Wednesday Night #1481

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Ron Meisels was warmly congratulated on the recent announcement of the Caldwell Meisels Canada Fund (formerly the Caldwell Canada Fund), reflecting “the recent hiring of prominent technical analyst, Ron Meisels, President of Phases & Cycles Inc., as a consultant to the Fund”.

The Census Brouhaha (more on Canada 2010: The census debate)
Prior to the Harper government’s recent announcement of abolition of the long form of the census, a relatively large part of the electorate appeared to be either supportive or unaware of, or indifferent to the manner in which census forms are completed, including the nature of questions asked, the mandatory requirement and complexity of the long form, its usefulness and cost. The Harper government claims, however, that in response to (undocumented) privacy concerns related to the intrusiveness of the long form question, it will substitute a voluntary completion of the long form, which will be sent to a lot more people), at a much greater cost. However, as anyone who has had the misfortune to study Statistics is aware, the accuracy of results is measurable, dependent on the size and randomness of the sample, (hence, for example, the expression, twenty percent accurate ninety-three percent of the time. Update: as in: Support for Tories down across most of country: poll Harris Decima said the results are accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.).
The resignation today of the Chief Statistician reflects the needless cost and futility of making the long form voluntary as neither the accuracy (a function of size of respondents relative to the population) nor the representativity of the data could be assured or indeed, even measured. In the 133 years since Confederation, the nature of Canada, as well as its demographics have changed at an accelerating pace and it is important that the federal government have an accurate picture of the size and nature of that change in order to design public policy to meet the changing needs of the population. The obligatory long census form has been a costly but important tool in designing legislation that reflects the changing nature of our country; the voluntary form will reflect only the demographic data of the anonymous respondents and is likely to be under-representative of such sub-groups  as the very rich, the very poor, First Nations and immigrant groups, and may well be even more costly.
The U.S. tested then scrapped voluntary census after response rates dropped by a third and Congress was told it would have been too costly to send out survey to more households.   Some Wednesday Nighters suggest the proposed changes are a political move within the Conservative Party aimed at further consolidating the cohesiveness of the party, or perhaps designed as a symbol of relief to that portion of the electorate that has had to work their way through the long form at some point, or, – as only the most cynical suggest,- Mr. Harper’s subtle way of ridding himself of Mr. Clement as a potential leadership threat (and what of Max Bernier who has come out loudly in favor of the changes?).
Next Tuesday, the Industry Committee of Parliament will hold a full-day hearing on the census issue.

The market 
Chil Heward’s report on their recent trip to London to meet with investors and experts,  confirmed much of what we had heard from Ron Meisels last week. Chil emphasized that European (mainly U.K.) investors are watching the U.S. economy very closely (survival mode is breathing easier): the BP spill, unemployment … , companies loaded with cash sitting on balance sheets don’t know what to do. Chris Watling, author of Equities are volatile but don’t forget the positives, participated in a roundtable organized by Heward with a number of other outstanding economists, investors and market authorities.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill appears to have had an adverse effect and uncertainty on the stock market this month.  The pound was down significantly, huge declines in the stock market in Europe and a flat market in Canada, but some positive signs have begun to appear (The cycle of emotion) with the last nine days seeing a phenomenal rise, particularly in Southeast Asia with over two billion consumers, more of whom are enjoying increasing prosperity. The market is said to be fundamentally cheap, but the overriding fear factor (particularly in London) has kept trading within a narrow band, resulting in relatively little gain for investors within the past sixteen years. Earnings, however, have been at a record level and a rise in and Canadian portfolios appears inevitable. A positive note for Canada: while exports are down, increased imports of capital goods point to a rise in productivity.
BP has sold Canadian assets to Apache, but interestingly enough, it was the cheaper gas, rather than oil, assets that were involved in the sale. BP interests in the Tar Sands and Beaufort Sea were not part of the deal (Globe & Mail).
Inevitably, a discussion of gold turns to the apparent disconnect between its price and value.It is practical as a hedge against inflation but apart from some use in dentistry and jewelery, its practical utility is nil.It would appear that its investment value resides solely in its immutability and portability.
Despite the current financial difficulties in the Euro zone, especially Greece, there is virtually no possibility that the U.S., which is in an analogous situation, would suffer the same fate.
China and India have been prospering, but their lack of water resources threatens their agricultural sector; added to that are the recurrent natural disasters, such as the current devastating floods in China. Also in the equation is the increasing need for hydroelectricity which relies on the damming of rivers that otherwise feed fertile plains. Consequently, agricultural commodities (coffee, wheat) offer an interesting investment opportunity, e.g. Agrium.

Afghanistan
Mounting casualties and the slow rate of progress in Afghanistan have been a source of frustration to North Americans, with little apparent progress in training the locals to take over the policing and other governance roles required. The perceived futility is, perhaps, diminished by recalling British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s famous “Peace in our time” speech prior to World War II. The population does not favor war, but it would appear that war will inevitably occur and North Americans, as well as Europeans, would prefer that if inevitable, it be waged on foreign territory, particularly when that war is marked by terrorism against civilian targets.

National Securities Regulator
From time to time, the concept of a national securities regulating authority is raised. In theory it would appear to be a no-brainer. The political nature of our country, however has given the provinces control of many areas logically deemed national in nature and has adapted very well by close cooperation between provincial regulators. Examples include harmonized sales tax, Medicare, as well as cooperation between provincial security regulators. However, this being contentious Canada, a Supreme Court fight is brewing over the issue as Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta are staunchly opposed to the idea.

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Prologue

Once again, a summertime grab bag including a reminder about Infinitheatre at Dorval Island .
An afternoon with Infinithéâtre
This year we are pleased to announce that on Sunday August 1st, between 2-6 PM, we will be hosting a BBQ feast (manned by none other than our artistic director Guy Sprung), complete with a jazz quartet headed by Michael Judson, the folk singing talents of our writer-in-residence David Sherman, and a silent auction that you won’t want to miss!
Tickets to this sun-drenched event are just $50 (of which $30 is tax receiptable), and get you ferry transport to and from the island, a beverage of your choice and a delicious BBQ lunch. To reserve, please contact Avigail at (514) 987-1774 or via email at [email protected]

It’s pointless to remind you about Couchiching’s annual intellectual frolic Watershed Moment or Wasted Opportunity
Can crises be seized as great opportunities for innovation in government, business, and social policy? – apparently it is fully booked (if not over-subscribed) – so, if you aren’t booked, you will have to wait for Margaret to tell us all about it, unless you have a friend who will tweet.  It is a great topic and the list of speakers is, as always, intriguing. We are only sorry that Tony Clement will not be there to address and/or be pilloried for the burning issue of the abolition of the long-form census, although we understand that discourse at Couch is far too genteel to permit active pillorying.  Can you tell that we are really not happy about this latest move of Mr. Harper’s government?

Something else we are not happy about (we have the summer sulks) is the rapidity with which one Wednesday Night media maven ‘s predictions regarding the demise of Canadian newspapers is being borne out by the new Post Media Group. We happen to have a joint subscription – or whatever it is called – to the Gazette and National Post. Last summer, the NP informed us it  would not publish on Sunday during the peak of summer. Now, it is not publishing on Sunday or Monday, and the Gazette will not be publishing on Sunday. That is of course, their choice and may well reflect the number of subscribers who are away over summer weekends. HOWEVER, we have noted no abatement in our subscription cost and apparently should we wish to talk to anyone about this, our call will be courteously replied to by someone in the Dominican Republic who has no idea where Montreal is, let alone our residence.
Another pair of local news items – this time healthcare – we have not addressed (Wednesday Night seems to be missing its GPs at the same rate as the community at large) are (1) the announcement about Quebec Government funding of in vitro fertilization treatment , a controversial decision and one with which we are not altogether happy, and (2) Quebec to create 500 ’supernurse’ jobs news that we greet enthusiastically, while we are appalled by the apparent reluctance of Quebec’s GPs to embrace this development. Maybe some of our doctors can present us with lucid arguments (better than Tony Clement’s regarding the census)?

The Gulf oil spill continues to dominate much of the news, however, we would call your attention to another environment story from The Passionate Eye The End of the Line. The film examines the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna, brought on by increasing western demand for sushi; the impact on marine life resulting in huge overpopulation of jellyfish; and the profound implications of a future world with no fish that would bring certain mass starvation.

Topics further afield include two thought-provoking stories about Afghanistan. The first is from Slate Good News and Bad News From Afghanistan – Petraeus is already making improvements, but they won’t matter if Karzai doesn’t reform.
The good news is that Gen. David Petraeus has convinced President  Karzai to let him create local forces throughout the country as a bulwark against the Taliban. This is a big deal, bigger than it may seem at first glance.
The bad news, as suggested by U.S. Rebuilds Power Plant, Taliban Reap a Windfall , is that the U.S. approach to providing essential services to the Afghan people is backfiring.
The Star, on the other hand, offers a powerful and sometimes poignant description of a little-known ‘Team Canada’ — the last major aid group remaining in Kandahar which takes a uniquely daring approach to the struggle for Afghanistan, operating almost invisibly on a mission to put tens of thousands of Afghans to work. Riding with ghosts is an inspiring story.

The news that Canada, EU on track for free trade deal in 2011: minister reminds us that EU matters should never be off our radar. Thus, our interest in events in Hungary (we eagerly await comment from our very OWN Hungarian economist). The Economist reports that  “the IMF and the EU walked away from negotiations with the Hungarian government on Saturday after the latter refused to give in to the international organisations’ demands for more clarity on the country’s plans for tax and spending.” In a completely unrelated, but disturbing item The Language Divide, Writ Small, in Belgian Town, the political situation in Belgium is increasingly tense and seems to offer no easy solution.

An encouraging note is being sounded from South Africa in the wake of the successful World Cup event. The Wall Street Journal tells us that South Africa’s trade ministry is now promoting an Africa trade zone that will stretch from Cape Town to Cairo, with the goal of knitting together three different regional trade groups over the next year. World Cup Lends South Africa Confidence to Unite Continent

Meanwhile, there is always a fascination with what is happening in the U.S. regarding the mid-term elections. Amidst all the predictions of wholesale disaster for the Democrats, this piece The Lessons of 1982 – Why Democrats need not fear the ghosts of 1994, offers an interesting contrarian view.

Finally, a disturbing note from Singapore: Singapore arrests British writer for defamation Police said they arrested Shadrake based on a complaint by the government’s Media Development Authority [unfortunate Orwellian note] and were investigating him for other offenses. They declined to give details. The attorney-general’s office is also seeking contempt of court charges against Shadrake because statements in the book allegedly impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary, a spokeswoman said. The government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial and religious harmony in the multiethnic city-state of 5 million people. It says any statement that damages the reputations of its leaders will hinder their ability to rule effectively. [We hope Mr. Harper isn’t going to follow this line of argument.]
It seems the tiny perfect state has again crossed the line.

There is, of course, more – much more – to examine, consider and debate and, as always, we welcome suggestions. Meanwhile, we close on a more whimsical note (but one that we know finds many echoes among older Wednesday Nighters) —  Heather Mallick: A free-range reader lets go, a little
“Such is the difficulty of storing paper books that I am re-flooring the house to accommodate the remaining 6,000, the only things I have specifically mentioned in my will, although I doubt the children will want them. And this way insanity lies.
These are excuses. No forgiveness: I sold my books.”

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