Wednesday Night #678

Written by  //  March 1, 1995  //  Reports, Sam Totah, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

In a thank-you letter dated March 2, and following his first visit to a Wednesday Night, Sam Totah wrote:

I would like to take this occasion to acknowledge with thanks the opportunity you gave me to be in the nice company of your esteemed guests and yourselves. Indeed, I enjoyed greatly the conversations and discussions on the three most current topics: Internet, Budget 1995 and the Referendum question.
… In fact while we talked profusely about the Internet and its various uses and the benefit of having so many subjects and experts [to] give us their opinions on various issues, you did exactly that — in person. You closed one window, you opened another window for a different subject, then some of your guests added commentaries or questions to an already open window! It was all very nice to witness live! … Therefore the use of Internet is exactly for people who would like to connect to the intelligentsia and don’t have a host by the name of ‘David’  … All in all it was a memorable evening.

Appended to his charming note, was Sam’s highly personal account of the evening. A somewhat abridged version, with links inserted at a later date,  follows. This was, as far as we can remember, the first “Report” of a Wednesday Night – a tradition that, unfortunately, was followed only intermittently for some time, but later became a sine qua non of the evening.

It is not every day, or week, or month, or year in my life that I sit down with an ex-premier of the province and discuss current issues such as the referendum, Internet – information highway – and 1995 federal budget

… we were moving into an adjacent room … I saw three video screens at a height of ten feet, placed diametrically opposed to one another; then I heard the sound of music through a very sophisticated stereo sound system. The room was wall-to-wall mahogany antique wood and so was the table where all thoughts and discussion were to be deposited.  On the large rectangular table I noticed three large candles that almost illuminated the whole room.  We were almost 25 people. The host, noticeable by his red jacket and elegant foulard, sat at the middle of the table, the hostess at one end and Pierre Marc Johnson at the other. Sitting next to Pierre Marc was a young man whom he introduced as his son.

The host introduced the topic of the Internet with a short CBC video. The topic brought many divergent views. Not necessarily because the Internet is a controversial subject – though it definitely is at times – but mainly because the people participating in this forum had different degrees of experiences on the Internet. In fat, there were people who did not use it at all. In contrast, there was a technical expert who filled in the gap whenever his intervention was required.  Discussion centered on the following issues
– censorship
– how to prevent children from misusing the Internet
-Canadian content
– (and most important) whether the Internet should be allowed to expand at an uncontrollable rate.
Comments were as varied as the number of people. I noticed at the table the US Consul General; then a woman whose title would rank her as the president of a major university of the eastern provinces, whose comments related to the milieu most apt to use the Internet. A number of corporate [leaders] preferred to deal with the topic superficially as it was their staff who use the system. Younger executives – in their middle 30s – were definitely in favor, since this is the way in which they correspond with one another. A young financial executive expressed his embrace of the information highway remarking that he makes his own travel bookings and that alone gives him power. [Editor’s note: power over what?]
I expressed my enthusiasm for the Internet and the thought that it is the equivalent of the Gutenberg Press of the Middle Ages, welcoming the fact that so much information was made available to so many people at minimal cost to the individual. The technical advisor commented that “the amount of information that goes out of the US compared to the amount of [inbound] information is n the ratio of 10:1, or higher”.

At the intervention of the host, the subject shifted to Mr. Paul Martin’s federal budget of Monday. There was little – if any – difference of opinion. Pierre Marc Johnson summarized, saying “as a true Liberal, Paul Martin did go to the extreme of his abilities and of course to his Party’s raison d’être”. On this subject, the absence of Young Turks was overwhelming.

The host swiftly moved to the third topic of the night: le referendum and the yes and no question as proposed by M. Parizeau (“are you in favour of the Act [the terms of which are yet to be defined] passed by the National Assembly declaring the sovereignty of Quebec? YES OR NO.” Another version suggests a much simpler version “Would you vote Yes or No for Quebec to become a sovereign state?”, however, with the return of Lucien Bouchard to the political stage, it seems likely that a softer question will be chosen. Starting the debate on a light note, it was suggested that the Québec government is so anxious for a Yes vote, that it may well suggest that the public put an X beside their YES and then chose their own question.
[Editor’s note: the final question, presented to the electorate only on September 7, was: “Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the Bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on 12 June 1995?”]
The debate offered more questions than answers, as people expressed personal feelings, experiences and encounters with the subject. There was in fact nothing that one could not already see, hear or read from the many commentaries that daily inundate the population of Quebec in TV, print media or on radio. However, this evening, we were seeing the play of “the referendum debate” as on a a theatre stage, and we were the players. Pierre Marc Johnson was not at test, but a charming and amicable guest, very much at ease – surrounded by friends rather than English-speaking strangers.
There was not time to implant the personal experiences of so many of us in that room who had come to Montreal or to Québec from distant lands and the fact that by displacing ourselves, we lost a bit of ourselves and our history. The human touch – the fact that an individual lives, breathes, plays, sings, works, studies in an environment called ‘family’ – all representing a real large family, will undoubtedly be the real cost of separation, be it on the French, English or Allophone side. It was understood by all – but not expressed.
A final note on the topic was offered by one of the young guests who suggested that French-speaking Québec youth will be more guided by their expectations of the impact of sovereignty on job and career prospects than by purely political motivation.

It was indeed a very memorable evening.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #678"

  1. sam totah January 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm · Reply

    Dear Diana & David– Indeed finding this first article I wrote some 15 yrs. ago brought back wonderful memories. If my memory serves me right there was a final punch line to my article which is missing. David, asked the young Johnson what school he goes to…and young man replied “an english cegep”. Of course, Pierre Marc Johnson was Premier of the Province for the Parti Québécois, voilà.
    (my article was more detailed on that line!) all said with the best of humors ….

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