Wednesday Night #1249

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OWNership Conferred  In the promised individual ceremony, Richard Bruno, who was accompanied by his sister Diana, was officially and warmly welcomed into the Order of Wednesday Night. Appropriately, David Mitchell OWN, who had originally introduced Richard to the Salon, read his citation, reminding us “if it weren’t for Richard Bruno, none of us could listen to a CD”, underlining his importance to the enjoyment of life by all Wednesday Nighters (and a large proportion of the world).

Argentina
A beautiful country of diverse climates and great natural resources, it is a great place to live if one has the means, but very difficult to come from. Through the last quarter of the twentieth century until the early part of the twenty-first, unwise monetary policy, high inflation and liberalization of international trade were responsible for unmanageable national debt and poverty of the population, with unemployment rising to over eighteen percent. The severe economic crisis in 2001-02 led to violent public protests and a rapid turnover among interim presidents. Subsequent to having defaulted on its debt in 2002, Argentina has instituted political changes resulting in an improved economy, although life is still difficult there and unemployment remains high. A Canadian-made documentary film, “The Take”, written by Naomi Klein, gives a moving account of an attempt by factory workers to repossess their idle factory and turn it into a workers’ co-op for the benefit of their community. Unfortunately it seems that the few such ventures have worked, as wealthy owners have managed to block certification of the worker co-ops. 

C is for Climate Change
While Russia has endured an extremely cold winter this year, we in Canada have seen our unusually moderate winter as proof of global warming, or more appropriately, global climate change. Grey seals in the Northumberland Strait usually give birth on the pack ice, which forms in winter. Seventy-five percent of seal pups born this season, died because of the paucity of ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence . Elsewhere, pups are taking to water before being able to develop a sufficiently thick protective layer of blubber. Considering the dangers arising from seal hunters and fishermen, the loss of seal pups, while regrettable, is not unusual. However, combined with the appearance over the past few years, of species of insects and birds never before seen in Canada, global climate change becomes a reality which cries for our attention and action if we wish to avoid the extinction of all human and animal life on this planet. Even U.S. authorities are beginning to take serious notice after the Center for Biological Diversity of Joshua Tree, Calif. filed a petition last year warning that polar bears could become extinct by the end of the century because their sea ice habitat is melting away. (see: Feds Move to Protect Polar Bears )

The “Aurora Magnetica”
Wednesday Nighters Pierre Sauvadet and Pascale de Reimpré are Captain and crew of the “Aurora Magnetica” , a prototype small ship dedicated to Arctic observation that is currently being tested for winter resistance in the St. Lawrence near Montreal. Once trials are completed, they plan to spend International Polar year 2007-2008 researching the Arctic in their flat bottom aluminum boat with scientists and researchers aboard. Pierre and Pascale are seeking additional funding to complete the project and Wednesday Nighters are invited to contribute ideas. Two were “floated” this evening, one being the possibility of sponsorship by Alcan which is taking a leadership role on Sustainability issues and a second being the Conservative Party’s interest in defending Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic.

Québec Cottagers’ environmental problems Closer to home, few people are aware of the battle over the pig farms along Mississquoi Bay. For several years the water has suffered the effects of toxic run-off from the farms into the waterways, so toxic that the lake is closed for swimming from July to mid-summer and cottagers must keep their pets chained or leashed to prevent them from suffering serious harm; property values have dropped seriously. The moratorium on pig farming imposed by the Liberals has now been lifted and residents have turned to the PQ and the Bloc for support on the issue. (For more, see Water Quality Problems)

C is for commercialization of research MSBi Capital is doing something quite different from the standard approach of venture seed capital organizations. Rather than simply financing projects, MSBi contributes advice, personnel, start-up services, and follow-on venture capital through partners who include legal counsel, accounting and tax counsel, a network of start-up executives, and business and technical due diligence experts. Richard Bruno has recently swapped his position as Director of McGill’s Office of Technology Transfer for a new role as senior venture partner with MSBI where he will continue to foster the commercial development of Montreal-based research.

University policies on intellectual property (IP) vary widely. Waterloo, for instance, allows all IP to reside with the professor, while McGill’s is a joint-venture approach and when the product is deemed suitable for commercialization, it is submitted to the university authorities for consideration. In the case of the universities who claim ownership of IP, one wonders whether provincial governments might not stake a claim to the results, using the argument that 80% of the funding comes from the government, ergo 80% of the rewards of commercialization should be returned. This has been tried, but bitterly opposed by the organization representing the rectors and research authorities of the universities. And what of the division between federal (research and other activities) and provincial (teaching) funding?

C is for conservative and caucus and … clumsy In politics, when principle and pragmatism clash, it would appear that pragmatism wins. As Leader of the Opposition and during the electoral campaign, Stephen Harper was most eloquent and convincing promising a squeaky clean government in contrast to what appeared to be a more pragmatic approach by the Liberal government that he would succeed. It is still widely anticipated that as Prime Minister, he will follow through with promises made. Two pragmatic decisions made by Prime Minister Harper very shortly following his installation, point to the necessity of bending to political reality when in the ruling party as opposed to claiming the moral high ground while playing the role of loyal opposition.
The political conversion of David Emerson from freshly elected Liberal Member of Parliament to Conservative Minister of International Trade immediately following his election, while distasteful to voters who either supported him financially as a Liberal candidate or who voted for the party rather than the candidate, was not unique. Belinda Stronach immediately comes to mind, but at least she waited a “decent” length of time. As for the instant creation of Senator Fortier, this, too, has been done before (Robert de Cotret), but not by a Prime Minister who has been so vociferous about such matters as Senate reform, and Triple-E.  

However, Canadians, being a tolerant lot, are hopeful, according to polls,tend that this series of compromises in principle heralds a squeaky clean Conservative mandate, a belief apparently particularly held by some members of the business community. Some lay the blame on the lack of good communications, siding with L. Ian MacDonald’s view: “Because the appointments were shrouded in deepest secrecy, there was no communications plan rolled out with them, no pro-active message justifying the appointments and above all, no firewalls to protect Harper, Emerson and Fortier.” Putting aside the not-very-hidden job application in this column , he does have a point.

C is for Childcare payments One Conservative promise that will likely be implemented is the twelve hundred dollar a year subsidy for child support. The skeptics point to the failure of Québec’s baby bonus policy and the administrative cost of direct payments, while supporters decry the inflexibility of our current day care rules and relative unavailability of places. While no-one agrees on whether the $1200 offer from the Conservatives is a good deal, all agree that bringing up children is expensive.

C is for the Canadian economy Lacking the usual Clément commentary, Gerald Ratzer (on behalf of ‘his’ $1.2 billion) wonders whether the Canadian economy is performing so well that we may be near the high. In response, it was suggested that no matter what the current views on market fluctuations, diversification for large investment funds is a wise policy – with roughly half as much in stocks as in bonds. The concept of ‘seasonality’ has recently received attention in the Gazette, however one financial advisor mentioned that this is not necessarily a good strategy for the individual investor for whom long-term financial planning is important. This view is supported to a certain extent by ” “Capitalizing On Seasonal Effects”

On that High-C note, the evening ended.

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