility to descend over Ottawa. We’ll all be living in abject penury, of course, but you can’t have everything.
The Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin believes yesterday’s Throne Speech arrived safely at the midway point between “timidity” and “rash action.” And, like Travers, he detects unusually low activity in the Prime Minister’s Van Loan lobe, the part of the brain that regulates hyper-partisan blather. “The economic crisis has focused his mind,” he suggests; “he is a more mature leader. … He understands the country better.” And as such, Martin believes he now “realizes the necessary response [to the crisis] is consensus-building at home and abroad.” However, as if sensing Canada’s collective skepticism, Martin hastens to add “it’s by no means certain” that this new conciliatory tone will take hold throughout Ottawa.
By selley - Wednesday, November 19, 2008 at 1:38 PM - 8 Comments
Must-reads: Jim Coyle on Ontario’s proposed new young driver regulations; …John Ivison on Parliamentary
More caring. More sharing.
Welcome to your 40th Parliament. It’s gonna be different this time!
The Vancouver Sun’s Barbara Yaffe is in for a major disappointment if Canada’s federal politicians don’t, as promised, set aside all their partisan differences and petty squabbles in order to guide us safely through the economic crisis. ‘Cause she believes, boy howdy. You can see the new spirit everywhere, she argues: at the premiers’ meeting with the prime minister last week; in electing a Speaker of the House of Commons who promises to “improve parliamentary decorum” (she does know it’s the same Speaker, right?); in the sure-to-be-conciliatory and clearheaded Throne Speech today; at the Conservative convention on the weekend, where members showed themselves “to be pragmatic and responsible, … humble and non-ideological”; and even across the border, where Barack Obama “is said to be busy courting Republicans to sit in his cabinet.”
New speaker or no new speaker, the National Post’s John Ivison argues that “respect won’t be restored to Parliament’s institutions until power is devolved from the centre,” i.e., from the Prime Minister’s Office. Precious few debates of any real significance occur in the House, he says, and even the committees “have become largely irrelevant, thanks to the intense partisanship that has infected their operations.” The fact is, “the idea of learning anything from other parliamentarians is completely alien to the government’s way of thinking,” so there’s little point in wishing MPs would play nice—they still wouldn’t accomplish anything. And we agree. But the question remains: if Question Period is completely pointless theatre, then why must it be a theatre of over-caffeinated chimpanzees? We’d prefer it if they just sat in stony silence.
By selley - Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 3:51 PM - 41 Comments
In two short sentences, Dalton McGuinty distills modern provincial governance to its purest essence:…
In two short sentences, Dalton McGuinty distills modern provincial governance to its purest essence:
Perhaps the most precious thing we have in society is our children, and that includes our older children. We owe it to our kids to take the kinds of measures that ensure that they will grow up safe and sound and secure, and if that means a modest restriction on their freedoms until they reach the age of 22, then as a dad, I’m more than prepared to do that.
Children are only perhaps the most precious thing in our society? Pray tell what, you hideous monster, could possibly be more precious?
Seriously though, 19-through-21-year-olds are not “older children.” They are “adults,” and the government should restrict their freedoms, if at all, with the same caution as any other adults’ freedoms. That’s not very much caution, in Ontario’s case, but it’s more than this. The impression, which the government is making no effort to disavow, is that certain adult drivers will no longer be permitted to chauffeur more than one teenager (unless they’re immediate family members, because siblings never bicker and distract each other) or have a glass of wine with dinner and drive home, perhaps hours later, simply because MADD supported it and because a grieving father had enough money to buy full-page newspaper advertisements and to gain an audience with the Premier. McGuinty actually says in that soundbyte that he decided to restrict young Ontarians’ driving privileges as a father, not as Premier. I believe him. And I’m not okay with it at all.
By selley - Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 2:24 PM - 7 Comments
Must-reads: …Jeffrey Simpson and James Travers on the political fallout from our collapsing economy;
Casualties of the bailout
In which Stephen Harper prepares to abandon conservatism for good, and Bob Rae weeps openly into his Pinot Grigio.
Sun Media’s Greg Weston predicts tomorrow’s Speech from the Throne will “be little more than a terse statement of the obvious”—which is, in the words of a PMO official, that “the primary focus of this Parliament will be the economy, and other areas [we] committed to during the campaign … are secondary.” This likely means that measures such as the diesel fuel excise tax cut and even “the Conservatives’ hallmark crime-fighting measures will probably be pushed to the back-burner,” Weston agues. After all, hitting up “Canadian taxpayers … for billions of dollars to help rescue the economy from a tsunami of red ink” is a full-time job on its own.
The Calgary Herald’s Don Martin gets the same PMO briefing as Weston and adds tax credits for seniors and “for kids’ piano lessons” to the list of election promises we should not expect to see fulfilled in the near future. But breaking such promises pales in significance to the “horrifying” overall optics of Harper’s situation, Martin suggests. The Prime Minister “is on the record as opposing ‘Band-aid’ financial assistance for companies while insisting deep tax cuts were the way to keep corporations in Canada and defiantly declaring there would be no deficit under his watch,” Martin writes, and he’s in danger of abandoning all three in incredibly short order. That’s not necessarily his fault, of course; Canada can’t very well zag when the United States zigs. But with MPs returning to the House of Commons—and without Peter Van Loan’s silver tongue to protect him, we’d add—his life will nonetheless become increasingly difficult.
By selley - Monday, November 17, 2008 at 5:52 PM - 0 Comments
The New York Times is axing Play, its really excellent sports quarterly, which I…
The New York Times is axing Play, its really excellent sports quarterly, which I gushed about not long ago—suggesting, in fact, that its fun, smart, beautifully written coverage was a model of where modern sports journalism might want to take itself. Shows how much I know. I’ll let the Times explain its decision (rather poorly, if you ask me):
First published in February 2006, Play won numerous accolades for intelligent, in-depth reporting and vivid photography, and this year it was a finalist for the prestigious prize in general excellence at the National Magazine Awards.
Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times Company, confirmed the closure.
[Editor] Mr. [Mark] Bryant said that the magazine “was more or less breaking even,” but only because of a special Olympic issue published in August, in which all the ads were bought by the Nielsen Company.
They do know there are more Olympics coming up, right? Like, at fairly regular intervals? Ah, well.
By selley - Monday, November 17, 2008 at 5:32 PM - 8 Comments
Okay, we admit it. Blogger and regular Macleans.ca commenter Olaf’s righteous fury (Warning! Blue…
Okay, we admit it. Blogger and regular Macleans.ca commenter Olaf’s righteous fury (Warning! Blue language!) at Lorne Gunter‘s column in today’s National Post got the better of us, and we had to read it, red card or no red card. It’s not an especially remarkable addition to his oeuvre, really. He’s annoyed, still and again, at the statistical malarkey of which the jealous guardians of anthropogenic global warming are capable. Or, more accurately, in this case he’s annoyed at what he suspects was an honest mistake by said guardians that went unquestioned because it produced the answer they expected and hoped for.
This October wasn’t the warmest October ever [as had been reported], it was only the 70th-warmest in the past 114 years—that is, in the bottom half of all Octobers, not at the top of the list.
It took bloggers using little more than desktop PCs and Internet connections only a few hours to find the errors. The difference is, they were prepared to look. Their minds were not so clouded by bias in favour of the warming theory that they have stopped asking obvious questions.
Tsk. Outrageous. But what ho? This little addendum now graces the end of the column’s online version:
Please Note: While this column states that this past October was the 70th warmest on record, it was only 70th warmest in the United States. Globally, October 2008 very likely ranks among the top 10.
Would it be wrong of us, at this juncture, to fail to stifle a giggle? Damn. Too late.
By selley - Monday, November 17, 2008 at 1:25 PM - 15 Comments
Must-reads: Rosie DiManno on race statistics; Lawrence Martin on finding a new Speaker; Doug Saunders on waiting for a European Obama; Greg Weston on Jim Prentice’s new job; Jeffrey Simpson on bailing out the Detroit Three; David Frum on the GOP’s bleak future; Don Martin on Elizabeth May.
Change we don’t believe in
Sure, the Liberal party will soon “change.” But neither it nor Canada, the pundits lament, will Change.
Ignatieff vs. Rae vs. LeBlanc is precisely the leadership race the Liberals needed, L. Ian MacDonald opines in the Montreal Gazette. For one thing, he says, “it will keep costs down at a time when the party is broke.” But more to the point, it means “amateur hour is over.” The only two legitimate candidates understand their goal is to “unite the party, fill its campaign coffers, and win the next election,” and nothing else. No young people; no new ideas; no funny business.
The Gazette‘s Don Macpherson also handicaps the race for the leadership, suggesting—weirdly, in our view—that “because of the unfortunate timing of the current leadership race, Ignatieff starts off his second run risking unfavourable comparison with the charismatic [Barack] Obama.” This is particularly true in Quebec, he argues, where election fatigue has set in and there’s nothing remotely novel about Charest vs. Marois vs. Dumont. Fair enough, but who’s Ignatieff up against? Rae and LeBlanc, and then Harper? Which of those three juggernauts is going to out-Obama Iggy?
By selley - Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 4:25 PM - 8 Comments
Kathy English, …the Toronto Star‘s Public Editor, recalls what happened when the family of
Kathy English, the Toronto Star‘s Public Editor, recalls what happened when the family of Je Yell Kim, “a dental technician in his 50s who was held in Communist North Korea on vague charges relating to ‘national security,’” begged the newspaper not to report on his plight on grounds “that doing so could jeopardize negotiations to free him.” Short version: no dice.
Kim’s daughter … called my office crying inconsolably and asking why the Star disregarded her pleas. I explained what [Asia bureau chief Bill] Schiller had already told her: that the incarceration of a Canadian by a foreign government was an issue of important public interest in Canada. So, too, was the question of what Canadian authorities were doing to secure his release. I added that as information about her father’s plight had already been posted on the Internet, it was likely that other journalists would report it, perhaps with less sensitivity than Schiller, who conveyed the family’s concerns about publicity.
Well that was awkward, wasn’t it? And is it just me, or is that part about, well, maybe other media outlets will report on it too, and they’re not as nice as we are, squirm-inducingly weak? Kim’s situation and Mellissa Fung’s aren’t particularly analogous, but in each case a request for silence was made and in only one was it granted. It just proves that any explanation of the media blackout that doesn’t include a proviso along the lines of, “look, we make decisions in each individual case in the heat of the moment, not according to some kind of scientific formula, so contradictions are bound to appear,” is doomed to fail.
What really surprises me at this point, though, is that the majority seems to be pretty much okay with Afghan officials picking up relatives of alleged kidnappers and threatening their well-being to secure the release of a Canadian hostage. We don’t even know what happened to these people, after all. We may never. And it could have been just about anything.
By selley - Friday, November 14, 2008 at 2:16 PM - 19 Comments
Must-reads: Jeffrey Simpson on Michael Ignatieff.
Do you have him in plebeian?…
Must-reads: Jeffrey Simpson on Michael Ignatieff.
Do you have him in plebeian?
Perhaps Michael Ignatieff could try saying “duh,” every now and again.
All of today’s pundits agree that the member for Etobicoke–Lakeshore is the clear early frontrunner in the Liberal leadership race, and all agree he’s in better shape than last time around. Nevertheless, they offer up the following insults/cheap shots/digs:
- “egalitarian enough to talk down to anyone” (John Ivison, National Post)
- “comes across, despite his best efforts not to, as a minor member of foreign nobility”; “his drawl, his practiced movements, the admonishing frown, the pained grimace, invite that politically-deadly label: snob” (Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen);
- “has some of the ‘to the manor born’ about him” (Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail).
Remarkable. Do people actually see this in Igantieff, or do they simply imagine other, less cultured people seeing it in him? Because he’s always struck us as about as sober, intelligent and genuine as politicians get in this country. And Riley, in particular, nearly made coffee shoot through our noses when she conceded, after all this snob-talk, that “to be part of an intellectual elite, or artistic elite, should be considered an accomplishment, not a barrier to political success.” Madam, what the hell?
Ivison’s column is far more balanced, we should stress, but Simpson’s is the best of the Ignatieff-themed material today, in our view. His weakness, Simpson argues, is on the economy. “If for whatever reason, the public begins to turn against the Conservatives for their (mis)management of the economy, will a former university professor and writer reassure them?” But the three things that held him back two years ago—Iraq, accusations of hubris over his sudden return to the motherland, and advocating Quebec nationhood—have all either faded into the mists of time or (in the case of the latter, for better or for worse) made him look prescient. It’s tough to see Bob Rae making up the gap.
Miscellaneous Canadian news…
Canada’s pundits are still all over the shop.
The Calgary Herald’s
Miscellaneous Canadian news
Canada’s pundits are still all over the shop.
The Calgary Herald’s Don Martin surveys the various motions and proposals up for discussion at the Tories’ convention in Winnipeg and concludes “the Conservatives have buried their old guard ways under a hefty slab of mainstream ideas, even though few seem to fit with the economic challenge of governing today.” No more “abortion-limiting, capital-punishing, immigrant-curbing inclinations,” for example—and even if there were some, everybody knows Stephen Harper would lay an instantaneous smack-down on them anyway. Just lots of little ideas, some affordable, some not, and most of which “would not look out of place on a Liberal party convention floor.” Ouch.
The Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin pulls back the mysterious “cloak” that enshrouds Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, whose power has reached such levels that he can safely be considered the second most powerful man in Ottawa. (Third most powerful if you count Earl McRae.) And that power is raising some disquieting questions, Martin notes, as the ostensibly apolitical PCO “increasingly vets communications and access to information requests and has come under criticism from Information Commissioner Robert Marleau for obstructionism.” The media traditionally has little access to the executive branch of government, Martin notes, and that was fine “in the days when power was less concentrated at the centre.” Today, however, he deems this arrangement “inadequate.”
By selley - Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 3 Comments
Fans love the intimacy of rock and roll cruises, even if things sometimes turn weird
If history repeats itself, on the morning of Feb. 2, 2009, half a day into the third annual “Ships and Dip” music cruise, the Barenaked Ladies and several hundred of their most dedicated fans will assemble on the deck of the Norwegian Jewel for a group photo in the Caribbean sunshine. Before you ask, yes: they will all be bare naked. “My God, what an icebreaker,” says P.J. Evans, a 36-year-old Web developer from Oxford, England, who’s twice sailed with the Ladies, along with his wife and young son. And while the famously outgoing Toronto band is the only one promising full-on nudity, they’re far from alone in offering an intimate musical experience on the high seas. Sixthman, the Atlanta-based promoter that pioneered the phenomenon, has four other music cruises scheduled this winter, with headliners as diverse as classic southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, singer-songwriters Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris, and pop-rock heartthrob John Mayer (on the appallingly named “Mayercraft Carrier”). As a musical venue, it doesn’t get much less rock and roll than a cruise ship. But in an era where fans expect far more access to their musical heroes, the cruises are proving a perfect fit for artists with devoted, affluent, thirtysomething or older fan bases. “It’s the ultimate place to host a festival,” says Andy Levine, Sixthman’s owner. Continue…