Brussels, Budget, Rob Ford

The front page headlines of the National Post yesterday said it all. Three major news events, each one monumental, dominated the media. So much so that even Donald Trump disappeared for at least a day.

The rest of us of are reeling from the surfeit of information. The National Post had eight full pages of details about the bombings in Brussels, and another seven on “The Flawed Everyman.” Its Financial Post had six pages on the federal Liberals first budget. The Globe and Mail had eight full pages on the federal budget with more coverage in their Report on Business,  three special pages on Brussels, and three on Rob Ford. The Toronto Star featured a front page story on Rob Ford and five special pages on the former mayor, three  on “The Terror in Brussels,” and five on the federal budget.

To read all this takes a lot of time. To digest and understand it takes more. For news junkies, these Wednesday morning papers are a triple-whammy, warranting much more attention than I can give them in a single preliminary perusal. Clearly, I will go back to the old-fashioned hard-copy for more, at leisure.

The general tenor of the Brussels coverage is that “What we feared has happened.” The news of yet another coordinated bombing attack in a major European city is totally depressing but not unexpected. One can only feel sorrow and compassion for the victims of the attacks and for the heightened anxiety which everyone in Brussels, and elsewhere, must now struggle to overcome. We live in very difficult times.

The priorities of the three newspapers are found in their editorials. The Toronto Star editorial is a not-unsympathetic “Farewell to a Toronto firebrand.” The thrust of their piece is in the first line: “If fame is the measure of a man, Rob Ford was a giant.” Adjacent is a cartoon showing St Peter welcoming Rob Ford to the gates of Paradise with the question “Can you sign my bobblehead?” 

The Globe and Mail editorial proclaims the federal budget “A good start, but watch the future.” Their grudgingly positive tenor surprised me.  They recognize that the budget brought big government back to Ottawa, as the electorate wanted.  But “the mortar holding (all the new spending) together is a willingness to turn to deficit finance.” They go on to say that “Mr. Morneau’s planning of a deficit of $29.4 billion this year… (is) no cause for alarm.” “Given Ottawa’s relatively low debt levels, a global economic funk and interest rates that have never been lower, Ottawa can comfortably afford to borrow more, running larger deficits for a few years, without ill effects. Indeed, if the extra money is well-spent, the economic impact could be big and positive. Deficits are not a disease, they’re a tool—which can be used well, or misused.”

They go on to complain that though the government promised deficits to pay for infrastructure, the bulk of the spending is not investment but “ongoing program spending… writing cheques to seniors, parents, aboriginal Canadians, the unemployed, and provincial governments.” They conclude that “the rhetoric… about harnessing deficits to invest in the future… (is) not entirely the reality.”

I don’t know, I would have thought that raising children out of poverty, addressing the education and health standards of aboriginals, providing expanded relief to the unemployed, funding shovel-ready municipal maintenance projects, and supporting universities is an investment in our social infrastructure which will have significant long-term payoffs.

The leading editorial articles in the National Post are on Brussels and Rob Ford. The former stresses the need to recognize the fight we face with radical Islam and “to win it, by honouring our values,” including embracing “The West’s Muslim communities… as allies in this fight, not… as enemies in their own countries.” Like the other newspapers, the Post’s coverage of Ford focuses on his humanity, and the complicated nature of his legacy. Their budget coverage predictably attacks the “$118 billion hole” of additional debt the Liberals will incur with no plan for a return to a balanced budget.  Although John Ivison praised some “smart targeted investments” (extended EI in hard-hit areas and raising the cap on aboriginal education), his conclusion is that Finance Minister Moreau “has misdiagnosed the malady and applied the wrong remedy.” For Andrew Coyne, it is “a budget from the 1970s, to meet the problems of the 1980s.”  And so the economic debate continues. 

Now, it’s back to the papers.

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