Entries from April 2005

The War Against Bolton

David Frum April 26th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

On Friday, the battle over John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations ceased to be a battle about Bolton–and became a battle about the presidency.

That morning, the New York Times reported on its front page that “associates of Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, said he had expressed reservations about Mr. Bolton in conversations with at least two wavering Republican senators.” The Washington Post carried a still more strongly flavored story about Powell’s “private conversations” with senators on the Foreign Relations Committee: The Post quoted an anonymous Democratic staffer saying, “[Powell] has let it be known that the Bolton nomination is a bad one, to put it mildly.”

Stories like these do not (obviously) appear in newspapers by accident. Powell is not merely going to war against Bolton. He is declaring war before the whole world.

But why would Powell do such a thing? As a supremely talented bureaucratic warrior, Powell must know that the deadliest blow he could deal Bolton would be a whispered word to the Foreign Relations Committee’s more liberal Republicans: Lincoln Chafee, Chuck Hagel, George Voinovich. Bolton is backed by a re-elected President and a powerful Vice-President. By taking a public stand against Bolton, Powell is also taking a public stand against Bush and Cheney.

Is it possible that Powell did not understand that? No, it is utterly impossible. Powell is joining this fight with eyes wide open–and playing for the very grandest of stakes.

One of the most difficult maneuvers in the Washington power game is the move from power to influence. Power comes with high office, and high office is always temporary. But rarely–very rarely–an office-holder’s reputation, or personal connections, or unique knowledge enable him to exert influence on events even after he leaves his office behind. Henry Kissinger is the outstanding example of the post-official influential, flanked perhaps by former treasury secretary Bob Rubin on the Democratic side and former secretary of state James Baker among Republicans.

Powell is now bidding to join this august group. How more dramatically to stake his claim than to take credit for defeating one of President Bush’s most high-profile nominees? The fact that Powell has long disdained Bolton may add special zest to Powell’s campaign against him. But make no mistake: Bolton is only an incidental target and only a secondary rival to Powell. Powell’s true target is the Bush administration itself–and his true antagonist is the President himself.

If Powell prevails, the former secretary will have seized for himself a unique and arguably unprecedented role in U.S. foreign policy. From now on, nominees to foreign-policy positions will be on notice that Powell’s endorsement or veto could make or break their careers–and they will, if wise, make sure to stop by Powell’s office for a session of forelock-tugging before their Senate hearings.

For Powell, the ego rewards from such a victory would be sweet. The material rewards would be even sweeter. It’s widely expected in Washington that Powell and his old deputy and friend Richard Armitage will soon launch a consulting firm together on the model of Henry Kissinger’s immensely lucrative Kissinger Associates. The success of the Powell/Armitage firm will greatly depend on whether Powell and Armitage are perceived to possess continuing influence. And how more splendidly to create that perception than to score a hugely publicized victory over a Republican president in a Republican Senate?

For those same reasons, though, the administration cannot allow Powell to prevail. True, all presidents from time to time have to accept defeat in a confirmation battle. President Bush’s first choice for Labor Secretary, Linda Chavez, had to withdraw in 2001, and many of his judicial choices have been stymied as well.

Bolton though is different from those previous cases.

First, Bolton’s philosophy is uniquely aligned with the President’s own.

Second, the arguments against the Bolton nomination are so flimsy and absurd that they don’t even ask to be believed. (On a list of Washington’s worst bosses, Bolton would not make the top 500. It’s obvious to all that the objection to Bolton rests not on his alleged lapses in etiquette but on his well attested lack of illusions about the UN system.)

Third, the challenge to Bolton comes not from the opposition party but from dissident factions within the president’s own party.

If Bolton loses, George W. Bush will have lost too: lost control of his party, his administration, and his foreign policy. This scrappy president does not like to lose–and he does not lack means to convey his displeasure to the senators and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and even to Powell himself. I’ll predict that we’ll yet see ambassador Bolton raise his hand over the American desk at the Security Council.

Fight Separatism: Throw Out The Liberals

David Frum April 19th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Well, you have to give the Liberals marks for audacity.

First they launch a scheme of embezzlement, extortion and graft in Quebec.

Then, when they get caught, they warn that any attempt to hold them accountable for their wrongdoing will divide Quebec from the rest of Canada. They say that these are “dangerous times,” that their opponents seek to “divide Canada” or–in the words of the Prime Minister himself–that any election will present Canadians with a choice between “separatists and federalists.”

We’ve all heard the old joke about the man who murders his parents and ask the court’s mercy because he is an orphan. The Liberals have gone him one better: They’re like a man who murders his parents and then accuses the court that punishes him of threatening the sacred unity of the family.

The truth is this: The surest way to halt any rise in separatism in Quebec is for English Canadians to inflict the most massive possible defeat on the Liberal party.

Suppose English Canadians follow the advice of Joe Volpe, Scott Brison and the Prime Minister. Suppose they vote Liberal in the name of “national unity” and re-elect a government apprehended in the act of using public funds to enrich itself and manipulate Quebec’s political process. What message will Quebecers take from such a result?

Won’t they take the message that English-speaking Canada has accepted and ratified the wrongdoing revealed by Justice John Gomery’s inquiry?

Won’t they take the message that English Canadians accept that corruption and gangsterism are acceptable political tactics so long as the targets of corruption and gangsterism are Quebecois?

Won’t they take the message that the integrity of Quebec democracy is perpetually at risk so long as Quebec remains within Canada?

Right now, Quebecers’ justified outrage against Liberal wrongdoing is directed exactly where it belongs: against the Liberals. But if the Liberals succeed in persuading English Canada to link the ideal of “national unity” with the reality of Liberal graft, Quebecers’ outrage will be redirected away from one corrupt party to the country that goes on re-electing and re-electing that corrupt party.

If an election were held today, the Bloc Quebecois’ seat total could rise from 54 to 60 or more. But if 54 seats is not enough to divide Canada, it seems hard to imagine how 60 seats could do the job. Nothing that has happened thus far makes another referendum more likely or alters the hard underlying fact that a majority of Quebecers wish to keep a place within the Canadian Confederation.

But it is possible to imagine events that could change Quebecers’ minds, and at the head of that list is the re-election of a sullied Liberal government. A Liberal re-election would prove that not even the most dramatic revelations of criminality can produce change in Canada’s frozen federal system. It would prove that Canadian politics is irredeemably dysfunctional. And finally a Liberal re-election would vividly demonstrate to Quebecers that the political gap between Quebec and the rest of Canada has opened unbridgeably wide. The case for dramatic protest by Quebecers would become unanswerable: a third referendum, a “oui” vote. All the federalists’ promises of reform and renewal would be exposed as lies, and the very idea of Canada discredited as a sordid excuse for partisan plundering.

I do not believe that any of those horrible eventualities will come to pass. I believe that Canadian voters will disregard the veiled blackmail of the Liberal party and vote for integrity in government. I believe that the Martin government will be badly beaten in every region of the country. And I believe that under a new system of government, a lot of Canada’s most intractable problems will suddenly look a great deal more manageable.

The Liberals have marketed themselves since the early 1970s as the only party that could defend Canada against the threat of separatism. The Liberals have ruled for all but 10 of the last 35 years. Yet year after year they continue to insist that the threat of separatism remains as acute as ever. Some defense!

In reality, the Liberals and the separatists are codependents. Without the separatists, the Liberals would have no excuse for their abuses. Without Liberal centralization and misgovernment, the separatists would have no justification for their otherwise unattractive cause. The separatists and the Liberals need each other. Each in their own way, they both profit from the perpetual crisis in the Canadian Confederation. Together they have collaborated to produce a long succession of such crises.

Separatists and Liberals have prospered together. By now it should be clear that they can only be defeated together.

So don’t be deceived by the Liberals’ menaces. You want to save Canada? Vote against those who have disgraced Canada.

Woe Canada

David Frum April 19th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“I LOVE Canada: It’s so clean!” Visiting Americans may be about to lose their favorite clichŽ about their chilly neighbor. Over the past few weeks, a judicial inquiry in Montreal has heard charges that Canada’s governing Liberal Party was running a system of extortion, embezzlement, kickbacks and graft as dirty as anything Americans might expect to find in your run-of-the-mill banana republic.

Just last week, for example, Canadians learned that one of the closest friends of former Prime Minister Jean ChrŽtien was paid more than $5 million for work that was never done and on the authority of invoices that were forged or faked. It is charged that this same friend then arranged for up to $1 million to be kicked back in campaign contributions to Mr. ChrŽtien’s Liberal party.

Corruption charges have dogged the ChrŽtien Liberals for years. Mr. ChrŽtien left office in 2003 under suspicion that he had pressured a government-owned bank to lend money to businesses in which he held an interest. But until recently, nobody was able to prove anything worse than carelessness and waste. Now, though, the improper flood of money from the public treasury is being connected to a reciprocal flow of money to the Liberal Party and favored insiders, including Mr. ChrŽtien’s brother.

And because Mr. ChrŽtien’s successor, Paul Martin, failed to win a parliamentary majority in last year’s federal election, Mr. ChrŽtien’s old survival strategy of denial and delay no longer works. Together, the opposition Conservative and Bloc QuŽbŽcois parties could force an election call at any time. Opinion polls suggest that if an election were held now, the Liberals would lose decisively.

The discrediting and defeat of Canada’s Liberal government would constitute a grand event in Canadian history: after all, the Liberals have ruled Canada almost without challenge for the past 12 years and for almost 80 of the past 109 years. But the kickback scandal could reverberate outside Canada’s borders too.

Many Americans see Canada as a kind of utopian alternative to the United States: a North American democracy with socialized medicine, same-sex marriage, empty prisons, strict gun laws and no troops in Iraq.

What they don’t see is how precarious political support for this alternative utopia has become among Canadian voters in recent years. From World War II until the 1980′s, Liberal power rested on two political facts: its dominance in French-speaking Quebec and its popularity in the immigrant communities of urban Ontario.

Over the past two decades, however, the Liberals’ Quebec-plus-the-cities strategy has worked less and less well.

As French-speaking Quebecers have become more self-confidently nationalistic, they have turned their backs on the intensifying centralism and paternalism of the Liberals. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rewrote the Canadian Constitution in the early 80′s over the objections of the Quebec government of the day. In none of the six federal elections since have the Liberals won even half of Quebec’s seats in Parliament.

Luckily for the Liberals, the Conservative Party split into warring factions in 1993. Consequently, the Liberals were able to return to power that year even though they won only 37 percent of the vote.*

Almost everything that Jean ChrŽtien did as prime minister over the next decade can be understood as an effort to reverse his party’s long-term problems. He edged to the right on economic issues in the hope of appealing to middle-income voters alienated by Mr. Trudeau’s economic mismanagement. He veered leftward on social issues in the hope of finding a new constituency among wealthier Ontarians and Quebecers. After 9/11, he struck anti-American and anti-Israel attitudes that he hoped would resonate in isolationist Quebec and among certain immigrant communities.

And it was presumably for these same reasons that Mr. ChrŽtien set in motion his kickback scheme. As Liberal strength in Quebec has decayed, the Liberals have found it more and more difficult to hold together an effective political organization in the province. How do you sustain a political party without principles or vision? Sometimes you do it with graft.

So in 1995 a multimillion-dollar emergency national unity fund was established. The fund was justified as a way to win Quebecers away from separatism by sponsoring sporting events and cultural projects across the province. The fund failed in its ostensible purpose. But what the scheme did do was create a huge unmonitored slush fund from which key political figures in the province could be rewarded. A large portion of those rewards, the judicial inquiry in Montreal is being told, were then kicked back as campaign contributions to the Liberal Party and as payments to Liberal insiders.

Some Liberals defend the scheme as a noble plan gone wrong, an attempt to beat back separatism that was unfortunately corrupted by a few bad apples. But when so many apples go bad, you have to suspect that the barrel is rotten.

Unlike their supposed analogues, the Democrats in the United States or Great Britain’s Labor Party, Canada’s Liberals are not a party built around certain policies and principles. They are instead what political scientists call a brokerage party, similar to the old Italian Christian Democrats or India’s Congress Party: a political entity without fixed principles or policies that exploits the power of the central state to bribe or bully incompatible constituencies to join together to share the spoils of government.

As countries modernize, they tend to leave brokerage parties behind. Very belatedly, that moment of maturity may now be arriving in Canada. Americans may lose their illusions about my native country; Canadians will gain true multiparty democracy and accountability in government. It’s an exchange that is long past due.

* My mistake: In fact the Liberals won 41.3% of the vote in 1993.

A Dialogue On The Uk Election

David Frum April 12th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“YouÕve been dreading this. Tony Blair has called an election. Now you are finally going to have to make up your mind: Do you hope he wins or loses?”

“Why do I have to answer that? I am not a British voter. Why canÕt I just say that IÕm glad that both Blair and Conservative leader Michael Howard are such strong friends of America – and that the special relationship will remain special no matter which of them wins?”

“What? Are you telling me that you, a right-wing Republican – that you canÕt instantly choose between a socialist and a fellow conservative?”

“Well itÕs complicated isnÕt it? I mean Tony Blair has been as staunch a friend as America has in the world. From the beginning of the war on terror, he has been magnificent: brave, eloquent, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful. DonÕt all Americans, right and left, owe him equal support in return? And itÕs not as if his domestic record has been so very bad from a conservative point of view. UK taxes remain low by European standards. Unemployment is down, home ownership up.”

“Have you gone soft in the head? True, Blair may not be a socialist fanatic like some of his predecessors. But heÕs more than bad enough. He has abolished the deduction for mortgage interest. He has raised fuel taxes. He has increased contributions to BritainÕs national insurance system. And worse is definitely ahead: Blair has relaxed his grip on public spending – itÕs risen from 38% of the national income to 42% over the past three years. He wants to spend even more in the years to come. ThatÕs why it is so important to replace him now .”

“Replace him? With what? Michael HowardÕs new model Conservative party is not exactly boiling with free-market zeal. They have offered a derisory tax cut – and promise almost as much new spending as Labor. And they have actually attacked some of Tony BlairÕs most rational reforms, such as his proposals to charge university students more of the cost of their own education.”

“ThereÕs no comparison. Howard and Blair are both pragmatists. They both recognize limits on how far and fast they can go. But Howard wants to go in the right direction and Blair in the wrong one. Besides, there are other issues: crime, social order, the abuse of the immigration system, welfare, family cohesion. On all of those issues, BlairÕs record has been just dreadful.”

“IÕll concede that many of the ConservativesÕ proposals on these issues are excellent: more police, longer prison sentences, more authority for teachers to remove disruptive students, and so on. But will the Conservatives ever do more than propose? There is a dreadful whiff of opportunism over todayÕs Conservative party – summed up by their disturbing past vacillation (and current silence) over Iraq.”

“ThatÕs not fair! Individual Conservative M.P.s may have gone wobbly, but the partyÕs leaders have been rock solid on Iraq. Michael Howard personally founded a new organization, the Atlantic Partnership, that seeks to reinvigorate personal ties across the Atlantic. You even accepted his invitation to join. You canÕt blame Howard for holding Blair to account for inaccurate statements about Iraq. DidnÕt Disraeli say that it was the duty of an opposition to oppose?”

“Disraeli said a lot of cynical and foolish things. The duty of an opposition is to prepare itself to form an effective alternative government . The ConservativesÕ willingness to score cheap points off the Blair government on Iraq will greatly compromise their own effectiveness should they win on May 5.”

“Maybe so. ThatÕs nothing though compared to the harm Blair is doing to his future effectiveness by his support for the European Constitution. If Blair gets his way, the next prime minister of Britain wonÕt be able to help the United States no matter how strongly he wants to: Those decisions will be taken in Brussels, not London.”

“Why canÕt British voters re-elect Blair now and then reject the Constitution later?”

“It doesnÕt work like that. A victory for Blair will be interpreted as a victory for EU integration.”

“And a defeat for Blair will be interpreted as a defeat for the pro-war coalition.”

“So, hmmm, as the British say.”

“Yes. Hmmm.”

The Four Stages Of Adscam

David Frum April 12th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Don’t expect the Liberals to go quietly. You don’t become the longest-ruling political party in the world by letting a little public disgust discourage you. While Justice John Gomery searches out the sponsorship scandal, the Liberals’ best brains are searching for ways to get away with it.

But how? Thus far they have tried four strategies, each of them seemingly borrowed from the handbook of a defense lawyer for the Soprano family.

1. They’re out to get us. Almost as soon as Judge Gomery began exposing damaging facts, former prime minister Jean Chretien and his circle denounced the inquiry as biased, wasteful, vindictive and unfair. This “poor little us” approach was copied from the Clinton campaign against Ken Starr. But Clinton had an advantage that the Liberals lack: He persuaded the U.S. public that his misdeeds did not belong in court at all. Nobody is going to believe that the theft of public money is not a public concern.

2. It’s the price of doing business. This is the line repeated by poor, trapped Scott Brison, the renegade Conservative whose sensitive conscience forced him out of his old party and into Alfonso Gagliano’s old job. In the House of Commons last Tuesday, Brison suggested that a couple of hundred million dollars of corruption was a price well worth paying for the inestimable benefit of Liberal rule–and that anyone who thought otherwise was seeking to “destroy Canada.”

Apparently realizing that this line of argument sounded dangerously like something Marie Antoinette might have said to the peasantry, Brison amended himself this weekend: It’s now OK to complain about corruption, up to a point–just so long as you remember that the sponsorship was noble in intent and only spoiled by a few unfortunate errors in execution.

Unfortunately, it seems increasingly obvious that corruption was precisely the intent of the program. On its own, the sponsorship program was an incredibly dumb idea. How could anybody ever have believed that it would “save Canada” to rent a luxury box at Ottawa’s Corel Centre for the private use of top Liberals? Or to produce unspecified “concepts” for Canada Post? Or to pay for the cigars of senior Liberal officials? Misappropriation of funds was not an abuse of the program. Misappropriation of funds was the point of the program.

3. Which brings us to the next strategy: Make Canadians an offer they can’t refuse. Liberals are now musing about hurrying forward on a great pile of wonderful new Liberal initiatives, from Kyoto to Paul Martin’s oft-promised “cities agenda.” Prodded by these exciting ideas, the public would wake up and realize the terrible injury it would suffer if the Liberals ever lost power.

If Strategy #1 is borrowed from Bill Clinton, Strategy #3 is copied from Richard Nixon. In February, 1973, the Watergate-wracked U.S. president substituted for the customary State of the Union address a series of eight separate messages, bulging with big new ideas. One of them even offered a Nixon version of a “cities agenda.” (Among other things, it proposed a Cabinet-level Department of Community Development.) The strategy didn’t work then and is even less likely to work now, for this reason: Martin’s big new ideas are timid, tiresome and unattractive.

4. More promising is the last strategy: That was a different mob. Paul Martin has grimly tried to convince Canadians that the sponsorship scandal was a Chretien scandal, not a Liberal scandal. He and his associates knew nothing.

In one sense, this claim may well be literally true. Louisiana’s famously corrupt Depression-era strongman Huey Long used to quip: “Never write what you can say, never say what you can nod, never nod what you can wink, and never wink what the other fellow knows already.” It’s not hard to imagine that Paul Martin took considerable care never to be told how Chretien was using the multi-million-dollar “national unity” slush fund that Martin was providing for him year after year after year.

Yet little as Martin and Chretien may personally like each other, the undeniable fact is that as politicians, they were in business together. The party that Martin runs is the same party that Chretien ran before him. Asking Canadians to believe otherwise is asking them to believe the unbelievable.

So what else might the Liberals do? They could imitate the master, Chretien himself. Chretien saved himself from scandal after scandal by a ruthless policy of delay, denial, intimidation and confusion–counting on the police and the courts to back down and on the public to get bored. Unfortunately for the Liberals, this plan does not work nearly so well in a minority parliament as it does with a majority.

Or–and this is advice they will consider only when their case becomes utterly desperate–they might consider an entirely new approach: honesty. Tell the truth, accept the inevitable punishment at the next election, go into opposition, expel the crooks from their ranks, renew their leadership and return to fight another day.

No fun for the Liberals, of course. But if the Liberals ever could brace themselves to confess the full truth, the now-sullied party could take comfort that at least one time, its talk of “saving Canada” had not been pure flim-flam.

A Tory Minority Calls For A Deal

David Frum April 11th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

SMASH, CRASH: Paul Martin’s government is falling apart. For the first time in 15 years, it’s possible to imagine the Liberals losing the next election. The trouble is, it remains very hard to imagine the Conservatives winning it.

As things stand, the best likely outcome for the Conservatives is a minority government. That means the Conservatives will have to make a deal. But how? And with who? Not the Liberals, obviously. Not the NDP, even more obviously. That leaves the Bloc Quebecois.

But wait a minute. Preston Manning’s Reformers busted up the old Progressive Conservatives precisely because they wanted no more dirty deals with Quebec nationalists.

Is there any way to do a clean deal?

LOOKING FOR A DEAL

Is there anything the Conservatives and the Bloc could agree on today, before the election, that would help them both with their very different kinds of voters?

The two parties don’t agree on much: Not on economics; not on social issues; not on foreign policy; not on the Constitution.

But there is one thing that they do agree on as one of the first orders of business after the next election: An official nonpartisan investigation to get right to the bottom of Liberal corruption in the province of Quebec.

In many ways, the people of Quebec are the foremost victims of the sponsorship scandal. Yes, individual Quebec Liberals pocketed millions of dollars. But overall, what did the people of Quebec get?

Quebecers got their money stolen. Quebecers pay taxes too, let’s remember — lots of taxes. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Quebecers pay almost $16 billion in personal taxes to Ottawa, second only to Ontario’s $19 billion-plus. The money stolen and wasted by Liberal hacks was francophone money too. Every Quebecer who pays his or her fair share has been abused.

Quebecers got their reputation trashed. Quebecers have worked hard over the past three decades to root out political corruption. The smug old English Canadian disdain for Quebec politics was becoming obsolete. Now, thanks to the Liberals, the old prejudices suddenly look all too plausible. It’s a terrible insult to a proud province.

Quebecers got their democracy perverted. Let’s remember why the Liberals started the sponsorship racket. It began as an attempt to use taxpayer money to buy political support in Quebec. The Liberals had enough respect for English-Canadian democracy to leave Ontario and Alberta and British Columbia alone to make their own decisions in their own way.

But Quebec they regard as what the U.S. Army used to call a free-fire zone: A place where anything goes.

So nobody should be angrier about the sponsorship scandal than the voters of Quebec. And maybe the nationalist voters of the Bloc Quebecois should be the angriest of them all.

After all, the sponsorship scandal began as an attempt by the Liberals to use taxpayer money to buy votes for the Liberals against the BQ.

While the BQ and the Conservatives may not agree about much, they should be able to agree on this:

They both should want to find out exactly what happened in the sponsorship scandal. That won’t happen so long as a Liberal government in Ottawa is covering up the truth.

They should both want to identify the names of each and every Liberal who pocketed money in the sponsorship scandal. That won’t happen so long as a Liberal government in Ottawa continues to protect its local pals in Quebec.

PUNISH THE GUILTY

They should both want to punish the guilty. That won’t happen so long as many of the guilty still occupy some of the highest offices in the land.

Finally, they should both want to take steps to ensure that scandals like this never, ever, occur again. That won’t happen either, so long as Canada is controlled by a single party.

Competition keeps democracy honest, just the way competition keeps business honest – until competition returns to Canadian federal politics, there will be scandal after scandal after scandal.

So there’s maybe the basis for a working agreement between Conservatives and the Bloc: A grand independent investigation of Liberal corruption in the province of Quebec, followed by criminal trials if appropriate, and by reforms to protect public money from this kind of crookedness in the future.

It’s not an alliance. But it could be a deal.

What Are You Going To Do About It?

David Frum April 5th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

By now, reader, if you have an Internet connection and access to Google, you have a pretty fair idea of what was said on Thursday in Justice John Gomery’s hearing room. If true, that testimony portrays the most systematically corrupt government in Canada’s modern history.

Until now, there has been a strong tendency in English Canada to dismiss the sponsorship scandal as a Quebec matter, of little concern outside the province where the graft was (allegedly) taken and the kickbacks (allegedly) paid. But when the newest revelations are published, they will force Canadians to confront a harder truth: The scandal may have begun in Quebec. Its consequences reach nationwide.

Over the past two decades, Liberal strength in Quebec–the party’s one-time bastion–has weakened to the point of collapse. The Liberals last won a majority of the seats in the province in 1980, a quarter-century ago. Even more damagingly, if possible, the party lost its place in the province’s intellectual and cultural life. Honest and idealistic francophone Quebecers migrated to the PQ, the BQ, the ADQ. The Liberals got … Alphonse Gagliano.

How do you hold together a party without convictions or principles? You do it with money. And that is how it seems Jean Chretien did it.

Chretien has explained that the sponsorship scandal originated as an attempt to “save Canada.” That’s not very plausible. You don’t win referendums by distributing large sums of money to small networks of politically connected insiders. It was not Canada he was trying to save–it was his political party.

But the problems the Liberals have faced in Quebec since 1980 are problems that have haunted them everywhere in Canada since 1993. I never much cared for it myself, but there’s no denying that Trudeauism was a strong and coherent idea that inspired intense loyalty from large numbers of Canadians.

But Trudeauism is as dead as the Ghibelline party in medieval Italy. A strong central government? The deal Danny Williams has extracted from Paul Martin would have made Peter Lougheed gasp. Lavish social programs? Federal spending has been cut to the lowest levels since the early 1950s. Redistributionist taxation? Taxes have been piled so high on the middle class that the average family is barely better off today than it was in 1989.

Paul Martin’s gaseous rhetoric is the talk of a man whose central idea system has imploded under the weight of contradicting reality. But if he no longer has ideas, he certainly has not lost his will to power. True, Martin does appear to be a less grubby sort of person than Jean Chretien. Certainly he took care to make his money before he entered politics. But the great challenge to the Liberal party under Paul Martin remains the same as it was under Jean Chretien: How do you sustain a national political organization without ideals, principles or vision? And because the challenge is the same, the answer is likely to be the same–unless Canadians force change.

Will they? It is disturbing to observe how little political damage the Liberals have till now suffered as a result of the scandals of the past decade. In Quebec, Liberal support dropped 25% between the election of 2000 and the election of 2004. But in Ontario, it slipped by barely 10%, and in many other parts of Canada–the Maritimes and Saskatchewan for example–it actually rose.

If the Liberals struggle through the current shocker–if they can hold on to their support in Ontario above all–they are bound to draw the logical conclusions. For a time, yes, they will be more careful than they were in Quebec in the 1990s. But only for a time, and not probably for a very long time. Paul Martin’s entourage may be better educated than Jean Chretien’s, may wear better clothes and have better table manners. But they are just as hungry. And by the looks of them, their tastes are even more expensive.

Boss Tweed, the story goes, taunted outraged citizens in New York City with a sneering, “What are you going to do about it?” It’s a question that resonates to this day. Judges and juries may send an individual malefactor or two to prison. Historians may deal harshly with the reputations of even thrice-elected prime ministers. But real change can come to the Canadian political system from only one place: the voters.

If this government falls, if it is beaten, if it is punished: then the abuses will stop. If not, they will continue.

As is ever the case, one-party rule has translated into economic stagnation and political corruption. And as is ever the case, there is only one cure for one-party rule: replacement of the ruling party by another. Unlike the Ukrainians, unlike the Lebanese, Canadians need run no personal risks to effect this replacement. There is no danger, and there is no excuse. It’s all up to you. Choose.

Ode To A Grandmother

David Frum April 1st, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

In 1962, the great literary critic Northrop Frye delivered a series of lectures over the CBC titled The Educated Imagination. Frye’s message was delivered with his characteristic indirection and erudition, but simply put was this: If a tender mind was delivered into his care, he’d begin by filling it up with the Greek myths, Bible stories and other ancient lore.

One of Frye’s listeners was my grandmother, Florence Rosberg. And as it happened, she had just such a tender mind at hand: me, her first grandchild.

Over the next 10 years, I would be the test kitchen for my grandmother’s educational theories. She read to me from the Iliad and Odyssey and put into my hands Edith Hamilton’s Mythology almost as soon as I learned to read. She told me stories from Shakespeare, Beowulf and the book of Judges, introduced me to Robert Graves and later Mary Renault, and hundreds of other stories, poems and books. The library in her house in Niagara Falls, Ont., was my first playground. And when I grew older, she extended her experimentation from the literary to the visual. She bought me a copy of H.W. Jansen’s History of Art for a 12th birthday present and took me on tours of the Albright-Knox museum in Buffalo.

I don’t know that Northrop Frye would have been pleased with the result–frankly, I rather doubt it–but I do know this: To the extent that my imagination has been educated at all, it was Florence Rosberg who educated it.

My grandmother died last weekend, on March 27, 13 years plus a day after the death of her eldest daughter, my mother, Barbara Frum. She was 91. She retained her brilliant mind and enchanting spirit undimmed to the last moments of her life.

As a young woman, she attended the University of Michigan. In her senior year there, she boarded with a professor of statistics with a special interest in intelligence testing. For fun, he asked her to take one of his tests: She achieved the highest score he had ever witnessed. In the days before word processors, she was always able to type flawless letters–not because she was a perfect typist, but because whenever she made an error, she’d just ransack her limitless vocabulary for a substitute word that used the erroneous keystroke.

Her humor was equally limitless. When her doctors prescribed shock treatment to regularize her heartbeats, she doubted that it would work: “Tell them I’ve seen everything. I’m very hard to shock.”

But I owe a more personal debt for her direct education of and influence upon me. I will never be able to requite it. Perhaps though I can at least offer an accounting of it. And surely this page, which for my sake she read every week and now will never read again, is the appropriate place to render that account.

One of my grandmother’s favourite books was The Autobiography by John Stuart Mill. Mill begins his story with a searing account of his own catastrophically misguided education. Mill’s father crammed young John’s head with so much knowledge at so early an age that he drove his son into a nervous breakdown by age 21: “I was … left stranded at the commencement of my voyage, with a well-equipped ship and a rudder, but no sail.”

Mill recovered by plunging himself into the arts, and especially poetry, and by learning to apply his energy to the study of the personality as well as the problems of society. My grandmother pretty early on decided that there was a warning here for her bookworm grandson. She gave me her own copy of The Autobiography, heavily underlined. She pushed me to understand literature not just as exciting stories and pretty words, but as a guide to the thickets of the human mind–a way to develop understanding of the diversity of human character and the complexity of human minds.

My grandmother taught me to read literature not only as something pleasurable in itself, but as an education in the possibilities of the human mind. Trapped in our own minds and bodies, how else can we understand other minds and hearts–ever develop any real sympathy with any other human soul?

As my grandmother entered her 90s, her body increasingly failed her — but her mind and spirit remained undimmed. This woman, so sensitive to every other emotion, utterly barricaded herself against fear. Her last days were a triumph of the human spirit over the dread of the unknown.

On March 20, only seven days before her death, she sent one of her very last e-mails to a former student who’d made contact with her:

“I neglected to tell you that on most days I am more ‘out’ of it than in it. Only a trip to the emergency room gets me out of my apartment. The right-arm fracture last June has led me to–and maybe eventually it will be through–a long and seemingly endless dark tunnel. I am stabilized now and totally happy on a shelf-full of medicines for heart, for blood-thinning and for a broad range of other assorted so-called treatments. Mostly, I am low on energy, and focusing even on e-mailing is at times somewhat difficult. I tell you this only to explain why my responses to you are fewer, and certainly shorter, than I would like them to be.

“91 and a half is a good number to sit back on. I have the happiness of a great many blessings and even a respectable few laurels to relax on. That is mostly what I do these days … a lot of rocking and staring and sniffing laurels. I must tell you that having found you again … is a terrific boost to my psychic health. I don’t do anything more physical nowadays than watch a little television, read a little, a very little as it happens. I am on Proust’s Remembrance at last, having put it aside regretfully for lo these many years. Now that I’m about 250 pages into it, I think it is the best novel I have ever read, which includes those by Joyce, Melville, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Oh well, if not the best, then at least I give it a front-row seat among those others. Only Joyce’s Portrait may be my absolute favourite, of course.

“I hope you are well and enjoying these best years of your life. They get better and better from where you are now to where I am now. After 90 is the very best, of course.”

I believe her. And I hope that this very imperfect student of the greatest teacher I’ve ever known will show before the end that I’ve at last learned her lesson in full.