Six years later .. editors on Mediterranean retreat .. back for Ontario vote, October 10

Sep 11th, 2007 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

TORONTO, SEPTEMBER 11, 2007. “This year’s 9/11 video from Al Qaeda,” we learn from the New York Times, “seemed to be intended for the Americans the group attacked six years ago: it features English subtitles and an introduction by Osama bin Laden.” What we all know now that we didn’t quite know then is that these people are altogether immoral bloodthirsty lunatics. No one other than emergency management professionals should waste time watching their videos. Meanwhile, the counterweights editors are off to the Mediterranean Sea, where they will take part in a three-week retreat on restoring sanity to the global village. They will be back in the office the weekend before the first fixed-date election in Canada’s most populous province. What follows here are some parting views in brief: on the disappointing Democrats in the US, the strange doldrums in Ottawa these days, possible outcomes of the first election in the rest of Ontario’s life, and “China and India Rising – What Will It Mean?”

Disappointing Democrats in US?

The much touted General David Petraeus has now delivered his stone tablets from Babylon to the US Congress. And as explained by the excellent Keith Olbermann on MSNBC (for those lucky enough to have this spot on their TV dials), it seems that there is going to be both a “draw down” of US troops in Iraq – and a “stay the course.”

More exactly, Olbermann has surmised, between now and the 2008 US Presidential election the 30,000 extra troops sent in for “the surge” will be gradually drawn down, while the remaining (is it about 130,000?) troops will rest in situ – just in case the scene on the Mess-O-Potamian ground improves enough by this time next year to make George W. Bush look like something other than the worst wartime commander in chief in the entire history of the USA today so far, etc. (This Mr. Bush calls courage – which it could even be, on his part, if there were any prospect at all that he himself might actually get killed.)

Olbermann raised an even grimmer prospect in his reporting on September 10. President Bush is finally going to get his way on staying the course (while drawing down the surge) not just because the Democrats in Congress lack quite enough political horsepower to stop him, even after the 2006 mid-term elections. The current Democratic leadership has itself concluded that keeping the Iraq War hanging around as a galvanizing issue will also be their best strategy for a more decisive victory in 2008. (Meanwhile, again, a cynic is bound to add, more soldiers – and others – will die to satisfy the political ambitions of people whose lives are not at risk.)

It is easy enough to criticize in this way, of course, when you are not in the thick of the action yourself. And who can say with any altogether serious confidence just what is going on in Washington, or Iraq, at the moment, for exactly what Machiavellian and/or good as well as bad reasons? And the broader democratic polling data on such things is never entirely conclusive.

On 9/11/07 the Associated Press was reporting that in the USA today: “By 59 per cent to 34 per cent, more people said they believe history will judge the Iraq war a complete or partial failure than a success. Those calling it a failure included eight in 10 Democrats, three in 10 Republicans and about six in 10 independents, the poll showed – ominous numbers for a president who hopes to use a nationally televised address later this week to keep GOP lawmakers from joining Democratic calls for a withdrawal.”

Last Friday (September 7), on the other hand, the Guardian in the UK reported on an international poll, which showed that “39% of people in 22 countries said troops should leave now, and 28% backed a gradual withdrawal. Only 23% wanted them to stay until Iraq is safe.” At the same time, “the poll should provide some comfort to Mr Bush. While one in four Americans supported an immediate withdrawal, 32% wanted Iraq’s security issues resolved before bringing the troops home.”

Some observers in more than a few free and democratic countries are disappointed that the Democrats in the US Congress cannot or will not finally budge George W. Bush’s stubborn plans to carry on with essentially the same unworkable, over-aggressive, and even neo-imperialist “pre-emptive” strategy in Iraq that he has foolishly followed all along – despite the advice of such wiser old men as his father’s friend Brent Scowcroft, from the start. (At least not until after the 2008 Presidential election.) And we’d include ourselves in this group.

At the same time, setting all more practical political and even cynically Machiavellian calculations aside, we’d also agree that there still does seem something of a policy vacuum on the side of the angels. To us Senator Joe Biden is altogether right when he says that “it’s time to turn the corner … We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home. We should end a political strategy in Iraq that cannot succeed and begin one that can.” Yet at least one trouble still does seem to be that even the Democrats have not yet managed to forge any even shaky consensus on exactly what a new strategy that can succeed will entail. And maybe it just will take another year for something like this to come together, in time for the 2008 election? We’d be very pleased to see the angels start winning before this. But maybe we now do know that this is not at all likely to happen. We’ll in any case be waiting to see if things look any different when we arrive back at the office, here in the regional headquarters, on Monday, October 8.

What’s going on in Ottawa these days?

It is not true that Stephen Harper delayed the opening of this fall’s federal parliamentary session to October 16, because he knew that the counterweights editors would be out of the country on September 17. Some say the October 10 Ontario election is the real excuse, but who really knows if that is true either?

Following the recent APEC summit in Sydney, however, Mr. Harper made a small joke on his two-day Australian state visit that could mark the beginning of some kind of fresh wisdom. When the Harpers arrived at the (increasingly failing?) Wizard of Oz John Howard’s official residence, “they were invited to sign the guest book.” And Mrs. Harper “revealed that she always adds her hometown, Turner Valley, Alta., because it only has 1,000 people … I have to Turner Valley,’ she said as she signed the book … Whereas I, for political reasons, refuse to identify a single hometown,’ said her husband, to bursts of laughter.”

The story goes on: “Mr. Harper was born and raised in Toronto and has family connections to New Brunswick but forged his political identity in Calgary, where he moved as a young man … in 2006, Mr. Harper’s Conservatives swept Alberta, were shut out in downtown Toronto and had mixed results in Atlantic Canada … More than 18 months later, the Conservatives remain stuck in the mid-30s in public opinion polls, around the 36 per cent they earned on election day … I’m not sure all of Canada’s taken ownership of me yet,’ he added.”

Why, you may ask? And former Canadian Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney’s latest revelations about just how much he really does hate Pierre Trudeau may bear at least some beginnings of an answer here too. Mr. Harper has taken some advice from Mr. Mulroney, the press has reported, and no doubt some of it has even been good. But Mr. Harper is perhaps already more predisposed than is good for his political health to join in on Mr. Mulroney’s wild antagonism to the career and accomplishments of Pierre Trudeau.

Trudeau was a controversial figure on many grounds. Inside and outside his home province of Quebec, it was easy enough to find some reason to dislike him. (He recurrently chastised the philistine citizens of Toronto, e.g., for not adopting all the good and bad habits pioneered by the citizens of Montreal.) Yet whatever else you may finally think, Trudeau’s claims on being, without almost any doubt, Canada’s most interesting and most “creative” prime minister (to use a word once much loved by former Ontario Premier William Davis) are undeniably large. Trudeau had some “fire in his belly” about Canada (as he at least once put it himself), and the courage and force of character to give it some practical effect. His most striking achievement is the Constitution Act 1982, with or without all its flaws (but definitely with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms). And Mr. Mulroney only makes himself seem very small, when he tries to attack such a large man and such a large achievement, without conceding any of its undeniable force.

That at least is how Mr. Trudeau is still viewed in much of “Eastern Canada” at least – and even parts of “Western Canada,” in BC (where the mother of his children was born and raised), and in nooks and crannies of the Prairie Provinces too. To many ordinary but thoughtful Canadians who are still old enough to remember, and who do like and support the idea of some kind of strong future for Canada, if you ask what practical politician has finally done the most for the country and its future in the past half century, the unhesitating answer is going to be Pierre Trudeau. Of course, not everyone feels this way, but large numbers still do.

To Mr. Harper and many of his supporters, it often seems, it is hard to understand just why Mr. Trudeau, deceased for some time now, still has this kind of grip on the popular imagination. It all of a sudden even seems fashionable in some places nowadays to talk about the old “British North America Act” again – instead of the Constitution Act 1867 (as the legislation in question was properly and legally renamed by Trudeau’s Constitution Act 1982, a quarter of a century ago). Mr. Harper himself sometimes seems to think that a conservative such as himself can actually dominate Canada today in such a way as to make the history of Mr. Trudeau’s rather long career in office, from 1968 to 1984, somehow just disappear – in some kind of Orwellian re-writing of the parts some people don’t like in the more recent Canadian past.

It no doubt takes much less than rocket science to guess than this aspiration can never work. Tony Blair in the United Kingdom was as successful as he was – in his domestic career at any rate – because he was willing to accept something of the undeniable legacy of Mrs. Thatcher, even though he strongly disliked her ideological point of view. If Mr. Harper really wants to succeed in Canada, in a big way and among a strong majority of Canadians, he probably has to somewhat similarly accept at least something of the undeniable legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau – whose hometown was always and only and forever Montreal (still almost certainly the most interesting city in Canada today?) If Mr. Harper wants all of Canada to take ownership of him, that is to say, he has to take ownership of all of Canada first. (Saying that you’re finally ready to just abolish the Senate if it can’t be reformed could be a very small start? But the real challenge is almost certainly quite a lot bigger, or deeper, or wider, than that.)

The first election in the rest of Ontario’s life?

It is now being said that Ontario’s first fixed-date provincial election campaign has officially begun, as of September 10. But (perhaps because it is still only September 11) there is still not too much indication that the people of Ontario are vastly more interested than they were when the campaign had only unofficially begun, a month or so ago.

The front page of the Globe and Mail print edition today, e.g., bore the intriguing headline “Disconnect with voters could leave Tory out in the cold” on a report by Murray Campbell. The report raised a number of meaty prospects and issues – the main thrust of which was summarized in the first sentence: “The Ontario election is [current Liberal Premier] Dalton McGuinty’s to lose, but it may not be [Conservative Official Opposition Leader] John Tory’s to win.” Yet at the end of the day the online edition had drawn only two reader comments, both of which were about the obscure lawyer’s professional issue of “corruption at Osgoode Hall, mostly centred in the Law Society of Upper Canada there.”

On the other hand, another Ontario election piece in the Globe today, entitled “Tories slam health tax as granddaddy of broken promises‘,” attracted 269 reader comments. And yet another piece, called “McGuinty evokes the spectre of Harris,” attracted 183 comments. (It is true as well that both these pieces were for most of the day easier to find in the online edition of the paper than “Disconnect with voters could leave Tory out in the cold.”)

As Murray Campbell has also reported, the early indications do seem to be that “Mr. Tory’s campaign has got off to a wobbly start with a lingering controversy over his support for public financing of religious schools and his musings about the value of teaching creationism … An Ipsos-Reid survey released yesterday found 62 per cent of Ontarians oppose the idea of religious-school funding, including a majority of Conservative supporters.” (It has somewhat similarly been reported elsewhere today that: “A survey of 721 residents, gathered over the last four days of last week, put Liberal support at 41 per cent, compared with 33 per cent for the Conservatives, 13 per cent for the New Democrats and 11 per cent for the Greens.”)

Whatever else, in between the lines of current debate, there does appear to be some growing awareness that things are changing in Ontario – and that this provincial election could finally prove something of a watershed for some next new wave of Ontario history. Last Saturday, September 8, David Olive at the Toronto Star published a quite intriguing report headlined: “Finding a vision for Ontario Inc … As we move headlong into an election, there is much ado about the environment but little about the province’s long-term economic health. Here are six issues people should start talking about.”

(Read David Olive’s piece yourself if you want to dig into the six specific issues. The general background is that Ontario today has some “long-term economic challenges,” which “are oddly missing from the debate leading up to the province’s Oct. 10 election.” Canada’s most populous province, e.g., “is now outpaced in growth by all nine other provinces … The jobless rate exceeds the national average for the first time in history … And the province has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs over the past three years … as manufacturers struggle with rising energy costs, cheap imports and a dollar approaching parity with the US dollar. The “almost 50 per cent rise in the value of the loonie since 2003, along with post-9/11 U.S. security measures, has also contributed to a steady decline in American visitors to Canada.” The most populous province has born the biggest dislocation in “a $20 billion tourism industry that employs 250,000 people.”)

China and India Rising – What Will It Mean?

If you are really trying to ponder the depths of things in Canada today, you might speculate that the rise of the Canadian New West – in Alberta and British Columbia especially, but also in Saskatchewan (and perhaps even Manitoba?) – is finally being driven above all else by its geographic proximity to the rising new heartland of the world economy in China and India.

Eastern Canada, that is to say (and in the Western Canadian sense of everything east of the Manitoba-Ontario border) is closer to Europe. And so long as Europe was Canada’s main external point of reference in the global village, Eastern Canada was bound to have somewhat more national weight and heft than Western Canada. But as the Asia-Pacific region rises, Western Canada is closer to some new geographic heartland of the global economy.

The biggest changes in all this are of course not going to happen overnight. As of this past April 1, all four provinces of Western Canada together are still only home to some 9,980,993 Canadians, compared to the 12,753,702 Canadians in Canada’s most populous province alone. (And BC alone still has only 4,352,798 Canadians, and Alberta only 3,455,062. Quebec alone still outnumbers each of the two most westerly provinces at 7,687,068 – although the combined Alberta-BC population is now 7,807,860.)

In some ways, the Harper government, which is based in the New West, somewhat ironically still has warmer feelings for Europe than it does for Asia (and still warmer feelings again, of course, for the wider North America itself). One thing Stephen Harper might learn from his Wizard of Oz friend John Howard is the importance of China in current economic development policy – even for conservative-minded right-wing national governments, with any part of their natural geography in the Asia-Pacific region. (Meanwhile, some of us will still be wondering as well: Will Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s economic and cultural promotion trip to India and Pakistan, earlier this year, finally have some impact of its own on the October 10 Ontario election too? Enough to offset, e.g., any residual appeal of Conservative challenger John Tory’s policy of extending at least some public funding to non-Catholic Ontario religious schools?)





Leave Comment