Wednesday Night #795 – on the eve of Canadian elections

Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking. Clement Atlee

Dear David & Diana:
Last night along with some thirty of your distinguished guests I attended once again “Wednesday Night” chez les Nicholson. Last night was – different. Different in the sense that we are approaching June 2, 1997 which is Election Day in Canada and less than 1000 days thereafter we are on the threshold of another millennium. In the light of these two events I felt the evening was distinct and very successful indeed!
To describe the evening from every angle possible is like a fly that has found its way in a nudist camp and wants to taste almost anything and everything on sight. The number one rule of your soirées is that they are indescribable—one has to be present to feel the mood, to get into the mood of discussion. One takes part or abstains (or for that matter the permanent MC (Mr. D.) decides “le droit à la parole!” The professors speak their minds, the politicians object, agreement comes from disagreements and finally one common sense (usually Mrs. D.N.) takes over and says “well –how about the common man, the man/woman who is not a professor, not a politician, not an economist… – how about the unemployed graduate student?” How about US, the individuals who want to get on with our lives but feel led by others and have very little say on how things evolve. Voilà –that was the essence of the evening. In fact one of your guests –a man who has lived through the turmoil of Yugoslavia –tried to summarize the discussion in the simple but eloquent words “I just don’t understand!”, he said, “the changes that Canada is contemplating and is living through while nations abroad envy your country (and Québec too and more so the beautiful city of Montreal) for its present standard of living, its social harmony, the potential economic infrastructure it has in place and much more.” “Do countries learn from the mistakes of others?”, your guest asked. There was no reply!
Last night, guests were numerous. Some live in Westmount, others in Montreal, still others in the suburbs, but all in the Province of Quebec, in the country still called Canada and we are part of this immense North American enclave. We were often reminded that we are only 30 million in Canada next to our giant but nevertheless good friend the United States of some 300 million people.The main topic of discussion was the politics of the province of Quebec – the province that seeks special status or has already the special status by the mix of its population and especially the French language and culture that prevail here. No one in the audience denied that fact. We all recognize it, applaud it and participate actively in it. The concensus of the gathering is that most of us would be content to go on with our lives, make a living, have good contacts with our neighbors and extend this friendship as far away as Newfoundland and British Columbia. Social harmony and economic well-being are our prime objectives. These feelings are frequently expressed on Wednesday Nights where, as David enjoys pointing out, some 20 plus languages and cultural heritages are represented.
Now –back to the politics of the Nation. Various topics were raised and discussed around the table –and I will enumerate here a few of them—
Quebec politics and the Bloc Quebecois agenda of succession. Quo vadis Quebec ? The Federal Liberal Party agenda and its promise of “jobs, jobs, jobs” –while the unemployed or under-employed in Canada still number approx. 1.5 (one and a half) million human beings. These are not just statistics but humans.
The local and national politicians who go for “power” and neglect the real need of their constituents. A constant presence is missing. A need to be in contact with the local population needs and aspirations is not filled. Politicians are not present to address problems and find real practical solutions. All these factors were mentioned.
The new liberalism does not work! This subject is beyond Economics 101 –thus I pass.
Economies of scale vs. diseconomies of scale in reference to the alarming new trend of amalgamation of the cities and their suburban neighborhoods. Amalgamation also raises the spectre of lack of representation at yet another level of government – see above.
Distinct society and “us” distinct individuals –as the MC has expressed it.
On the economic front and investment outlook, here is what experts in the field had to say:
Inflation is no longer “the” problem or a problem!
The big problem is the employment index that does or does not reflect the true picture of the employed, the unemployed or under-employed. And of course a new generation of “unemployable”or “unadjustable”. New terms and terminology of who is who on the “making a living” chart and his/her chances for a better life are yet to come.
The dichotomy: the job openings in specific sectors in Canada vs. the unfulfilled expectations! Who is right: the entrepreneur or the unemployed!
Employment vs. structural unemployment. Considerable difference in the provincial economies.
There will be an upward adjustment to the interest rates –soon.
The rich and poor gap—still staring at us!
Recession—Yes, one could talk the economy into recession!
Economic values change or rather the “age factor” makes us look again at the values we espoused some 10-20 yr. ago. We now subscribe to a new set of values thus a new set of economic objectives. The result of which affects the present economic structure of the nation and of course our expectations of what governments should and should not do in the course of their mandate.Does money talk? And if it talks –does it also travel? Ideas on investments going as far away as Brazil because of its 200 million inhabitants (where the rich/poor gap is enormous) or the USA –with its political stability and excellent infrastructure were all mentioned. The North/South economic axis is more relevant than the old mantra “go west, young man” – perhaps from fear that one meets a member of the Reform Party. Does marginal tax rate (Canada vs. US) play any role in the investment decision of the potential investor? Contradictory opinions abound on this subject and your guests reflected those views…
All these points elicited some heated discussion with no practical solution on what the next step should be to make the future brighter for the generation of young people graduating from universities and still on the “jobless” scene. Many of your guests have one or more close family members seeking employment elsewhere on the North American continent or overseas. Yet, Canada remains in the dire of our Prime Minister “the best country in the world”. This paradox came once more to light during the discussions. …
I introduced my guest for the evening: Dr. Paul Saba, a graduate of McGill Medical School and Emergency Medicine practitioner at the Montreal General Hospital. Dr. Saba has volunteered in Bangladesh, Somalia, Haiti and Lebanon. He was medical director of a Canadian Public Health Association project, “CAUSE” and is currently President of the Coalition des Médecins pour la justice sociale.
Dr. Saba commented on the new drug insurance plan of the Quebec government and its impact on the elderly and psychiatriacally disabled persons. He also elaborated on the impact of these measures on the health of these patients and the direct or indirect impact on the increase in health costs. Dr. Saba has distributed a petition to physicians stating the need to oppose any policy that discriminates and harms those most vulnerable in our society. …
In closing, my comments on the evening – I like to quote from David’s invitation letter to the Wednesday night:
“The final week of the Federal Election Campaign and we still are not discussing issues, only personalities and percentages….Join us and our good friend Jacques Clément to discuss the state of the economy, the environment, employment, proportional representation, investment in education and the Internet, R & D …Maybe Wednesday Night can lay out a platform for Canada/Quebec.”
Of course as usual David tried hard to squeeze in all the above. Amongst this mishmash of ideas, sentiments, feelings, realities, statistics, predictions,…one thing is for sure: we all learned something new and we met new people. The sip of wine made it all look too easy to swallow even on the eve of a unique election in Canada –where Canadians after some 200 years are still in search of a home to call “home sweet home”. Your home, David & Diana, has indeed offered your guests exactly that plus the words “welcome & bienvenu”.
Thank you for the nice evening spent in your company along with your other guests, lawyers, professors, business people, bankers, doctors, politicians, Westmounters, Montrealers, Quebec –ers, Canadians, and people born all over the world –speaking some 20 and more languages and all in need of a home to call one “Canada”.
After I wrote this letter I took a walk on the mountain – a unique site near Beaver Lake and I dreamed of inviting the leaders of the political parties to the same site to ask them one question “WHY?”.
Sincerely,
Sam Totah

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