Entries from January 2006

From Ramallah, Harper’s First Big Test

David Frum January 31st, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The voters of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have just delivered Canada’s incoming Harper government its first test.

The Conservative position on Palestinian terrorism is clear: They condemn it–and they certainly oppose the Canadian taxpayer being asked to subsidize it.

But the career civil servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade have their distinctive perspective. And over the coming days, they are going to try to persuade the new government to continue Canadian aid to the PA ($215-million over the past dozen years) despite Hamas’s victory in last week’s election.

Without being in the room, I can predict exactly what they will say to Harper’s people:

“As unwelcome as the result is, we must understand why the Palestinian people voted for Hamas. They weren’t voting for terrorism, war and the murder of the Jews. They were voting against corruption in government. It is important that we respect the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. If we don’t, we risk discrediting our own advocacy on behalf of democracy.

“The Hamas charter is repulsive, agreed. But our information indicates that there are potential pragmatists within the group.

“We believe that we can persuade these pragmatists to move away from their support for terrorism. But to persuade them, we have to engage with them. That means keeping dialogue open–which in turn means maintaining our diplomatic links to the Palestinian Authority and continuing our aid.

“We don’t fund the Palestinian government directly. We direct our funding to non-governmental organizations and UN agencies. This money serves important humanitarian purposes.

“If we are going to play a role encouraging Hamas to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel, we are going to need to maintain our credibility in Palestinian eyes as a fair-minded intermediary. So it will be important to continue our policy of casting critical votes against Israel at the UN.

“Although it is not our job to give political advice, we’re sure it has not escaped you that major groups within the Canadian Muslim community have welcomed this election result and are calling on you to respect the democratic process ….”

In short, the new government will be advised by its staff that although everything has changed in the PA, nothing must change in Ottawa.

The civil service argument rests on two principal assumptions:

1) Terrorism is not integral to Hamas. It is just a bad habit the group has somehow managed to pick up along the way, one that can be dropped without destroying the group’s very reason for being.

2) The way to persuade terrorists to stop being terrorists is to be nice to them. If you talk to them, show them respect and give them money, they will be so delighted that they will abandon terrorism.

Once you spell these assumptions out, you can immediately see how fanciful they are.

The way to persuade Hamas to abandon terrorism is not by rewarding them for terrorism, but by establishing beyond all doubts that terrorism brings only destruction on those who practice it–and disgrace to those who support it politically, financially and emotionally.

But if the civil service’s arguments on behalf of Hamas are flimsy, the resources they bring to bear in support of their arguments are formidable.

There are so many civil servants–and so few on the political staff.

The civil servants can concentrate on just their main goal–while the government has a million things to think of.

They have so much time–and the government has so little.

They resist, they delay, they misinterpret, they subvert. They never quite refuse an order they dislike, but it is almost impossible to get them to carry one out. And in the meantime, the normal business of the department continues chugging along. Money is paid out to favoured clients and constituencies. Lower-level officials intuit and obey the wishes of higher-level officials rather than the commands of the Cabinet and prime minister.

The civil servants begin gradually, probing to see how much they can get away with. And as they try to move the incoming Harper government away from its anti-terrorist principles, they will be taking that government’s measure.

The election of Hamas is a huge issue in its own right for Canada and all the Western democracies. For this new government, it is also a test–the first of many to come. Sometimes the issue will be foreign policy, sometimes domestic. But the question will always be the same: Who in reality governs Canada?

Bravo, Chirac!

David Frum January 25th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

ItÕs time to put in a good word for French president Jacques Chirac.

Last week, Chirac delivered a speech at a French submarine base warning terrorist states of a “firm and fitting response” should they attack France. The response, he said, might use conventional arms. Or it “could also be of another kind”: nuclear.

Chirac, once a hero of the pacifist left for his opposition to AmericaÕs Iraq war, has suddenly found himself transmuted into a Dr Strangelove villain in the eyes of his former admirers. “Radical and dangerous,” declared SpainÕs El Pais. YouÕve probably seen more of the same.

The truth is, Chirac is doing exactly his job.

France has been the victim of Islamic terrorism often in the past, and must worry about Islamic terrorism in the future. Iran is the worldÕs leading state sponsor of terrorism: the funder and armorer of Hezbollah and the haven for large elements of al Qaeda.

Until now, IranÕs career of terrorism has been – from the point of view of the ruling mullahs – largely cost-free. What price did it pay for holding 52 American diplomats hostage? Or for the attack on the barracks of US Marines and French soldiers in Lebanon in 1983? Or for sending agents to murder Kurdish leaders in Berlin in 1992? Or for the attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994?

The Iranian mullahs have reason to believe that the world is afraid of them – and not nearly sufficient reason to be afraid of the rest of the world. From their point of view, their pursuit of nuclear weapons has likewise come at a very moderate cost to their position in the world.

That is why they continue.

Chirac has just delivered the Iranians a warning that their next steps may cost them far more dearly. What else should the leader of a great nation say? Why does France possess nuclear weapons at all if not as the ultimate deterrent to the otherwise undeterrable?

The trouble with ChiracÕs threat is not that it was delivered. The trouble with his threat is that it will not be believed – in large part because of his own history of weakness in international relations.

T

he lesson of the past two decades after all is that a state sponsor of terror can gain immunity from punishment by placing the thinnest veil of concealment over its actions When Iran killed those 58 French paratroopers in Beirut 23 years ago – it needed only to take the basic precaution of renaming its intelligence service “Hezbollah” to escape direct reprisal. Why should Iran not expect that a similar fig leaf will work in future?

The time to act against Iran is not at some hypothetical future date, after some imagined nuclear terror attack, but NOW – before it is too late. All this cluck-clucking about “no good military option,” and “IranÕs capability of retaliation” overlooks the brute fact of power, the fact that ChiracÕs words ought to have recalled to us: Together, the western alliance utterly dominates Iran and can more than cope with any action that the mullahs might dare. The western alliance could remove IranÕs capacity to wage aggressive war in two weeks of airstrikes – and the more powerfully the western alliance struck, the more it would intimidate Iran from terrorist response.

The restraint upon us comes not from fear of Iran, but from the fatal mistrust of ourselves that has grown up within the democracies of the west. If Iran once again escapes the consequences of its own aggressive actions – if (as now looks probable) it goes nuclear with no more severe punishment than a resolution or two of the IAEA – the great fundamental cause will not be Iranian villainy. It will be the WestÕs crippling self-inflicted weakness.

Putting An End To Ottawa’s Brat Act

David Frum January 24th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Washington D.C. will be very, very glad to see the back of Paul Martin, and for much the same reason that Canadians voted against him. After years of investing him with all their brightest hopes for change, they came to see him as a weak, vacillating leader whose word could not be trusted.

Out of a long, long list of irritants, two stand out as the most fateful moments in the weakening of Washington’s once enthusiastic admiration for Paul Martin.

The first came in February 2005, when the Martin government announced that Canada would not after all join the US missile defence plan. At the Bush-Martin summit meeting in Ottawa in November 2004, Martin had led Bush to believe that Canada would join. The reversal startled and offended the Americans, and especially President Bush, who sets great store by the personal trustworthiness of international leaders. (He famously disliked Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder much more than Jacques Chirac, because he felt that Chirac had always been straightforward about his opposition to the Iraq war, while Schroeder had violated a promise not to campaign against it.)

It’s probably not a coincidence that Martin’s about-face on missile defence was followed in August by an equal American breach of faith: the refusal to accept a NAFTA panel’s ruling in Canada’s favour on softwood lumber.

The second turning point in the relationship came just last month, after Martin’s speech to a UN conference in Montreal, criticizing the American position on climate change. The speech in itself was only moderately obnoxious. What gave true offence was the sequel:

Ambassador Frank McKenna requested a meeting to explain the Prime Minister’s remarks. He was received by the head of the White House Office on Environmental Quality, who complained about the singling out of the United States. McKenna wrote up the complaint in a cable, sent it to Ottawa–where the Prime Minister’s Office leaked it to the press, spinning it as a story of American arrogance and Canadian defiance: The “White House” “summoning” an ambassador for a “tongue-lashing.” Martin on the hustings proudly announced he would not be “dictated to” (the headlines said “bullied”) by the United States.

You can see why the Americans would feel they had been set up. And when the U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, very mildly asked that Canadians leave the United States out of their election, the Liberal campaign swung around to target him.

Were the Martin government to have survived yesterday’s election, it is hard to see how U.S.-Canada relations could be restored to a business-like footing anytime soon.

But a new government will have a new chance.

Throughout the election, Canadian reporters called down to Washington trying to entrap unwary American conservatives into saying something overly euphoric about Harper. (The headline sought: “Harper ‘one of us,’ U.S. right-wingers say.”) I myself did a taped interview for French-language CBC in which I was asked literally six consecutive times whether President Bush would not be made ecstatic by a Harper victory.

Behind all these stories was an unstated premise: that bad relations with the United States were somehow in Canada’s interest. In this version of reality, a prime minister who cannot get his phone calls returned deserves credit as a bold Captain Canada–while a prime minister with the credibility and clout to solve problems is some kind of vendu.

Canadians saw through this kind of anti-American manipulation in 2006, as they saw through it in 1988. That creates very positive atmospherics for Canadian interests in Washington.

Martin’s defeat does something else too, something maybe even more important: It opens the way for a more mature, normal relationship between the two great North American countries.

Martin himself put it best, in his final ad of the campaign. “The United States,” he said, “is our neighbour, not our nation.” This is a fine admonition, but it is advice that the Chretien/Martin Liberals themselves could never follow.

Relations between allies normally proceed without much regard to the ebb and flow of party politics. Tony Blair went to war in Kosovo alongside a Democratic president–and to war in Iraq alongside a Republican. Blair’s Conservative predecessor John Major likewise co-operated closely first with the elder Bush and then with Clinton. Precisely because America was not their nation, they did not allow Britain’s foreign policy to be driven by their reactions for or against America’s domestic policy.

Contrast that with Paul Martin! On the very day that he was slamming the United States on Kyoto, he was preening for the cameras with former president Bill Clinton. Was Martin trying to suggest that he had won the endorsement of George Bush’s predecessor? Or was he trying to urge Canadians to vote for him as a way to register their preference for Clinton? Either way, it’s not something that the leader of a proudly independent country should be doing.

Unlike Martin, Stephen Harper truly does know the difference between one’s neighbour and one’s nation. His foreign policy will be guided not by his feelings about America’s domestic policy, as Chretien and Martin too often allowed theirs to be, but by his assessment of Canada’s enduring international interests. That’s the way mature countries comport themselves. After years of childish self-indulgence under two old men, this young prime minister will at last lead Canada back to the grown-ups’ table. That change will be welcomed in Washington. It should be even more strongly welcomed where it matters most: in Canada.

I Have A Dream

David Frum January 18th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Through the 1990s, President Clinton had two powerful senior
advisers: his wife, Hillary Clinton, spoke for the left of the Democratic party; his vice president, Al Gore, spoke for the right.

It was Gore for example who pressed President Clinton to emphasize budget-balancing over public spending. It was Gore too who advocated US intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo – and who supported aid to anti- Saddam dissidents in Iraq. Hillary Clinton by contrast championed a huge government health insurance program and opposed welfare reform.

GoreÕs vice presidential staff drew heavily from WashingtonÕs sober centrist think tanks. HillaryÕs staff, by contrast, were far more militant, ideological, and feminist.

But that was then! And this is now …

On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, the former vice president delivered the latest in a series of remarkable and escalating personal attacks on the current president.

To understand what I mean by “remarkable” you need to understand something about the etiquette of American politics. For all the roughness of American political advertising, for all the ruthlessness of American political tactics, it is surprisingly unusual for a senior American politician to engage in direct personal criticism of another. There are many interesting historical and institutional reasons why this should be so – but it is so.

And in his speeches in 2001 and 2002 and even into 2003, Vice President Gore generally followed the traditional rule. He dissented from the policies of the Bush administration, he questioned individual decisions, he expressed doubts about the presidentÕs appointments – but he left the character of his former adversary alone.

Beginning with a speech at New York University in August 2003, however, Gore has shifted into a shriller gear. That NYU speech more or less accused the president of deliberate deception of Congress and the public. Then in May 2004, Gore spoke again, even more stridently.
In the fourth sentence of his talk, he called Bush “the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon” – and he only intensified his rhetoric from there.

Now he has gone further still – airing “serious allegations of criminal behavior by the president.” The most militant faction of the Democratic party has for some time harbored fantasies of impeaching this president: payback for last time. Al Gore has now stepped forward to head the parade – and just to underscore the point, he shared his platform on Monday with Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who was the first political figure to call for the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

GoreÕs lurch leftward probably will not much faze George Bush, but it has clearly rattled Hillary Clinton. She has worked for six years to reposition herself as a moderate and responsible Democrat – confident that the partyÕs left would understand and forgive her. Her confidence has proven misplaced. Over the past year, the party left has rumbled with discontent against the putative Democratic front- runner. Till now, they had nobody to match against her except hopelessly marginal candidates like Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold. But by definition, a former vice president of the United States is never a marginal candidate. And with Gore suddenly outflanking her on the anti-Bush left, Hillary Clinton has had to torque up the volume too.

In her Martin Luther King day speech to an African- American audience in New York City, she called the Bush administration “one of the worst in American history” and compared the Republican-majority House of Representatives to a “plantation – and you know what I am talking about”: ie, a slave-owning plantation. ThatÕs exactly the kind of talk that has so often lost Democrats elections they might otherwise have won.

But then, perhaps Al Gore may not mind so much. He may still want to win the presidency. He surely yearns to lead an impeachment drive.
But perhaps the thing that would most delight his soul would be to see his old rival Hillary Clinton lose her bid for the presidency as he lost his.

Why Vote Tory?

David Frum January 17th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

How much power do you want the NDP to have? How much do you trust the Bloc Quebecois?

Those are the urgent questions facing Canadian voters in this final week of the federal election campaign.

The polls are telling us that Canadians will almost certainly elect a Stephen Harper government on Jan. 23. Those same polls suggest that the government will be a minority, with between 135 and 150 seats out of 308.

If so, socialists and separatists will hold the balance of power in the next Parliament, just as they did in the last–and all Canadians need to think very hard about that outcome.

A large majority of Canadian voters prefer a steady, sensible economic policy of balanced budgets and a restrained role for the public sector.

A large majority take pride in Canada’s role in the Western democratic alliance, and want to see the country working with traditional allies like the United States, Britain and Australia in defence of Canadian values and interests.

A large majority seek passionately to preserve and uphold Canadian unity.

A large majority want practical solutions to Canada’s health care problems and reject the ideology that insists that Medicare remain frozen forever, exactly as it was created four decades ago.

You often hear it said that minority governments are more “responsive” than majority governments. That is true–except the people to whom minority governments respond are not the Canadian mainstream, but the ideological fringe.

Just look at what happened to Paul Martin’s government. Elected with a minority, it found itself utterly beholden to the NDP–a party that had received only 15.7% of the vote. To please their junior partners, the Martin Liberals violated their promise to reduce business taxes. Martin had promised to work with the Americans to solve practical problems like softwood lumber. Instead, he was soon engaging in reckless anti-American rhetoric in a desperate effort to preserve his shaky minority in Parliament.

Minority governments are sometimes said to be more effective than majorities. But look again at the Martin record. Caught in the cross-current between the Bloc and the NDP, the Martin government failed to accomplish anything of note in its 18 months in power.

Maybe you think that minority governments will enhance democratic accountability. But almost every one of the democratic reforms Canada needs–from an elected Senate to greater scrutiny of judicial nominees–is opposed either by the NDP or by the Bloc.

There’s a strong case that minority governments are less accountable than majorities. In a minority government, the small parties wield enormous power without accepting any responsibility.

Suppose, for example, that Stephen Harper does form a government. One of his commitments is to renegotiate the fiscal relationship between Ottawa and the provinces. Will it really be helpful to the negotiations if he always has to keep one eye on how the Bloc will respond?

For traditional Liberals especially, it will be important to ensure that the next government possesses a solid and effective majority. Honest and public-spirited Liberals have important work to do over the coming months to reform their party. But if they have to worry about an election occurring at almost any moment, Liberals won’t be able to risk party reform–or a change of leadership.

Undecideds now amount to perhaps 15% of the voting population. As a general rule, undecided voters are younger than decided voters, more female and less interested in politics. They are highly sensitive to perceptions of political risk–one reason that the Liberals’ last-minute negative ad blitz worked in 2004.

Three messages may help persuade those undecided voters to choose a more positive future this time.

First, a strong, clear and focused reminder of the very concrete measures voters like them can expect from a Conservative government: the reductions in GST, the child care benefits, the waiting time guarantees.

Second, it is the Liberals who now present the more out-of-the-mainstream, more risky alternative. They have ceased to be the prudent budget balancers of the mid-1990s; now, they are the party of deceitful negative ads and a sweating, shouting Paul Martin.

Finally, it’s important to stress that a vote against the Conservatives is not a vote for a Liberal government, but a vote for instability and unpredictability. The Liberals cannot win–so a vote against the Tories is a vote to empower socialists and separatists.

Undecided voters worry about security. They feel they have a lot to lose, and not very much to gain. The Liberals have successfully spoken to those fears in four consecutive elections. But now the tide has at last turned. And Canadians need to know that the strongest Conservative government will be the safest Conservative government.

Self-destruction

David Frum January 11th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Sometimes Democratic politicians must just hate their party.

Look at the hearings on US Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. All but the most liberal Democratic senators understand that the smart thing to do is to confirm him as quickly as possible.

Every day spent debating the Alito nomination is a day spent debating abortion, same-sex marriage, and racial preferences – issues on which Democrats lose.

Every day spent debating the Alito nomination is a day spent not debating gasoline prices and the war in Iraq – issues on which Democrats can win.

The logical political conclusion is that Democrats should put the nomination behind them as rapidly as possible. The trouble is that the DemocratsÕ increasingly radical donor base will not allow the party to do what is logical.

Unlike the Republicans – who raise their money in millions of small donations – the Democrats rely on big contributors. The Center for Responsive Politics (a non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC) last year released a detailed analysis of political giving in the 2002 election cycle.

The study found that Republicans raised $68 million from donors who gave less than $1,000. Democrats raised only $44 million from this group.

But Democrats raised twice as much as Republicans among the very biggest donors. The Democrats raised $72 million from donors who gave $100,000 or more. Republicans raised only $34 million from these large donors.

Who is giving the Democrats all this big money? The short answer: Hollywood. Between 1989 and 2003, the Democratic party raised an estimated $100 million from the entertainment industry. (To be precise: not just movies, but also music and television.) To put that money in context, that is about as much money as the Republicans are estimated to have raised from the oil industry.

While Hollywood Democrats tend to be rather more conservative than voting Democrats on economic issues, they veer way, way to the left on issues of culture and morality – exactly the issues where the Supreme Court plays its biggest role.

They are paying in other words for a big fight over Samuel Alito, and the Democratic party has no choice but to give them their moneyÕs worth. At the same time, smart Democrats realize that this is a fight they cannot win.

At the close of the first day of hearings, a Washington Post/Gallup poll found that 57% of Americans want to see Alito confirmed. Only 24% oppose his confirmation.

And no wonder. Modest and shy, Samuel Alito has risen to the highest offices in the land from humble beginnings through hard work and personal merit. Judge AlitoÕs father was born in Italy in 1914. His parents brought him to the United States as an infant. He worked as a street repairman, served in World War II, and returned to spend the remainder of his career as a schoolteacher in New Jersey.

Young Samuel Alito won admission to Princeton University and then Yale Law School. He devoted himself to public service and was appointed to the bench by President Reagan. At that time he was confirmed unanimously by the US Senate. He went on to distinguish himself as one of the most intellectually brilliant of AmericaÕs appellate jurists: a self-effacing and cautious judge who carefully followed existing precedent.

He is exactly the kind of justice that a reasonable Democrat would wish to see from a Republican president – just as, for example, Stephen Breyer (appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1994) was exactly the kind of justice that a reasonable Republican would wish to see from a Democratic president. Justice Breyer was approved by the Senate by a vote of 87 to 9. Samuel Alito should and normally would receive the same treatment if the Democratic party had not been driven collectively crazy by a decade of defeat. Alas for the Democrats, the bad decisions they are making in this collective craze may end by guaranteeing them another decade of defeat more.

The Real Threat To National Unity

David Frum January 10th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

According to last week’s Liberal campaign ads, Stephen Harper wants to raise taxes to send your kids to Iraq. Either that, or else shoot them with handguns so he won’t have to pay for their daycare.

Alas for Liberal hopes, this line of attack does not seem to be working — not if the opinion polls are to be believed. So get ready for the next round of attacks. Indeed, since I must finish this column before the Monday English-language leaders’ debates, the next line of attack will likely already have been launched by the time you read this Tuesday morning:

You are about to hear that Stephen Harper’s secret agenda also includes (after killing all the babies with American-made handguns) working with the Bloc Quebecois to destroy Canada.

The line made its debut in the 2004 election campaign, and got its first full airing as Belinda Stronach’s justification for her walk across the floor. It looks likely to end its career as the last shrieking accusation of a failing Liberal campaign.

Really, you have to give the Liberals credit at least for this: They have nerve. Their own corruption discredits what remains of federalism in Quebec — and then they offer themselves as federalism’s saviors.

The truth is just the opposite.

The surest way to empower the Bloc — and to strengthen Quebec separatism — is to return the people responsible for Adscam back to power.

The only thing uglier than the Adscam scandal has been the excuse the Liberals have used to justify it. “Sorry for breaking the law, but it was an emergency. We had to take that money and pass it around to our friends as part of our strategy to prevent another referendum after 1995.”

In other words, Adscam was not just about graft and theft. It was about an attempt to pervert Quebec’s political process. And many Quebecers will be watching the election results on January 23 to see: Does English-speaking Canada share their outrage? Or are they alone?

A Liberal defeat would be a unifying moment for Canada, a moment that brings together Canadians from every region and every province to uphold norms of integrity and decency in Canadian politics.

Another Liberal victory, however, will put Canada back on the path to a third Quebec referendum and other grave threats to national unity.

The blunt fact is that Quebec elects separatists as a protest against Liberal over-centralization. The sequence of events tells the story.

1974: Liberal majority.

1976: PQ elected in Quebec.

1984: Conservative majority.

1985: PQ defeated.

1993: Liberal majority.

1994: PQ returned to power.

The next Quebec election will probably occur in about a year’s time.

Nothing — nothing — would strengthen the separatist cause more than the re-election of the Martin government. If Martin still holds power when Quebecers next vote provincially, the separatists will be free to run against Liberal corruption, Liberal perversion of democracy, and the Liberal refusal to answer such basic questions as: “Who received the improper Adscam funds?”

But if the Liberals have been defeated by English-speaking and French-speaking voters acting together, the separatists will face a much tougher problem. They will face in Ottawa a new, dynamic and honest government, fully committed to investigating and punishing wrongdoing. Electing a Conservative government would deprive Quebec separatists of their best issue. Electing a Liberal government would wrap the issue up for them and tie a bow on it.

Nor should we forget that Quebec separatism is not the only threat to Canada’s unity. There is tremendous discontent in Western Canada too.

A poll commissioned by the Western Standard magazine this summer found that more than one-third of Western Canadians — and 42% of Albertans — agreed that the Western provinces should explore setting up their own country. A Liberal defeat would cut off the fuel that keeps that pot bubbling; yet another Liberal win would turn the bubbling into a boil.

The Martin Liberals are the party of downtown Canada. They are the party of downtown values and downtown interests. And they are adamantly determined to impose those values and those interests on the rest of the country. That fact undergirds all their talk about “the Charter” and “Charter rights.” Just as they refused to respect the democratic process in Quebec, so they do not respect the democratic process when it comes to fundamental questions of faith, family and society.

Returning these characters to power would be like the Sorcerer sending Mickey back into the workshop with a whole new volume full of badly understood spells. They have not learned their lesson. But the voters of Canada surely have.

Reaping What We Sow

David Frum January 3rd, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

After a spasm of heart-rending, frightening violence, Toronto’s Mayor, David Miller, and its news media want Torontonians to remember one thing: The city is very, very safe. Really.

“Chicago: 445 homicides. Washington D.C.: 195 homicides. Baltimore: 268 homicides. Toronto: 78 homicides.” So opened a story in Sunday’s Toronto Star.

If there is any problem in Toronto, the Mayor insists, it is traceable to the United States: “The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto,” David Miller complained on Dec. 27.

And naturally Prime Minister Paul Martin agreed. “What we saw yesterday is a stark reminder of the challenge that governments, police forces and communities face to ensure that Canadian cities do not descend into the kind of rampant gun violence we have seen elsewhere.”

Feel better now? Well, don’t. The Prime Minister, the Mayor and the media are hiding crucial facts. Here are three:

1) America’s crime problem has dramatically improved, while Canada’s is becoming seriously worse. Toronto’s 78 homicides in 2005 appears to compare favorably to the homicide totals of the three American cities cited by the Star. But those 78 Toronto homicides in 2005 represent a 28% increase over the 61 homicides recorded in Toronto in 1995. Meanwhile, the three U.S. cities cited by the Star each achieved dramatic decreases over the past decade: Chicago down 46% from 823, Washington down 46% from 365, Baltimore down 17% from 322.

More broadly: Canada’s overall crime rate is now 50% higher than the crime rate in the United States. Read that again slowly–it seems incredible, but it’s true. It’s true too that you are now more likely to be mugged in Toronto than in New York City.

2) America’s crime problem is becoming concentrated in ever fewer places, while Canada’s is spreading out to ever more places.

The United States is a huge country, and it will always be possible to find a jurisdiction with shocking crime numbers. The overwhelming majority of Americans, however, live in places that are becoming steadily safer. Since the early 1990s, crime rates have dropped in 48 of the 50 states and 80% of American cities. Over that same period, crime rates have risen in six of the 10 Canadian provinces and in seven of Canada’s 10 biggest cities.

3) While American cities and states are adopting anti-crime policies proved to work, Canadian cities and provinces are adopting policies proved to fail.

Over a decade of successful crime-fighting in the U.S., criminologists and police departments have learned some important lessons.

Bluntly: prison works. Criminals do not commit crimes while they are held in prison. Yet a Canadian criminal is 80% less likely to go to jail than his American counterpart.

Putting police on the streets works. Yet Canada employs 25% fewer police officers per capita than the United States.

Enforcing laws against vagrancy, prostitution and drug dealing works. Yet Canada is either decriminalizing or tolerating all three. The right kinds of gun laws work too: for example, extending the sentence of any criminal who commits any crime–down to jaywalking–while in possession of a gun.

Gun registries and gun bans on the other hand do not work. Youth programs do not work. Counseling does not work. Grants to community activists, peer counselors and after-school facilities do not work. The $50-million Paul Martin has just announced for local crime-prevention will be directed to individuals and groups connected to the Liberal party’s patronage machine. That money will do nothing to enhance the safety of the City of Toronto. And if it finds its way to individuals or groups who lobby against effective law-enforcement, that money will actually make the problem worse.

It is not guns from across the border that threaten Canadians. It is the weak and cynical policies of home-grown politicians, and especially the Chretien/Martin Liberals. The $2-billion wasted on the gun registry could have paid for more cops, more prisons, more of everything that would protect the lives and security of Canadians. It is the federal Liberal government that releases young offenders back into the community, the federal Liberals who appoint the judges who refuse to punish, the federal Liberals who run the prison system as if it were a summer camp, the federal Liberals who refuse to deport immigrants who break the law, the federal Liberals who have subordinated public safety to ethnic politics.

And then it is the federal Liberals who have the gross and extreme indecency to try to exploit for their own selfish political ends the crime and grief and suffering for which they bear so much of the blame.