Here’s an ironclad rule of politics: the latest conservative standard-bearer is always a scary fascist who’s going to end democracy as we know it. Meanwhile, the last conservative standard-bearer – preferably a defeated one – earns strange new respect from the commentariat.
(This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Mark my words: the Toronto Star columns declaring the next Conservative Party of Canada leader “more extreme than Stephen Harper” are already written, with just the name to be filled in.)
Damian Penny, “In 2016, there really is a wolf”, Damian J. Penny, 2016-07-22.
September 23, 2016
May 17, 2016
Richard Anderson responds to the uproar that the PM’s lovely wife somehow has to put up with the indignity of too small a staff to handle her “official duties”:
There is no job called “First Lady of Canada.” Until somewhat recently — Margaret Trudeau incidentally — the wife of the serving Prime Minister was hardly ever mentioned in public. Laureen Harper spent nearly a decade in the role without bothering anyone and with minimal support. The office of British Prime Minister has been in existence for nearly three centuries and even specialist historians would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of Prime Ministerial wives. There is nothing in the laws, customs or traditions of our system of government that regards the spouse of the PM as anything more than a bystander to the functions of the state.
But that was then. As we are continually reminded: It’s 2016!
Justin’s father dispensed with the hum-drum limitations of his role as First Minister, creating the modern Imperial Prime Minister who rules with a rod of iron. It was under the elder Trudeau that ministers became clerks and back-benchers so much parliamentary cannon-fodder. The thing about absolute monarchs — or sandal-clad philosopher kings — is that there is no limit to their purview. All things fall under their sway. Consequently those who serve under the New Sun King’s remit must wield great power as well. To suggest otherwise is the gravest example of lèse majesté.
Mrs Trudeau is not a trained psychiatrist, counsellor, medical expert or technical advisor of any sort. She has a degree in communications and once worked as a personal shopper for Holt Renfrew. Her resume is so thin it makes her husband look like George C Marshall. Like her husband she is the child of upper class Montreal privilege. What actual help such a being could provide to the “people” of Canada is hard to define. Perhaps a pep talk on the importance of being born rich and beautiful and marrying well.
The voters demanded change last October. We replaced a flawed man of substance with a man-child as Prime Minister. Not surprisingly Canada’s new “First Lady” is as useless and vain as her predecessor was accomplished and professional.
October 19, 2015
At the next election a young political huckster, who happens to be the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, and enjoys something of his father’s winning ways with the women, and a matching cynicism, is likely to win. Young Justin Trudeau is unlike his father, however, in having little in the way of an agenda, beyond power and prestige for himself. Like Obama, he is not an ideologue, only a typical product of our public universities: a mind half-baked with “progressive” platitudes and clichés. He has no discernible discernment, and there is still a chance that the electorate will see him for what he is. Nevertheless, he can already count on the protection and support of our liberal media, which, like musk-oxen detecting a threat, instinctively form a stomping circle around the little fellow, knowing he will be unable to defend himself.
(The situation is complicated by the existence of a socialist party, which itself displaced the Liberals in opposition at the last general election, thanks to a demagogue at their head, who knew how to pander to Quebec. This man has since died, but the party may still be attractive enough to split the opposition vote. In the past, Harper has been rather good at playing the two parties slightly to his left against each other, but after years of isolation in the prime minister’s office, he may have lost his edge.)
David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.
October 17, 2015
[Prime minister Stephen] Harper’s genius, as a power-seeking politician, is the opposite of Obama’s (the once popular USA president). He carries the “Conservative” label, of a party slightly to the right of the others in our Parliament. Therefore he has most of the liberal media machinery against him. Obama, as perhaps we all know, has enjoyed until recently a compliant and fawning media, that do not criticize their darling, nor hesitate to suppress news that would be unfavourable to him. Obama’s tactic has been to draw attention constantly to himself. He has something to say on every subject, empty of content, but dramatically insistent in its repetition of the first person singular. By contrast, Harper goes out of his way to distract attention from himself, and when he can’t, to avoid vehemence of any kind, or anything resembling drama.
This is not to say he isn’t ruthless, as a political operator, and backroom settler of scores. Anyone associated with Christian causes, such as the defence of human life, will know how he rules his pro-life backbenchers. His intention is to keep the party “on message,” with a message that will not excite media attention, so he can get on with normal administration. His strength is his reputation for management: he has not, like Obama, made a hash of everything he has touched. The Canadian budget is actually in surplus, and while our cumulative debt is substantial, and we face the same unfunded welfare liabilities to an aging population, we have not the bottomless debt and fiscal chaos into which Obama and other irresponsible politicians have delivered the United States. (Notwithstanding, when they crash, it will be right on top of us.)
But of course, this is a “democracy,” and the great majority of our population, as those in all other countries, are almost entirely ignorant of public affairs. Like children, they get bored with good government, but unlike children they have, collectively, the power to do something about it.
David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.
October 6, 2015
Jay Currie has a bit of fun at the expense of poor folks suffering from sudden-onset Harper Derangement Syndrome:
Oh Dear the “yokels” and the “unwashed”, being thoroughly unenlightened, are failing in their duty to follow the lead of their betters and have noticed that there may be a few issues with mass Muslim immigration. Disgusting.
Worse, that spiv Harper doesn’t even have the grace and breeding to use dogwhistles in herding his flock. The dreadful man is throwing raw meat to the rubes and, to no one’s great surprise those Ill-educated reactionaries and rednecks are eating it up. There is, I fear, a very real danger that the 80% of bigoted Canadians (90% in the idiot reaches of Quebec) will take this opportunity to try to undo forty years of enlightened immigration and refugee policy by voting for those revolting CPC candidates.
The Wal-Mart classes are restless.Time to clutch the pink pearls and person the checkpoints surrounding the nicer, leafier, bastions of tolerance in Canada’s more sophisticated urban centers. Lock down the common rooms and charcuterie bars, disguise your Prius and avoid being seen with your Said (or books of any sort really): the proles are on the move.
The beast Harper looked vulnerable at the beginning of this campaign. After all, no one we knew would think of voting for the thug. But Harper has a low, animal, cunning. He is unafraid of the great white blob. He has been seen at hockey rinks at 6 in the morning and obviously buys his suits in some dreadful mall. His wife has stayed at home with the children. He is, obviously, one of them. He does not need to dogwhistle – the blob knows its own.
So, beware. The unwashed, the yokels, the bigots and the rubes have been summoned. All we can hope for is that, once they have vented their fury on niqab wearers they will resume their slumber. The alternative is simply too awful to contemplate.
September 28, 2015
Jay Currie advises casual poll watchers to pretty much ignore the polls at the moment. Yes, those same polls the TV talking heads and the deep-thinkers at the major newspapers spend so much time “analyzing”: they are probably the least useful form of information in a Westminster-style election campaign like ours. A poll of a thousand “representative” Canadians doesn’t tell you anything about how the voters in any given riding are likely to vote, and that’s where the election is decided. I’ve been joking with my family that, based on the appearance of signs in our Whitby riding, the likely winner on October 19th will be the window cleaning firm “Men in Kilts”.
Here’s why Jay recommends just ignoring the “horse race” media coverage:
Canadian mainstream media knows only one way to cover an election: it is always a horse race with polls coming out weekly or even daily in which one party or another edges ahead or falls behind by less than the margin of error.
Polls are funny things: they give a particular picture of the race at a particular time without providing much by the way of explanation. And, in Canada, the most reported “national” polls measure a race which does not exist. We don’t vote nationally or even province by province: we vote riding by riding.
The bright boys in the Conservative and NDP war rooms know this and, apparently, someone has been kind enough to explain the rudiments to the geniuses surrounding Trudeau. The fact is that the election turns on, at most, 100 ridings scattered across Canada. Amusingly, these are not the same ridings for each party.
With less than a month to go to election day, but with a month of campaigning and polling behind them, each of the parties will be able to focus its efforts on a) marginal seats where that party’s sitting candidate may lose, b) competitive ridings where that party’s candidate might win a riding previously held by another party.
Talk of the Blue Wave or Orange Crush is like the English pre-WWI talking about rolling the Huns up by Christmas: now we are in trench warfare. And now, small differences are all that matter. Exciting as it may be for the Greens to run 5% nationally, they are running more or less even in Victoria which would up their seat count to 2 and knock an NDP held seat off Mulcair’s search for a plurality of House of Commons seats. And there are ridings like this across Canada.
At the same time, the trench war is influenced by the perception of who is actually winning the overall election. Political scientists talk about bandwagon effects. Here Harper has the huge advantage of incumbency. For every Harper Derangement Syndrome voter out there, there are at least one or two voters who, while they don’t love Harper, prefer the devil they know.
Canadian election analysis used to be pretty easy:
- How many seats are there in Quebec? Give 75% or more to the Liberals.
- How many seats are there in Alberta? Give 90% to the Progressive Conservatives.
- How many urban blue collar seats are there? Give 50% or more to the NDP.
- How many remaining seats are there in Ontario? Split the urban seats 65% Liberal and 30% NDP and the suburban and rural seats 55% PC and 35% Liberal.
- Finally, count out the few dozen remaining seats and guess which way they’ll go (and history matters … a seat that’s been in NDP hands since the CCF years will probably stay there, while a seat that flips regularly every election will probably flip again).
I’m joking, but not by a lot. However, that was then and this is a very different now. All those “rules” have been thrown out the window in the last decade and each party probably has a colour-coded map of the country which shows where it makes any political sense to expend time and resources to retain a friendly seat or steal an opposing seat. (Spoiler: those maps are nowhere near as accurate as the various parties are hoping.)
You (as a federal party official) don’t want to obviously give up on any seat, but you also don’t want to have all your heavy-hitters showing up for events in a riding you don’t have any realistic chance to win: not only is it a waste of time and resources, it can make you look desperate and that’s a very bad way to appear during an election campaign.
I’m not making any predictions about how the election will turn out … I don’t even know who I’ll be voting for on the day, but the folks in the expensive outfits on TV don’t know either. With the national polling being so close and no definite signs of a bandwagon forming, it could go almost any direction. Last time around we had the Crooks, the Fascists, the Commies, and the Traitors. This time the parties are not quite as mired in scandal, so we’ve got the Nice Hair Guy, the Bad Hair Guy, the Beardy Guy, and everyone else (let’s not pretend that the Greens or the Bloc are going to form a government this time around). You drop your ballot and you take your chances. See you on the other side.
September 12, 2015
Colby Cosh tries to explain some aspects of the ongoing Canadian federal election by pointing out parallels to the most recent British election (and aftermath) … and then must have dropped some acid to come up with this scenario:
The other day on Twitter you could catch some pundit types talking about Green Party Leader Elizabeth May becoming prime minister as an example of something zany that could absolutely never happen in Canadian politics. This raises an immediate question, for those of us who occasionally scan U.K. news: is May becoming prime minister any less likely than what is happening right now in the Labour Party?
Twenty weeks ago, Labour and its leader Ed Miliband were thought by pollsters to be slight favourites to win the May 7 national election. At noon yesterday, voting ended in the race to replace the defeated Miliband. The result will be announced Saturday. The almost certain winner — keeping in mind that Britain has deep betting markets, and punters are allowed to gamble unlimited sums on political outcomes — is Jeremy Corbyn, longtime MP for Islington North, an old Bennite ultra-radical who had attracted almost no public notice in British politics for the past 30 years.
So far, so reasonable, but then the rush hits:
I am not going to tell you to bet on Elizabeth May becoming prime minister of Canada. After all, in this country we don’t have betting shops on every corner — yet. What I notice we do have is a historically socialist party leading in the polls behind an awfully Blairish figure. All New Democrats are highly aware of Labour politics: Labour is their mother, in a way the Conservative and Unionist Party (U.K.) is not to our Conservatives. Although New Democrats may not admit it, the recent unearthing of Thomas Mulcair’s eulogy for Margaret Thatcher must have appalled and sickened many.
By opting for the ex-Liberal Mulcair as leader, the NDP chose the Blair approach to the future of the left. Mulcair now finds himself advancing a significantly more enthusiastic line on government austerity, somehow, than the Trudeau Liberals do. It is not clear who the NDP’s Corbyn might be if they had wanted one. But one notices that May is about the same age as Corbyn, and has the same kind of leftist street cred. She has spoken out for the same environmentalist and radically democratic principles over and over, grindingly, since she was a teenager.
You can already see the outlines of a political mini-thriller in this. Mulcair’s NDP is six or eight points ahead in the last polls before our October election. The pundits have the moving truck backed right up to 24 Sussex. But the Conservative get-out-the-vote machine proves itself again, as does the “shy Tory” polling effect. It’s a Harper landslide, bigger than before.
The recrimination within the New Democratic Party becomes general and open. Why, people ask, did we run to the right of Trudeau? Why did we choose a grumpy Thatcherite to challenge a grumpy Thatcherite government instead of keeping faith with our real identity? Insiders start to notice that Elizabeth May’s personal popularity is much greater than that of her kooky party. Someone buys the DraftLiz.com domain. May tells a reporter she would not be averse to talk of a merger, on her terms …
You can take it from there, can’t you? It’s a fantasy, of course. Such things never happen in the real world. Except when they do.
August 26, 2015
Colby Cosh explains why Stephen Harper is so fond of certain kinds of tax system distortions (tl;dr — they work … politically if not economically):
On Sunday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper announced that his government, if re-elected, would introduce a tax credit for memberships in service clubs like the Canadian Legion or the Kiwanis. This modest measure — and Harper himself emphasized its modesty — is already being greeted with some derision. Apparently this is because a tax break for service clubs is an absurd, baroque complication of the tax code, unfit to stand alongside sensible traditions like the Prince Edward Island aerospace tax credit, the Nova Scotia digital media tax credit, the British Columbia book publishing tax credit, the Ontario computer animation tax credit, the Manitoba odour control tax credit for farms, Quebec’s tax credit “for the modernization of a tourist accommodation establishment” or the various items exempted almost randomly from the GST, such as condominium fees and music lessons.
One senses that the Canadian media have decided, curiously late in the country’s history, that tax-code wrinkles introduced with the aim of social engineering are ridiculous, if the aims thereof are conservative ones. Furthermore, we have concluded that lifting taxes on Elks or Knights of Columbus memberships, and thus putting them on more or less the same footing as religious tithes, is especially ridiculous.
The Conservative party will be awfully disappointed if the press does not engage in some snickering here. The work of the Kinsmen or Rotary is not especially visible if you never cross Eglinton Avenue; the very names of these groups have a rustic flavour on the tongue, carry a whiff of old-school WASP dominance and gray-flannel respectability. Break out into the smaller cities, if you dare, and the traces become somewhat clearer: a seniors’ centre here, an air-ambulance fundraiser there. In smaller towns, service clubs are often practically synonymous with capital-S Society. Laugh at the idea of a tax break for the Legion, but make sure you are still laughing on election night.
August 12, 2015
“… premiers look to Ottawa for one reason and one reason only: To beat the Prime Minister … over the head with their begging bowls”
Richard Anderson explains why Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is upset with Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
It is a time honoured tradition that premiers look to Ottawa for one reason and one reason only: To beat the Prime Minister of the day over the head with their begging bowls. What Kathleen Wynne is looking for is not a “partnership” but a ceaseless no-strings-attached flow of federal money. Like a petulant teenager the sextuagenarian premier always wants more and offers little in return. Prime Minister Harper has wisely refused to play her game.
Now imagine that you’re Kathleen Wynne — please try to subdue the gag reflex — and billions of dollars now flow into the provincial coffers from this de facto payroll tax. Perhaps the money gets tossed into general revenues. Queen’s Park then turns arounds and issues IOUs to the “arm’s length board” in the form of increasingly worthless provincial bonds. The pension would for actuarial purposes be “fully funded” but as a practical matter one pocket of government is borrowing from the other.
But perhaps the Wynnesters are a tad more clever than all that. The revenues from this payroll tax go directly to the allegedly “arms length” investment board. Nothing goes into general revenues and the Liberals allow themselves a patina of fair dealing. The board, however, will almost certainly have its investment guidelines laid out by the government. Those guidelines, by the strangest coincidence, will likely have an “invest in Ontario” component.
Some of the money will get used to buy up provincial bonds, lowering the government’s cost of borrowing at a time when capital markets are getting skittish about Ontario debentures. Quite a lot of the rest will be used to fund infrastructure projects, private-public sector partnerships and other initiatives that will, mysteriously, favour Liberal allies. The Chretien era Adscam scandal will seem like chump change in comparison.
August 8, 2015
Michael Geist looks at the major federal party leaders’ reactions to discussion of a “Netflix tax”:
As part of the digital strategy discussion, I stated that questions abound, including “are new regulations over services such as Netflix on the horizon?”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed that question yesterday with a video and tweet in which he pledged that the Conservatives will never tax digital streaming services like Netflix and Youtube. Harper added that the Liberals and NDP have left the door open to a Netflix tax, but that he is 100% opposed, “always has been, always will be.” Both opposition parties quickly responded with the NDP saying they have not proposed a Netflix tax and the Liberals saying they have never supported a Netflix tax and do not support a Netflix tax.
So is this much ado about nothing?
Not exactly. First, there are groups and provincial governments that support a Netflix tax or mandated contribution to fund the creation of Canadian content. These include the Ontario and Quebec governments along with many creator groups. Earlier this year, I obtained documents under the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that showed that the Ontario government spent months working toward a recommendation to expand the regulation of new media, including Canadian content requirements and increased regulation of foreign online video providers.
Second, while the Liberals and NDP have not proposed a Netflix tax, they have called for requirements that online video providers disclose revenues, Canadian content availability, and subscriber numbers to Canadian regulators. This is a very soft form of regulation that Netflix and Google have rejected as beyond the power of the Broadcasting Act. Providing information to allow for more informed regulatory analysis does not seem particularly unreasonable, but the companies unsurprisingly fear that that analysis could ultimately lead to calls for more regulation or payments.
Third, the real Netflix tax is the prospect of a levying sales taxes on digital products such as music downloads or online video services. It was the Conservatives that raised this possibility in the 2014 budget, launching a consultation on the issue that garnered supportive comments from companies such as Rogers, which noted that Canadian-based online video services such as Shomi operate at a disadvantage since they collect GST/HST, but Netflix does not. With many countries moving toward some form of digital taxation (as I noted in a January 2015 column on the issue, the real challenge lies in the cost of implementation), it seems inevitable that Canada will do the same in order to level the playing field and recoup a growing source of revenue. The Conservatives would presumably seek to differentiate between a generally applicable sales tax and a tax or fee targeting online streaming services, though many may feel it is a distinction without a difference.
August 7, 2015
For those of you not familiar with Canadian politics — and unless you’re a Canadian why would you be? — the longest election campaign since the 19th century kicked off on Sunday, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to the Governor General’s office to request that parliament be dissolved. This is going to be a long, long, gruelling political death-march. Eleven whole weeks of politicians bloviating, TV talking heads pretending to interpret every twitch in the polls, political candidates of all shades from light pink to deepest red popping up at every possible gathering of more than three people to beg for votes … it’s going to be awful.
Over at Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson provides the early scorecard on the leaders of the major federal parties:
In his infinite cruelty the PM has imposed upon the Canadian people, who never did him any harm, a formal eleven week election campaign. The longest since 1872. Much of Canada still wasn’t part of Canada in 1872. After eleven weeks of politicking those regions might be thinking of leaving. British Columbia we will miss you dearly. Newfoundland much the same.
Lest we complain the status quo remains. As Ronald Reagan once observed status quo is Latin for the mess we’re in. Our particular mess has a dull and worthy quality befitting our national character. This brings us to the vital question: What is Election 2015 about?
Is it about Justin Trudeau’s fitness to rule the nation? No, because nobody in their right mind thinks the Dauphin is fit to rule. He’s a front man for those shrewder than himself. If current polls are to be trusted it appears that Canadians are not keen on a Gerald Butts government.
Perhaps it’s about Thomas Mulcair and his ability to lead. Can you, the good and sensible people of our fair Dominion, imagine yet another Quebec lawyer as ruler of all the Canadas? And if you can hold that mental picture, while still holding your lunch, have you thought carefully about who is part of Team Mulcair? However astute and moderate a PM Tommy might turn out to be he will need build a cabinet. Have you seen the timbers of the NDP caucus lately? […]
Canadians, it is understood, are creatures of habit. We likes what we likes. There is a tendency for the electorate to plunk for the bank manager candidate. The safe pair of hands who won’t screw things up too much. As a people we generally avoid Messiahs or Rabble Rousers. It offends our sense of proportion. We want someone clever enough to deal with basic problems but sensible enough not to wreck the place between elections. In our long national history we have deviated from this common sense approach just once. Way back in 1968 we took a wild and daring risk. The result was fifteen years of Pierre Trudeau.
Bill Davis, perhaps the most quintessential of Ontario politicians, famously attributed his success to a simple formula: Bland works. Stephen Harper is our bland candidate. Beneath the bad hair cut the enormous brain continues to plot. It plotted the Canadian Right out of the political wilderness. It plotted Canada away from the disaster of an Liberal-NDP-Bloc Coalition. Nimbly has it darted us through the shoals of the world economy. He ain’t great but he’s better than what else is on offer.
This October my fellow Canadians let us be boring. Let us be sensible. Let us be bland. It’s what we do best and why, whatever happens over the next eleven weeks, Stephen Harper will probably still be running the joint for years to come. All hail the new Mackenzie King.
July 30, 2015
Richard Anderson explains why unlike most mature countries, Canada is unable to amend the constitution:
The Senate is our great constitutional appendix. It gets a bit inflamed from time to time but, a hundred and fifty years in, we’ve generally come to the conclusion that it’s too much of a hassle to get rid of. In other countries, normal nation states, amending a constitution is just one of those things. There’s a convention, people argue about it and eventually some words get swapped in and out of the country’s basic law. The Americans might go so far as to fight a civil war over such things, but for most countries it’s routine stuff.
Having successfully avoided civil wars, insurrections, coup d’etats and other assorted public disturbances, the Canadian project has retained one bizarre character flaw: Our inability to amend the constitution in anything like a sensible manner. For those old enough to have lived through the constitutional wars of the 1970s and 1980s the very mention of the C-word induces terrible flashbacks. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see Joe Clark talking about amending formulas. In those moments I question the existence of a merciful God.
The latest idea to drift out of the PMO is that Stephen Harper will stop appointing Senators. This is actually quite similar to how the PM approaches maintenance on 24 Sussex Drive. The official residence is almost as old as Canada itself. Unfortunately so is much of the plumbing. The building is literally falling to bits and requires millions in renovations. Being a politician first and a government tenant second, Stephen Harper knows that doing more than the bare minimum to keep up his Ottawa home will provoke shrieks of outrage from the Opposition. Only when the building finally collapses will anything really be done. And at three times the original price.
This same logic will now be applied to the Senate. The PM will stop appointing senators until there is no more Senate. Sounds neat, eh? Except that the Senate is ensconced into the bedrock of our constitutional order. If the number of living breathing Senators drops below quorum the Supreme Court, the real rulers of our fair Dominion, will order the PM to appoint more. Then the PM of the day, perhaps Mr Harper or Mr Mulcair, will shrug their shoulders and do as their bosses tell them.
The only way to get rid of the Senate is to amend the constitution. Like going to the dentist this would be both painful and expensive. Unlike going to the dentist it would also be interminable. Dentists, you see, have golf games. Constitutional lawyers don’t play golf. It would interrupt from their fascinating work of discussing whether or not the power of disallowance is genuinely obsolete. If you don’t understand what that means don’t worry neither do they.
July 20, 2015
Paul Wells on yet another of those meaningless “polls” that Canadian media latch on to because they somehow show that Canada matters … to someone outside Canada:
How are you feeling about Hungary these days? Earthy, mitteleuropäische old country, redolent of paprika, graced by the meandering Danube, nice vacation getaway, maybe? I would totally get that. Me, I’m leery about the place these days because its prime minister, Viktor Orban, is a bit of a mess, governing in a country where anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiment are spiking, scrupulous journalists are on the outs, and Vladimir Putin is warmly greeted.
But that’s just me. You have to be fairly well-read on international news to have caught most of that stuff about Orban, and you need to be obtusely focused on high politics to let any of that taint your view of what is, after all, largely the same Hungary this year as five years ago or five years from now.
Much the same point could be made about Canada, which shone this week in two new international rankings. Portland’s “Soft Power 30,” a measure of international influence, ranks Canada fifth — ahead of Japan, Brazil and China to list only the most surprising few. And the Reputation Institute’s 2015 Country RepTrak, which measures “the reputation of 55 countries based on levels of trust, esteem, admiration and respect,” has Canada in first place.
This news aligns poorly with a certain current of thought in foreign-policy circles to the effect that the Harper government has shattered Canada’s reputation and that the world snickers behind our back as we drag our knuckles around like a bunch of baboons. I am hardly even paraphrasing.
The last question was about what I thought Canada’s reputation in the world is these days. I said, approximately, that it would depend who you ask. If you ask career diplomats from Canada, many would say the current gang have pushed our once-proud nation off a cliff for giggles. Career diplomats from other countries would note, sometimes with dismay, divergences from long-held positions on climate change, Israel and several other questions. But if you stop a stranger on the street in Frankfurt or Rio or Cape Town, you’d probably get a distracted and reasonably familiar opinion: that Canada remains a country of relative fairness and welcome, whose people don’t fuss much and can usually be relied on to help when asked. The Harper government, like its predecessors, has affected this vague impression mostly around the edges. And sometimes for the good — as, indeed, when its embassy staff refused to push some kids into the Kyiv streets out of excessive regard for neutrality while an obnoxious regime was busy collapsing onto the slag heap of history early last year.
Mostly Canada is a big country whose direction any government can nudge, but not much more. A big, generous country — a little too generously bestowed with a compulsion toward anxious self-regard perhaps, but on the scale of human weakness, that’s far from the worst after all.
March 10, 2015
Mark Steyn talks about the decline in state observance (and in David Cameron’s case, even awareness) of the significance of Magna Carta:
Real rights are like Magna Carta: restraints on state power. Too many people today understand the word “rights” to mean baubles and trinkets a gracious sovereign bestows on his subjects — “free” health care, “free” community college, “safe spaces” from anyone saying anything beastly — all of which require a massive, coercive state regulatory regime to enforce.
But, to give it is full name, Magna Carta Libertatum (my italics – I don’t think they had ’em back then) gets it the right way round. It was in some respects a happy accident. In 1215, a bunch of chippy barons were getting fed up with King John. In those days, in such circumstances, the malcontents would usually replace the sovereign with a pliable prince who’d be more attentive to their grievances. But, having no such prince to hand, the barons were forced to be more inventive, and so they wound up replacing the King with an idea, and the most important idea of all — that even the King is subject to the law.
In this 800th anniversary year, that’s a lesson worth re-learning. Restraints on state power are increasingly unfashionable among the heirs to Magna Carta: in America, King Barack decides when he wakes up of a morning what clauses of ObamaCare or US immigration law he’s willing to observe or waive according to royal whim; his heir, Queen Hillary, operates on the principle that laws are for the other 300 million Americans, not her. In the birthplace of Magna Carta, a few miles from that meadow at Runnymede, David Cameron’s constabulary leans on newsagents to cough up the names and addresses of troublesome citizens who’ve committed the crime of purchasing Charlie Hebdo.
The symbolism was almost too perfect when Mr Cameron went on TV with David Letterman, and was obliged to admit that he had no idea what the words “Magna Carta” meant. Magna Carta Libertatum: The Great Charter of Liberty. I’m happy to say Mr Cameron’s Commonwealth cousins across the Atlantic in Ottawa are more on top of things: One of the modestly heartening innovations of Stephen Harper’s ministry is that, when immigrants to Canada take the oath of citizenship, they’re given among other things a copy of Magna Carta.
Why? Because everything flows therefrom — from England’s Glorious Revolution to the US Constitution and beyond. It’s part of the reason why the English-speaking world, in contrast to Continental Europe, has managed to sustain its freedoms across the generations.
On the topic of Cameron’s inability to say what Magna Carta translates to in English, Richard Anderson is convinced it was a deliberate ploy by Cameron to downplay his (expensive) educational background:
A Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a graduate of Eton and Brasenose no less, no more forgets stuff like this then he forgets his wife’s name or his archenemy’s personal weaknesses. He flubbed it on purpose. Boris Johnson, the rather eccentric Tory mayor of London, figured out Davy pretty much from the start:
Johnson, a classics scholar, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means. It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”
A bit of context is required here. Since the Roman Empire went the way of all flesh Latin has been the language of the European elite. At first this was for practical purposes. For centuries any useful knowledge that had survived after the fall of the Empire in the west was in either in Latin or Greek. But long after Gutenberg, whose revolution made the vernacular languages of Europe important stores of knowledge, Latin remained the mark of a gentleman.
Mr Cameron is a graduate of Eton, an Old Etonian as they say. What is Eton? It makes Upper Canada College look like a cheap poseur. It is a super private high school that has produced nineteen of Britain’s fifty-three Prime Ministers. Harvard has produced a mere eight American Presidents. The University of Toronto a corporal’s guard of four Canadian PMs. Harold Macmillan, Britain’s snottiest modern PM, once derisively quipped that Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet had more Estonians than Etonians. A meritocratic break from an aristocratic past. At least it seemed at the time. Cameron’s particular team of rivals is decidedly Toff heavy. His Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is a descendant of Henry III and his father was a baronet.
And what distinguishes the education of a Toff, even in these fallen times, is a sprinkling of Latin. Two millennia after the Romans decided the British Isles, or at least the warmer bits of it, were worth conquering the language of Cicero is still the mark of the Great and Good. Boris Johnson was perfectly correct. David Cameron almost certainly knew what Magna Carta meant. He was pandering to the lowest common denominator by pretending not to know.
But knowing the meaning of the name of the foundational document of British liberty, and by extension the liberty of the English speaking peoples, isn’t quite like being able to translate Virgil from the original into the Greek. It’s not specialized knowledge and should never be seen as such. This is what every schoolboy should and did know until the day before yesterday. That the Prime Minister of the day should think it politically advantageous to pretend not to know basic historical information is a chilling thought. That he was pandering was disgraceful but hardly shocking. That such pandering would be successful is a condemnation of modern Britain as severe as anything found in the works of Anthony Daniels.
There is stooping to conquer and then there is surrendering to the modern Vandals. David Cameron is the man holding the gate wide open.
February 6, 2015
Paul Wells on the somewhat precipitate departure of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird:
This is the third time Stephen Harper has found himself suddenly short a foreign minister and the first time it has mattered. On May 26, 2008, Maxime Bernier resigned the portfolio after he left confidential documents at a girlfriend’s house, and the capital was briefly awash in bad puns about “leaky briefs.” In the federal election of May 2, 2011, Lawrence Cannon lost his seat to a rookie New Democrat. Now John Baird.
But Bernier was — is — a libertarian who was convinced that if governments talk to one another they will find new things to do when they shouldn’t be doing much of anything, so he was never entirely sure Canada should have a foreign minister and a little put out that it apparently had to be him. And Cannon took no joy in a job that pushed his limited interpersonal skills beyond their natural breaking point. […]
Baird, on the other hand, has been an absolute breath of fresh air. Of course he’s been a conservative (as opposed to merely a Conservative) foreign minister, so DFAIT lifers Paul Heinbecker and Jeremy Kinsman would reliably get the vapours at the mention of his name. He sold embassies and official residences. He informed DFAT-D (as the newly renamed ministry came to be called) envoys that they would have no more space in their cubicles in Ankara or Canberra than their counterparts in Ottawa were permitted. He stuck close to talking points, which could make him maddeningly terse: following him around central Europe last April, I passed a dejected reporter for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita leaving the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. “They gave me 20 minutes for an interview,” my Polish colleague said. “When I ran out of questions, we still had eight minutes left.”
But Baird travelled constantly, met everyone who’d talk to him, kept his eyes open, and radically expanded the breadth and complexity of the Harper government’s foreign policy. When the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they acted as if Canada’s relations with the world could be reduced to the anglosphere (friendly governments in the U.S. and Australia, the palatable Tony Blair in London) plus Israel. When those governments changed, usually for the worse from Harper’s perspective, Ottawa’s instinct was usually to turtle and blame the stupid world.