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ARCHIVES for JUNE 2004
The view from here
Now why would I need to leave home to report on Canadian politics when all the fun stuff happens within sight of my front porch? For more than a decade my federal riding has been the scene of Anne McLellan's spectacular constituency fights; and now Gary Masyk, assemblyman for this provincial Edmonton-Norwood riding, has taken centre stage in the post-election drama. Masyk, enraged by Premier Ralph Klein's sabotage of the Conservative federal campaign, quit Ralph Klein's caucus Thursday to sit as a member for the Alberta Alliance party. There is talk that more MLAs may follow.
How seriously should Canadians take all this? Masyk's specific act of defection should not be taken very seriously on its own merits. First of all, Masyk is an idiot. He is best known for having spoken up early last year to advocate... er, well, he pretty much came out in favour of the Gulag. There's really no other way to put it, as Kelly Cryderman duly reported at the time for the Edmonton Journal.
Repeat offenders who commit serious crimes should be sent to Russian prisons where hard work and no TV will lead to their rehabilitation, an Edmonton backbench MLA says.
The scary part was that the Solicitor-General, Heather Forsyth, was quoted in the same story as saying "I'm not sure that's the answer." You're not sure?
"When it comes to pedophiles, send them over to Siberia, to the salt mines," Edmonton-Norwood MLA Gary Masyk said Wednesday. "Over here, it's human rights this, human rights that. Over here in the so-called civilized world, you do this heinous crime, the police put up a public warning ... doggone it, I think something's wrong with this picture."
...Masyk hasn't studied the prison system in contemporary Russia, but said he bases his proposal in part on stories his paternal grandmother, from Belarus, told him about the former Soviet days under Josef Stalin.
One particular story about his uncle, who worked in a mine, struck him. "They protested working conditions and the long hours and the food, and so on and so forth. So they come out of the mine shaft, a couple of thousand people -- they're protesting, they're not going to work anymore. So the negotiator came up in a six-wheel drive truck with a tarp over the back. "So they're all shouting about this and shouting about that. So they threw open the tarps, there's two 50-millimetre cannons (machine-guns) and they just start shooting them." The protesting workers "ran back into those shafts and all of a sudden, it was not that bad of conditions."
The next day, presumably by coincidence, the Alberta PCs accepted a judicial redistricting report that will see Masyk's seat eliminated in the next provincial election. Since then, Masyk's most notable foray into the news pages has been a motion he introduced to outlaw self-service gas stations because they are "unfair" to senior citizens and the disabled.
Masyk's political annihilation is thus inevitable, and will be lamented by approximately nobody. His lack of a future is why he was free to express the widely-felt rage over Klein's clumsy, or calculated, intervention in the federal campaign. Switching to the banner of the Alberta Alliance is just another sign of his lousy judgment; the AA is the political vehicle of Randy Thorsteinson, who has been trying for years to create a right-wing alternative to the Alberta PCs. He took over the moribund Social Credit brand in 1991, tried to convince people that his radically small-government platform was somehow consistent with Socredism, and actually enjoyed marked success, finishing a strong second in several rural ridings in the 1997 election. To borrow Thorsteinson's words:
By early 1999 polling showed that over 150,000 Albertans supported Social Credit and a breakthrough of seven to eight elected members was already likely. However, Randy resigned from Social Credit in April 1999 in protest of an internal party proposal to limit the involvement of a specific religious group within the Party. Randy believes in the equality and dignity of all people and could not in good conscience be a part of an organization that would foster intolerance in any form.
Translation: the large numbers of new members started to complain that Thorsteinson's Mormon clique was stubborn and impenetrable, so Thorsteinson took his money and went home, dispersing eight years of political promise and gain to the four winds.
The fact is, hundreds of thousands of Albertans are just itching, at this hour, to give a beatdown to Ralph Klein. The premier's popularity was already at an all-time low before he pantsed Stephen Harper. He has proven spineless in every serious fight against the federal Liberals, he has allowed provincial-government spending to spin out of control, he raised cigarette taxes to the highest levels on the continent (a nice little tax hike for the poor, melancholy, and mad), and he's doubled health-care premiums (an intensely regressive tax hike for the middle class). Quasi-separatist unrest is already rampant in the Alberta PC ranks, and Klein has repeatedly used procedural tricks to stamp out such motions at Conservative policy conventions.
It is often noted that Klein was an open supporter of the federal Liberals during the Trudeau period. Right now, on the balance of the evidence, there is a strong presumption afoot that he remains one. In the view of conservative Albertans, Klein has squandered the right to have his "Canada Health Act" bungle interpreted as a mistake. The "reforms" he warned us of were announced today, and they mostly seem to consist of further increases to premiums; there's also talk of introducing an income-linked deductible to public healthcare, which would amount to a user fee that does nothing to discourage the most frequent users of frontline medical resources.
And--strictly by coincidence--the Liberals are now suddenly talking about Klein in quite generous terms mere hours after having demonized him for electoral gain.
Federal Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew says Klein's promise to work within the health act, at least in the short term, is "good news for Albertans and it's very good news for Canadians." Speaking in Montreal, Pettigrew said he hasn't looked at the fine print of Klein's announcement but he says the Alberta premier is committed to respecting the Canada Health Act.
Masyk's defection should not be taken seriously: the blind rage it represents should be taken very seriously indeed, if only by Ralph Klein. The marginalized Masyk couldn't do anything but walk the plank, but other, smarter MLAs in the PC caucus must at least be contemplating a mutiny against the dry drunk. (Hopefully they won't make the Martinite tactical error of letting him hang around for a year stinking the place up.)
There is no obvious successor to Klein, but there are several credible ones. Former treasurer Jim Dinning, one of the major administrative engines of the so-called "Klein Revolution", has been cooling his heels in the private sector, perhaps expecting an open chance at the premiership after the Alberta centennial in 2005. But Dinning may not want to participate, even tacitly, in parricide. I can't help wondering whether Ted Morton would have such scruples. The renowned "Calgary Mafia" member, Charter of Rights critic, and elected Senator-in-Waiting has been running a quiet campaign for the past year to prepare the ground for an entry into electoral politics. The most under-reported important story of the past month in Canada was Prof. Morton's successful June 19 capture of the Alberta PC nomination for Foothills-Rocky View; only the Calgary Herald mentioned it, and their piece didn't even get around to saying what riding he was in. (Huge hat tip here to Ric Dolphin's Provincial and Territorial Report newsletter.)
There is a third possibility for restless MLAs, aside from Dinning and Morton. I didn't really want to reveal my cards here before I had a chance to spin my nascent theory in the Post, but ask yourself this question: are we entirely sure that Stephen Harper's talk of stepping down from the federal Conservative leadership was an idle gesture? Or is there a chance he wants to wait and see whether some other job comes open in the next six to 12 months?
- 10:54 pm, June 30
Department of Cosheries
A note for Post newsstand buyers: I've been bumped from Friday's comment page to Saturday's this week. I am happy to defer to the inimitable Lord Black of Crossharbour, who will be weighing in on the election in my usual Friday spot. Speaking strictly as a reader, I can't wait to see what he comes up with.
- 9:22 pm, June 30
Is my face saved yet?
My prediction of the number of seats that would go Conservative Monday night was wrong--so very, very wrong. But let me point out, in a nakedly cheap defence of myself, that (a) I knew better than to put that prediction in print and (b) there were three important things I got really right, and got right pretty early, too.
1. CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Canadians react badly to negative campaigning.
ME, SIX MONTHS AGO: "The media have told us one billion times that Canadians are 'too nice' to entertain 'negative' campaigning, and perhaps we have, as a result, come to accept this as a social norm. But I don't quite believe it, and I don't believe that 'negative ads' are the devil, either. ...The 1993 Chretien's-face ad didn't prove that Canadians don't like negative ads; it proved only that they need to be executed with a modicum of subtlety to succeed."
2. CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Immediately before the election, political scientists and pollsters uniformly declared that the NDP was going to get somewhere between 24 and 29 seats nationwide.
ME, AT THE SAME TIME: I reluctantly figured on them getting 21. In the end, they came up with 19. Predicting the Tory-Liberal swing in Ontario was a gut call: anyone (he said self-servingly) could have blown that, and everyone did. But the limits on the NDP's performance should have been clear from a close look at individual ridings. I put this in black-and-white on June 18 because I felt it was rock-solid. The psephological professionals, who to a man earn more than I do for my onanistic belletrism, ignored it and blew the easiest call of the night.
(The easiest call other than the Bloc total, that is, which Ipsos had at an insane 66 and Canwest's poli-sci hired-hand, WLU's Barry Kay, pegged at a still-ridiculous 61.)
3. CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The Liberals' national vote total could not reasonably be foreseen with any accuracy.
ME, ONE MONTH AGO: Believe it or not, I actually more or less nailed this--again, writing for print--and then completely forgot what I'd written in the heady atmosphere of the campaign. Complaining on May 24 in the Post about the stubbornness of Liberal client groups, I wrote:
...even if Paul Martin were caught on camera humping roadkill Tom Green-fashion, it's unlikely the party's poll numbers would drop below 38% or so.
The final total Monday night: 36.71%. Not so bad: it's a shame I was too stupid to pay attention to myself. (Or, put the other way, it's a good thing I had the sense to scatter some mutually contradictory predictions around.)
- 12:44 am, June 30
Stale but delicious: here's my Post column from last Tuesday, which, happily, hasn't entirely been superseded by the election. Don't forget to read the correction that goes with this column.
EDMONTON - Soon the election will take place and we shall, with luck, get a break from the perennial handwringing over why young people vote in such small and decreasing numbers. Being in what I can still defensibly describe as my "early 30s," I may never again be able to comment on this without embarrassment, so indulge me.
The phenomenon of youth apathy toward Canadian elections is attested to by large, unambivalent masses of data -- the turnout among those under 25 in the federal election of 2000 was just 25% -- yet is subject to an infinity of interpretations. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the chief electoral officer, is devoting a great deal of attention and funding to tackling the "problem." That there is no consensus on its nature or origins doesn't seem to matter much to him, but then, he is a Liberal appointee.
In just the past three weeks, I've seen the following explanations for low youth-voter turnout, among others: that young people have "negative" perceptions of government or are somehow "disillusioned" with politics; that they are insufficiently instructed in civics by our schools; that they take Canada's current state of relative affluence for granted, having never known any other; that Elections Canada does a bad job of reaching them with information on how to register and where to vote; that the mainstream parties are neglecting the environmental issues all young people are presumptively obsessed with; that the young have been taught that it is offensive to be "judgmental," and to have strong binary opinions; and that they are simply disgusting, lazy, besotted slackers who simply can't be bothered to go mark a ballot. (Oddly, the younger you are, the more likely you are to embrace that last one.)
There is some truth to almost all of these, which is why the problem will remain intractable if we insist on addressing it by means of a condescending "Voting Kicks Butt, Dood!" approach that treats the symptom, and ineffectively at that.
There may be something to the idea that young people don't quite know -- or feel, anyway -- what is truly at stake in elections. You remember "stagflation" and "malaise"? I wouldn't have recognized those concepts in 1978, precocious little bastard though I was. But from when I first started visiting the corner store by myself, until about 1983, it was in a world where you could never be sure what today's price for gum or a Coke would be. Our parents faced the same inflationary dread every time they bought groceries or children's clothing, and there were houses in my hometown which had been abandoned -- not sold, just walked away from -- by families who couldn't meet double-digit interest on a mortgage. We kids wondered, even discussed, who amongst us might vanish next.
Nowadays the better liberal democracies, including ours, have mastered that central-banking thing. Between April, 1979, and April, 1981, Canadian inflation totalled 23%; the figure for the whole of the 1990s was just 19%. A dollar is a much more solid thing to a 25-year-old today than it will ever be for me. And if the ghastly stakes involved in public-policy decisions weren't clear enough to us Albertans, Pierre Trudeau drove them home with the National Energy Program in 1980. My younger contemporaries (in Alberta) have never seen such a black cloud of unemployment and despair dispersed by a politician's mere word. They have, rather, had to adapt to a static standard of living which probably seems like a law of history.
A want of grounding in partisan civics is also a factor I find particularly strong in people not much younger than I am. I believe too many darts are thrown at the public schools on this account. If they are doubtful of their ability to give a fair and unbiased account of contemporary political parties to their students, it should probably be accounted a welcome and uncharacteristic degree of humility.
Still, they fare poorly at what is their job, which is the inculcation of a sense of history as a continuous, ordered development of institutions and ideas. The introduction of the "Social Studies" approach -- that stochastic saunter through a matrix of misrepresented concepts, random foreign cultures and ethical platitudes -- coincides with the rise of political indifference among the young. My public-school education covered "Canadian history" in a slapdash way, but was absolutely silent on the pre-Canadian origins of the universal franchise, the Constitution and our political strains. I have no reason to believe things have improved. (June 22, 2004)
- 10:57 pm, June 29
I must extend regrets to those of you who were expecting to hear me on CBC Radio 1 this morning (though some of you did just hear me work the supper-hour politics show with Rob Breakenridge at Calgary's CHQR). We got the Commentary piece recorded, edited, and sent to the various CBC affiliates, but the text was predicated on the Liberals and the NDP having won enough seats to pass legislation between them without help. (When I went into the booth, the total was still 157.) As I understand the sequence of events, the late-night desk at an East Coast local station noticed at around 5 a.m. Atlantic time that the combined NDP-Liberal total had dropped to 154. If the Speaker is elected from the Conservative Party or the Bloc (or is Chuck Cadman), that will be enough for a 154-153 Red-Orange margin. The "problem" was nonetheless reported to network headquarters, which made the unusual decision not to supply local stations with a Tuesday morning Commentary. (I probably would have supported that decision if I'd been asked; I didn't realize the implications of the odd number of seats in the new House until today, myself.)
With the presumptive forbearance of our state broadcaster (which apparently intends to pay me for what follows), I'll present the text of the piece you didn't get to hear.
Many of you will be delighted to hear that watching the election results last night was a banquet of suffering for this cranky Western conservative. I had grown used to enjoying elections--in 1988, when free trade won the day; in 1992, when the Charlottetown Accord was resoundingly rejected; and in three federal elections since, when the performance of Reform and the Canadian Alliance surprised everyone.
I must admit, the vague sense of menace in this last sentence is really pretty empty and reflexive. Yes, the country will become more divided and hostile. Will that change anything, practically? I doubt it. As the week goes along, I'll explain why.
Last night, the joke was on me. Having joined the professional media, and having predicted big gains in Ontario for the Conservative Party, I've become one of those miserable suckers I used to laugh at. But I have plenty of company. I know of no one in media circles, or amongst professional pollsters, who predicted that the Liberals and the New Democrats would win enough seats between them to form a working majority in the House of Commons. As I record these words, it appears they have done just that.
And so, perhaps, the joke is on us all. Just 15% of us voted for the New Democrats last night, but Paul Martin's rhetoric in the campaign's last days leaves small doubt that we will now have a Liberal government run on NDP principles. One recalls the sequence of train wrecks that these principles have strewn across Canada: transforming British Columbia from a "have" province into a "have-not"; depopulating Saskatchewan with the efficiency of a Sudanese warlord; creating a home-grown recession in Bob Rae's Ontario. The joint NDP-Liberal government of the '70s gave us skyrocketing public debt, loopy economic policies, and a separatist heyday in Quebec. Left-leaning Canadians typically consider all this to have been merely a damnable run of bad luck. We are about to put that theory to the test, with our jobs and quality of life as the stakes.
As leader of the Canadian Alliance, the much-derided Stockwell Day got 26% of the national vote in 2000. Last night Stephen Harper, who went on a tireless crusade for moderation and peace on social issues, could only increase that to 30%. Why didn't Harper do better? Gosh, for some reason, Easterners just couldn't trust him. I've already heard many people say that another leader--say, Peter Mackay or even Belinda Stronach--would have done much better running on the exact same platform. Victorious Liberal candidate Scott Brison openly joked about "rednecks" in his victory speech on national television.
Alberta gets the message: only its chequebook is wanted in Confederation, not its voice. And meanwhile, the Bloc Quebecois, by happenstance, may have been excluded from the pivotal role in power which had been forecast for it. If you thought the country was divided before this election, this redneck wants you to know you ain't seen nothin' yet.
- 8:27 pm, June 29
All I can say is, I wish I'd had a weblog before the 2000 U.S. election. That one, I nailed to the nearest three Electoral College seats. Since I've made myself look like an ass in front of the whole country, let me note that Paul Wells' First Rule--"Canadian politics tends toward the least exciting possible outcome"--is in a bit of a shambles. At 3:26 a.m. Eastern time, the party standings are Liberal 135, Conservative 99, BQ 54, NDP 19. It will take 155 votes to secure a working majority: right now, unless my math is way off because of exhaustion, the Liberals and the NDP can only get 154 by combining forces. The figure could change by the time I wake up, if I ever do. (It dipped to 155 during Martin's victory speech, then got up to 157.) But is the Parliament we've elected likely to be entirely free of "Commons-floor putsches or other high-stakes confrontations"? At the very least, the hair-fine balance will put a great deal of power in the hands of individual MPs. People who voted "tactically" for someone they didn't necessarily favour might want to grimace a little at this point.
Anyway, the purpose of this entry is to review the outcomes of the most interesting seat battles. Starting with the Champagne Sextet of Liberal ministers in jeopardy (incumbent in bold):
Joe Preston (C-Elgin-Middlesex-London) def. Gar Knutson (L) 44%-34%
Roger Clavet (BQ-Louis-Hebert) def. Helene Scherrer (L) 43%-34%
Andy Scott (L-Fredericton) def. Kent Fox (C) 47%-34%
Judy Wasylycia-Leis (NDP-Winnipeg North) def. Rey Pagtakhan (L) 48%-37%
Pierre Poilievre (C-Nepean-Carleton) def. David Pratt (L) 46%-40%
Anne McLellan (L-Edmonton Centre) def. Laurie Hawn (C) by 711 votes
Some of you will have gone to bed secure in the knowledge that Lt.-Col. Hawn had finally ended Anne McLellan's legendary string of narrow victories. The CBC actually declared him elected at one point in the evening, perhaps specifically to torture the suckers who've been voting against her since Suleyman the Magnificent was a tot. I heard the news as I was in front of the CBC studio downtown; I swear to God Michael Enright or somebody actually said "No more Landslide Annie." Next time check for a pulse, you horrible assholes.
It was theoretically possible to win Steyn's champagne. Aside from the four cited above, National Revenue Minister Stan Keyes was slaughtered by the vengeful Copps machine in Hamilton Centre, and ag minister Bob Speller lost in Haldimand-Norfolk.
Conservative Rahim Jaffer rolled to an easy victory in Edmonton-Strathcona, taking 39% to Liberal Debby Carlson's 29% and Malcolm "It Took a Nation of Millions to Hold Me Back" Azania's 24%. Without the devastating revelations launched against Malcolm in mid-campaign, he probably would have gotten... oh, about 24%. I overheard local CBC types in the building spitballing a respectful postmortem for Malcolm. They may be unaware--or they may be very aware--that some Edmonton New Democrats want Strathcona's septuaginarian NDP MLA, Raj Pannu, to make way for the young blood. Amidst the more concentrated campus idiocy of the smaller provincial riding, Malcolm would probably win. You have not seen the last of him.
This was an election positively flea-ridden with "star candidates". Liberal and Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden won York Centre easily. Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh did the same in Vancouver South. Ex-NDP leader Ed Broadbent's return to public life in Ottawa Centre was never in doubt.
Former Saskatchewan premier Grant Devine finished second in Souris-Moose Mountain, and the Conservative candidate, Ed Komarnicki, was able to survive the vote-splitting. Chris Axworthy, a popular Saskatchewan NDP MLA who had taken up Liberal colours like Dosanjh, lost to clerical Conservative Maurice Vellacott 47%-32%.
Former Alberta Liberal leader Ken Nicol, handed a fed-Lib nomination in Lethbridge, was the proverbial red-headed stepchild (Tory Rick Casson won 63%-21%). Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray is probably outside the range of a recount, losing Charleswood-St. James by 826 votes. Ottawa South, really rubbing it into the Conservatives, elected the present premier's brother, David McGuinty, over Tory Alan Riddell 44%-35%.
One thing Stephen Harper probably won't have to face today is second-guessing about the leadership candidates the Conservative party didn't pick. Belinda Stronach almost stickhandled a walkover into a defeat, beating Liberal Martha Hall Findlay by just 700 votes after several hours of moderate tension. Glutton for punishment Tony Clement lost Brampton West by 2,600 votes.
You probably heard about the divided fortunes of the First Family of the NDP. Jack Layton tussled with Dennis Mills all night and ended up 2,300 votes ahead in Toronto-Danforth. But Olivia Chow was a slightly surprising loser to Tony Ianno (44%-42%) in Trinity-Spadina.
Liberal harridan Hedy Fry, fantasizer of flaming crosses, won 40%-32% in Vancouver Centre. Turncoat Liberal Keith Martin, the only politician in any party who openly favours two-tiered health care, fended off an NDP challenge 35%-30%. His drama-queen twin Scott Brison, as you probably know, won Kings-Hants with no problem. Svend Robinson's seat almost went Liberal, but not quite, as Bill Siksay pulled out a 35%-33% win over Bill Cunningham. Heritage Committee head Sarmite Bulte, with a little help from big-media friends that need the copyright laws rewritten, fended off the NDP's Peggy Nash 42%-34% in Parkdale-High Park.
In Quebec, future Liberal leader Stephane Dion weathered the storm comfortably in St.-Laurent-Cartierville, winning with 67%. Fellow Wise Man Pierre Pettigrew almost blew it, taking Papineau by just 334 votes. Reformed sovereigntist Jean Lapierre, thought by some to be dead meat, won in Outremont 41%-33%.
- 1:19 am, June 29
ELECTION DAY IN A BOX (Updated throughout Monday)
9:06 pm Wow. It looks more like 90 seats now for the Conservatives (and a strong 160 or so seats between the Liberals and the NDP, which makes the Bloc's 56-seat night both a triumph and a disaster)... I may have been more wrong than the remainder of the universe, but at least no one was right. This is a function of the raised expectations for the Conservatives, but there wasn't one single solid piece of really positive news for them all night, was there? A near-sweep in Saskatchewan, but that's about it. Right now there are a dozen non-Tory seats in B.C., the Conservatives got shut out in Quebec, both Liberals look like coming back in Alberta... Keith Martin is running a tight second in Esquimalt right now, but behind the NDP... they didn't make any gains in Manitoba...
I'm off to write that CBC piece. I may have a midweek thing for the Post; they'll want something suitably bilious. Catch up with you later, outside the box.
8:36 pm Stronach slightly behind in Newmarket... McLellan ahead here, looks like she'll win... Oooh, Dennis Mills still holding off Jack Layton in Trinity-Spadina... Looks like the Liberals will end up around 135 seats, Tories around 105...
8:12 pm Amusing CTV moment: Sheila Copps is interrupted for the announcement that her murder of Stan Keyes in Hamilton-Mountain was successful. Rahim Jaffer has just been declared elected in Edmonton-Strathcona; Malcolm Azania is running a strong third. The Conservatives are now gaining seats on the tote board faster than the Liberals, but CTV has declared for a plurality of Liberal seats. Dennis Mills was narrowly leading Jack Layton in Toronto-Danforth when last seen...
7:59 pm Vulnerable Liberal incumbents are performing very very strongly in a lot of these Ontario ridings... bad sign for Conservatives who are hoping to finish with a plurality tonight. With 93 Ontario seats reporting some results, the Liberals are elected or leading in 69.
7:47 pm Scott Brison on the secret to his win in Kings-Hants: "There's not a lot of room for Red Tories in a party with a lot of red necks." A class act in victory. The early Liberal numbers in Ontario are ticking over awful fast...
7:30 pm As we wait for the big bucket of results, David Frum just tried to save face on CTV by suggesting that Stephen Harper's rhetoric of self-reliance and economic risk-taking may play better outside Atlantic Canada than it did there. Former Liberal MP Brian Tobin just about soiled his silks as this brutally obvious suggestion, describing the idea that "different Canadian regions have different political cultures" as "pejorative". That's funny... I thought the whole Liberal campaign was predicated on rejecting the distinctive Western political culture of Stephen Harper and the merged Conservative party. I guess I must have been watching some other country's election.
6:29 pm The slow point in the evening, results-wise; there's still an hour before polls close between the Gaspé and the Rockies. The way Belinda Stronach totters on her stiletto heels as she does a satellite interview is certainly very charming; coupled with her speaking style it makes her appear enticingly tipsy. Why, yes, miss, I do think Canada needs to embrace global economic realities for the 21st century! Craig Oliver's sightless crustiness works a good deal better on election night than it does in a debate. Interrupt Count Lloyd all you like, dude.
6:18 pm The picture from Atlantic Canada is almost complete: it looks like 21 seats of 32 for the Liberals, maybe 22 if Andy Scott enjoys the same groundswell in Fredericton. Conservatives will come away with 7 or 8; they've knocked John Herron out of the box but otherwise it's a uniform disaster. CTV's now reporting that Elsie Wayne's old riding is going to go to Paul Zed... My national top end for the Conservatives is now in the 134 range, but Ontario is everything...
6:04 pm Now you can panic a little... New Brunswick results have turned sour for the Conservatives; they're losing some Liberal ridings they ought to have walked away with. In Tobique-Mactaquac Andy Savoy won last time by under 200 votes... with 20/187 polls he has 51% of the vote. It's the same deal in PEI where the Liberals are out to good leads in three of the seats (including Laurence Macaulay's) and there are no numbers at all yet from the fourth.
5:49 pm Mike Duffy on CTV is saying there is cause for panic! "Liberals are up 3% in Newfoundland... bad news for Stephen Harper... blah blah blah..." Meanwhile the early numbers from New Brunswick--an actual battleground--are looking pretty good for the Conservatives. Insert your own "Will Duff be forced to eat his words?" joke here.
5:41 pm It looks like Newfoundland is going to split five Liberals, two Conservatives... that's exactly in line with my Tory-fat prediction; no cause for panic.
5:28 pm Bill Matthews (L-Random-Burin-St. George's) is the first candidate to be declared elected by the CBC. They call him on the phone and he shows his gratitude by tearing the CBC a new one. "All we h'ard about from t'CBC was how Des McGrath was the big star N-Day-Pay candidate... but t'voters've spoken." Bonavista-Exploits is bouncing back and forth...
5:21 pm Siobhan Coady (L-St. John's South) is out to a slight lead in the first poll there... I watched Coady campaign a little on CPAC. 60% of her face time was spent telling voters how to pronounce "Siobhan", and only 40% on describing the Liberal platform. The outskirts of St. John's reminded me, depressingly and a little disturbingly, of my hometown (pop. 1,200). I can understand people in my hometown without subtitles, though. At one point Sha-vaun shook hands with a drunken old guy coming out of a diner and told him who she was; he said "Therrre'ss two kinds'a people I never trust--politicians 'n' priests." He stumbled off as the CPAC camera shook visibly with suppressed mirth.
5:16 pm Triumph! Beleaguered Conservative Rex Barnes surges to a 33-30 lead over Scott Simms in Bonavista-Exploits! Clearly, a nationwide Conservative sweep is on the cards! ROCK!
5:13 pm The first numbers come from Random-Burin-St. George's: in the first poll, Liberal Bill Matthews has six votes, Tory Larry Peckford three, and NDP bellwether Fr. Des McGrath just two. Clearly a nationwide Liberal sweep is on the cards! DAMN!
4:10 pm Speaking of Elections Act wrinkles, here's a guy who obviously knows something about them:
CALGARY (CP): A confident Stephen Harper cast his ballot in the gymnasium of an elementary school here Monday, but kept his choice to himself. 'It's a secret,' the Conservative leader said with a playful grin as he popped his head over the ballot-box shield and posed for a wall of flashing cameras.
It's not just a good answer, it's the law. Under s. 164(2) of the Act, it is actually illegal for a voter at a polling station to declare for whom he is about to vote or for whom he has just voted. I think it's safe to say, however, that Harper didn't Go Green.
4:06 pm Apparently some starched shirt from Elections Canada forbade TV crews from entering a Montreal polling station to shoot Gilles Duceppe casting his vote. Under s. 135(1) of the Elections Act this may have been the technically correct call, but all morning we were looking at photos of those smug buggers Jack Layton and Olivia Chow casting ballots at their local polling place. Elections Canada should at least establish a standard practice for the traditional "Looka me, Mom, I'm votin'!" show; my recommendation would be to eliminate it for everybody.
3:31 pm Got back from the polls not long ago... from the polls, that is, and from Arby's [burp]. I was the only voter present at that particular hour of the day. The gymnasium at St. Basil's Catholic School was more crowded than in the past, which suggests that the parties may be laying on the absolute maximum number of scrutineers here in McLellan Land. It's no more than one would expect. There seemed to be, I thought, a bit of tension in the air. Judging from the marks on the recording clerk's sheet, 40-50% of the riding's voters had already been through, which seems like a lot for 1:30 p.m.
A little later I had a cab driver run me to the bank; he was an Eastern European guy who had already voted Liberal (in the St. Albert riding, thank God--no one wants to meet someone on election day who cancelled out their vote). "If we put Conservateev in... we have private healthcare, for-profit healthcare, you end up having to pay when you go to hospital." It might be cruel to bring it up, but a few minutes later this informed voter was asking whether there would be another, separate election for the prime ministership later in the year. All part of the grandeur of democracy.
11:33 am Damian Penny wants to change his election prediction for about the third time... since he has found other predictions I missed, I'm going to allow it, and update the chart accordingly (scroll down to see it). Steyn hadn't yet posted a specific prediction when I linked to him this morning, but he has now. He didn't firewall the Tories to 140 like I did, but he's definitely expecting some Q Effect.
Inkless Wells has uncovered a hilarious Internet artifact from the ancient mists of time... you know, six weeks ago.
6:46 am It's too warm in this house to sleep... plus I was annoyed by Peter Warren's typically brusque morning radio editorial calling for Canada to "join the modern world" and introduce fixed election dates. With the possibility of a deadlocked lower house emerging from this election, the plain, stubborn impracticality of this idea should now be obvious to those who had previously forgotten their history. If we had a separately elected presidency that could continue to govern without a Parliament, fixed dates would work; I suspect this is what most of these whiners would really like. This business about "joining the modern world", chamber of horrors that it has been, is a classic poker-tell for your closet republican.
I'm not too concerned about the "unelected" Adrienne Clarkson having some sort of overwhelming say in determining the identity of the next government. That will ultimately be decided in the House of Commons, whomever she lets have the first turn; historian Michael Behiels has it right in this morning's Globe. It will be up to the Commons to withdraw its support from any ministry tainted by the possible appearance of illegitimacy. In the meantime, Her Excellency's high self-regard may be the best guarantee of her impartiality, and after all, no one has accused her of not taking her viceregal responsibilities seriously enough.
The temperature in Edmonton is expected to reach 29°C today, if that makes any difference at the polls, which I doubt... looks like a sunny day shaping up in the West and the Atlantic, with clouds in Quebec and rain in Southern Ontario.
Don't miss the strange, unfortunate story out of Niagara-West Glanbrook this morning.
5:06 am Steyn has an election-day communiqué up on his site.
4:51 am There's a good feature on telltale ridings from Susan Delacourt in the Star. In the Atlantic returns I'll be watching for Conservative Rex Barnes' showing in Bonavista-Exploits and Liberal Geoff Regan's in Halifax West. The four seats in PEI will also make a nice neat weathervane.
What does it mean that Harper spent yesterday lounging around Alberta--probably the least productive possible use of his final campaign day--while Martin flew across the country trying to put out fires? Am I wrong in feeling more comfortable putting the Tories so far ahead because of this?
2:13 am This is quite late to be attempting an risky experiment with tables-within-tables; if you're using a vintage browser, and it's having some obscure trouble reading this, all I can really suggest is to ride it out.
This entry will be updated during the day with any interesting election links I can find, and during the evening with items of interest from the TV coverage. I'll be signing off at some point (approximately 9 p.m. Mountain time) to write, and then go record, the Tuesday morning national Commentary for the CBC. There will also be a report from Poll 040 in Edmonton Centre, one of the key fronts in Anne McLellan's battle for survival. We will be looking closely at my Champagne Sextet and--naturellement--at the totals from Edmonton-Strathcona (a.k.a. the People's Republic of Azania).
Here's a compendium of some seat predictions from around the Web and the newspapers. I never expected to be such an outlier. I'm been keeping a Big Spreadsheet (didn't you know I would?) of individual ridings, and this is the honest count; if it's influenced by wishful thinking, it's at least wishful thinking predicated on the rational basis that (a) the high turnout at advanced polls in Ontario suggests reactionary anger there, (b) right-wing parties always do "surprisingly well" in actual voting (I call this the Q Effect), and (b) the Conservatives seem likely by anyone's estimation to win about 90 seats outside Ontario. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that they could nab 50 of 108 there? We'll know soon enough.
C L B N
Colby Cosh 140 91 55 21
Mark Steyn 131 108 53 15
Bruce Gottfred 130 98 54 26
Adam Daifallah 129 99 55 23
Bruce Rolston 126 104 55 22
Marni Soupcoff 126 112 50 20
Jonathan Kay 125 100 55 28
Andrew Coyne 124 102 55 26
Coyne's survey 122 106 57 23
Chris Myrick 120 109 60 19
Adam Radwanski 119 106 54 28
CalgaryGrit 118 112 53 24
Ipsos/Globe 117 101 66 24
Andrew Spicer 116 113 51 28
Barry Kay/Citizen 115 106 61 26
Damian Penny 117 101 60 29
Jackson Murphy 116 119 48 23
Kelly Nestruck 115 109 57 25
EKOS/Star 109 117 55 27
Paul Wells 108 125 51 24
Rick Hiebert 105 128 46 28
ElectionPrediction.org 104 122 52 29
Robert McClelland 97 145 45 21
Lorne Gunter's prediction was too amorphous to fit inside a table, but on Across the Board he has the Conservatives at 125-130, the Liberals at 95-105, the BQ at 60-65, and the NDP at 20-25.
Looking Beyond Monday dept.: today's column in the Post is available for free on the Web and is about Canada's curious handling of law-and-order issues. "Last Monday's column" ran on Tuesday so it'll be another day before I post it here.
- 2:11 am, June 28
Smoke drink man woman
All you Canadians already have your political predispositions, superstitions, and intentions, but I don't want to let Monday pass without giving my best short argument for why you should vote for the Conservative Party. So far all my persuasion has been by implication only: this is an undisguised and direct mini-polemic. For the purpose, let us momentarily set aside the fact that the Liberals are as crooked as corkscrews, as so many of you seem prepared to do.
On June 4 Stephen Harper made a campaign appearance on a farm in Jarvis, Ontario. I've heard it was a tobacco farm, or that there are tobacco farms in the area, so naturally Harper was asked about the great and pressing subject of tobacco reduction. He basically shrugged and said:
People are going to have a drink and have a smoke and that's kind of the way life is going to be.
Any other significant Canadian political leader in my lifetime--probably even that bibulous bon vivant Ralph Klein--would have recognized the question as the occasion to (a) waggle a finger at those naughty drinkers and tobacco users and (b) lay out elaborate, expensive plans for persuading people to live a little bit longer and a lot less joyfully. Harper addressed the question as though he were running for the leadership of the House of Commons, and not for the office of National Scold, National Role Model, National Health Czar, or National Bully.
Today few conventional politicians regard their mandate as limited in any respect, even if they're running for county ratcatcher. They are obliged to have an opinion on every subject (which generally causes them to possess uniformly stupid ones), and must be prepared to intervene in any area of human life according to the media-stoked collective whim of the moment. Harper is different. He does not believe it would be his job, as Prime Minister, to lash Canadians onward to a New Jerusalem of state childcare, equal incomes, fit bodies, and pure thoughts. When Paul Martin is asked about health care he sets about defining "Canadian values" for you, exactly as an archbishop might define "Catholic values" for a querulous parishioner. When Stephen Harper is asked about health care, he points out that our health-care systems are the responsibility of the provinces under the Constitution, and in logic. He doesn't insist that every province should conduct its affairs the same way, or every person possess the same habits.
You might find this refreshing, I would suggest, even if you're not a libertarian in principle. If you are, Harper will of course fail any purity test you care to offer. It is hypocritical for him to say that people should be left alone to smoke cigarettes and drink, but that cannabis sativa is a matter altogether different. His comment down on the farm shows that he is aware of the hypocrisy--there is a visible embarrassment present, as there ought to be, whenever he talks of marijuana. He is aware, at the very least, that freedom ought to be the default consideration in such questions, for the compelling reason (as you could learn from Lenin and Mao as easily as you could from Hayek or Rand) that government's every action is ultimately based on its monopoly of violent coercion. The people who fear that Harper is in the grip of "religious" Western advisers should explain how it came to be that the Liberal civil religion of aggressive egalitarianism became the only permissible one, the established High Church of Canadianism. I'm a dissenter: there's only one way for me to vote.
- 11:29 pm, June 27
A place so foreign
Did anyone hear my Friday appearance with David Orchard, Canada's Stubbornest Man, on Wild Rose Forum? I'm afraid those of you who did must have felt quite like me--stranded, that is, on the Planet of CBC Listeners.
The subject set for the show by host Don Hill was "Do you feel there is any party running in this election that expresses your views on the future of Canada?" There must have been nine or ten callers during the hour-long show; at least four or five declared Green Party sympathies within seconds of calling in (one being an actual Green parliamentary candidate sniffing around for free advertising), and practically all of them--attracted, no doubt, by Mr. Orchard's presence--took the opportunity to voice rote, encyclopedic complaints about NAFTA, giving Mr. Orchard the chance to echo them.
Keep in mind, this program aired only in Alberta. If the anti-NAFTA Green Party gets 50% of the vote in this province on Monday, we shall certainly be forced to conclude that the CBC has done an excellent job of building a representative audience from across the political spectrum. (They're at 6% in the latest Ipsos poll.)
I referred to the NAFTA-obsessed callers late in the show as "David's people", which he seemed to take the wrong way; I hope he wasn't too offended--I only meant to suggest that the phone lines seemed to be piled high with people of opinions like his, and not one bit like mine. I sympathize with his complaint that there is no longer a "conservative" party which opposes free trade, as a conservative might without flouting core principles, and as the Conservative party did for most of Canadian history. Mr. Orchard was unquestionably done out of the chance to lead such a party by some very sharp dealing indeed. But why does he seem to be trying everything but going out and starting a party of his own, if his cause is so popular amongst the masses? Is it because Mel Hurtig tried the exact same thing in 1992 and got all of 1.4% of the national vote for his trouble?
The callers weren't all protectionist plumpers for an autarchical economy, to be sure. One was a displaced Quebec sovereigntist (not many of those in Alberta, let me assure you) who had a slightly obscure but probably sound point about the necessity for federalists to accept the legitimacy of the Bloc Quebecois. And one was a senior who felt that old-age pensions are too low, and aren't being discussed much in the election.
The latter point about a conspiracy of silence on pensions was probably the best, most accurate one made in the brodcast by any of us. No party can do anything to increase help to the aged without making a grim fiscal future worse, and no one wants to be the first to invite the rage of politically powerful seniors by telling them the unpleasant truth--that compared to those of us who are working now, they paid lower taxes and much lower CPP rates during their earning lives, and are receiving much greater benefits than we younger toilers can ever expect even under the most optimistic projections. Like Samuel Johnson's "drivers of negroes" who clamoured the loudest for American liberty in revolutionary days, it is the wealthiest age bracket in our country whose members complain loudest about "fixed incomes" while being curiously silent about their net worth.
- 4:35 pm, June 26
My column today for the special Canadians-choose-a-government-or-die-trying section of the Post is a soft-shelled rumination on the pleasures of voting and the nature of democracy. Alas, subscriber only, except for the first paragraph. But you may not have read the column that ran subscriber-only last Saturday: here 'tis.
Whatever the outcome of the election, Stephen Harper can savour this week as the time when the scope of his achievement as a national party leader became apparent. A year ago, absolutely everybody who was paying attention judged Mr. Harper to be an odd-looking, slightly autistic individual who was terminally lukewarm on the stump and seemed to wish he had never been dragged out of private life.
Now, however, look at the Liberal Party of Canada. It has found a timely excuse to start scaremongering about Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. Turn on the TV and see the new Liberal attack ads: Note the surprising appearance of retired politicians Mike Harris and Brian Mulroney. In Saskatchewan, the party is running different, customized ads in which Mr. Harper is linked to the retired head of one of the most notorious provincial administrations in human memory -- that of Grant Devine, who was specifically forbidden to run as a Conservative and who is on the ballot as an Independent.
In short, Paul Martin is running against absolutely everybody he can find who isn't Stephen Harper. Take a bow, Mr. Harper -- win or lose, you have made them awfully frightened of you.
Liberal campaigns can never be held to a high standard of logic, but this misdirection is something special. When Conservatives try to point out the heap of smashed promises that Dalton McGuinty has compiled as Liberal Premier of Ontario, Paul Martin disavows any connection between the provincial and federal regimes. "Dilton McGurney? Never heard of the guy." Premier McGuinty's brother is one of Mr. Martin's Ontario candidates, and Mr. Martin's right hand, David Herle, provided advice on the Ontario Liberal budget, which raised taxes despite frequent and strident promises to the contrary. But Mr. Martin thinks it very important that you remember that there are Liberals, and then there are Liberals, and never the twain shall meet.
Mr. Martin is even reluctant to claim the faintest acquaintance with the Chretien Cabinet he sat in for eight years; he was off napping, you understand, when they were planning all those phony sponsorships. So one wonders how he can now -- without trying the patience of a just God -- posit some sort of connection between Stephen Harper and every dubious figure who has ever called himself a Conservative. Mr. Harper, you may recall, didn't even fly under Conservative colours between 1987 and December 2003.
Granted, the Conservative leader is taking campaign advice from Brian Mulroney. But Mr. Mulroney is the only living non-Liberal to have won a House of Commons majority. I would have to think Mr. Harper rather silly if he didn't consult with the man. Mr. Harper was also wise to leverage the conceptual union the Liberals postulated between him and Mike Harris. Whatever else history says of Mr. Harris, Mr. Harper noted yesterday, it will judge that "he did what he said he would do -- and that obviously makes him very different from the current government Ontarians have today." It also makes him rather different from the Liberal governments in which Mr. Martin has been serving.
That the Prime Minister is now doubling back on his pieties about placating Western alienation makes the spectacle richer. He was supposed to be the man who ended Western alienation -- remember that? In his first House speech as PM, Mr. Martin reassured us that "alienation in the West and British Columbia is not a myth. It is a reality. We must address that reality -- it's a question of earning people's trust." But now, at the first sign of trouble, Mr. Martin drags out a papier-maché figure of a blood-mawed Ralph Klein and waves it at Eastern voters. It's exactly the sort of thing that creates "alienation" in the West, and a clue that Mr. Martin's other attractive platitudes might just be shinola.
Premier Klein was brought into play by means of an imbecilic miscue on his part. On Wednesday, he made vague reference to health reforms he would announce on June 30, two days after the election. He mentioned "some things that might possibly violate the interpretation of the [Canada Health] Act." In the hands of some ham-fisted reporters, the all-important word "interpretation" -- meaning the schizoid, oppressive Liberal interpretation of the Act -- disappeared.
So did Mr. Klein's clear implication that he was expecting a minority government of some description, not a Harper majority. So did the point that it is not surprising, or sinister, for controversial political news to be saved for a long weekend. And certainly there was little mention of the Constitution -- that document Mr. Martin professes to adore, when he's not busy defiling it by some weepy denunciation of the division of powers it specifies.
Of course, Mr. Klein's comment might have been sabotage rather than ineptitude. Stephen Harper never had too much luck bending Mr. Klein's ear with decentralist ideas as a private citizen. Mr. Klein praised Paul Martin when he became Prime Minister, endorsed Bernard Lord for the Conservative leadership, and refused to make a second choice when Mr. Lord declined the job. Still, perhaps the Premier and Mr. Harper became the warm friends Paul Martin thinks they are on some recent night over a snifter of welfare-mom's blood and a plate of senior-citizen filet. If you can believe in the wacko ideography of a Martinite election ad, you can certainly believe that. (June 19, 2004)
- 10:38 am, June 26
AndrewCoyne.com is now taking your bets on the seat distribution of the next House of Commons and on who will win your local riding. -2:29 pm, June 25
Today's Post column is available online only to subscribers, but we've already discussed some of the content here: the piece talks about the improbability of a national-union government, argues that the Bloc is therefore likely to hold the balance of power unless the Conservatives can eke out a majority, and asks English Canadian voters to look at Stephen Harper and Paul Martin not just as implementers of their own ideologies, but also as potential negotiators with Quebec.
Last Friday's column has not only been discussed extensively here, but also superseded somewhat by events. So I'm only going to paste the important part of it here:
The theory behind an NDP-Liberal coalition appears to be predicated on a very large pickup of new seats by the "resurgent" New Democrats. It's a crummy theory. NDP fortunes are likely to be reversed, not improved, in the West. Many of the Western New Democrats are sitting on razor-thin margins, and are vulnerable to the effect of the Conservative merger. In B.C., Ujjal Dosanjh is running under the wrong flag, Svend Robinson is in the penalty box, and the only ironclad seat is Libby Davies'.
In Atlantic Canada, the party is at 20%, according to the latest Ipsos-Reid survey: That's barely up from 17% in the 2000 election, and Atlantic NDP candidates, like their Western comrades, are facing two big opponents instead of three. The party's not going to win anything in Quebec, which means any major gains will have to come from Ontario, at the expense of the Liberals.
And while we're talking about Ontario, I can't be the only one who noticed Jack Layton ostentatiously name-checking Ontario candidates Brian Masse and Joe Comartin on debate night. Messrs. Masse and Comartin are NDP incumbents, two of the best-placed anywhere: If they aren't already home and dry, the NDP "resurgence" will surely be modest.
What do the numbers say? Ipsos has the NDP in Ontario up to 20% from the 8% they got in 2000. In a first-past-the-post system, these numbers both round down to damn near zero. If you have 20 minutes to kill, you can try the thumbnail exercise I used. As a matter of basic logic, a candidate now needs about 35% of his riding's vote -- a little more than one-third in a three-party field -- to have even a hypothetical chance of winning the seat. Add 12 percentage points to every Ontario NDP candidate's 2000 share of the vote and see how many seats they could, even conceivably, win. The answer I got was six.
Jack Layton has raised expectations for himself, but his party is merely staggering to its feet after a massacre, and the Conservative merger has made its job much harder. In past three-party showdowns, the NDP's current level of support has translated to about 20 seats nationwide. That would be a generous estimate today, since the support is spread so thin across the country. (June 25, 2004)
To update this last bit, the NDP is now at 17% nationally in the latest Ipsos poll; SES's crack pipe, as yet untested for predictive accuracy in a federal election, has them at 20%. That would put them over 20 seats on the evidence of past three-sided elections--but, again, I think the increase in the party's national totals may be relatively inefficient this time, since a lot of it is going to come in places where they were close to zero degrees Kelvin in 2000. (Why do you think Layton is so fanatical about proportional representation? It's got nothing to do with "democracy"; it's because his party no longer happens to be particularly popular in any one region.)
I guess I needn't wait any longer to put my cards on the table. Here's how I expect things to work out on Monday:
Sadly, I can't go as far as Evan Kirchhoff, but I won't be shocked if he's right. My numbers don't add up to 308, and yours shouldn't, either--don't forget about Chuck Cadman.
- 12:07 pm, June 25
Cinema catchup: the spawning
The returns are in, and people want more capsule movie reviews. Or at least O.G.I.C. and Steve Sailer do: scroll down through Steve's sideblog for an excellent rejoinder about how battles and sporting contests are depicted on the screen. (Did anyone else listen to or watch the England-Portugal Euro 2004 quarterfinal today? Now there's a movie whose ending we've seen before.)
Happily I have two "new" movies, both about religious subjects, to review:
This fine picture raises once again that eternal question, "Why the hell did Tikhonov pull Tretiak with the score tied 2-2 in the Miracle on Ice game?" (I talked a little bit a couple months ago about the passing of the last Soviet-era Russian players from the game. Tretiak is one of only about four or five defensible answers to the question "Who was the greatest hockey player of all time?") I surfed the Web to see if a plausible answer had yet been offered... it seems Tretiak recently gave his side of the story, in charmingly mangled English, to journalist Dave Chamberlain:
"I don't know why, I guess just bad decision for Tikhonov," he responds, a big smile creasing his face. "Maybe Americans would like 'thank you very much' for me, maybe it's 'thank you very much' for Tikhonov. Nobody knows. If I play second period, maybe we win Olympic games, nobody knows."
Miracle has pretty well got to be the best hockey drama ever made, which ain't saying much. I'm a Canadian, and I was getting pretty misty. And well I might, for the 1980 U.S. victory over the Soviets was a turning point for everybody.
Canadian professionals were pretty well helpless against the Soviets--even the Soviet club teams--between 1972 and 1980. This is now recognizable as resulting from a pervasive allergy to high-grade physical conditioning. Guy Lafleur, the flashiest forward of the era, would have smoked cigarettes on the ice if they'd let him--and about two hundred others would be drinking beer on the bench. Partly this was probably just one of those Victorian attitudes that survived for a long time in a country of Victorian origins; hockey players were willing to take pay to play, but to work out in the off-season wouldn't have been quite cricket. But I suspect there was another problem: precisely because the game was so entrenched here, Canadians could not conceptualize the pro game as an activity qualitatively different from backyard shinny. (It's a game! It's fun!) Furthermore, salaries for all but the elite players were also fairly low, and many pros were preoccupied with second jobs.
Did the move come as a surprise? "For me, big surprise. After two-two--I never in a two-two game see the bench. I remember three, four goals, OK, I go to bench.
Tretiak still remembers what went through his mind when it happened. "Tikhonov says, 'Vladislav, you play bad goal on last goal, you sit on bench, Myshkin play.' I think, what's this?" he pauses for a moment, looking strained, even shocked. "I don't play against USA?" Tretiak theorizes that Tikhonov refused to believe his team could lose to the Americans, with or without the best goalie on the planet, a thought fueled by the fact that Team Soviet had pasted the same American team by a score of 12-3 just five days earlier. "Maybe Tikhonov thought, OK, back-up goalie, we still win. But a back-up goalie is no help for team, and we lose Olympic games."
...To this day, Tikhonov has never explained his decision, neither to Tretiak or to anyone else. "He wrote in his book," Tretiak says, "'I have mistake, pull Vladislav.' Yes, big mistake. But he never say to me."
Hockey was a foreign import in Russia, and the specific locus of that import was the Central Army Sports Club in Moscow. The Russian "amateur" players who dominated the Olympics from 1964-76 were mostly Red Army officers who never picked up a rifle, but who were paid to train and play full-time. (Tretiak, as I recall, reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel.) Central Red Army players lived together in barracks nine months a year and had full practices twice a day, every day. Hyper-intense physical training was incorporated into the Soviet program from the beginning, because hockey was, in spirit and form, a branch of the Soviet military.
That's why Russian teams were able to plaster North American pros mercilessly, more often than not on North American ice, for eight years. Miracle documents the unparalleled feat of coaching that turned the tide. Think of it. Herb Brooks, ordinarily not the highest of high-pressure coaches, turned for six months into the most scathing, abusive hardass since Bear Bryant. He got a bunch of second-tier dead-enders (only a couple of whom would have so much as medium-length NHL careers) into the shape of their lives. And they beat what may have the best team that ever existed. You can't even make a sane analogy for it in most sports. It would be sort of like a baseball club of good collegiate players beating an All-Star team composed of the most talented guys from the major leagues, if the All-Star team had been playing together for a decade, and had the right to draft new players constantly, and when I say "draft" I don't mean "draft" like a sports draft but "draft" as in "We can shoot you if you don't play."
If it hadn't actually happened, they would never dare make a movie about it.
(Bonus for Canadian viewers: the climax of Miracle is interspersed with historical footage of Al Michaels and future Liberal MP Ken Dryden broadcasting the game. I am amazed to report that the young Dryden was, if anything, even prissier and more cant-ridden than the 2004 article. Keep an eye out for a print of Ken Danby's puzzlingly iconic painting "At The Crease" on the wall of the Brooks home.)
The Passion of the Christ
I'm not sure I know what to tell you, except that I didn't finish it. I enjoyed listening to Latin dialogue, which seemed to represent an idiosyncratic view of the spoken cadences of the language. We don't have a very good notion of how Latin sounded, except by means of weak inferences from philology and written poetry. Received ideas of historically correct Latin pronunciation change every generation. Whatever Latin scholar Gibson and his dialect coach consulted seems to have thrown up his hands and said "They were in Italy; make it sound kinda Italian."
I was getting pretty frustrated with all the lingering slow-motion shots of Jesus falling down while carrying his cross up the hill. It takes me a while to clue in, right?--"What the hell is this about? Why is the falling accompanied by such thunderous sound effects? What's the big deal?" Then the penny drops, and I realize that what I'm seeing is Catholic doctrine interfering with good moviemaking: Gibson is visually fetishizing the Stations of the Cross for us. This also explains the purposeless (in the narrative sense) appearance of St. Veronica, a hitherto absent character who interrupts the damn movie for about five minutes of wordless, tender blood-mopping.
Until I consulted my intellectual apparatus, the whole sequence just seemed to be ridiculously slow-moving and pointless. We know how it ends! I wanted to get in there with a knout myself and get to work on the Son of Man, shouting Festina! Festina! When I finally figured out what Gibson was doing, I got so angry that I just shut the thing off. It's not even a movie, folks--it's a sort of Tridentine comic book, hermetically sealed inside its own psychoceramic world-system and soaked liberally in Sacred Heart fanaticism.
It goes without saying that it's not an anti-Semitic tract--or, if it is, it's the least successful one in the history of Western civilization: The Passion of the Christ has been viewed on the order of one hundred million times and has yet to certifiably inspire or account for, as far as I'm aware, a single anti-Semitic incident. The movie has been at least ten times as successful financially as anyone would have predicted before its release, yet the concomitant global pogrom appears to be off to a slow start. That said, if the bogus media frenzy (despite having been flung down the memory hole) has you looking for anti-Semitic references, you'll probably find them--and happy hunting to you.
- 11:04 pm, June 24
If it wasn't for disappointments...
Ouch. Is the CTV quite aware that they're running the latest Liberal attack ad during Canadian Idol? Canadian voters must never forget how Brian Mulroney anally raped this country with his Satanic anti-people tax cuts... and now we return you to, uhhh, Ben Mulroney. Very awkward.
I passed a dispiriting milestone this week: for the first time, and on my 96th column for the National Post, I included a factual error that required a printed correction. The correction ran today, or should have (I didn't pick up the paper version):
Colby Cosh's column in Tuesday's National Post identified Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley as a "Liberal appointee". Mr. Kingsley was chosen in 1990 by the Conservative-led House of Commons. Mr. Cosh regrets the error.
Embarrassingly, it was something I didn't even think to check; I had a completely false memory of Mr. Kingsley coming in with Chretien in '93. I had been hoping to keep my no-correction streak intact a little longer. I wrote about a half-million words for Alberta Report and was responsible for only one formal retraction--and arguably not even one, since it was the headline, subhed, and photo cutline that really got us in trouble. I committed other vague solecisms, of course, which were handled by printing letters from the offended party. And my good track record should probably be attributed mainly to the back-of-the-book placing of much of my work in that magazine.
The funny part is that I discovered this latest mistake Wednesday morning--quite early Wednesday morning--when Kingsley called my house to point it out. We had a good chat: aside from failing to correct for the time difference between Ottawa and Edmonton, he was very kind about the error. He would want me to point out that the Chief Electoral Officer, although technically an "appointee", is chosen by a vote of the full House of Commons--in his case, a unanimous vote.
While we're talking about Elections Canada, everyone should note the incredible turnout in advance polling for the June 28 election. A stunning 1.2 million votes were cast last weekend: that's up 60% over 2000, and the numbers were up 92% in Ontario. Stephen Harper is right to consider this a good sign for the Conservatives, and it is perhaps a more meaningful sign overall than the flat Conservative decided-voter numbers we've seen this week. These are Canadians--disproportionately Ontarians--who, for whatever reason, aren't going to let being hung over at the lake next Monday stop them from casting a vote. It suggests a determined mood--an angry mood, perhaps. And anger is not good for the incumbent.
If you're inclined to seek out Colby Cosh content, you'll want to break out your PDA: the next week or so is going to be busy. I'll be filing my usual column for Friday's Post, and also making a return appearance on Wild Rose Forum with Don Hill, broadcast throughout Alberta on CBC Radio 1 beginning at 1:00 p.m. I'll keep the identity of the other guest secret, but you Canadians have heard of him. There should be another column in the special election edition of the Post now being planned for Saturday. Then I'll be back on the comment page Monday morning, and I'll be concluding the election madness by recording a Tuesday morning post-election Commentary for Radio 1 nationwide. I don't know when that runs in your hometown, and I don't know how to find out for you, but that'll probably be me droning at you when your clock radio goes off. Meanwhile I'll be lying here dead from exhaustion. All these dates and times are subject to change, but that's what my agenda looks like right now.
- 9:36 pm, June 23
Here's the archival reprise of last Wednesday's post-debate analysis.
There were no knockout punches.
That's what everyone always writes in these post-debate newspaper pieces, isn't it? Talk about a dead literary device stinking to high heaven. What people call "knockout punches" are, unlike blows in boxing, usually recognized only after the fact, and often self-delivered. They've also become more or less extinct as the art of preparing for television debates has become more refined.
So, surprise, surprise, dear reader: There were no knockout punches. Televised debates have become ritual exercises, and last night's English-language federal leadership debate proved it rather well by being largely a replay of the previous night's French debate.
Jack Layton radiated snake-oil charm into the lens, smirking as he talked of "hopefulness" until you just wanted to hug him --with one hand on your wallet. Paul Martin looked exasperated as he demanded answers on Conservative spending plans and social policies; he stuttered, brandishing the Gomery commission like a man warding off a vampire with a cross, when quizzed on Liberal mismanagement. Stephen Harper carried himself with Buddha calm, except for a few moments of unfamiliar near-anger, but was forced into bleating off-camera grace notes about "lies" and "misrepresentation" while Messrs. Layton and Martin jointly denounced his "hidden" social agenda. Gilles Duceppe participated laconically, like a lost European intellectual who had wandered onto the stage and been given speaking privileges.
It may have been a bit of a predictable puppet-show, but to be honest, that's a journalist's complaint: that no candidate tripped over a land mine excitingly. If the debate is analyzed according to its true theoretical goal -- informing the voter -- then I have to say that the current state of evolution in the format seems like a good one. The two hours were broken into four long segments: Within each segment, candidates were asked to give uninterrupted answers to a general question, they were paired up for one-on-one arguments, and finally there was a concluding free-for-all. The one-on-ones, in particular, allowed the leaders to specify the ideological distance between one another in a relatively uncluttered atmosphere.
Host Anna Maria Tremonti provided an amusing, inadvertent flashback to the 2000 debate, which featured Stockwell Day's hand-scrawled "NO 2-TIERHEALTHCARE" sign, when she warned the candidates at the end of her instructions that "props [were] forbidden." With due respect, I wonder if we might not consider retiring CTV panelist Craig Oliver along with the improvised props. When he prefaced a question to Stephen Harper with an idle cheap shot about the "contradiction" between Mr. Harper's belief in provincial rights and his run for Prime Minister, I raised one eyebrow. Later, unless I am mistaken, he seemingly tried to enter the debate itself, talking audibly at Jack Layton with his lapel microphone off after asking a health-care question. The other eyebrow went up, and the jaw dropped.
Mr. Duceppe did serve one useful role in the bidding for English Canadian seats: he provided a convenient back for Jack Layton and Paul Martin to pat during the segment on social policy. Both men cited Quebec's subsidized community daycare as a desirable model to introduce across the country.
Mr. Harper might have asked why other provinces haven't introduced it yet if it's so great -- but he pointed out, anyway, that daycare is a provincial responsibility under the Constitution, and that he prefers to offer relief to families by means of direct tax assistance. All the leaders managed to make their platforms clear.
The Prime Minister had a less easy time of it in the foreign-policy phase of the debate -- the juncture of the event at which he was perhaps weakest, even though it may be a relatively strong part of his game as a policy-maker. On Iraq, Mr. Martin was pinioned by the sudden chummy agreement between Messrs. Harper and Layton that their own positions on the war were clear enough but that his had been incomprehensible. They played the same tag-team game when continental missile defence arose; he ended up reciting his position that he "opposes the weaponization of space" without giving a plain "for" or "against." In the one-on-one with Mr. Harper, he overplayed his hand by bringing up the Conservative defence-policy proposal for "aircraft carriers," allowing Mr. Harper to dispel the myth that the Tories want to build a nuke-boiling Canadian Nimitz to deal death across the seas.
All three national leaders had weaknesses one can point to, but none were in the nature of a dramatic suicide-by-sound clip. Mr. Martin looked the least comfortable by far, and had few good moments. Someone has equipped him with an affable smile-cum-dismissive wave that he uses when interrupted; it makes the temptation to slap the man's face resistible only by the saving grace of great geographical distance. The best thing in his playbook might be the "rights are rights" talk he gives out with when asked why he prefers to let the Charter be defined solely by the Supreme Court.
It sounds simple, statesmanlike, and categorical. But -- leaving aside its truth-status -- it only serves to highlight how unclear and hedged so many of his other positions are.
And then again, he might have embarrassed himself outright the least. Mr. Harper may have a point when he uses suppressing child pornography as a possible good use of the "notwithstanding" clause in the Constitution, but to bring up kiddie porn when asked about abortion or same-sex marriage looks awfully like a desperate act of deflection -- and possibly an objectionable one, to gays and pro-choice women.
For his part, Mr. Layton, although the sunniest of the lot, can't help veering into moonbat territory. He accused Mr. Harper early in the evening of "hiding behind free votes" in Parliament, and then got stomped good by Mr. Martin later, when he charged Mr. Martin with "hiding behind the Charter" on social policy. The NDP leader is, I fear, a one-trick pony metaphor-wise. Mr. Layton also tried to initiate some to-and-fro about banning "racial stereotyping;" he should probably be glad that he left no clear idea of what exact Orwellian abomination he had in mind. (June 16, 2004)
- 9:59 pm, June 23
Whatever else happens, the maiden extra-atmospheric flight of SpaceShipOne may be the thing people remember about 2004 in the year 2104. The coolest links I've seen are this weblog entry with pictures snapped from the ground (via BoingBoing) and the touching photo Jerry Pournelle got of SS1 steersman Mike Melvill receiving astronaut wings--the first ever awarded to the pilot of a private craft--from an associate administrator of the FAA.
- 9:05 pm, June 23
More from the summer cinema catchup
Road to Perdition
Tom Hanks plays a button man whose murdering ways get his wife and children (I forget exactly how many) killed, but who is healed and redeemed and whatnot as he flees his betrayers with his last surviving brat in tow. The whole thing's a very nice opportunity for the old man and the boy to get to know each other, and even to engage in a little comic business--at Al Capone's expense, no less! Too bad the pair chose to flee towards the town with a name ripped from the pages of A Child's Garden of Lameass Foreshadowing. Sam Mendes seems to have arrived just in time to answer America's undiscovered need for a stupid, gauche version of John Sayles.
Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers
I didn't watch these back-to-back, but it seems like it would have been a good idea in retrospect. A major theme of We Were Soldiers--whose reviewers concentrated mostly on a frightfulness I found to have been wholly exaggerated--is the meaning of American air dominance to an infantry battle. Mel Gibson spends part of the movie griping that his newfangled air-cavalry unit has been assigned the same designation as Custer's. He and his men end up in more or less Custer's predicament, but Mel is able to pick up a phone and shout "Broken Arrow!" into the receiver. This brings all available air units in the theatre to his assistance. The effect is rather impressive. But when you have an advantage like that, you become too dependent on it, and that, as you all know, is just what Black Hawk Down is about.
More and more, I tend to grade war movies on how well they give you a mental picture of the tactical situation. Black Hawk Down is all right, though nowhere near as good as the book. We Were Soldiers takes special care with the viewer's internal map, specifying the various points of Vietnamese access to the encircled U.S. landing zone. The movies depict two different kinds of classic American commanders--WWS's Gibson being an educated, superhuman warrior-saint who never blows his cool, and BHD's Sam Shepard being a highly political hardass who gets in over his head.
In WWS, the Vietnamese are shown to be smarter planners who simply have the bad luck to be out-helicoptered. (In Ho Chi Minh City, I suspect it is a great favourite under the title Heroic Patriots Die Resisting the Running-Dog Lackey of the Roman Catholic Church.) In BHD, the Somalis are props, but that's a point on which the book was not a great deal better, and given another 20 years, Mark Bowden would certainly have achieved more in this regard. We Were Soldiers would be the better of the two movies, if not for an embarrassing sequence in which the actor playing Joe Galloway is superimposed, snapping away with his Nikon, over some of Galloway's real photos. Because you wouldn't know they were real if Barry Pepper hadn't been ghosted into the background, right? You being a retard and all.
This is the four-part A&E/Channel Four mini with Kenneth Branagh, not the more recent IMAX movie, which, if I recall right, is called Ernie Shackleton's Bogus Journey. Or should have been. Branagh gave his usual 110% for the Hitler Network; you can tell he dropped some weight for the appropriate sequences, and at times he seems to morph creepily into the living figure of slick, single-minded Sir Ernest. At three hours, I'm tempted to say that this is strictly for the student of circumpolar exploration's heroic age. Then again, if you've never heard of Shackleton or the Endurance, you'd be in for a special treat, too, because you'd never know what was about to happen (and it quite beggars belief that it really did).
Welcome to Mooseport
They were really counting on Gene Hackman and the TV actors here to bring their baggage with them; Ray Romano plays Ray Romano (gormless self-deprecating charmer with a small-town heart o'gold), Maura Tierney plays Maura Tierney (adorable career-minded cutie), Christine Baranski is the emasculating schemer, Rip Torn the crass, diabolical sidekick... fill in the blanks. I felt like I was watching a sequel to everything these people had ever been in, and it's an unsatisfying one. If they'd switched everybody around--had Romano play the calculating ex-president, Hackman the hardware-store owner, Baranski the patient girlfriend driven past her limits, and so on--there might have been hope for something with a funky Sling Blade sorta feel. But basically you can't hold the product against the seller when strict truth in advertising has been observed.
Igby Goes Down
Not too bad; it's Whit Stillman without the moral energy. I felt at times that Igby was trying to have it both ways. "Look at all these disgusting trust-fund kids, and their hideous adulterous parents, boring themselves literally to death in the Hamptons. Of course, it's given that you find that lifestyle compelling enough to sit still here for 97 minutes, which is really terribly postmodern and kind of makes the movie about you, don't you think?" But the screenplay is witty, you always want to know what happens next, and one's response to Kieran Culkin is actually quite a lot like having an extremely frustrating and self-destructive asshole for an acquaintance.
An unexpected revival of the detached, clinical, existentialist '70s thriller of the sort they don't make anymore. The critical response, which amounted to a clamour that the movie hadn't told us clearly enough what to think, may reveal the reason they're not made anymore. Michael Caine plays an aging Frenchman who organized the murder of seven Jews in an occupied village during the war, and has been living on the run, under the protection of the church, ever since. After Caine kills a man sent to assassinate him, investigating magistrate Tilda Swinton and army officer Jeremy Northam begin to hunt him down, trying to reach him before the others--who may want to punish him, or merely silence him--do. It will come as no surprise that Caine is understated, Swinton determined and Glenda Jackson-esque, and Northam dashing and sly. It's not great--the movie's insistence on foregoing any sort of Hollywood ploy that would drop you into the scene on somebody's side verges on the perverse. But it's nowhere near as bad as you've heard.
School of Rock
Noxious piffle, I'm afraid: I like Jack Black, but 108 minutes of hyperactive jackass should set off anybody's warning bells. If you still think of Led Zeppelin as subversive, you're a Baby Boomer no matter when you were born. I would have liked this much better if Crispin Glover had played the fake teacher, and he'd made the kids shoot heroin while listening to Merzbow. Excellent in a lost cause: Joan Cusack.
Man on Fire
Widely billed as a repellent revenge fantasy, an idea which made me go "Sounds pretty good!" when I heard about it and "Ew!" when I saw the actual thing. The sheer bullheaded purity of it is still almost attractive, but in the end a movie (or a culture) has got to have something in that middle ground between nihilism and mawkishness. Tony Scott's effort to out-Tony-Scott himself manages to make teddy bears and flowers positively sinister and Linda Ronstadt's "Blue Bayou" a nauseating atonal dirge. Excellent in a lost cause: Rachel Ticotin.
I might be the only one who thinks the Coen Brothers have really found their métier in reviving the spirit of screwball comedy. It turns out those visual and narrative non-sequiturs that plagued their early work were just looking for the appropriate genre. Pretty good stuff.
If Tilda Swinton is our Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett is our Vanessa Redgrave: discuss amongst yourselves. The real-life story here unfolded in cinematic fashion, and Blanchett is very good, so they really couldn't have missed with this one. That the actual posthumous effect of Miss Guerin's work was to encourage the Irish Republic to seize the "unexplained" assets of suspected criminals (i.e., people who haven't successfully been convicted of anything), and that the movie wallows in this as a wonderful development for humanity, spoils things only slightly. It seems some governments can't work out how to send a beat cop ambling down a street where kids are playing with discarded needles, but when it comes to expropriating carefully-hidden private fortunes, no end of manpower suddenly becomes available. Go figure.
- 8:25 am, June 23
"Jesus, this is getting worse than the Knesset," says an AndrewCoyne.com commentator of the post-election scenarios. Oddly enough, we haven't even begun to systematize or exhaust these. Pieter at Peaktalk has an informative entry about Dutch precedents for a national-union coalition. "Not gonna happen", says Coyne, probably correctly. Damian Penny and his commenters also have some thoughts.
If all this talk makes you want to get out and vote for the party closest to a majority, that would probably still be the Conservatives--even though the the Liberals are ahead in decided-voter support 34%-28% in the latest Ipsos poll. Regrettably, I am more inclined to trust these numbers than I do the Monday National Post projections which gave the NDP close to 30 seats nationally. That doesn't mean they don't require interpretation: right-wing parties always do better at the ballot box than in mid-election and mid-term polls, the Conservatives are certainly going to get out more of their decided voters out on Monday, and many of the votes have already been cast in advance polls. The situation at the moment is, simply, utterly unclear. Norman Spector has his usual thorough roundup of Tuesday morning news, and will have Wednesday's soon.
The good news, says the Ottawa Citizen, is that we're safe from terrorists as long as Paul Martin has a chance of winning.
If al-Qaeda did strike, it would likely usher in a majority government for Conservative leader Stephen Harper--and the terrorist group certainly would not want to help the hawkish Mr. Harper take power from the Liberals who kept Canada out of the Iraq war.
Perhaps more to the point, they wouldn't want to help defeat a prime minister who had personally participated, against the advice of Canadian diplomats, in fundraising for a group identified by the Canadian government and the U.S. state department as a terrorist front organization. It's the little pre-9/11 details like that that get lost so easily in the hustle and bustle of an election campaign.
- 5:52 am, June 23
Tuesday morning's Post column is now online, but for subscribers only. -9:28 am, June 22
New at Spectator.org: I answer the big questions for Americans about the Canadian election--"Who's this Stephen Harper fellow, and do I give a crap?" All you American readers who have found this website utterly eye-glazing for the past month can now read a brief subjective primer on the unrest in the Dominion. Canadians might enjoy it too, and should follow the link as a reward for TAS's tireless cultivation of Canadian journalists.
- 10:58 pm, June 21
Whom to unite against?
SAGUENAY (CP) -- Quebec's needs will not be ignored if the Bloc Quebecois holds the balance of power in a minority government, Leader Gilles Duceppe said Monday.
As things are now shaping up, even the Liberals and the Bloc together may not have enough seats to form a House of Commons majority. If the NDP gets 20 seats, as everyone but me seems to expect, the Bloquistes and Liberals together would probably fall short. They would come up short even if the NDP stalled at 15 and the Conservatives got 140, which is about where my best guess lies right now.
Duceppe said a Bloc caucus with kingmaker powers could topple any minority government that acts against Quebec's interests.
"Whether it's the Liberals or the Conservatives, they've got to listen to what we say with a lot of interest because their future will be at stake," Duceppe told a news conference.
A Liberal government which proceeds with the conditional confidence of the Bloc and the NDP is not impossible, but Paul Martin would face a difficult bidding problem in trying to construct such a working majority; the more the anglo socialists asked for, the more the franco socialists would want, and vice versa. He'd have to sell out completely to both, which may not even be possible. But Liberals should ask themselves, before they vote, whether they trust Martin not to try holding power with the support of Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe. It's the Liberals who have insisted that this campaign is about a "vision of Canada". Very well: maybe we'll get to find out whether that vision includes working with democratic socialists and Quebec separatists in a grand alliance against pro-federalist conservatism.
The unthinkable, the unspoken possibility, is for the Liberals and Conservatives to form a government of national union. Cooperation between the Conservatives and the Liberals to keep the Bloc out of power seems like an obvious idea, since their platforms have come to resemble one another's in many respects anyhow. The practical problems are legion: we may not be prepared to contemplate it until a second election has ended in the same sort of stalemate this first one seems to be headed for. But if there is a second election, it would be somewhat likely to end in just such a unresolved standoff.
- 10:26 pm, June 21
Q: Hey, where's that Monday National Post column? A: Being of a soft-pegged nature, it was swapped to Tuesday's paper to make room for a tête-à-tête between the Martins (Liberal leader Paul and Post political reporter Don). Worse still, you'll have already read--or should have read--this column from last week about proportional representation. (There was a follow-up to it here). But don't fret--there will be more content as soon as I wrap up a column on the election for the American Spectator. Meanwhile I've done you the favour of dragging Fumbling.com back from desuetude: Mike is in excellent form, so go read.
It is hard to see how the New Democratic Party could get any "greener," short of putting Jack Layton on an all-chlorophyll diet until his cookie-duster turned viridian. Nonetheless, Canada has acquired a viable, independent, cross-country Green Party that, in national polling, draws the support of between 3% and 5% of the electorate. If we are to believe the numbers, about a half-million Canadians can be expected to cast a Green vote on June 28.
I'm not here to pass judgment on the sanity of those half-million -- not today -- but I do note that one of their health-related campaign promises is to "create opportunities for more outdoor physical activities." Am I the only one who suspects this means, "If we ever win, you'll have to walk to work"?
Anyway, those half-million votes, should they appear, are likely to be ineffectual under our first-past-the-post system. The Greens will end up with no Commons representation, precisely because they are spread out across Canada. The same half-million votes, if they were geographically concentrated, could yield seats by the dozen. So the Greens have become a trendy case study in supposed electoral injustice -- a living argument for the replacement of our winner-take-all balloting with Euro-style proportional representation.
With so much lip service being paid to PR, I want to remind everyone that hard cases make bad law. The Greens seem to be charming and innocuous -- precisely, I think, owing to their impotence -- so they are a pretty hard case indeed. No one would talk of reforming our democracy to address the cruel silencing of an Aryan Nations or Marxist party that had 5% support in the polls. The Green voters are young, passionate and have new ideas, and while I figure that's three strikes against them, there are those who imagine that Green inclusion in a fragmented PR Parliament might "reawaken" youth interest in politics. Which is supposed to have died out, sometime, and is supposed to be desirable, somehow.
One must admit there is a big, crude moral argument there: If you have 5% of the votes, why not 5% of the seats? And that argument, indeed, has a practical appeal to those of us vexed by 10 years of Liberal majorities commanding no more than 41% of the Canadian vote. But there is cause for hesitation about favouring proportionality.
Last week, Patrick Basham of the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., wrote a brief article pointing out some of the recent research on the effects of electoral structures on public affairs. (Basham is also a former director of the Fraser Institute's Social Affairs Centre.) Two European economists named Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini are the leading experts in this field, and their most recent finding, based on a survey of 140 countries, is that democracies with proportional representation consistently tend to have higher taxes, more government spending (by about 5% of GDP) and higher deficits (by 3%).
This is just what one would surmise, I think, from observing world politics non-scientifically. Proportional representation generally forces large mainstream parties to find coalition partners amongst smaller, single-issue groupings. We could end up with a minority government ourselves come June 28; imagine the bidding that would arise if the Greens held a key to the majority necessary to govern. Far from bestowing a suitable modicum of power on narrow interests, PR arguably gives them a chance to hold a country hostage.
There's another Persson and Tabellini paper that Basham didn't mention -- a 2003 study suggesting that PR encourages outright corruption. "Corruption" is a little hard to quantify, but a nonpartisan organization, Transparency International, publishes an annual index of nations rated on their reputation for suppressing dodgy political practices. Persson and Tabellini tested the hypothesis that individual accountability amongst politicians would be greater, and corruption less likely, in countries where candidates had to win pluralities in a home riding and earn their own seats instead of being part of a preordered party slate under a PR system. They found confirming evidence that politics are cleanest in first-past-the-post systems (though it is equally important that electoral districts not be too small).
Canadians know that the personal rebuke of a political leader by home voters can serve as a useful signal. In Alberta, we remember the 1989 election, in which the Conservatives won but premier Don Getty lost his Edmonton-Whitemud seat. Albertans weren't ready to support a non-Conservative government (and still aren't), but they were exasperated by billions of dollars in losses from bad loan guarantees to businesses, made with the aim of "economic diversification." What Albertans wanted was a Conservative government based on actual conservative principles. It came about quickly because the Whitemud voters were able to wound Mr. Getty and spare his party.
It may be rude to mention it, but Confederation nowadays owes its solvency to Albertan prosperity and to the fiscal example set by Mr. Getty's successor. In an alternate universe where Canadian legislatures are elected under PR, Mr. Getty might still be premier, perched comfortably at the top of the Conservative electoral slate. (June 14, 2004)
- 11:35 am, June 21
But you didn't hear it from me
Bruce Rolston has returned from a poorly-timed hiatus (still MIA: Mike Sugimoto). He is, alas, under orders from the Sovereign not to disclose his opinions about the election. Otherwise he
might be tempted to say that, regardless of their performance pre-election, the shameful display of gutter-politics, fear-mongering, vote-buying and outright lying we have seen from one party in particular in this election would, in any just country, lead to them not only being denied Ottawa, but being denied service at donut shops for at least the next four years.
But while our soldiers might have to hide their light under a bushel, at least one constituency is vocal about its voting intentions.
KINGSTON - No candidates have come knocking on these doors, but inmates in Canada's federal prisons say they will exercise their hard-won right to vote today. And many say they hope their ballots will keep the Conservative party's tough-on-crime proposals out of the House of Commons.
About 22 people were waiting to sign up when registration opened a couple of weeks ago at Bath Institution, said David Dobson, a federal inmate at the Kingston facility. "A lot of people are just going to keep the Conservatives out." Stephen Harper's party advocates incarceration, not rehabilitation with an American-style "three-strikes" justice system, the 40-year-old said. "We have to be careful of who's getting in," Mr. Dobson said, holding up an information pamphlet and pro-Liberal sign that he had circulated. [Emph. mine]
Prisoners vote in advance polls for their home ridings, rather than in the riding where they happen to be in stir. It's almost a shame we can't see the individual poll results for federal prisons; I dare say they'd be as Liberal red as the first rose of summer. Amazingly, the above paragraphs weren't even the most delicious part of Jennifer Chen's Citizen story...
Like many Canadians disenchanted with the political system, inmate George Gosselin said it was no use voting for politicians who would break their promises. "The last prime minister who did anything was Trudeau," the Bath Institution inmate said. "Everything he put in they've taken out."
Insert your own joke here about Andrew Coyne ("it [voting] is their right") and the only other constituency as nostalgic for PET as he is.
The Post is keeping me on a nutbusting election schedule: having appeared in the paper Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you'll also see me--hopefully on the front page--bright and early Saturday with a column about this past week's Liberal campaigning style. (Hint: I'm less than impressed!)
[UPDATE, June 19: The Saturday column is behind the subscriber wall, which means you'll have to look for it on the newsstand.]
- 6:38 pm, June 18
Today's National Post column from me is an attempt to dispel illogical talk of a Liberal-NDP coalition getting the first chance to govern the country after the vote on June 28. It's subscriber-only on the Web, but the main point is worth recapping for you here.
The NDP is somewhere short of 20% in the polls (17%, in the most recent Ipsos survey); since they only got 8% of the vote in the last election, there has been a presumption that their seat total will rise very dramatically, if they merely hold their current level of support. This is not going to happen. They haven't gained squat in Atlantic Canada, and in the West some of the NDP incumbents actually face annihilation because their margins are thin and the conservative parties have merged. Jack Layton's doubling of the party's overall national support may yield a few seats in and around Toronto, but the vast majority of the increase will be squandered on moving rural-Ontario vote percentages from the 4-5% range to the 15-20% range. Big deal.
20 seats is about the most generous estimate you could fairly make for the NDP right now. I'd make it more like 15 myself if you put a gun to my head. The Liberals are around 110 at best--Ipsos, whose results have been less Tory-friendly than Pollara's, puts them below 100. That leaves the left parties well short of the combined majority a lot of people have them taking to the Governor-General after the vote.
I don't know whether the Conservatives will get a majority yet; that's a call I'm not ready to make. But I am pretty confident that Paul Martin, though he may be summoned to Rideau Hall first, will be forced to concede Stephen Harper the first shot at constructing a government. All this horseshit about Martin having the theoretical privilege of continuing to govern in a minority situation (which I'm not super confident in anyway) ignores Martin's traditional responsibility to assure himself of a reasonable chance of winning the House's confidence. It also ignores, for that matter, his own interests optics-wise.
But I could be wrong. Here's last week's column, which ran on the front page and was incidentally the inspiration for the amusing reader mail I posted on Wednesday. I want to reiterate, because I couldn't find a way to do it in the text of the column itself, that the original idea was David Janes' (plus, much of the conceptual and reporting groundwork is Dan Gardner's and Heather Sokoloff's).
Here's a quick quiz question for you. Which Canadian political party introduced and fought successfully for draconian new limits on women's reproductive choice in the House of Commons this spring?
Give up? The correct answer is: "The Liberal Party of Canada." The same Liberal Party of Canada whose new television ad, first aired Wednesday, warns that their chief opponent "won't protect a woman's right to choose."
Bill C-6, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, sailed through the House and Senate and received royal assent on March 29. Press coverage focused mostly on the provisions concerning stem-cell research and on cloning. Few bothered to notice that reproductive choice had been given a savage beating by the surviving provisions, which ban the sale of sperm and eggs and outlaw surrogate motherhood for pay. Mr. Martin voted for C-6.
So let's get the Prime Minister's position absolutely straight, shall we? He supports a woman's right to kill her embryo, but not to accept cash for handing it over to a loving family. He supports a woman's absolute sovereignty over her uterus if she wants a baby extracted from it, but he's against it if she wants to have a fertilized egg put into it. He supports a woman's "right to choose" abortion, but not her right to choose to be a surrogate mother for pay, to sell her eggs or to buy sperm. C-6 doesn't just make it illegal to compensate a woman for carrying your child to term; it makes it illegal even to make such an offer, or to counsel a woman or a couple on their for-profit options.
Unlike Paul Martin, I'm consistent about favouring reproductive choice. I'm pro-choice on abortion, surrogate motherhood for profit, egg sales -- damn near everything. Most people aren't so consistent, and C-6 was lauded by everybody except those actually affected by it: infertile couples, and the medical practitioners who serve them. For these people, the bill is a calamity. They approached the Liberals with concerns about the drying up of the relevant donor pools -- how many women will want to undertake surrogate pregnancy as an unremunerated hobby? They complained about the fines of up to $500,000, and jail terms up to 10 years, for those who violate the new rules. The Liberals didn't listen.
Before C-6, private imports from the United States were our main source of donated sperm, since few Canadian hospitals can afford to collect and test it. Now that source is outlawed -- which is something all those newlywed lesbians out there might want to think about before voting Liberal. U.S. doctors are anticipating hundreds of Canadian "reproductive tourists" coming south for the help they've been denied in Canada. Just like the rest of Liberal health policy, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act attacks "for-profit" medicine here at home while leaving foreign access open to rich politicians and shipping magnates.
It's all in the name of the "dignity of human life" and the principle that "humans are not for sale." Curiously, many statements supporting the law in these terms were made by people whose heads would explode if abortion were described by some Conservative MP as an "indignity," or the death of a "human."
As Dan Gardner pointed out in the Ottawa Citizen in March, there is all of one paragraph in the 1993 Royal Commission report that inspired Bill C-6 about for-profit trade in sperm, eggs and embryos. The committee, festooned with praise since 1993 for its magnificent ethical clarity, provided exactly one argument against commercialized reproductive assistance: "We heard clearly from Canadians that they are uncomfortable ... [with] the selling of any reproductive material, including eggs, sperm, or zygotes/embryos, because of its ultimately dehumanizing effects."
Q.E.D.: People are uncomfortable with it, therefore it's bad. And yet -- pardon me for asking, but doesn't profit from the outright destruction of embryos make anyone uncomfortable? Isn't Cheryl Gallant being crucified now for commenting in much the same way about the "dehumanizing effects" of legal abortion? And if it's right for a Royal Commission to consult Canadians on their "comfort level" about assisted reproduction, how can it be the pinnacle of evil to hold a free vote on some abortion-related matter in Parliament?
I believe in solving these problems from first principles, and here's the one I propose: If it's OK ethically to kill something, it's probably OK to sell it. (Especially when selling it may prevent it from being killed.) The fact is, Liberal support for C-6 led to the greatest practical reversal in Canadian history for women's reproductive rights. That makes hypocrites of those Liberals on your TV screens -- the ones who "can't believe we're still discussing reproductive rights in the year 2004" after initiating the discussion themselves. (June 11, 2004)
- 6:59 am, June 18
Sauce for the goose
Andrew Coyne will soon be posting his Wednesday Post column, which is a probe of the weird cosmos of the Globe and Mail's pages. I had myself hoped to write something on Kirk Makin's astonishing Wednesday story about how terrified the "legal world" is of a Conservative victory June 28. Coyne, however, is already on the case, which is just as well, since I'm surrounded by deadlines. There's actually not so much wrong with Makin's reporting, and I admire his work--the only comment I'd make of that sort is to ask why the profession of law is always referred to as the "legal world" (or the "legal community"), and almost never as the "legal business".
But consider this quote, doubtless representative of legal-world terrors, from constitutional expert David Stratas:
This is the first time in its 129-year history that the Supreme Court has been an election campaign issue. If Mr. Harper is too overt about this, there will be a whole host of people concerned about court-packing. Until now, Supreme Court appointments are seen to have been made entirely on merit. Court-packing is alien to our culture. It would backfire.
Got that? The very act of replacing the judges retiring in the normal course of aging would be deemed "court-packing" by the Stratasphere. Prime Minister Stephen Harper can't be "overt" about looking for ideologically sympathetic judges: Stratas, staggeringly, seems unaware that Jean Chretien put almost nothing but Martian left-liberals on the Court, and that among his "merit"-driven choices have been the unknown and unheralded wife of a former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister (Deschamps), the national "Yes" chairman from the 1992 Charlottetown Accord referendum (Bastarache), and a former anti-sovereignty strategist from the Quebec Liberal party in the '70s (LeBel). He also turned a former president of the national Liberals into the Chief Justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal last year. Question for Stratas: isn't this court-packing? Pardon my French, but I'd say it's practically fudge-packing.
- 12:49 am, June 17
You've got mail... pissdrinker!
Ever want to see the inside of a newspaper columnist's inbox? I warn you, sometimes opening it up is a bit like unwittingly following that Goatse link we've all seen...
Sent : June 16, 2004 9:36:58 PM
Sic. I make no warrant as to whether my correspondent has stated his identity accurately; it would be unfortunate if this entertaining missive were presumed to reflect on the Brandon University employee who shares the author's name.
To : email@example.com
Subject : EXTREMIST!!!
SO YOU BY YOUR COMMENTS IN THE NATIONAL POST JUNE11 WOULD ADVOCATE THE SELLING OF BABIES??? HAVE YOU NOT HEARD OF THE CASE OF BABY SELLING IN OKLAHOMA INVOLVING A CANADIAN MOTHER??? THE HENDERSON CASE. I CANNOT BELIEVE THERE ARE PEOPLE RUNNING AROUNBD LOOSE LIKE YOU ARE.. YOU AND YOUR HENCHMAN STEVE HARPER.
YOU ARE BOTH FUCKING ASSHOLES WHO SHOULKD BE SHOT IN THE FACE WITH A BALL OF YOUR OWN SHIT !!! BECAUSE THATS WHAT YOU ARE... SHIT!!! LOOSE STINCKIN COW SHIT!!!
YOU KNOW THE KIND OF STENCH THAT KEEPS EMANATING OUT OF TORONTO??? YAH THAT STENCH OF DECREPID JOURNALISTS WHO WOULD MANUFACTURE CONSENT AND PUT CANADA INTO HARM BY ADVOCATING THE LIKES OF HARPER TO GOVERN..
YOU HAVE YOUR JOURNALISTIC AGENDA AND PROFIT MOTIVE.. HARPER AND HIS BAND OF ASSHOLES WILL MAKE MORE SCANDOLOUS AND CORRUPT GOVERNMENT AND RIGHT WING EXTREMISM THAT YOU THE MEDIA WILL EVER HANDLE NOW THAT YOU HAVE BUILT THEM UP TO BE LIGITIMATE.. WHAT FUCKIN TURDS YOU ALL ARE!!!
LIARS!!! CHARLATANS!!! ASSHOLES... PISS DRINKERS!!!!
[phone number deleted] IF YOU WANNA KISS MY ASS OR EAT MY SHIT!!!
- 4:19 pm, June 16
Here is that SUPER MIDWEEK BONUS POST-DEBATE SPECIAL column from this morning's Post.
- 6:23 am, June 16
Wondering what I have to say about tonight's English-language federal chefferie? The traffic seemed to undergo a suspicious spike right around 10 p.m. Eastern. You'll have to wait a few hours: the Nashville Toast had me do a post-debate wrapup for the front page of Ontario editions. I'm told it will be available on the Web for benefit of the rest of us, and I'll link to it then. In the meantime, I recommend Paul Wells' postmortem, whose sheer nastiness is--using the word in its primary English meaning--awesome. Actually, there's a useful style comparison here. Wells asks, with delightful directness,
Who taught Paul Martin to put his hand in another man's face to shut him up?
But Daddy was busy pouring the foundations of the welfare state!
I'm going through a rococo Johnsonian phase right now, so I put the same idea more pompously:
Someone has equipped [Martin] with an affable smile-cum-dismissive wave that he uses when interrupted; it makes the temptation to slap the man's face resistible only by the saving grace of great geographical distance.
- 9:23 pm, June 15
There have been a couple of snarky replies to my Monday column about proportional representation, and the usual diffident e-mails of support have so far been largely absent. I'd like to address a couple of the objections, as they are perhaps widely shared.
One puzzling, finger-wagging letter from a Post reader suggested that I had deviously cast PR in the most negative possible light by failing to mention the transferrable ballot and the old practice of having multiple seats in single ridings. I wrote back with the modest riposte that these are not proportional representation, are not logically conjoined with proportional representation, and would not necessarily make representation any more proportional. I could be persuaded to favour the transferrable ballot with a simple 50% majority requirement for election, but PR wonks have invented a plethora of bizarre alternative formulas which have the dubious twin merits of (1) making the vote-counting process incomprehensible and (2) not yielding just results even according to PR norms. Whoops.
The proportionality of STV can be controversial, especially in close elections such as the 1981 election in Malta. In this election the Maltese Labour Party won a majority of seats despite the Nationalist Party winning a majority of first preference votes. This caused a constitutional crisis, leading to provision for the possibility of bonus seats. These bonus seats were used in 1987 and again in 1996. Similarly, the Northern Ireland elections in 1998 led to the Ulster Unionists winning more seats than the SDLP, despite winning a smaller share of the vote.
There are a whole lot of people, I guess, who lack the barest acquaintance with Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Something to do with archery, surely?
Functional PR, in the real world, is compatible only with party-picked national slates of candidates--and such slates are themselves incompatible with basic features of our democracy. I consider local accountability for every elected parliamentarian to be such a feature, at any rate. It is wise to require that every MP should command the certifiable support of some specific geographical community.
Another reader laughs at my "weak arguments" and says simply that "First-past-the-post is sort of limited democracy." Whatever "limited democracy" might mean, it seems as though that is exactly the sort of democracy we live in, and I thank heaven for it. I know of no unlimited one--no perfect, crystalline method of translating collective will to action; if there were one, I think we should rue the results soon enough. Democracy is not a primary principle of our constitutional monarchy. If it were, we should have, at the least, separate elections for each federal ministry; or no Parliament at all, with federal referenda on every federal bill. We should have no fixed constitution, written or otherwise, and perhaps no judiciary (let us vote on whether to set the cute murderer free!). Some of us appear to have attained adulthood without learning that democracy, in Canada, is merely a method of choosing parliamentary representatives and, by extension, ministers. It is the best such method if not promoted to the status of a god.
Some--and I am thinking of the majority of my Alberta compatriots--believe that while democracy may not be an end in itself, more of it would be desirable, as a check on the unexpected growth in the power of the Prime Minister's Office. For years now Westerners, including those at the old Alberta Report magazine, have favoured citizens' initiatives, binding federal referenda on particular matters of urgent concern, an elected Senate, the right of recall, and other procedural reforms designed to purify our constitution by injecting a heady speedball of democracy into it. For years, Westerners' advocacy of these ideas has fallen on deaf ears--been mocked, to some degree, and actively spurned without really offending anyone, in the case of Senate reform.¹ Similarly, Alberta has complained that its representation in the number of overall House of Commons seats has never caught up with its share of the Canadian population, and never can, under the current distribution formulas. In this last instance, the cries for "proportional representation"--in the most basic sense of the phrase--have been little heard outside Alberta. If PR is coming, as I am assured confidently by my correspondents, let it come here to my doorstep first.
I have never joined too eagerly in the constant chanting for Democracy here in my home province. But I do find it droll that so many people have suddenly been converted to the particular cause of PR, rather than the dizzying universe of alternative reforms which might be adopted sooner. Can it possibly have anything do with the fact that a charming little left-wing Green Party full of apple-cheeked young idealists is now being ill-treated by the cruel logic of first-past-the-post, as the Reform Party was at one time in its existence? Can the fact that the Conservatives might now win a majority government with about 40% of the federal vote, as the Liberals have so often of late, be related?
¹The Alberta legislature demanded the right to elect senators as the price of its support for the Meech Lake Accord, and received it, electing Stan Waters. Jean Chretien's refusal to follow this precedent bothered approximately no one outside this province. In fact, some columnists have a noxious habit of pretending that the original exercise never took place and that provincial elections for senators would require an active change--impossible under current political circumstances--to the Constitution. It requires only a prime minister willing to play along, as Brian Mulroney was, and a public willing to hold the prime minister to the principle until it becomes entrenched by custom.
Nobody, after all, had to change the Constitution to create the office of "Prime Minister", a phrase which is not found at all in the British North America Act of 1867, but which magically appears--without being anywhere defined or ever having been formally created--in the Constitution Act of 1982.
- 11:37 pm, June 14
At Radio Weisblogg, everything is about radio. Even the Malcolm Azania mini-scandal! -11:35 pm, June 14
Here's a photo, hot off the Fujipix, from the CBC's handsome streetfront studio in the heart of downtown Edmonton. At left you have the slenderiffic Mike Jenkinson; at right, the Corpse's charming Don Hill. You're looking through the window at Sir Winston Churchill Square, which our city fathers wall up every summer to make "improvements" that Edmontonians will no doubt enjoy--if they ever again get a chance to patronize the frigging thing during the summer. The actual goal this time around is to build a bunch of stuff in the square for the city's 2004 centennial--an amphitheatre, an open-air pavillion, and a waterfall which empties into the reflecting pool (were everyone's tackiness alarms disabled during the approval process?). You can find tiny unattractive photos of the project if you are willing to enter the Flash hell of HIP Architects.
The radio appearance--my first for the CBC--went all right. I forgot how to breathe for the first five minutes of the show, and a pained perusal of the audio record shows that I need to remember not to mumble at the end of my mmmgmmrmmrmgmm. But Hill seems amenable to having me back, so I can't have made a complete jackass of myself. I cannot address rumours that, after the broadcast, the CBC's leftist pagans forced me to spear a ceremonial wild boar in the control room so the blood could be daubed on my forehead.
- 4:13 pm, June 14
It looks like I'll be on the radio at 1 p.m. Mountain time for about an hour. Locals can tune up CBC Radio 1 at 740 on the AM dial; the rest of you can mess about on this page. Our host will be my old pal Don Hill, who used to live in Toronto and host the network's national spirituality show, Tapestry. Sun comment editor Mike Jenkinson and I will be discussing the election and taking abuse from callers about what the late Terry Johnson used to call "our anti-people views".
- 12:00 pm, June 14
You can read today's Post column on proportional representation for free on the webbernet. And here's last Monday's, which had been immured in the subscriber-only zone.
Paul Martin said last week that, if re-elected, he intends to introduce a comprehensive federal daycare program that would take Quebec's model of nearly full funding for crèches and make it national. We've heard this promise from the Chretien Liberals in the last three elections but, mercifully enough, it turned out to be eyewash three times. Coming from Mr. Martin, such a pledge must be taken more seriously, if only because practically anyone's word is more trustworthy than his predecessor's.
Children are the future, it will be said (incessantly), and while that is true enough, I cannot see how that entails nationalizing the poor little devils. I'm not sure, either, how federal day care can possibly be constitutional in spirit, or why the provincial premiers would go along with another bait-and-switch funding deal like medicare. There is so much I'm not sure of -- but I can perceive, with crystal clarity, how the future will look if Mr. Martin gets his way:
- May, 2006: Citing reports of widespread fraud in the new Canada Childcare Act claims system, including a particularly embarrassing case involving a kennel for Malamutes in Nunavut, the Liberal government sets aside $240-million to create a sophisticated computer database of registered caregivers. In the ensuing three years, expenditures will rise to more than $8-billion and the database will be found to be too error-ridden to be of any use. User fees for day care are increased from the original Quebec-inspired $7 a day to $11 to make up for the overruns.
- June, 2007: Statscan announces that unemployment has reached 14% nationally and that Canadian real wages have declined for the third straight quarter. Economists profess themselves mystified by a sudden, inexplicable upsurge in competition for traditional labour-force jobs. "It's as though thousands of people suddenly had some incentive to abandon self-employment, informal work and part-time jobs," says Finance Minister John McCallum. In passing, he adds that the revenue stresses, combined with unanticipated new demand for tax-funded day care, "may put us in a deficit position this fiscal year, purely as a temporary emergency measure."
- January, 2008: New Democrat leader Svend Robinson holds a press conference with his adopted twin sons, Fidel and Yasser, to denounce "extra billing" in federally funded day cares. In fine fettle, Mr. Robinson documents rampant outrages in the system: parental clients across Canada are being charged additional sums by caregivers for "conveniences" such as milk, sunlight, and toilet access. "When are we going to realize that profit-driven providers should never have been allowed to sink their teeth into this system?" the NDP head asks.
- October, 2008: Shortly before the federal election, talks between the emerging Alliance of Registered Daycare Practitioners and the federal government break down over demands for a 23% hike in fee schedules. Unionized day cares across the country hold a half-day wildcat strike, notifying parents that their children will be abandoned at noon as college members adjourn to the picket line. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians miss work to retrieve their kids, and the government, flooded with indignant e-mails, quickly capitulates to the salary demands.
- November, 2008: Although federal Conservative leader Bernard Lord promises to introduce daycare reform, "while, of course, honouring the tenets of the Canada Childcare Act," the Liberals win another narrow majority in the House of Commons. Ten days later, the user fee for registered day care is raised to $15 a day.
- September, 2009: Persistent NDP criticisms force Prime Minister Stephane Dion to acknowledge that Paul Martin's federal daycare program "was only half of the answer." To address the extra-billing problems created by the combination of private provision and public funding, he introduces a bill allocating $60-billion for the creation of a comprehensive network of uniform and federally staffed "KinderSpaces" across Canada. To eliminate the "discouraging growth in two-tiered day care," Mr. Dion legislates a gradual abolition of the "private" practice of preschool child care by anyone but a minor's legal guardians. He describes this as "merely a logical extension" of Mr. Martin's original system.
- July, 2010: Pointing out that the federal government is in "temporary emergency" deficit for the fourth straight year, a dynamic young Toronto lawyer founds the Empty Uterus Party. "I cherish children and acknowledge that they are our future," she says at her inaugural press conference, "but I've made the personal choice not to have any of my own. Shouldn't I be compensated for opting not to place new burdens on the public treasury?"
- April, 2011: After an EUP candidate gains a surprise win a Quebecois by-election -- carried aloft, it's said, by grumbling Baby Boomers whose child-bearing days are long past -- the Liberal government adopts elements of the EUP platform, agreeing to mail "Courage Cheques" of $1,000 to women who have abortions and $3,000 for tubal ligations and hysterectomies.
Elsewhere, as the daily daycare tariff passes $25, the offices of the Fraser Institute are damaged by arson after the think-tank releases a devastatingly critical Report Card and Waiting-List Survey of KinderSpaces.And in a widely reported speech, U.S. President Hillary Clinton praises Canada's "civilized commitment to single-payer child care," promising to implement the northern model in her second term of office. (June 7, 2004)
- 2:41 am, June 14
Spirit of '72
Geitner Simmons has a brief preview of my latest American Spectator book review. If you're a subscriber, that issue should be hitting your doorstep right about now.
- 8:27 am, June 11
My Post column today--inspired by this David Janes weblog entry--is about reproductive freedom, and specifically the lurid hypocrisy of the Liberals, who are screaming endlessly about a "woman's right to choose" less than three months after outlawing financial compensation for surrogate motherhood, sperm donation, and ovum donation. The column is behind the subscriber wall, but since it's on the front page you could probably sneak a peek at the corner store without getting glared at by the cashier.
Here's last week's column, which, conveniently enough, is on a different aspect of the same issue...
This week's most interesting political moment, so far, has been Paul Martin's defence of the Liberal ministerial hecklers who descended on Stephen Harper in Toronto on Wednesday. Martin was caught in a painfully obvious fib when he said that John McCallum and Judy Sgro "spontaneously decided," on their own, to engage simultaneously in a rumble with Mr. Harper. Almost as distasteful, though, was Mr. Martin's explanation for Ms. Sgro's behaviour:
"Judy Sgro feels very, very strongly about a woman's right to choose, and I think what she felt was that Mr. Harper kept avoiding the issue and that he should respond to it directly."
There's a Liberal for you: willing to accuse someone of "avoiding" the issue of abortion, but too chickenspit to actually say the word "abortion." Or did Mr. Martin, just this one time, mean a woman's right to choose curtains for the living room?
Stephen Harper's policy on abortion hasn't changed since before he became leader of the Canadian Alliance. It is unambiguous and well-known: He has undertaken not to alter the status quo, or put it to a referendum or a Commons vote, in the first term of a Conservative government. It's true that he has been cagey about his private position on the ethics of abortion. He describes it only as a moderate view that would probably annoy the intensely passionate of both sides. But "avoiding the issue" is a hell of a way to describe an opponent's reticence when your party has been in power for 10 years and has buried the issue in a million cubic feet of concrete.
Why, I wonder, is it valid for the Liberals to act on the principle that abortion should not be brought up in political debate, but invalid for Stephen Harper to espouse that principle explicitly? For a decade, the Liberal party has stood for what amounts to a moratorium on discussion about the lack of a law concerning therapeutic abortion. Now Stephen Harper goes along, and the Liberals almost literally bushwhack him for it. How dare he act like -- us?
Those Canadians who wax weepful about shredded embryos have been told clearly not to expect anything of Stephen Harper. For Judy Sgro, this is not enough -- not nearly. In the absence of any Canadian law governing therapeutic abortions, we are the most extreme "pro-choice" country in the Western world, practically by definition. According to Ms. Sgro, or according to Paul Martin's free interpretation of her views, explicitly supporting this status quo is not enough to qualify you as reliably pro-choice. No -- your heart must also be in the right place. You must not only be willing to permit legalized abortion: You must actively approve of it, perhaps even adore it.
By this standard, it might enhance Mr. Harper's credentials -- or those of any other party leader -- if he were to confess to having played the male part in an aborted pregnancy or two. Then we'd know what side they were really on, wouldn't we? Shouldn't it be fair -- if a leader has no right to harbour a private opinion on a subject we're perennially told is private by nature -- to challenge these gentlemen on whether they've ever gotten a woman "in trouble"?
Why, most trustworthy of all, when it comes to "choice," would be the brave soul who had actually clambered into a set of surgical scrubs and assisted with an abortion. One day that may be the sort of thing politicians do for a photo-op to reassure women who feel "very, very strongly." I find myself a little relieved, however, that Ms. Sgro has not yet pulled anything crazier than merely confronting a political opponent in public like a street-corner preacher.
To be sure, Stephen Harper could be lying about his plans; he might have intentions of putting Henry Morgentaler in front of a firing squad the minute he's elected. And then again, that devout Roman Catholic Paul Martin Jr. could be lying too -- as he must be suspected of having done, in the very act of denying culpability for the Liberal hecklers' behaviour. It comes down to whom you trust more. Go ahead -- choose the Liberal, sucker.
But if you are really eager for abortion to remain free, tax-funded and legal under all conceivable circumstances in Canada, you should remember that old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China." Only a Liberal prime minister could possibly tamper with a "woman's right to choose" in 21st-century Canada; only a Liberal would have anything to gain from it.
Right now, Harper has the support of earnest Christians and other religious traditionalists, despite his fudging on abortion, because he is the sole national party leader who does not seem to consider the traditional family a species of human bondage and heterosexual matrimony an outrage. To these people, despite his operationally pro-choice position, Mr. Harper will remain the least of three evils. He is as likely to do an about-face on abortion, if elected prime minister, as he is to playfully climb aboard a Jet Ski for campaign reporters in the next four weeks. (June 4, 2004)
That same day, incidentally, Dan Gardner wrote a Citizen column anticipating my argument in today's Post. Here's an excerpt:
If it's outrageous to limit a woman's autonomy by restricting her right to an abortion, it's an equal outrage that she cannot smoke what she wants or have sex under whatever circumstances she chooses. So why aren't pro-choicers furiously demanding the legalization of drugs and prostitution?
The hypocrisy of taking a libertarian line on abortion and ignoring it on other issues was sharply underlined by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan's reaction to the suggestion of Conservative MP Rob Merrifield that women seeking abortions should be required to first have counselling on possible alternatives for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
"The notion of state-imposed, third-party counselling, as if we are children, as if we are not able to make our own decisions about our health and our bodies, is to me, at the beginning of the 21st century, profoundly disturbing and, dare I say it, it is very frightening," Ms. McLellan sputtered as she campaigned to retain her Edmonton West [actually now Edmonton Centre -ed.] seat for the Liberals.
Students of recent history will note that this is the same Anne McLellan who, as minister of justice, refused to even discuss the legalization of prostitution or drugs. And this is the same Anne McLellan who, as minister of health, shepherded the recently passed reproductive-technologies law, which includes a provision stating that anyone seeking to use assisted-reproduction services must first have counselling.
- 8:06 am, June 11
The bonfire of the Azanities
Now I ask you: would a man actuated by calculated self-interest break the day's biggest story in Canadian politics and then lose control of it so completely? Let's recap for those who aren't tracking the Canadian media obsessively.
Monday afternoon, I wrote a fifty-word weblog entry containing a link to a bizarre, unsettling decade-old USENET rumination about Jews and blacks by the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona. It struck me as a merely local story--but not much of one. Who could have lived in Edmonton for the past ten or fifteen years and remained unaware of Malcolm Azania's weird history as a goofball Afrocentrist college broadcaster and hard-left, Black Muslim-influenced blowhard?
The answer, apparently, is everybody. Including the people who vetted him as a candidate for the New Democratic Party, the people who promoted him as the rising star of the NDP in Alberta, and the reporters who have covered him since he discovered his political aspirations. (And, for that matter, his electoral rivals. Opposition research obviously has a long way to go in this country.) By noon Wednesday, I was seeing my own website on the CBC and reporters were phoning me up for comment.
The truth is, I did have a slight reporting advantage: I was at university at the same time as Malcolm, so I knew what to look for when I felt a passing impulse to needle him a little. My byline probably appeared near his in the Gateway a few times, and we have friends in common, though we've never met [but see below -ed.]. I'm told he's a hell of a nice guy, and I should say, by the way, that it sounds as though he is being extremely fair about me in talking to reporters (as well as patient and manful about all the media attention). He's described me as a "conservative columnist", which I can't complain about, and an "old political opponent from university days", which I suppose is true. He hasn't yet, as far as I've heard, referred to me as a "muckraking fascist turdball". I wouldn't want people to think we had engaged in personal feuding or wrote Gateway point-counterpoints or anything like that: we never did. Along with future magazine publisher Ezra Levant and future hemp warrior David Malmo-Levine, Malcolm was the big political celebrity on campus. I had--and have--all the self-promotional talent of a ham sandwich.
[CORRECTION, 1:09 pm: Somebody reminded me this morning that we did meet Malcolm once, though in a non-social setting. I had completely forgotten.]
Now that I mention it, a commenter on Rabble.ca had the last, amusing, and true word on accusations of "muckraking": "What did it take... about three minutes to dig up the article on Google? That's a pretty cursory muckraking." (It probably took more like six or seven, technically.) Accusations that I wrote those fifty words in the service of the Conservative cause won't hold up either, although that didn't stop a Journal reporter from bringing up the question most tactfully in an interview tonight. The Tory candidate in that riding, Rahim Jaffer, is probably a little pissed off with me right now for breaking up the nice, even split in Strathcona's heavy left-wing vote. [Full disclosure: I socialized with Rahim a little during the "Snack Pack" days, but we haven't happened to meet in a couple of years--probably not since his own moment of embarrassment, in fact.]
Anyway, I do have long experience with Malcolm Azania's Professor Griff act. Indeed, since before he was "Malcolm Azania", I was reading his talk of CIA crack factories, prehistoric Africans who invented the differential calculus, and the need for racially segregated public schools in Canada. (To answer The Ambler's puckish questions: he used to be plain old Malcolm Thomas. His mother was former ATA president and Alberta Liberal Nadene Thomas.) It appears that, in relatively late life, the man who used to talk so much about "being named after Malcolm X" has migrated, just like Malcolm X, from White Devil political stylings to colour-blind love for all mankind. If the reader assumes he is in earnest, which seems like the decent thing to do, Azania only needs to apologize once for what he wrote in 1994. But he's already on his second mea culpa and will be made to give many more.
The truly laughable spectacle here is Jack Layton having to "distance himself" from ten-year-old remarks made on USENET by one of his candidates; every Canadian political leader is now caught in this crazy trap of having to account for every word ever uttered by each of his 300-plus grunts. (No wonder Paul Martin chooses so many himself!--he wants people he can trust!) I wonder how Radical Jack likes the taste of the medicine Stephen Harper has to swallow twice a week.
I have very little pity for Layton; I don't honestly know whether to have any for Malcolm. It's rude to analyze someone when you've already caused him what he describes as the "worst day of his life", but I have to say that his black nationalist antics in university, and on the radio afterward, seemed dreadfully transparent psychologically. Friends always accounted for his foolishness by saying it was "all just an act", which is certainly partly true: Malcolm is, I believe, well steeped in joke-conspiracist literature like the Illuminatus! trilogy. He created a joke ideology for himself (and a second pseudonym, "Minister Faust") and rode it exactly as far as it would take him. There were obviously heavy elements of "How much can I get away with?", too. If he's truly come to terms with his past, he won't mind me saying how pitiful a figure he used to cut with his self-caricaturizing (which must have made other U of A black students cringe) and his conscious striving for authenticity.
Hell, let me mitigate this by analyzing myself in the bargain: I went from a childhood in a rural trailer park to the broad green spaces of a major university, thanks entirely to my father's lifelong work at a dirty, strenuous, outdoor working-class job--and when I arrived, what did I find? A trendy suburbanite, the son of a labour-union president, lecturing me about "Whitesupremacy" and the injustices my family was responsible for because of our skin colour. Only the ridiculousness of it--the fact that I was more embarrassed for Malcolm than angry at him--counteracted the sheer offensiveness.
And then again, what do I know about growing up black (or half black) in a city that's nearly all-white? I'm not going to tell you that Jew-baiting is an acceptable coping mechanism for racial isolation, but I don't know what it's like to be in that position, not the first thing. That's not an apology, just a gut reaction. He's the one who chose to run for office despite vulnerabilities he didn't disclose to volunteers and supporters; he ran for office on the foundation of a local profile he built largely because of the same asinine put-on that has now undercut his political candidacy. Those who knew about Malcolm's background, including the man himself, were silent until he was caught out. People ought to take care complaining about the awkward "timing" of a Weblog entry written in forty seconds by a bored dilettante nerd amidst a house full of pizza boxes.
Let me conclude by putting all the relevant links in one place for everyone's convenience, especially mine. The list will probably grow.
The infamous weblog entry
Jason Markusoff's Edmonton electionblog (which inspired my Googling)
Azania's 1994 essay "JEWS: ENEMIES? FRIENDS?"
Rabble.ca thread full of disapproval and defiance
The formal apology at Azania's website
Doug Beazley's Edmonton Sun story from Wednesday (link will rot very soon)
James Cudmore piece for the CBC, with video
Jack Layton reacts; Azania apologizes again
CTV story (same wire content as previous, but link ought to be more durable)
Cartoonist/NDP scion/ex-Gateway editor Steve Notley weighs in (scroll down)
Thursday morning pieces: Journal, Globe, Star, Sun
Paula Simons has an outstanding piece, providing background, context, and solid common sense, in Thursday's Journal. It's not online but if you live in town you might want to check it out. And be sure to read Markusoff's personal reaction to the kerfuffle, which is now up.
Coyne: Canada, land of "gotcha" stories
Nestruck: Internet-age varsity radicals at a disadvantage
- 12:15 am, June 10
Through the looking glass... the page you're looking at makes a guest appearance in James Cudmore's story for the CBC on the Azania apologia. Click on the video link in the top right corner. -12:34 pm, June 9
The Malcolm Azania story landed on the front of the Edmonton Sun this morning. A reader notes that Malcolm's views about Jews may have evolved, but as of 2002 he still had a bone to pick with those "Israeli Zionist occupiers"... -11:03 am, June 9
There's an important update to the entry about the Edmonton-Strathcona race. -2:31 am, June 9
Paging Gomer Pyle
From the Chronicle of Higher Education's online news section:
Doctors were shocked in 2001 to read a study from Columbia University that found that praying for women seeking to become pregnant could double their chances of success using in vitro fertilization.
Some doctors were even more shocked that the study, which they considered highly flawed, had been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Now comes the final surprise: One of the paper's three authors pleaded guilty last month to two federal charges of fraud.
And yet, curiously, I find myself not one bit surprised at all. Fancy that! (Via Julian Sanchez at Hit & Run).
- 12:01 am, June 9
Almost forgot to post a notice of my Monday column here: it's a spooky glimpse into the future of federalized daycare under a Paul Martin government. Sorry, Post subscribers only. Here's the permanent version of last week's column. (Remember when Stephen Harper was still having a "honeymoon" with the press?)
I do think -- Lord, here come the e-mails -- that left-wing media bias is real. And not just at the CBC and the Toronto Star, but in newsrooms, at wire services, and in broadcast news generally. A major theme of the federal election so far has been the absence, surprising to some, of any sign of this bias. It's early days yet: Stephen Harper may still be Stockwelled -- he may, that is, be decked with blatant cheap shots and then declared a failure despite good actual vote totals. But for the moment, it is agreed that Mr. Harper is getting a fair shake, maybe more than fair.
However, a conservative prime-ministerial candidate running from opposition faces subtler, more stubborn biases from the news media. You might even call them structural, or unconscious, biases. Mr. Harper's up against them too, so I wanted to point out a couple in as clinical and un-whiny a way as possible.
The first example we're seeing is Yes-But-Can-They-Govern. In the wake of the Adscam revelations, a lot of people have dared to suggest that the Liberal party has lost its presumptive moral right to rule the country. But many, seeking to preserve the appearance of fairness while telling unfavourable truths about the government, are quick to add that "that doesn't mean the Conservatives have earned that right, either." This is nothing new. For years -- since long before Adscam -- conservative attacks on Liberal governments, attacks universally agreed to be justified and factually accurate, were reported with the Yes-But-Can-They-Govern clause attached. "The Reform Party [or the Alliance] must do more than criticize: it has to demonstrate that it is a credible alternative government." How many times have you heard that one?
There is a kernel of truth to Yes-But. Given a choice of opposition parties, we do have to choose the one best prepared to take over. The problem is that no overt standard of readiness to govern is ever proposed. Preston Manning heard three Yes-Buts a day for his entire political life, and the minute he was out the door, everyone suddenly agreed: "What a bright, decent fellow -- might have made a heck of a prime minister." In practice, it seems the only way a conservative opposition party can prove itself to the Yes-Buttercups is to be elected, despite all the Yes-Butting. The trope forestalls -- forever, if successful -- any kind of real negative judgment on a Liberal government.
There is a related rhetorical practice out there. Let's call it Do-You-Have-A-Plan. When the Liberals promise to spend an additional $500-million a year on some area of urgent concern, no one asks for itemized fine details on how they intend to spend the money. In areas of provincial jurisdiction, like health or education, they can promise to increase transfers without even being entitled to make specific plans. They'll just hand over the cash. Who doubts that entirely worthy things will be done with it?
But when a Conservative proposes to cut taxes -- ah, well, Do-You-Have-A-Plan, Mr. Harper? Suddenly everyone wants to know exactly what existing programs will be savaged to pay for the irresponsible spree. He who wishes to shrink government is expected to inventory the havoc he intends to wreak. He who wishes to aggrandize it is permitted to be vague.
Again, there is an underlying truth to Do-You-Have-A-Plan. It is desirable, if you intend to cut program spending, to start out with ideas about where to apply the axe. But it's unwise to commit to too much before you have the copious information that is available only to the government. If you got elected, you might walk in the door and find less painful program cuts than the ones you proposed to the electorate. You would then have the horrible choice between breaking an election promise and doing the wrong, suboptimal thing for the country.
The incumbent government knows in detail where it's pouring out our money, or ought to know; it can call deputy ministers on the carpet at leisure. The opposition has to rely on spadework that is usually difficult, sometimes impossible, and always impeded by the government. In some instances -- as with Crown corporations like Export Development Canada -- the fine details of waste and error are formal state secrets. So expecting a government and its challenger to produce equally detailed budget plans amounts to a bias in favour of the former. A natural, perhaps even inevitable one -- but a bias, and a liberal one, nonetheless. (May 31, 2004)
- 11:56 pm, June 8
One last entry over on the hockey page. And humble thanks are hereby sent from Edmonton to Tampa Bay. -9:22 am, June 8
The correct answer is 'friends', right?
Rex Murphy hosted a campaign debate in my old riding, Edmonton-Strathcona, last night. The Edmonton Journal's electionblogger, Jason Markusoff, has a brief report containing the puzzling sentence:
There were no clear winners, although [NDP candidate Malcolm] Azania had the least to defend against.
Wow, Malcolm didn't have anything to defend against? I guess nobody asked Edmonton's most famous Louis Farrakhan supporter for his deep thoughts on the question of whether "Jews are friends or enemies".
[UPDATE, June 9: "There is an issue that has come to light about comments I made in an Internet discussion group a decade ago. You should expect coverage of it in Wednesday's Sun and then on radio and television and in the Journal over the next two to three days... I am deeply, totally sorry for what I wrote a decade ago, and I’d like to offer a complete and unreserved apology to my Jewish and White brothers and sisters." Read Malcolm's apology. The folks at Rabble.ca also have a thread in progress.]
[UPDATE, June 10: The story continues here. To say the least.]
- 3:22 pm, June 7
Hail to the chief
Like most Canadians my age I was trained to despise and fear Ronald Reagan. Like most, I came to admire him as my logic chips were implanted over the years. This will sound kind of melodramatic, but I became an anticommunist on a specific day in grade nine or thereabouts when I was first taught the basic Marxist credo. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." For me, this phrase is still the dividing line between the Left and sanity; millions who protest that they are not communists, and never were, are animated by this decrepit maxim.
Reagan was the man who said "No" to it. He and Margaret Thatcher pushed history in the other direction, and expanded the ambit of classical-liberal individualism outward from its Anglo-Saxon refuge. Even amidst today's chorus of encomiums, you are not likely to hear many speak the unlikely truth: that between the two of them, Reagan might have had an equal or better grounding, personally, in the literature of political freedom. Americans suppose Reagan to have been the more "instinctive" proponent of free markets and free minds, but he and Thatcher took similar paths, and Reagan did it quicker, with less help. He didn't have Hayek living round the corner, nor a Keith Joseph applying the spurs to his political program. The American public and punditariat have still not absorbed Edmund Morris's discoveries that Reagan wrote the copy for his own radio broadcasts in the 1970's and his own speeches before he arrived at the White House; that he was an aggressive and sure-handed editor of his speechwriters' work as president; and that his papers contain "page after legal page of reasoned prose" in his own hand. Even Morris is still a little mystified about where it all came from.
Canadians owe him a particular debt of gratitude for setting the continent on the path to free trade. His reflected charisma was, in some respects, responsible for the Mulroney landslide of 1984. This was a psychic reordering of Canadian politics, a sharp divide between eras: it is no coincidence that old Conservative warhorses from the '70s now find themselves well to the left of the Liberals. As far as we have drifted into the European sphere of political and geopolitical philosophy, things could have been much, much worse by now if not for Reagan. And as annoying as it is to squabble with the Americans about beef and softwood lumber, NAFTA remains the Magna Carta--the reference text and the moral ideal--of our economic relationship.
I decided not to write about President Reagan for Monday's Post, knowing that abler columnists would be weighing in. But I'm spitballing a related piece for a future edition; stay tuned.
- 11:21 am, June 7
The Day After Tomorrow... in Moose Jaw
Oh dear. In Saturday's Globe, Eric Reguly committed a rather large solecism in discussing the disconcerting possibility that water levels in lakes and rivers in the Prairie provinces may be headed for a dramatic drop.
Later this month, David Schindler, the University of Alberta biologist who is a leading expert on watershed ecosystems, will publish a paper whose working title is "The Impending Water Crisis on the Canadian Prairies."
He does indeed, but he will be pretty indignant, I think, when he sees Peter Leavitt's research attributed to him. (Never mind what Leavitt and his group will have to say about it.) There is a tendency for the Canadian press to believe that when it comes to water research, the sun shines out of Dave Schindler's rear--but Dr. Schindler's professional focus is not paleolimnology.
Mr. Schindler is no pop-star professor looking for headlines, although he'll gladly take them. For 21 years, until 1989, he was the director of the federal government's Experimental Lakes Project, which conducted research on the effects of acid rain, climate change and other damaging influences on boreal ecosystems. More recently, he has worked on fresh water fisheries management and the effects of climate change on rivers and inland lakes.
...Mr. Schindler's research has uncovered [a] potential problem, this one a true biggie. Twenty centuries of data from tree rings, lake mud cores, fossils and the like suggest the 20th century was unusually wet in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In other words, drought might be the norm. The Prairies have been in drought since 1998. This could be an aberration, or it could be the start of an epically long dry period. Add global warming to the equation and you can see why Mr. Schindler fears the worst of the Prairie water shortage is ahead.
It's Leavitt who constructed an atlas of waterborne microorganisms existing at various lake salinities and used waveform analysis to build a time-series of water levels in selected Prairie lakes. His work is heavily dependent on mathematical assumptions, and Leavitt will be the first to tell you (as he told me last year) that his sampling needs to be broadened before we can be sure how often droughts really happen on the Prairies. The work is based on measurements made at exactly five Prairie lakes, all of them on the fringes of the semiarid part of the ecosystem. It is broadly consonant with the findings of other researchers who have studied the same issue using tree rings, for what that's worth; Leavitt's work has less resolving power when it comes to the fine details of Prairie climate, but can reach back into a much longer timescale. (You can't get "twenty centuries of data from tree rings", as the Globe desk maybe should have noticed.)
Dr. Schindler, like anyone else, is free to use the data to make a defence of the deader-than-Elvis Kyoto Protocol. But one notices (as Reguly acknowledges) that the hypothesis here is that water levels on the Prairies are merely reverting to their preindustrial state. Is that what Kyoto was supposed to be about?--preserving the climate in a profoundly unnatural state for the comfort of human beings?
Increasingly, this does seem to be so: as time has gone by, the case for slowing or reversing climate change has come to depend less on the postulate that the change is anthropogenic (for very good reasons) and more on a one-sided, back-of-a-stained-envelope anthropocentric cost-benefit analysis. Preserving the climate in some hypothesized Edenic state which suits the present arrangement of human society is becoming a political matter of playing regions against regions, with some of the "environmentalists" finding themselves on the opposite side of the issue from the natural environment itself. Dr. Schindler is welcome to oppose the reversion of the Prairie ecosystem to its natural water levels, but his warnings for agriculture and industry won't really be credible until he distances himself from ascientific opponents of agriculture and industry like David Suzuki. If Leavitt is right, then classic conservationists like Schindler are destined to find themselves on the opposite side of this issue from the quasireligious environmentalists. The common cause they have made for forty years against the grosser forms of pollution is doomed: Suzuki, after all, would welcome a calamitous Prairie drought that destroys Alberta's earth-raping conservative civilization. Mommy Nature's revenge.
Reguly--whose column is, on the whole, a relatively edible curate's egg--also loses points with me for describing the Alberta government's Water for Life strategy as "a good start, but only that." Part of the point of Water for Life is that the existing inventory of water supplies on the Prairies suffers from huge unknowns. The "good start" at devising a better accounting might also be described as "the only possible prelude to any sensible resolution of the issue." It's a bit like calling Tycho's astronomical observations "a good start, but only that" to Kepler's theories of planetary motion--technically true, but slightly fatuous all the same.
- 5:12 am, June 7
My Friday Post column is behind the wall. It's about two oddly clashing facts:
a) Conservative leader Stephen Harper has the same formal policy stance on abortion that the Liberals do--he prefers to leave the status quo in place, undebated and unchallenged; and
b) the Liberals apparently consider this unforgivable, to the point of being willing to ambush Harper in the street about it.
I wish I could post the column now, because Coyne's Saturday piece is said to be on precisely the same subject, but he reproduces his stuff on the Web a day after publication, so that'll be the one everybody talks about online. Perhaps the best approach here is to offer a "fair use" taste of my Friday column. There is, after all, an election on!
[Paul Martin says that] "Judy Sgro feels very, very strongly about a woman's right to choose, and I think what she felt was that Mr. Harper kept avoiding the issue and that he should respond to it directly." There's a Liberal for you: willing to accuse someone of "avoiding" the issue of abortion, but too chickenspit to actually say the word "abortion." Or did Mr. Martin, just this one time, mean a woman's right to choose curtains for the living room?
For those who missed it, here's the complete text of my slightly clumsy column about competing liberalisms from a week ago.
...Those Canadians who wax weepful about shredded embryos have been told clearly not to expect anything of Stephen Harper. For Judy Sgro, this is not enough -- not nearly. In the absence of any Canadian law governing therapeutic abortions, we are the most extreme "pro-choice" country in the Western world, practically by definition. According to Ms. Sgro, or according to Paul Martin's free interpretation of her views, explicitly supporting this status quo, as Mr. Harper does, is not enough to qualify you as reliably pro-choice. No -- your heart must also be in the right place. You must not only be willing to permit legalized abortion: You must actively approve of it, perhaps even adore it.
By this standard, it might enhance Mr. Harper's credentials -- or those of any other party leader -- if he were to confess to having played the male part in an aborted pregnancy or two. ...Most trustworthy of all, when it comes to "choice," would be the brave soul who had actually clambered into a set of surgical scrubs and assisted with an abortion. One day that may be the sort of thing politicians do for a photo-op to reassure women who feel "very, very strongly."
On Wednesday, the Post printed the party leaders' answers to the question: "If you could choose any historic period in which to live, which would it be?" Ah! -- a piercing query of genuine interest amidst all the boxers-or-briefs business. Find out where in the human past a man would choose to live, and you have found out something important about how he imagines himself, and what he sees in his head when he imagines the ideal society. It seems to me these are two crucial things to know about our candidates for the first ministership.
The only theoretically airtight answer to the question, of course, is the one Jack Layton gave: that now is the best time in which to live. Anyone who really feels that he can be permanently happy without antibiotics, central heating, and e-mail can choose, in May 2004, to do without. The rest of us would be reluctant, on the whole, to give them up for as much as a month. But that's not really the spirit of the question -- it's not meant to ascertain whether you would like to die from an ear infection, live as a muck-tilling helot, or remain within five miles of your house for the rest of your days.
Yet Mr. Layton's answer seems more dishonest than not, especially the way he put it: "I can't think of any better time to live than right now -- there's [sic] so many promising opportunities!" Well, shuckaroonies and golly gee! I realize Mr. Layton is no conventional socialist, and doesn't even like it when the nasty little word comes up. All the same, it is bizarre to see a ray of sunshine penetrating through the New Democrat gloom.
Consider what the left normally has to say about the state of our world. It claims that a feral American president is cutting a genocidal swath through the species in pursuit of imperial ambitions; that a global right-wing conspiracy is in the process of positioning the Third World permanently beneath the bootheel of the First; that Canada's economic system deliberately keeps a large fraction of its children immiserated and undernourished; that the chances for Canadian working people to obtain cheap health care and education are vanishing before our eyes; and that we are all on the verge of world-transforming, murderous environmental catastrophe.
The formal spokesman of this melancholic worldview has spoken -- and it turns out that all this horror is a mere bagatelle! He thinks the bleak valley we are passing through represents the highest development of the species! Hooray for advanced industrial capitalism!
Paul Martin gave a better answer to the question. Quizzed by the Post, he imagined himself living in the 18th century, referring to the Age of Reason and the French philosophes -- Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu. The inferences about Mr. Martin's self-image barely require comment, but it's an admirable choice of time-travel opportunities; the Prime Minister has chosen a locus every educated man must regret not being able to visit.
In a way it's almost poignant. You wonder how a man capable of appreciating the value of pure and convivial intellectual exploration ended up as the head of a giant shipping concern, never mind Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Martin himself has described his career, often enough, as emerging by accident. One senses that he misses kicking verbal footballs around in endless smoke-filled nights at St. Michael's College.
Mr. Martin's choice raises one's hopes, a little, that if he is re-elected he will be a less illiberal Liberal than the sort to which we've grown accustomed. But remember, dear voter, what the philosophes ultimately wrought in France: revolutionary bloodshed, Terror and Napoleonism. In this respect, Stephen Harper made a choice more in conformity with the Canadian spirit. Under the heady influence of Charlottetown, he expressed a longing for the 1860s, the heyday of the British Empire and the decade in which Canada was invented.
In some ways, the choice between Harper and Martin really does seem like a choice between 19th-century Victorian liberalism and 18th-century Gallic liberalism. The analogy isn't perfect on the one side: Voltaire would have detested the slow "Liberal" smothering of freedom of speech and the press in Canada, and would have had great fun with the aims, characteristics, and personnel of our corpulent state. We'd need ten of him just to keep up.
But one can recognize the anticlerical, feverish spirit of some of Voltaire's contemporaries and successors in our modern Liberal party. Like the French revolutionaries, the Liberals have taken British ideals of justice and equality -- passed through a distorting French lens -- as a licence to remake society. Liberal environmentalism has its roots in Rousseau's sentimentality toward the natural, and our Indian policy has never quite got free of his romanticized "noble savage."
Victorian man was, like Stephen Harper, more skeptical about the ability of policy to change the human species. Driven equally by a faith in progress and democracy, he preferred organic, incremental change. He sought to protect property and traditional institutions within the framework of a minimal state.
The political credo of one mid-19th-century Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, was this: "The whole duty of government is to prevent crime and preserve contracts." (It was Melbourne who sent Lord Durham to Canada in 1838, thus founding responsible government in British North America.) It is more or less my credo, too. Expediency has obliged Mr. Harper to run on quite a different platform, but despite my distaste for some of his Red Tory talk, I do think an 1860s sort of man is what we need nowadays at 24 Sussex. (May 28, 2004)
If the election keeps going the way it's gone so far, the "accidental", and yet profoundly calculated, rise of Paul Martin really will begin to be regarded as a tragedy. Like the young Pierre Trudeau, the young Paul Martin Jr. never seems to have imagined spending his life in the pursuit of power. But somewhere along the line, Maurice Strong--a rival to Martin's other pal, Bono, for the title of most contemptible yet sinister human alive--got his hooks into Junior and basically bullied some ambition into the young personalist dipstick with the elite bloodlines. One year ago it appeared that Canada's second Paul Martin would avoid the Shakespearean fate of the first. Now it's all too imaginable that he will re-enact it.
- 7:24 am, June 5
The sound of ping-pong
The Accordion Guy read that old Post education column I posted the other day and asked the dread question "Could somebody please tell me why standardized testing is supposed to be a bad thing?" There was no shortage of answers, all strangely familiar. The girlfriend spoke up first:
Standardized testing just doesn't work, because the people who write the tests are not robots and therefore any standardized test is going to be inherently biased...
...which, of course, grades given by teachers never are. Teachers, we all know, are never affected by a kid's demeanour, attitude, ethnicity, culture, income, hygiene, criminal record, or personal history. (The people who "write" the tests are not robots--does that mean teachers are? It might explain a few things.) Me, I'm amazed that this objection gets by anyone who actually went to a school, but there you have it. Another commenter pitched in with:
One more issue with standard testing hit my Mother pretty hard. She taught grade 5 and 6 English as a Second Langauge. Her kids, regardless of their time in Canada, had to complete the same test and we expected to hit the same numbers as native english speakers.
Expected by whom, I wonder, and why? Leave aside the old Soft Bigotry angle--the implicit idea that it is unreasonable to expect a school to get those poor, helpless ESL students up to the proficiency of native speakers. What we have here is also a case of seizing upon the most uninformed possible uses of data from standardized testing, and attributing them to the testing itself.
As the people at the Fraser Institute who publish the numbers point out incessantly, you can use the numbers of a school with many ESL and special-needs students to compare its current performance with its own prior performance: you don't have to compare schools to other schools if you don't want to. You can use the numbers to identify low-income or ESL-heavy schools who are doing unusually well, and apply their techniques to other schools. You can use the numbers, as I pointed out in the column Joey linked to, to get help to schools that, for whatever reason, are simply making a total fist of things. You can use them in dozens of ways--but all the opponents of testing are concerned about is that someone might feel unworthy, or pressured, because of his school's ranking.
Another commenter--another commenter who shows small evidence of following Joey's link--brings up this boogerman, "teaching to the test". The comedy here is that the purpose of standardized tests is largely to encourage "teaching to the test". We test literacy because that's the end we expect language-arts teachers to teach to. We test core-curriculum math skills for the purpose of guaranteeing that those skills are taught. The person who complains of "teaching to the test" is implicitly challenging the whole concept of a curriculum--he is complaining that expectations other than his own are entering into his work. What other profession would indulge in this? The arrogance of it is almost as astonishing, and edifying, as the criticisms of testing on the grounds of its intolerable subjectivity.
There's more in that thread, but it's Kimberly Swygert, not me, who bats down this nonsense for a living. I'm eager to see what more AG will have to say in the comments.
- 2:31 am, June 5
From the southern front
Here's an e-mail dispatch from Lethbridge reader Matt Fenwick about one of those "star" Liberal candidates in Alberta [pause for raucous laughter].
On the topic of door-knocking, I too came home yesterday to find some Ken Nicol campaign literature in my mailbox. It was interesting, due to a particular word being conspicuously absent from the whole brochure: "Liberal".
Casson beat the Liberal candidate about 30,000 to 8,000 last time. Not a typo. That's a case study in how unpopular the Liberals are in Alberta: Nicol looked at those four-to-one odds, and nonetheless considered the federal run a more appetizing prospect than trying to beat Ralph Klein in the provincial assembly under Liberal colours.
I find this beyond hilarious. Here in Lethbridge, Ken Nicol resigned the leadership of the provincial Liberals to run for "Team Martin", which isn't mentioned in his brochure either. Less than a week later Adscam hit the fan. Like Keith Martin, Scott Brison, and others, [he has] committed the political equivalent of buying Nortel at $125/share.
Thankfully, now I don't have to spend time campaigning for [incumbent MP and Conservative candidate] Rick Casson. Were it not for Adscam and Paul Martin's abortion of a Parliament, Nicol
probably would have won. Despite being utterly invisible for more than two years in what should be the second-highest profile job in provincial politics, Nicol is popular here. I think it's the white beard--"he just seems so calm and nice".
His only chances now are the sure-to-be-increasing efforts of the Lethbridge Herald--undoubtedly the most leftist rag in the province, student newspapers notwithstanding. Its editorial in April regarding Sheila Fraser's rooting out of incompetence in Canada's security systems was titled "War On Terror Can Go Too Far". Their three regular syndicated current-affairs columnists are Gwynne Dyer, David Suzuki, and Trevor Page, former UN Director of something-or-other...
Of course, he's already done enough time as an MLA to start collecting a pension, so the opportunity cost of joining Team Martin was low. Nicol, whom I interviewed many times as a prov-gov reporter, is the model of a well-liked Alberta Liberal: a professorial man whose ideology is indistinguishable from the Conservatives', but who seems to have some deep instinctual or spiritual attraction to lost causes. If I lived in Lethbridge I'd be tempted to vote for him just to help him win back the deposit.
- 2:05 pm, June 4
'You don't have to answer that. ...Unless you want to.'
I'm torn on whether to praise or damn SES Research and CPAC for adding a daily tracking poll--or, as the Kausian set puts it, "crack for the weak"--to the drama of a Canadian federal election. On the one hand, I like crack as much as the next guy. To quote the classic "Lie Detector" sketch from Mr. Show, "It's crack! It's great. It gets you real high."
On the other hand, crack is reliably reputed to create certain problems, too... Until we learn to hit the pipe responsibly, and realize that SES is surveying only 200 voters a day, there's going to be a certain amount of overreaction to volatile daily numbers. I'm warning myself to get a grip here, and if others happen to overhear that warning, so much the better.
Let me get some backed-up links out of the way here. I've put Jim Elve's Political Index of Canadian weblogs in a prominent place on the sidebar for your clickthrough pleasure. Hopefully this will make up somewhat for my pusillanimity in reciprocating the traffic BlogsCanada has flowed Coshward over the past year or so. The format of the Index is useful, and I've taken to relying on it myself as I get into Election Mode. Also overdue for some traffic: Edmonton's own Alexandra Taylor, a new poli-sci grad who is rapidly contorting into that mode herself.
The National Post has introduced a feature called "Blogger's Corner" in which pieces from the b***osphere are turned loose on the paper's wider audience. Gene Smith, who has participated, and PeakTalk, who has sort of revived his site on the urging of the Post, have comments. I'm particularly glad to see PT getting off his duff: he and Smith were both on a list of weblogs I suggested that "Blogger's Corner" monitor, and if I had a nickel for the number of other sites that more or less went out of business right after I recommended them, I could go buy myself a Starbucks venti latte.
Closer to home, notionally: Kevin Grace's Chronicles piece on Lord Black of Crossharbour is now available online. It's an increasingly rare opportunity to see one of the sharpest knives in the Canadian cutlery drawer at work. Kevin Steel, I see, has left Edmonton for good without so much as inviting his mates out for a pint: good riddance, then, Mr. Sneak-Out-On-The-Greyhound.
Finally, I must congratulate whichever of Stephen Harper's speechwriters came up with "Paul Martin 2.0".
- 12:10 am, June 4
Aw--now how come none of you complained that my May 18 column about "high-stakes" standardized testing in schools didn't appear here a week later? You're not paying attention! I was asked, for some reason, to represent the accountability side in a point-counterpoint on the subject. The occasion was a special section containing the results of the Fraser Institute's report card on Ontario schools. Here's what I wrote, with some relevant hyperlinks added.
My stock witticism about standardized testing in schools is that it's a good thing for two reasons: it's standardized, and it's testing. Anything else one might say about it is unlikely to convert anybody. By their own lights, the ultra-egalitarians and teacher-union footsoldiers who oppose it are right. They have one opinion about what schools are for, and the public has another.
In the face of such a divide, one cannot honestly hope for fruitful debate or happy compromise, though I'm slightly embarrassed to have to say so in this particular context. But an argument about the design of an institution between people who do not agree on what the institution is for does seem pretty doomed. Bob thinks that schools are for giving young people the tools of self-sufficiency and citizenship: literacy, reasoning ability, civics, and whatnot. Betty talks about caring communities, enhancing self-esteem, and fostering creativity. Where is the potential common ground?
The matter is made worse by Bob and Betty's mutual suspicions of dishonesty. Bob--I think I can pretty safely speak for the fellow here--thinks of Betty as being hostile to accountability. No one likes to have the pace of their work set for them according to an externally-imposed standard of performance. Teachers object to being made to "teach to the test": their unions' position has been that no external performance standard can possibly be appropriate to their work. Ah, wouldn't we all like to think so of our own career?
Betty, for her part, possesses an elaborate theory about the control of government by a rich and influential cabal hungry to discredit public schools and, perhaps, intent on replacing them with Dickensian workhouses or religious panopticons. She is generally quite unashamed to refer to it as a "conspiracy".
Well, she might be right, after all; I can only attest that I am moved to write, not by a packet of Krugerrands delivered in an alleyway, but by my positive opinion of school life here in Alberta, where departmental testing of students is an old tradition now and, at the Grade 12 level, carries the dreaded "high stakes" for university-bound scholars. The Harris government did not dare to go so far (though the creation of the Education Quality and Accountability Office in 1996 was a step in Alberta's direction), and last month we learned that McGill University--by consensus, Canada's best--has grown tired of the absurd grade inflation in Ontario, and will now discount Ontarian applicants' grades.
Alberta--no doubt by some coincidence--generally produces the best results amongst the Canadian provinces in international comparisons of learning outcomes. As a journalist, I've reported on troubled Alberta schools that were saved by provincial interventions motivated by bad results in departmental testing. Standardized tests have been used here, and can be used in Ontario, as a lifesaving diagnostic tool. If the students come first, this must weigh heavily in the balance against any psychic pressure that performance benchmarks might bring to bear on teachers.
Initial technical criticisms of EQAO testing may have had some merit, but the only complaints we hear seem to come from those who would oppose any test. The same is largely true of the objections to the Fraser Institute's publication of the school-by-school data. Is there any individual who believes in the basic merit of the Institute's project but believes it could be done better? The more usual complaint is ideological--that what the Institute does is wrong, because it's a detailed record of this abominable thing that the education ministry is doing. Any honest critic would acknowledge, just for starters, that the Institute's "report cards" are prefaced by sensible and modest caveats, explanations, and interpretive suggestions.
There is no defending a bad test, of course. EQAO.com has samples of all the agency's tests: you may visit and make your own judgments. It seems to me that the opponents of these tests, who raise fears that thousands of public-school children cannot cut the mustard, are doing more to "discredit public education" than any actual opponent could. It seems like an admission that the premises behind EQAO are sound, unless you take the view--the formally orthodox view of the educational establishment, Betty's view--that instilling actual skills is the least important part of a teacher's job.
"Rote memorization" is the third element in the holy triptych of eduspeak scare phrases, along with "high-stakes" and "teaching to the test". I sometimes wonder, to be honest, what sort of teacher would use those words to describe the work of teaching trigonometry, poetry, or science. (May 18, 2004)
- 2:55 pm, June 3
Then again, 'becoming a politician' seems like a pretty good euphemism for croaking
The LA Weekly is doing its damnedest, it seems, to resurrect Canadian journalism legend Nick auf der Maur (1942-1998); in a new profile of his daughter, they say he
"has been a journalist, has helmed his own TV show and is now a politician." Give the fact-checkers a break--wherever Mr. auf der Maur is, it's entirely probable that he's gotten fed up and made a run for mayor by now. Bonus stupidity: Montreal is described as Melissa's "less-than-hip hometown". Why, yes, it's little more than a row of rough-hewn cabins on the slopes of a hill, really...
- 10:03 am, June 3
Picture from an exhibition
I thought I'd mention an interesting little campaign factoid from ground zero of Liberal Alberta. My house has received precisely one visit from a doorknocking politician so far. Last week I ducked out for a plate of eggs during the afternoon and returned to find a short note, on red Liberal paper, in my mailbox. It said something to the effect of "Called while you were out--sorry I missed you. Best regards, John Bethel." This was good for a long, hearty laugh, since I couldn't vote for John Bethel even if I wanted to.
Last month Paul Martin elbowed Edmonton lawyer Sine Chadi aside and arbitrarily declared Bethel the Liberal candidate in the riding of Edmonton East. Chadi, a former Liberal member of Alberta's legislative assembly, told the Edmonton Sun that he was offered compensation in the form of uncontested Liberal silks for a race in St. Albert against John Williams. He spurned the offer, no doubt realizing he was about as likely to beat Williams as Pee-Wee Herman is to take down Oscar de la Hoya in a bar fight.
My real point here, though, is that the boundaries of Edmonton East meet the border of Edmonton Centre in the middle of the road that passes in front of my door. But I'm on the west side, in Anne McLellan's riding. For some reason--and you may regard this as a metaphor for the Liberal campaign, if you like--Bethel was literally working the wrong side of the street.
- 8:51 pm, June 2
More capsule catch-up reviews
"Arguably the most haunting portrait of America since American Beauty", says a commenter on the IMDB. Well, there you go: I take it from this that the population of America is divided pretty evenly between half-reformed wiseguys, dead-eyed coppers, and stunned adult survivors of kidnapping and rape.
As a rule, Clint Eastwood is praised either for the wrong movies or for the wrong reasons. His best picture since about 1980, White Hunter Black Heart, has disappeared down the memory hole; so did that wonderful, weird tone-poem, A Perfect World. Mystic River is actually characterized by the same refreshing lack of bullshit as most of his movies, but the critics insisted on treating it as much more than the excellent clockwork whodunit it is. (The mechanism by which the cops figure out who dun it is particularly good, I thought.) Compare Mystic River to Absolute Power: which one, I ask you, was the ephemeral, by-the-numbers crime movie, and which had deeper shades of meaning? Most everyone, I think, has already failed this quizlet.
Somehow it had gotten past me that Seabiscuit's usual jockey, "Red" Pollard, was from Edmonton, of all places. In the movie Tobey Maguire's family is wiped out by the 1929 stock-market crash; in real life they were ruined when the North Saskatchewan flooded out their brick factory in 1915. Here's a photo from the City of Edmonton Archives showing just how vulnerable their enterprise was: the University sits at the top of the river valley, opposite the camera, looking down on the doomed brickyard (seen up close in this poor picture). Nowadays we have more sense than to build anything important on that particular flat.
Strangely enough, George Wolff, the man who rode Seabiscuit in the famous match race with War Admiral, was also from Alberta. He hailed from Cardston, the capital of Canadian Mormonism and the birthplace of Fay Wray.
The movie? It's fine--it does what it says on the box. It was past time for a good, heart-tugging movie about thoroughbred horseracing. Unfortunately the remarkable success of Seabiscuit seems unlikely to make the sport a popular cause again. What strikes you, watching the movie, is that the Seabiscuit-War Admiral showdown which captivated the American public could not have happened in the 21st century. The big horse would have been sent out to stud with the Triple Crown in his pocket, and the little one could never have become a symbol of the rambunctious West Coast in a country united by television. One way of putting it is that commercialism has confined racing to a gamblers' ghetto; I'd say the people who run racing are simply businessmen who have forgotten their business. Thank heavens Michael Jordan didn't retire at the age of 25 to father basketball-playing babies.
The people who said the book was unfilmable were right. Did anyone say that?--they should have. The emetic irony here is that Alan Moore, writer of the From Hell comic, is a serious believer in witchcraft. His book contained a wholly credible, magnificently interlocking account of the Ripper murders which, though it contains absolute palletloads of the "supernatural", requires absolutely no belief in it to be appreciated. The translation to the screen took the whole thing out of the hands of an earnest pagan beardie who reads chicken guts and mumbles incantations to himself--but, by some Hollywood miracle, the material became much more dependent on booga-booga folderol that would make a six-year-old child snort with contempt. Watching this movie is like sitting calmly as a Fabergé egg is smashed with a hammer in front of your eyes.
Enemy at the Gates
You have to give this movie credit for bringing out the latent Prussian in Ed Harris (somebody get this guy a remake of Cross of Iron!), and for fitting up Jude Law for the smooth planes of a Socialist-Realist poster-peasant-turned-soldier. You also have to give it credit for splicing in, however awkwardly, an anticommunist message. Joseph Fiennes (also well cast as Law's apparatchik promoter and romantic rival) exits the movie with a little non sequitur flourish, giving a brief speech about the failure of Bolshevism to exile envy from the human bosom. It felt a little like Richard Nixon's spoken epilogue to the 1955 TV version of Darkness at Noon must have.
Spielberg is wise to seek out material that doesn't apply too much stress to his childlike moral intuition; the slave trade is about the safest territory there is. And yet he almost screwed it up by retaining sad-eyed and lovable Arliss Howard as John C. Calhoun, who has one scene as a cartoonish, croaking Southron harbinger of civil war. Since it's Arliss, you just sit there going "By god, maybe the man has a point!" (Fun fact: Hollywood legend Leslie Howard was really Leslie Stainer, but Arliss Howard was actually born Leslie Howard.)
I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable with what Spielberg's camera was up to in much of this movie: the arts undergraduate in me was piping up prissily about "Mandingo stereotypes" as the lens lingered over nude African slaves who, collectively, showed barely a trace of disease, physical wear, or even ordinary unsightliness. (Even the filed teeth on one of the slaves looked like they'd been subjected to regular flossing.) At best, what's at work here is a discredited sort of 1805 romanticism--Rousseau warmed over. Spielberg's Mendé people, living, as they have, in a state of nature, cannot possibly have suffered any defect except those inflicted by Western enslavement. John Williams' aspartame-flavoured obscenity of a musical score sits comfortably alongside Spielberg's tarted-up BDSM segments.
But it's impossible for a Canadian to thoroughly dislike this movie, in good conscience; our own imperial forebears come off singularly well. An inquisitive American mind might began to feel queasy if it honestly tried to reconcile the movie's veneration for the Founding Fathers with the fact that it's jolly Jack Tar and his lobster-coated marine chums who are actually doing something about slavery in the picture and in the corresponding historical period. (Has Niall Ferguson seen this movie?) Amistad will make it difficult for you to wholeheartedly enjoy The Patriot--with its feral Brit bozos getting slaughtered by doughty, hyperpious colonists--if you should happen to run across it again.
- 2:34 am, June 2
Mark Steyn's Canadian election contest is surely his most generous yet; you can't beat the entry fee (there isn't one), and if you were inclined to enter you'd probably find the competition less stiff than the field in his various U.S. election sweepstakeses. For life's true gamblers, item six is surely where the action is.
We'll give an autographed copy of The Face Of The Tiger if you correctly predict the name of a current Cabinet member who fails to get re-elected on June 28th. If you prefer to predict two defeated cabinet members and they turn out to be correct, we'll give you The Face Of The Tiger plus Mark Steyn From Head To Toe. If you want to predict three defeated cabinet members and they turn out to be correct, we'll give you The Face Of The Tiger and Mark Steyn From Head To Toe plus The Survival Of Culture. If you want to predict four and they're correct, we'll give you The Face Of The Tiger, Mark Steyn From Head To Toe, The Survival Of Culture plus The Future Of The European Past. If you want to predict five and they're correct, we'll give you The Face Of The Tiger, Mark Steyn From Head To Toe, The Survival Of Culture, The Future Of The European Past plus a SteynOnline travel mug. If you predict six or more correctly, we'll be so deliriously happy we'll toss in a magnum of champagne to fill your travel mug.
The all-or-nothing attraction of that last prize is heady, even if you did end up with a bottle of Château Dixville Notch instead of vintage Krug. I can't enter Steyn's contest, on principle (as far as I can tell, the man makes a hobby of saying nice things about me to influential people), but I can't stop you from going for it. If you wanted to take a flyer on the full-blown pick-six, let me play the role of the trackside tout in the filthy macintosh and point out some ponies that are relatively likely to be glue soon.
...in the event that two or more entrants correctly predict the answer, the winner will be the earliest entry received. Entries are not allowed to guess over--i.e., if you put two names on your list, both ministers must be defeated at the polls; if you put five names on, all five must be defeated.
Gar Knutson (Elgin-Middlesex-London), minister of state for new and emerging markets: Close, but no Gar. (Actually not all that close, but I liked the pun.) Knutson has, in the past, been one of the certifiable beneficiaries of vote-splitting in a conservative-tempered riding. In 2000 he beat the Alliance's farmer candidate by just 1,800 votes: the PC candidate had bled off 6,000. Knutson has been complaining to all and sundry, including the Globe, about the difficulty of campaigning on the Liberal record. "He said he responded by pointing to Mr. Martin's record as finance minister and asking whether voters would seriously prefer Conservative Leader Stephen Harper as prime minister. 'They didn't quarrel with that,' Mr. Knutson said." Of course they didn't quarrel, Gar--they're just going to wait, and vote against you while your back is turned. Fifteen thousand people in this riding liked Stockwell Day enough to vote for him; Knutson, barring a miracle, is a dead man walking 'n' doorknocking.
Helene Scherrer (Louis-Hebert), minister of Canadian heritage: How much do you suppose the BQ would love to knock off a sitting Heritage Minister? Scherrer was not expected to win this suburban Quebec City seat in 2000, but voter backlash over megacity merger policies fatally wounded the BQ incumbent. Scherrer's majority was a meagre 2,400, and the Bloc is now on steroids. Let's not forget that the minister has made an extravagant display of kissing off the filesharing vote; there have to be at least a couple thousand Kazaa users downloading Mitsou records in that constituency, don't there?
Andy Scott (Fredericton), minister of state for infrastructure: File under "Hey, is that guy still in cabinet?" Paul Martin tried to shore up the candidacy of Canada's most notorious airline blabbermouth with a last-minute gobbet of federal road, sewer, and highway spending. It might work--I reserve judgment on the cynicism of New Brunswick voters--but New Brunswick Conservative premier Bernard Lord is foursquare behind Harper (albeit with undoubted secret misgivings about spurning the Tory leadership himself), and the PCs and Conservatives got 20,000 votes here in 2000. Scott barely cleared 14,000. Open question: will Scott Reid's bilingualism comments tilt the N.B. field against the Tories, or will Harper's fast reaction work in their favour?
Rey Pagtakhan (Winnipeg North), minister of Western economic diversification: In English, that title translates to "In charge of Liberal showpiece programs out in the boondocks". The Winnipeg cardiologist was forced into a battle of incumbents against New Democrat Judy Wasylycia-Leis (say that five times fast) by this spring's redistricting. 17% of the voters in the new riding are, like Pagtakhan, Filipino-Canadian. But most of "Winnipeg North" consists of Wazzle-frassle-schmazzle's old Winnipeg North Centre riding, and she annihilated the Liberal there last time. Caveat: a New Democrat victory here may be a bad bet if Jack Layton continues to shove his own foot further down his gullet.
David Pratt (Nepean-Carleton), minister of defence: Another Ontarian in trouble. Pratt beat the Alliance's Michael Green by just 2,200 votes in 2000, and nearly 10,000 PC votes are in play. Now Pratt faces a telegenic young pollster/political hack, Pierre Poilievre, and having to defend Liberal defence policy may be more of a curse than blessing. Despite the Alliance-PC merger, Pratt could survive a slight swing in Ontario voter support away from the Liberals; he hasn't embarrassed himself in the defence portfolio, and Martin has had him out front in all the re-runs of Chretien-era defence-spending announcements. But if the Conservatives are going to win 30 or 40 Ontario seats--a modest estimate, given the tectonic shift the polls are suggesting--this is bound to be one of them.
Anne McLellan (Edmonton Centre), deputy prime minister and minister of public safety and emergency preparedness: In principle, she's the most vulnerable Liberal cabinet minister, having survived very close shaves against uninspiring Alliance candidates twice in a row. In practice, I'm not so sure. I live in McLellan Country, and she's certainly winning the sign war. She is a surprisingly good riding-level politician and has delivered the federal goods to the western half of this city. I don't think the Ottawa Sun's revelations about a backroom PC-Liberal deal in 2000 will hurt her. But her increasingly strident defence of the gun registry, which she used to make a show of feeling uncomfortable about, works against her. It certainly won't help her with the large soldier vote here (an anti-Liberal constituency she created herself), and to make matters worse, the Conservatives have found a retired RCAF lieutenant-colonel to oppose her. I still figure she's got a fifty-fifty chance of winning, but it's going to take guts to go get that champagne.
- 9:40 pm, June 1