Wednesday Night #1490

Peter Trent made a brief and welcome visit, having completed the ‘monastic pursuit’ of writing of his book on municipal affairs (read megacity issues). Publication date is still to be determined as the author insists that the French and English versions be published simultaneously. He notes that there have been many changes in Westmount’s administration due to the influence of the 4-year period of being merged.
Services are consumed by people, not houses
There is irrefutable logic in charging for services (consumption) such as water and garbage removal, rather than the current reliance of municipalities on revenues derived solely from a property tax based on an arbitrary value that has no relationship to consumption – and offers neither incentive to reduce consumption, nor a means for home owners to mitigate costs.
Noting that the arena project is under a different envelope from the stimulus package that requires funds to be spent by March 31st, our Mayor pointed out that it was approved by 83% of Westmount citizens. The underground arena project is, inexplicably, unique, although the approach of putting ice underground and away from sunlight has numerous advantages including energy savings.

The long-gun registry
There is usually a satisfactory, if not ideal, solution to every problem. This certainly should hold true in the government’s attempt to reply to the demands of owners – overwhelmingly rural – of long guns. The proposed legislation by which the government attempted to solve the problem through elimination of the registry was defeated by two votes some hours earlier. Sadly, it is expected that there will  be only further acrimony on both sides of the issue, continuing to pit (mostly) rural against urban dwellers.
Claims by opponents of the registry that need to be addressed are the facts that:
– Long guns are primarily required by rural dwellers to kill predatory animal invaders.
– The process includes the location of places of purchase, registration and obligatory courses prior to licensing, which are most frequently located at a distance from one another.
– The process and cost of registration does not affect would-be murderers who usually obtain non-registered arms illegally.
Those favoring the retention of the long-gun registry point to:
– the opinion of police forces that it is a useful tool in identifying the owner of the gun involved in a murderer or other crime.
– The mass murders of students on several occasions including those at Dawson College and École Polytechnique reinforce the need for the retention of the gun registry in the minds of urban dwellers.
– The murder rate in the U.S. where there are no controls on gun ownership is much higher than that in Canada.
– The involvement of the American based NRA (National Rifle Association) in the Canadian debate, especially in the light of the higher murder rate in the U.S. lends suspicion to the motivation for the initiative to kill the registry.
Without debating the goodwill of either side, the curious nature of the manner in which the legislation was introduced has piqued the curiosity of Wednesday Nighters on both sides of the issue. Rather than addressing the issues and proposing amendments to the existing legislation, the government chose the route of  a private member’s bill (allowing for a free vote), which the Prime Minister and party in power then appeared to have taken on as their own in a most divisive manner.
It cannot be considered a certainty, but very likely that the acrimonious debate might have been considerably diminished had the government postponed legislation until after attempting to resolve the key issues, namely the burden of cost and travel to complete the obligatory purchase, course and registration requirements. The Liberals brought forward amendment proposals in April to address these issues, however, they were rejected by the conservative government.
Had mass murders not occurred, the outcome might have been different. In at least one case, the gun had been registered and the killer followed the protocol, but the greatest damage done has probably been  permitting the acrimony of the debate and the disquieting influence of the NRA in individual ridings*, in pitting Canadian citizens of different regions and cultures (with focus on creating a perception of rural-urban divide), who have always lived in peace with one another, against each other on this issue. It is to be hoped that future debate in this country can remain solely between Canadians and that the problems can be resolved in an apolitical arena.
*Unlike the U.S., there does not appear to be any legislation in Canada that specifically forbids interference/intervention in Canadian domestic affairs.

Climate change, migration and geography
This week’s meeting in Moscow of the Arctic Forum reminds us that not only are Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States engaged in a struggle for the wealth of the Arctic, but that the EU is seriously concerned as it currently has no guaranteed access – a relevant point for NATO –  and thus is attempting to join the club. While Canada and the US have been looking at the Arctic as a commercial opportunity with the opening of the Northwest Passage, the security aspects are of major policy importance. However, the situation is not as confrontational as it is sometimes presented in the media, or by some politicians. Recently, Norway and Russia reached agreement on a 40-year old dispute over off-shore boundary of the Barents Sea. The Arctic Council nations  have agreed to use the UN to settle claims and will be guided by UNCLOS to determine such matters as sea-bed rights. The IMO may also be a useful forum to settle shipping issues.
Furthermore, as warming continues in the area, the Northwest Passage should become of lesser importance relative to ‘over the top’ access will be better – and that is completely outside Canadian control. There is some concern among Wednesday Nighters that Canada has yet to develop a coherent or well-conceived Arctic policy, as evidenced by the  purchase of military hardware for an ill-defined purpose and the apparent lack of understanding of what real security concerns should be. It is suggested that Russia should be an ally rather than perceived opponent in the definition of coordinated North American strategies.

Tonga
Cleo’s recent travels have piqued the interest of Wednesday Nighters in the little-known Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, first made known to the western world by the intrepid Captain Cook, who dubbed them the ‘Friendly Isles’. It was never colonized in large part due to extremely deft statecraft on the part of the first king of the current dynasty, King Tupou I, who converted the nation to Christianity (mostly Wesleyan), wrote one of the earliest constitutions in the region (1875), and officially emancipated serfs.
Most of those old enough to remember the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II retain a vivid image of the statuesque Queen Salote of Tonga, who captivated the international audience and media by riding through the streets in an open carriage, smiling and waving, in the pouring rain.
While much has changed since then [Editor’s note: The London Times’ obituary of the late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV offers a fascinating review of the more recent history of the Kingdom], the biggest changes are underway this year in the Kingdom. On November 25th, Tongans will vote in a new sort of election. Constitutional amendments will allow the nation to evolve peacefully from the current constitutional hereditary monarchy, to a parliamentary democracy in which ‘Commoners’ will outnumber ‘Nobles’ in the Legislative Assembly, and the King will transfer many of his core powers to the new Cabinet. These fundamental changes necessarily imply a rethinking of core elements of democratic governance – a challenge for any country, large or small.
The mystery, perhaps related to its location, is how this tiny country (population 100,000) and its educated citizens (with near 100% literacy and one of the highest per capital PhD stats in the world) has never been colonized. The (mostly) peaceful evolution and transformation of this island kingdom remains unique. In viewing the success of Tonga as a country one is led to attempt to ascertain if there is an optimum population size for a state. Those who have studied the matter place the number at a quarter million, hardly practical in application. But when it exists already, it is fascinating to learn from.  For those who prefer in situ observation, it is also a particularly unspoiled and beautiful destination.

SNC Lavalin has confirmed its interest in buying Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), until now a government-owned corporation. SNC Lavalin has been creative, effective and added to Canada’s reputation and lustre as a nation. In view of the present government’s choice to divest itself of AECL rather than develop it further, it is good that should SNC Lavalin indeed gain ownership, it will remain in Canadian hands. What is not as yet known, however, is whether it would remain intact, grow or diminish in scope once acquired, if indeed, the reports are correct. (The Globe & Mail offers good background and analysis.

At least one of the several Wednesday Night Stock Market Mavens has an unerring capacity to analyze the collective brain of the Canadian investor. The general prediction of a September decline was predictable and predicted, but not taking into account that by definition a decline assumes a previous rally, it has not been the case in this instance, in view of the uninterrupted decline from April to July this year. The predicted rally in September is witness to the fact (often underlined at Wednesday Night) that there is money available for investment quietly waiting for the predicted dip that has not materialized and will most likely not do so. At this point, October remains unpredictable.

Wednesday Night ended with a celebration organized by Louise, Elisabeth and Lyda of Diana’s birthday, including a lovely and gracious tribute from Louise underlining Diana’s role in the “détente sérieuse”of Wednesday Night along with immensely kind and flattering words from Astri, read by Sam; from Ron Meisels and Richard Conrad. Détente with serious chocolate mousse cake from Première Moisson followed.

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The Prologue
CLEO (Paskal) IS BACK IN TOWN (to be sung to Lulu’s back in town) – however briefly – and will be with us for this Wednesday #1490, so expect an update on global security issues related to the warming of the planet.

We apologize for this late bulletin – the pressures of our impending move are growing and the hours seem to be taken up with weeding and sorting – an agonizing process at the best of times. However, our tardy invitation is not an indication of lack of news and items worthy of discussion. Herewith a sampling.

The UN is focused this week on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The progress of the world in meeting them has not been outstanding, however there is still some optimism:

UN: MDG poverty target will be met
The world is on track to lower the number of people living in abject poverty to 15%, down from 42%, by 2015 despite the pressures of a global recession, the United Nations says in a report. Some observers warn the recent economic woes have slowed the pace of progress, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to ensure the world’s poor do not pay the price for budget cuts and meet the goal. The Guardian (London) (9/21) , The Washington Post (9/21)
Stephen Harper was at the UN today and gave a less than inspiring speech according to the media but he is, after all, pushing for Canada’s seat on the Security Council, which is not a given (as it might have been in the past)  The Toronto Star points out that “… former Canadian ambassador to the U.N. Paul Heinbecker … said criticisms of Canada’s commitment to helping the world’s poorest have made Canada’s fight to win an election to the Security Council a tight race.”

Mr. Harper is rushing back to Ottawa from the UN for the vote on the long-gun registry. After much considered debate, Wednesday Night will have the results hot off the press. Right now it looks as though the bill will be defeated.  We were impressed with Peter Stoffer’s reversal – actually doing something his constituents want and against his personal beliefs. Bravo!

Parliament is again in session and despite Mr. Baird’s earlier pronouncements regarding warm and fuzzy outreach to the Opposition, our bets are that this may be a singularly nasty session. As the Gazette article underlines, “Canada’s federal politicians were back at work Monday fighting over the issues that promise to dominate debate in the months ahead – gun control, military jets, the census, taxes, pensions and prisons. And by the time the first day of the fall session was complete, it was clear the politically charged atmosphere in the House will hinder any quick improvements to the deteriorating decorum of the Commons.” And Tuesday’s performance was worse: … just hours after Conservative MP Michael Chong begged MPs from all parties to pass his plan for a less cantankerous Commons, Jim Flaherty went berserk
The losers are of course the Canadian people. How do We, The People, convince our elected representatives that we want them to behave with civility and work together to get things done for us?

The world continues to revolve on its axis, not missing a beat while Canada pursues its own vendettas.

For those who are tracking the run-up to the U.S. mid-term elections (and even those who aren’t) little Delaware is providing the most entertainment in the guise of (certifiable) Tea Party candidate  Christine O’Donnell, God’s gift to Democrats – read and weep/ or cheer according to your views.

A less entertaining election took place in Afghanistan over the weekend. However, according to the New York Times, “Opposition candidates are cautiously optimistic that they may have greatly improved their strength in the next Parliament, despite widespread charges of fraud and low voter turnout that may yet discredit the results of Saturday’s election.”
A longer view, for which we thank Cleo, is MD Nalapat’s: Afghanistan’s fate may matter most for China
“Both Chinese and Pakistani militaries believe that a US victory in Afghanistan would entrench US forces there. A defeat may leave the country to become a low-hanging fruit for its neighbours’ influence. Small wonder that the Pakistani army’s operations against the Taliban have had zero success, even though they are widely loathed and feared by Pashtuns, unlike during the Soviet war in the 1980s. Small wonder that Beijing is willing to make a foe of New Delhi over Kashmir, including rejecting visas for Indian army commanders who had been invited to visit China. The prize of this 21st century version of the Great Game is nothing less than military control of Asia. Through a NATO humiliation in Afghanistan, China hopes to replace the United States as the pre-eminent military power in the region. In the same way, the defeat of the Soviets in 1988 led to the eclipse of Moscow by Washington across the globe.”

We look forward to our economists’ comments on several recent news items:

Larry Summers To Leave White House After Election
Lawrence Summers, the White House’s top economic adviser, will leave at the end of the year and return to his position as a professor at Harvard University, according to a statement released by the White House today. Tony Deutsch reminds us that Harvard has very strict rules , ever since Henry Kissinger, on how long a professor can be on leave. In this sense, let us not be surprised about the Larry Summers story.
News that the U.S. is officially out of recession is accompanied by a gloomy forecast from the OECD
Former officials oppose US renminbi bill
Eight former US trade representatives and commerce secretaries have implored the leadership on Capitol Hill not to use unilateral legislation to force China to revalue its currency
Obama Appoints Consumer Bureau Chief
The creation of the bureau is a centerpiece of the Wall Street financial overhaul that Mr. Obama signed in July. (The Hill) Who’s afraid of Elizabeth Warren? (HuffPost) Elizabeth Warren: Fighting to Protect Consumers
IMF poised to send permanent officials to Greece Greek government faces growing criticism over pace of reforms, amid reports aid programme is to be prolonged to 2020

We also hope that at least one Wednesday Nighter will be able to report on the outcomes of the World Water Congress that has just concluded in Montreal, along with those of last week’s World Energy Congress

Not that we can do anything about it, but the news from New Delhi that the Commonwealth Games possibly in jeopardy is sad and troubling. According to reports, “Some are wondering whether the event will go ahead as planned amid complaints about the athletes village and Tuesday’s collapse of a footbridge near New Delhi’s main stadium that injured at least 27 people. … Beyond the major cleanup required, there are other issues with plumbing, wiring, furnishings, internet access and mobile telephone coverage,” Stevenson said in the statement. We recognize that the [recent] monsoon rains have made things more difficult for workers here. But the current conditions are unacceptable and we have formally requested that the [Commonwealth Games Federation] and the organizing committee get these issues resolved prior to the athlete arrivals that begin on Friday.

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