International Papers

Canada Goosed

Does Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien deserve the third term the polls promise he’ll win? Not according to the Canadian press.

Two polls suggested the worst prospect Chrétien’s Liberal Party will face following Monday’s federal election is the formation of a minority government rather than the majority it currently holds. The Anglophone Montreal Gazette reported that Chrétien used the prospect of minority rule as his last-minute get-out-the-vote call to arms, suggesting that a weakened government would give the separatist Bloc Québécois “too much sway.” An editorial in Le Devoir of Montreal said the campaign had shown the prime minister to be “a man without a vision of the country’s future,” but it claimed the right-wing Canadian Alliance and its leader, Stockwell Day, still lack political maturity. (The Alliance was formed just this year, when the Reform Party, widely perceived as a Western protest party, re-created itself in hopes of gaining more support nationwide.) So, the paper endorsed a Liberal minority government and encouraged voters outside Quebec to support the Progressive Conservatives, whose leader, Joe Clark, showed great statesmanship in the campaign and who could be trusted to maintain the balance of power. It called upon Quebeckers to support the Bloc Québécois, “the only party capable of representing the aspirations of that part of the Quebec population that believes we form a nation that our fellow Canadians must recognize.” The tabloid Toronto Sun encouraged voters to support whichever party had most chance of beating the Liberals in their district. It declared:

We believe giving Jean Chretien and the Liberals a third straight majority government would be bad for Canada. They have not earned it. They have grown arrogant in power. They have taken the people of Canada for granted.

Even those papers that endorsed the Liberals did so unenthusiastically. Toronto’s Globe and Mail proclaimed: “Mr. Chrétien has to go. He has become a one-man band, loving power for its own sake … terrorizing backbench MPs who might seek an independent voice when confidence isn’t at stake … dismissing … ethical problems … and in general treating his position as lord of a fief rather than as a public trust.” Still, it threw its support behind Liberal Finance Minister Paul Martin, “a fully bilingual, thoughtful, experienced politician with a business background and leadership instincts at the conservative end of the Liberal spectrum,” who is widely seen as the leading candidate to succeed Chrétien. “We therefore cast our vote for the Liberals, in the belief that the party will soon choose Mr. Martin as its leader, and Canada’s,” the editorial concluded. An op-ed in the conservative National Post declared, “The worst thing that could result is a minority government, paralyzed by being unable to respond quickly and decisively to the serious economic challenges facing Canada. … One should not vote against the Liberals merely as a protest vote. Governments formed from a protest vote have usually not had their policies examined sufficiently and are often failures because they are not ready to govern.”

“[O]ften vicious but mercifully brief” was the U.K. Financial Timesassessment of the campaign itself. The Canadian press was harsher: The Vancouver Sun described the race as “a low point in Canadian politics,” and the National Post dubbed it a “campaign of negatives, of gaffes and gotchas, of fear-mongering and mud-slinging, of citizens being forced to dance with politicians they despise and vice versa.” Indeed, the National Post was so disgusted, it brandished the ultimate insult:

[W]e have stumbled along the low road, squandering the opportunity to talk about national renewal, playing to the worst elements in our national character, offering up a political spectacle which in its own way is almost as sordid and disheartening as the Americans’ bizarre electoral deadlock.

Death of a journalist: Last Wednesday, Carlos Cardoso, frequently described as “the father of press freedom in Mozambique” and the country’s leading investigative writer, was murdered on the streets of Maputo. South Africa’s Mail & Guardian recounted his recent criticisms of hard-liners across Mozambique’s political spectrum and his series of exposés of corrupt politicians, misuse of public funds, and revelations about drug-smuggling syndicates. An obituary in Britain’s Guardian described how Cardoso, the son of Portuguese colonists who fled Mozambique in 1975 after the country gained its independence, grew frustrated with poor journalistic standards in government-run media and left to create an independent media cooperative, which launched what was “probably the first faxed daily newspaper in the world.” He later went solo and set up another faxed publication, “a business daily, supporting local entrepreneurs against the globalising pressures of the World Bank and IMF, and the predations of a corrupt political elite.” Libération of Paris called Cardoso “a white Mozambican whose attachment to his country has never been disputed.” On the day that Cardoso was murdered, a journalist from Radio Mozambique was attacked by a gang who told him, “You talk a lot,” beat him, and cut his tongue with a knife.

Whose language is it anyway? A smattering of English papers threw a wobbly this weekend after British schoolchildren were told to use “internationally standardised” spellings of scientific terms—for example, sulfate and fetus rather than the British “sulphate” and “foetus.” An enraged teacher told the Daily Telegraph, “It’s more to do with cultural imperialism by America than wanting to standardise. If America cared about consistency it wouldn’t use feet and inches and gallons. Next thing they’ll be telling us to drop the ‘i’ in aluminium because Americans can’t pronounce it.” The same teacher claimed the presence of “sulfur” in a pupil’s homework is a clue that it has been downloaded from the Internet. The Independent also came to the defence, erm, defense of the mother tongue: “Are we really going to take lessons in language from the land whose president came up with ‘It depends what the meaning of “is” is.’ Hell, no!”