Wednesday Night #877 – Christmas 1998

Written by  //  December 23, 1998  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

The Invitation
Today we have the first snow of this extraordinary year and as we write, it is falling with soft persistence, making the overdue seasonal statement, reminding us of Christmases past and the many far-flung and near-by friends who have and continue to enrich our lives throughout each year.
To each and every one of you, our fond wishes for happy holidays, whatever you are observing and wherever you may be – luxuriating on tropical beaches, scurrying about the brightly lighted streets of the big city, or viewing snowy slopes through a curtain of pine boughs. May you be surrounded with love, laughter, friends and family, happy memories and the promise of a joy-filled, peaceful New Year. We cannot improve on the words of our friend Chris Goodfellow :

I had the opportunity to listen to excerpts from Bishop Desmond Tutu’s recent address at Bishop’s University. Nothing struck me more than his affirmation that ‘in the final analysis it is a moral and just world that we live in’.It is this message that no tyranny of whatever form can last forever … in the end truth, justice and morality will prevail.
Desmond Tutu also let us know that ‘we couldn’t have done it without you’. You. All of you who will stand for universal truths and human rights without equivocation.
TJMWP. Truth, justice and morality will prevail.

This is our wish for all of us for 1999.

For those near-by or de passage, the wreath is on the door, the tree is brightly lighted, the hearth is warm and so is the welcome at 33 Rosemount. Please come and see us for a glass of wine, a casual chat or a deep discussion. The door is open and the hounds will bark joyously to alert us to your coming.

The Report
In the warmth and intimacy of the candlelight, the faithful gathered to wish one another Merry Christmas and to ponder the meaning of … Wednesday Night. Much of the Wednesday Night discussion turned on medical issues or terms, i.e. how to cure what ails the markets and the world.

Wine and health
The evening opened with a brief interview of our Wednesday Night colleague, Dr. André Pasternac who discussed the health benefits of alcohol taken in moderate amounts, most particularly red wine which is good for control of cholesterol, and an anti-oxidant. Cheerful news for the Wednesday Night imbibers.

Our hospital care
David, having just returned from an involuntary visit to the Montreal General Hospital to which he was taken on Saturday Night with a fever of 105, recounted his adventures left in corridors [lost in a private hall way for 4hours] to stare at peeling ceilings by technicians who didn’t know how to turn machines on, old equipment with Radio Shack labels [he may have thought]. This was not to be construed as criticism of the care he received, which was excellent and would have cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of US dollars, but rather as sympathy for the plight of the hospitals since healthcare cut backs. He would not complain when faced with a $440,000 US bill… the service was okay and we can live with holes in the walls until we have enough money to pay for a Ritz-type service. Do we need the Mega-Hospital? Certainly we need something, judging by the delays in Emergency services, the dilapidated, worn-down infrastructures. Is it truly necessary to build new structures? What about the displacement of the neighboring infrastructures, housing, laboratories, suppliers’ outlets? What impact will the construction of the new hospital have on the present districts?
Coincidentally, our hosts had just met Hugh Scott, the new director of the Mega-hospital. The discussion therefore turned to the politics of the project, the proposed location on the Westmount-Montreal border, the role of Quebec in decision-making (Quebec funded the feasibility study to the tune of $7 M), and the percentage of the Quebec government’s contribution to the $1 B implementation budget.
In China, it was noted, 90% of medical costs are paid by the Government. A consultation fee could run from $1 – $2 for the individual and, if traditional medicine is sought, the cost will be between 70 and 80 cents.

Sic transit gloria
The recent auction of Victor Niederhoffer’s collection was the next topic. His Global Systems hedge fund lost hundreds of millions of dollars; the auction raised some 2.5 million. There is little sympathy for him. Why? Contrast this situation with an event some years ago in Montreal when a broker’s country house was burned while under construction- his friends gathered together to hold a benefit for him. People react differently to the adversity which strikes others; it is usually a function of how generous and involved in the community the afflicted have been on their way up. Have they friends or merely useful acquaintances? Another important consideration: Niederhoffer bet other people’s money so when he lost his money it was also theirs.
The generous donation of the collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts to the MMFA by the Macdonald Stewart Foundation was noted. This positions the MMFA as one of the two most important collections of this type in North America.

The Banks
Has Paul Martin said no to the banks, or simply “not now”? The latter appears to be the case and it is possible that the mergers might be allowed as early as next year. However, one guest recounted an incident at a dinner recently when Mr. Martin expressed a tremendous personal antipathy towards Big Banks and his personal anger at their arrogance. As the number of banks is reduced, so is their need to give higher levels of service; it becomes a monopoly situation in which the banks work together as a cartel and the client is neglected except when over-charged. As usual, the Wednesday Night consensus was against the mergers unless …

The Market
Ron Meisels gave an overview noting that the S&P had broken out, Nasdaq was wild, the Dow not yet advancing proportionately to the others, TSE in the doghouse. The Internet stocks are like tulips – no underlying value other than what the last buyer paid. Some individual companies and sectors to look at in include: General Electric, Walmart, Micron, Canadian Tire, Imasco, Bombardier, Newbridge, Quebecor, Shaw Industries; pipelines.

Real Estate
Residential real estate had a good year last year with a rise of 15%-20%, next year will probably be around 5%.
In commercial real estate there has been greater recovery; no new “A” buildings built, lots of up-grading of “Bs”. Many good deals being made in order to attract new tenants. Ron Meisels announced that he is part of the up-grade trend – his office is moving to Trizec Hahn’s 2020 University (11th floor, Suite 1103).
The Canderel Forum and the Simpson’s Building projects are generating activity, but there is still some doubt as to the market for all those cinemas. One frequent business visitor to Toronto cited the VIP theatres which work well there – wider seats, food and beverage service, higher prices. It was remembered that the old movie theatre on Greene Avenue had a “Green Room” for private viewing parties which was a great success. David reminded everyone of the DIVA project for the Forum, a multi-media centre combining an introduction to Montreal for the tourist market with a hands-on experience for students of multi-media, both in working for corporate clients and for developing their own presentations.

Wednesday Nights and David
Ron Meisels rose on a point of privilege to pay tribute to David as the guiding light of Wednesday Nights. He and Diana stated that when David had been in the hospital he had insisted that Wednesday Night must continue even if he were not there. They expressed their consternation at the idea of running Wednesday Night without his choice of topics and deftly edited videos to inject the right tone of seriousness – or laughter – for each issue. John Ciaccia and David Oliver quickly followed Ron in expressing their thanks to David for having conceived the idea of Wednesday Night and for having persevered over all these years to maintain it as a vibrant and intellectually stimulating event which has also afforded many opportunities for the participants to meet and form lasting friendships among themselves. Further tribute was paid to the energy and expertise brought to the table, the items and knowledge, interpretation of the news and intimate knowledge of current events acquired each evening. A case in point was Pierre Marc Johnson’s visit when he spoke on the introduction of the anti-Scab legislation; “you could have heard a pin drop”.
Marie recounted that she had first heard of the Salon in Quebec City (perhaps because of the article in La Presse) some years ago. However she had not thought that the experience would be so enriching personally nor offer her an opportunity to give back to the other participants from her own knowledge.
David responded by thanking all those present and the many absent friends including some who will never return, notably our dear Vlad Slivitzky who died in November. Glasses were raised to “absent friends”.
Finally, while it has long been acknowledged that Wednesday Night is a tradition, Ron pointed out that it has also given rise to a new noun. Recently he was at a dinner with some 10 people gathered around the table. To get a general conversation started, the host said: “By the way, what do you think of Clinton? … One at a time!” The response was “Don’t be a Nicholson”.

On that happy note, the evening ended with the guests reassured that the Wednesday Night tradition was uninterrupted and healthy. Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night”


Notes by Reverend David M. Oliver
Edited with temerity by Diana Thébaud Nicholson

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