Wednesday Night #1615
In the absence of David Kilgour, who had to return to Ottawa, Robert Cutler ably presented David’s views on trade with China, human rights, and the need to preserve and stand up for Canada’s values in international and commercial relations. Some question whether in light of Canada’s reprehensible treatment of aboriginals, this country has the moral authority to lecture China – or other nations – on repression of aboriginals and other minorities. What the world needs is an agreed Global Morality, but it is hard to envisage the adoption and enforcement of such an aspirational idea.
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI raises many interesting questions. Recognizing that he is first and foremost a professor of theology, who has courageously exposed his personal doubts in ex cathedra writings, it is easy to accept his stated reasons for stepping aside. However some would ask how effective he was and whether, while attempting to resolve certain schisms, he has contributed to a weakening of the authority of the Church along with the departure of many of the liberal adherents to the faith. Will the next pope be a conservative, or return the Church to the pursuit and expansion of the ambitions of Vatican II? [Editor's note: the best round-up we have read of the issues facing the Church and new Pope can be found on Inside the Conclave: Finding a New Pope]. Although most, if not all, the manoeuvring will take place behind the scenes, the next forty days will be fascinating to watch. Currently, two of the front runners are Africans, but it is rare that frontrunners emerge from the Conclave as winners; many anticipate that the next Pope will be European and likely Italian. The Roman Catholic Church will survive, but these recent events remain unnerving to people of all religions.
The State of the Union Address is a blueprint of the Administration’s wish list and this year’s was policy-heavy, prompting observers to ask whether President Obama will focus on what is do-able through compromise – there is considerable evidence that there is already enough common ground to forge an acceptable fiscal policy – or will he force the Republicans to oppose proposals that are popular with the public and go over their heads to the people, with an eye to regaining control of the House in 2014?
It was noted that the State of the Union Address has evolved from President Washington’s matter-of-fact presentation of the files currently in hand to a carefully orchestrated theatrical event, populated by a number of worthy citizens whose presence is recognized by the President in order to emphasize the importance of certain proposed legislative initiatives – an embellishment added by President Reagan.
The President is proposing raising the minimum wage from seven to nine dollars. This will certainly be followed by the snowball effect of current nine dollar wage employees demanding more. If successful, the ultimate effect on the economy has yet to be seen.
We are reminded that despite the media emphasis on congressional intransigence, the President has wide-ranging executive powers, which Mr. Obama has used when frustrated by Congress. The controversial decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is thus in the hands of the President.
A positive response to the proposed construction of the Keystone pipeline appears to be imminent. There had been some delay concerning the perceived hazards of transporting bitumen through a pipeline, in particular through Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region and proposals for shipment by truck and rail rather than through a pipeline. However, the hazards of transportation of petroleum by rail are said to be far greater than by pipeline. John Kerry, recently appointed U.S. Secretary of State appears to be prepared to accept Keystone if Canada will accept a carbon tax. At the price of thirty to forty dollars per barrel, Canadian oil sells at a lower price than that of oil not produced from bitumen, basically because the supply exceeds to supply for this product.
Some fear has been expressed that Canadian companies in the petroleum business will be taken over by Chinese companies, which in itself has not thus far proved detrimental to Canadian interests, but there is a belief that the inhabitants of the Canadian North might be victims of industrial expansion in the same manner as were the Aborigines in the southern region of Canada following the arrival of the early European settlers. The same order of fear was expressed when the Rockefeller Center was acquired by Japanese interests. The fact is that China is experiencing a negative labour force and as long as purchases are of a non-military nature, the concern appears to derive from prejudice rather than reality. It is easy to form prejudices on hearing stories bearing on currency manipulation, disregard for the environment, the use of forced labour, or the sale of organs from members of Falun Gong. We tend to think of China as a single country, but western and eastern China are certainly not equal. The growth in China has dropped from 10% to 8.1.%. The Chinese economy now second in the world.
P R O L O G U E
The Year of the Snake has certainly not arrived with a characteristic slither, but with the bombshell of Pope Benedict’s resignation. Our wires are humming with conjecture. NOT another European seems to be an early consensus. American unlikely. A Latino would signal a welcome virage to reform in the best sense. Does Canadian Marc Ouellet have a chance? According to Paddy Power, Ireland’s leading bookmaker, the next Pope will be African. The favorite is Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, who is 15/8 (bet eight to win fifteen), while in second place is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana at 9/4. Given the Islamist-inspired turmoil in a number of African countries including Nigeria, the election of an African would be a fascinating development, as would be that of Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka. One observer regrets the demise of the late charismatic Filipino for the wonderful optics of electing Cardinal Sin. Humour aside, the prospect of a pope of ethnic Chinese origin would have added yet another fascinating dimension to the conclave.
At this stage, all that is sure is that Vatican politics beat all contenders for sheer murkiness, so we are in for truly ‘interesting times’ throughout the Lenten period, with the possibility of a new Pope by Easter Sunday.
Meantime, please enjoy our good friend Jim Heffernan’s tongue-in-cheek advocacy of Stephen Colbert as the next Pope.
And John Curtin suggests: Pope Charles, anybody? Currently unemployed, good references, sanctimonious by nature, already voiced his intention to become “a defender of faiths”.
Our special guests this Wednesday Night, although not candidates for the papacy and certainly not murky, bring to the table a wealth of knowledge on a variety of topics. David Kilgour is a welcome returnee. Before joining us, he will be speaking to the Canadian International Council (CIC) on China-Canada Trade Relations and Human Rights. All are welcome; for more information, a brief bio of David, and to register
Jim Mylonas of Bank Credit Analyst will be making his début at WN. Jim, whose academic background is in economics, political science and international relations, is Research Analyst for Geopolitical Strategy. We are looking forward to his commentary based on the informative BCA Geopolitical Strategy Outlook for 2013, with perhaps some insights from the most recent monthly report which is to be put to bed on Wednesday.
Bert Revenaz is back in Montreal from Vancouver for the week. While we always expect Bert to have interesting and pertinent views on a range of subjects from science and technology to world affairs, we hope that he might also entertain us with an account of his personal Close Encounters with Canadian immigration processes, which appear to have been epically Kafka-esque.
Despite Pope Benedict stealing the headlines, there have been other developments in the world since last Wednesday’s excellent discussion on Education in light of the upcoming Summit [Note that Marc Garneau has now entered the discussion on student loans Garneau Proposes Major Overhaul of Student Assistance Program
We could mention the beginning of the countdown to the Sochi Olympics, complete with Russian razzle dazzle belied by Mr. Putin’s (usual) grim demeanor which we seriously doubt reflected any dismay over the Human Rights Watch report on the miserable conditions and abuse of the migrant workers (See The Sochi Olympics — Gold medals for some. At least he got to fire someone, which no doubt cheered him up. Russia appears to be on a roll for the moment; Jim may have some comments regarding the analysis offered by Reuters on the eve of this week’s meeting of ministers of finance and central bankers in Moscow.
Another form of countdown starts Tuesday with President Obama’s State of the Union Address – Politico tells us to be prepared for a speech [that] will be less a presidential olive branch than a congressional cattle prod; it is important as it will set the tone, and course, for the coming year(s).
Mali (the only good news is that the Financial Times reports that Irina Bokova, UNESCO chief, says most rare manuscripts in Timbuktu have been protected by residents even as Islamist militants have targeted artifacts.), Iran (IAEA talks not likely to advance), Syria and Tunisia are all in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons … And two years to the day since Mubarak stepped down, protests break out yet again in Cairo — Egypt continues in a parlous political and economic state.
In Quebec, the PQ is growing increasingly aggressive in its sovereignty sales campaign, but if Pauline Marois is the face of the campaign, it certainly does not look joyous.
Another item of not-joyous news is that SNC-Lavalin former head Pierre Duhaime faces charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and issuing false documents. This is a sad betrayal of the fine firm and the many, many good people who work there. Another business news item that leaves us angry and disgusted is that of Barrick Gold’s response to the plight of women raped by employees of their Porgera Mine in Papua, New Guinea. CBC Radio’s The Current and The Tyeeare following this story closely.
Immigration reform is much in the news, now compounded by the debate over whether to withdraw citizenship from dual-citizen terrorists (Adam Goldenberg had an interesting view on 3 to watch last night). The thoughtful Globe & Mail piece Bob Rae on how to fix the skills gap: first fix immigration is well worth reading; also instructive is an earlier Maclean’s profile of the immigration minister: The inside story of Jason Kenney’s campaign to win over ethnic votes
Finally, Senate reform is getting a big boost thanks to (soon-to-be-former?) Senator Brazeau and the more entertaining search for Mike Duffy’s home [see Rex Murphy on Mike (Where Does He Live?) Duffy] and the charming Eastern Bald Senator.