It came from the desert, part deux

Readers of the Globe and Mail will already have seen today’s front-page-above-the-fold article on diplomat Robert Fowler’s return to Canada and his interview on national TV about his abduction last year by a splinter group of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — itself a splinter group of the Algerian insurgency of the 1990s), which adds some interesting first-person colour to this otherwise murky story. If you missed it the first time around, you may wish to read my August 7 post on the recent history and wider context of politics and insurgency in northwest Africa, and on the contested identity of AQIM itself.

The Ignatieff Revolution

Simon Hayter, Getty Images).    

Ignatieff at the November 2006 Liberal leadership convention (credit: Simon Hayter, Getty Images).

On the occasion of Michael Ignatieff’s ascension to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, I thought I would repost a review I wrote in 2000 of The Rights Revolution. Ignatieff and his party inevitably divide people, and my own faith in him as a leader is more tempered than it once was (I would have preferred that he assume the leadership after a contest, not before). The Rights Revolution, by contrast, is a well-written and thoughtful book that deserves to be more widely appreciated. It is surprising how little the vision of Canadian political life it offers has figured in the debate about Ignatieff the politician.–A.M.

In his 1993 book Blood & Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Michael Ignatieff took a trip to LG-2 (“Le Grande Two”), a massive hydro project 1,600 kilometres north of Montreal. Ignatieff’s guide explained that the engineering project was a point of national pride for the Quebecois, but Ignatieff had a slightly different reaction. He stressed how the dam made life miserable for the equally nationalistic Cree of northern Quebec, and that its chief illustration was that “the rights of two nations are in conflict.” Ignatieff spoke on behalf of a cosmopolitan, tough-guy liberalism that was uneasy about nationalists of all stripes: “Cree and Quebecois both argue their demand for national survival in terms of cultural survival. This link between survival and self- determination is central to nationalist claims everywhere, but it deserves skeptical examination.”

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Reflections on the Last Canadian Election

Sans Everything is a Canadian blog but a large chunk of our readers are not lucky enough to be live in the great, white north. So I’ve written up an analysis of the recent, very complicated, election, trying to explain what just happened:


1. The Conservatives have won a second minority government in a row but their actual electoral strength is low: In 2006 they got 36.24% of the vote for 124 seats; this time they have 37.64% of the vote for 143 seats. (You need 155 seats to form a majority government).


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The Real Winner of the Election in Canada…

… is voter apathy. 59.1% of the eligible population voted in this last election, down from 64.7% in 2006. As recently as the early 1990s, more than 70%  of the electorate voted. Voter apathy is perhaps the biggest problem in Canadian politics. The party that can figure out how to bring in non-voters could cause a political earthquake.

Canada’s courtier press

Canada’s most boring election campaign in living memory is about to come to an end. The public was tuned out, and the contest was even more devoid of policy differences than usual. Elizabeth May’s participation in the debates was good to see. With that exception, however, the entire campaign seemed devoid of purpose and significance, a fact only driven home by the excitement of the Obama campaign south of the border.

one of the most disappointing things about the campaign was the way the media covered it. Before Michael Ignatieff went into politics, he gave a speech to a press freedom organization in Toronto (the name of which I forget), at which he pointed out the unsatisfying nature of so much campaign journalism. The press follows the politicians around in a little bubble, reporting in microscopic detail on all the day to day campaign events, while ignoring everything that goes on outside the bubble. When Ignatieff made this remark to a convention hall full of journalists and political types, they burst into applause. Yet the coverage of the campaign now ending was all bubble, all the time. The endless attention given to so many polls that barely differed, yet were treated as omens of great foreboding, was an especially numbing element.

Against this backdrop, I was interested to read Chris Selly’s roundup of newspaper endorsements:

Endorsing Stephen Harper and/or the Conservatives:

Brampton Guardian (thanks Sean)

Calgary Herald

Edmonton Journal

Fredericton Daily Gleaner (”with many reservations”)

The Globe and Mail

Kitchener-Waterloo Record (thanks Jenn & Olaf)

Montreal Gazette

National Post (majority)

Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Sun

Prince George Citizen (majority)

Sudbury Star (minority)

Sun Media (Calgary, Toronto, and Winnipeg)

Vancouver Province (majority)

Vancouver Sun (majority)

Windsor Star

Winnipeg Free Press

Endorsing Stéphane Dion and/or the Liberals:

Toronto Star

Given how complacent the newspaper coverage was, I suppose it should come as no surprise that so many papers lined up behind the status quo. The rote predictability of the Star‘s endorsement will shock no one, but it is good to see at least one paper break from the pack. Someday, it may not be crazy to imagine a single Canadian newspaper endorsing the NDP, Greens, Libertarians, or in some other way breaking from the endless grey conformity that now defines so much Canadian campaign journalism. 



I’ve Always Thought of Him More As A Minor Demon

Stephen Harper’s been having trouble winning support in Quebec, a fact nicely captured by the following headline following headline from the Vancouver Sun:

Harper tells Quebecers he is not the ‘devil’

The opening paragraph is also good:

LONGUEUIL, Que. – Stephen Harper, looking to stem the dramatic slide of his party in Quebec, reassured Quebecers on Saturday that he is not the “devil incarnate.”

Debating the Financial Crisis

Over at the libertarian website Liberty in Canada, Pierre Lemieux and I debate the financial crisis. Pierre argues for a laissez-faire approach while I, as is my wont, point to the advantages of the Swedish approach to crisis management.

Canadian Culture War, Part II

In the United States, this has been a youtube election. A major part of Obama’s effectiveness at getting his message out is his campaign’s mastery of viral marketing, putting up extremely potent ads and videos which have circulated via emails and blogs.


Canada still lags behind in this type of viral campaigning but there has been one great exception. French artists, upset over Harper’s budget cuts and moralistic strictures about obscene art, have responded with some very funny ads, which have spread by fire on youtube. Take a look at the one above, certainly the wittiest ad in Canadian history.



The Culture Wars Come To Canada

Pascal Blanchet poster, via Drawn and Quarterly.

I have an article on how the culture wars came to Canada, which can be read on the National Post’s website.

Harper’s Kulturkampf

Unexpectedly, culture has become a major issue in the Canadian election. Until this year, Canada had been largely exempt from the sort of wrangling over arts funding that blighted American politics in the 1980s and 1990s when moral paragons like Jesse Helms and Rudy Giuliani made hay out of taxpayer money going to fund supposedly smutty photos and allegedly blasphemous paintings. Canadian conservatives, whatever their other failings, have never gone in for the sort of scolding philistinism that has often characterized the American right. Indeed, the last Conservative leader who held a majority government at a national level, Brian Mulroney, was notably generous and thoughtful in his support of arts funding.

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Lewis MacKenzie: The Sorrow and the Disgrace


Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda, 1994 (Credit: CBC).

 Lewis MacKenzie and Roméo Dallaire are both retired Canadian military generals who served in United Nations peacekeeping operations. MacKenzie was sent to Bosnia in 1992 while Dallaire was posted to Rwanda a year later. Following their UN deployments both men became active in politics, MacKenzie running as a Progressive Conservatives candidate in 1997 while Dallaire was later appointed a Liberal senator. Beyond that similarity, however, their post-UN careers have followed opposing paths. Dallaire has become the spokesman for a cause larger than himself, and has worked tirelessly to bring the issue of genocide prevention to public attention. MacKenzie, by contrast, has for years engaged in a tasteless media campaign directed against Dallaire. Now MacKenzie has appeared in the pages of Maclean’swhere, like a dog returning to its vomit, he once again revisits his sad and misguided obsession.

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