Real news takes backseat during silly-news season

While G8 tackles economic woes, media report on Harper's tardiness

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Sunday, July 12, 2009

The top three stories in Canada this week - judging by the feeding frenzies, blog postings and YouTube plays - were the following:

1. Whether Stephen Harper, in the ecumenical spirit of the moment, took communion at the funeral of former governor-general Roméo Leblanc, or whether he put "the body of Christ" in his pocket.

2. Whether Harper, late again and almost missing another summit photo call, was once more lost in the washroom.

3. Whether Diane Ablonczy, the tourism minister, was pulled off one of her own files for giving a $400,000 grant to Gay Pride Week in Toronto.

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson, by all accounts, is still dead, and has even left the building, though there is the small matter of $1.3 million incurred by Los Angeles for security arrangements around his funeral.

It's summer, the silly season, and there's a cyclical aspect to the prominence of these stories in the news. But they also reflect the changes in the mainstream media, in their rush to keep pace with revolutionary developments in new media platforms. The result is the trivialization and dumbing down of the news.

Harper was in Italy to participate in the annual G8 economic summit, a serious event at a serious moment in time. No one can figure out whether the worst is over in the global recession, whether more stimulus in the form of deficit spending might be needed, or whether a recovery is somewhere on the horizon of 2010.

Oh, yes, the leaders also discussed climate change, and agreed on a target of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, in hopes of limiting the world's temperature increase to less than two degrees, reversing the calamitous trend to global warming. On the margins, they also discussed Iran, North Korea and nuclear non-proliferation, Africa, HIV-AIDS, and aid to the poorest countries from the richer ones, including Canada.

On the economy, there is a glimmer of good news. Canada, the G8 country least hit by the recession, with a negative growth rate of 2.3 per cent this year, is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to lead all nations in the industrialized world except Japan in recovery next year, with a predicted growth rate of 1.7 per cent. If that's the case, then Harper is quite right in suggesting that Canada's $46 billion in stimulus spending over the next two years ought to be enough to be get the job done.

Indeed, the hardest part might be getting the money out the door. Harper says 80 per cent is already committed, which isn't the same as saying it's out there.

Moreover, the world's two largest emerging economies, China's and India's, are forecast to resume robust growth rates of 8.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent respectively next year, and that's very good news for resource-rich Canada - the Chinese will buy as much oil and coal as we can ship to them.

But there is no consensus on whether more fiscal stimulus is needed across the G8, and the broader G20 because we are in an economic moment that Kevin Lynch, the former clerk of the Privy Council, has styled "the civilian equivalent of the fog of war."

The G8 agreement on climate change is a significant breakthrough, although an expanded group of 17 major economies, including China and India, didn't agree to it. Still, it creates important momentum for an agreement at the annual UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

It remains to be seen whether Barack Obama can persuade the U.S. Senate to sign on to targets adopted last month by the House of Representatives. But it's clear that America is back as a leader on the world environmental stage.

It's equally clear, as Harper said at his bilateral meeting with Obama last February, that Canada "finally has a partner" on climate change within North America, one that will allow a level playing field on emissions reductions. It's also clear that Canada is within the G8 and developing UN consensus. In fact, our medium term goal for reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 is more demanding than the 17 per cent adopted in the U.S. House bill.

So shouldn't Harper get some credit for declaring Kyoto a dead letter and seeking achievable targets with U.S. participation? Sure, but he shouldn't expect any, not while he's in office.

Meanwhile, back to the important stories of the week. Did the prime minister take communion or put it in his pocket? Let's ask the pope, whom the PM met with his family in a private audience yesterday.

Was the PM lost in the washroom yet again before the G8 class photo?

Finally, has Ablonczy been stripped of her authority for giving a grant to Toronto's Gay Pride Week? She shouldn't be. She's the minister of state for tourism, and it's a big tourism event, bringing as much money into that city, as Tory MP Lee Richardson pointed out the other day, "as the Molson Indy."

Of course, you can always count on the rednecks in the Tory caucus to confirm suspicions of intolerance.

 
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