Wednesday Night #1058

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David started the evening by showing some entertaining video footage of Susan Eyton-Jones and Holly Higgins Jonas at the piano, performing the “Meow” song.
Susan then introduced her two guests from New York – Elizabeth (Beth) Guibbory, M. Ed and her husband Shem Guibbory, Violinist.

David also welcomed back Peter Trent OWN, Lady Hamilton and Sean Silcoff, Montreal Bureau Chief of the National Post, who covers all topics of interest in the area east of Ottawa. David noted that Sean is most prolific – cranking out two to three articles a day.

Voisey Bay
After many years of setbacks, it has been announced that INCO and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador have an agreement on the Voisey Bay nickel deposit. Part of the agreement includes the establishment of a smelter in Argentia Bay, thus meeting the Province’s insistence that all processing must take place in Newfoundland. There is considerable skepticism surrounding the announcement, given the long sad history of mega projects in Newfoundland and the fact that the MOU has not yet been signed. Stay tuned.

Executive compensation
David showed some data on Executive compensation, highlighting and deals that are truly out of line (ranging up to a $135 million severance package), compared with the individual’s contribution to the company in question and the economy in general.

Gerald Ratzer then introduced his colleague Dr. Syed Hyder. They first met in the 60’s! Dr Hyder was a member of the team that proposed the School of Computer Science at McGill, which was eventually established in 1970. His own research in the computer processing of script languages has led to many patents. Companies such as Siemens in Germany and Comterm here in Montreal have used these patents for devices to allow the input, transmission and display of Arabic text. This work has continued with an order of magnitude improvement in the handling of high quality calligraphy for any script writing. A demonstration of the new technology has been made to Microsoft, but they would not sign a technology agreement. Proposals have been made to the Pentagon, the RCMP/CIS, and the Jang Group of newspapers to exploit the technology.

The Economy
Jacques Clément gave his usually well-researched summary of the economic situation in Canada and in the States. In Canada, the housing market and housing starts continue to be strong. This has contributed to the creation of 237,000 new jobs in the last five months. Many of these jobs are in Quebec and of these many are in the education field. The current Canadian unemployment rate stands at 7.7% and Jacques expects this to come down to 7.5% soon and get to 7% by the end of the year. The manufacturing sector is operating at 81% of capacity – the strongest in three years. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, David Dodge, was in Halifax last week, and noted in an address that capital investment is on the rise. Also vehicle purchases are on a strong rebound. Inflation at 2.3% is attracting his attention and we can expect a tightening of monetary policy by 0.25% or 0.5% at the July 16th meeting of the Bank of Canada. Canada continues to have good trade surpluses.
In the States there is moderate growth in the economy, and consumer confidence is on the rise. Auto sales are up by 5%, while unemployment has reduced from 6% to 5.7%. Jacques is not expecting any change in the US overnight funds rate of 1.75% at the July 25/26 meeting of the Fed. There may be a change in August.
As both economies are performing better than expected, the current estimates are outdated and may be revised upwards. More realistic estimates for this year would be 4% for the US and 4.5% for Canada.
Diana returned to the topic of the unemployment figures and asked why 50,000 students were distorting the Canadian unemployment rate. Is it not just these students who should be finding jobs? It was also asked why 5% is considered full employment. Gerald Ratzer replied that in most societies, there are a number of people who are officially looking for a job, but will not accept just any job opening. So because of the mismatch between job openings and the skill and aspirations of people looking, it is very hard to get 100% employment.

Federal (Liberal) Politics
The discussion then moved onto the political scene in Canada. Beryl Wajsman offered his analysis of the situation in Ottawa between Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. While Chrétien has the support of most (~25) of his ministers, Martin has considerable support in the ridings (but only maybe some 5 ministers). We may be heading for a civil war inside the Liberal Party. Due to a “clerical error” when the Liberal Party changed the voting system for the Leader (but failed to repeal the previous provisions), there will be a two-stage poll, one of the delegates to the Leadership Convention and a second one, a sealed ballot of the members at large. Will 50% plus one be enough for Chrétien to continue? Other possible names mentioned were Bernard Lord (quickly dismissed – no gravitas!), Peter MacKay, and Hugh Segal. Hugh Segal would be a refreshing change and would raise the level of the public debate. The Wednesday Night consensus continues to favor Jean Chrétien’s early resignation, but recognizes that this is unlikely to happen.

Provincial politics
Mario Dumont of the ADQ is now a serious contender, even if there is little substance to either the Leader or the platform. It is expected that the ADQ will win at least one and possibly three seats in next Monday’s by-elections. If the ADQ continues to do as well as is expected, then there will most likely be a three-way split in the vote in the next Provincial election with a minority government – something that is unheard of in Québec. Whether that government is PQ or Liberal is too close to call at this stage.

Healthcare
Dr. Norbert Gilmore
commented on the “Oregon Plan” with respect to the Romanow Commission’s investigation of the future of Medicare. He said Medicare is an investment and needs some 10% of the GDP to be able to provide the services Canadians expect. Among the items being discussed is whether it makes sense to have a two-tier system (as in the UK and as proposed in Alberta). Dr. André Pasternac commented that Medicare has served Canadians well, but in the current situation patients have to wait before they get good medical treatment. While the system does work, it needs the resources, and needs reorganization to improve its efficiency. For instance, there is a fund of about a billion dollars for improvement of facilities, of which only half has been spent. Dr. Ed Coffey expressed disagreement with several points raised by his medical colleagues and the discussion closed with amicable agreement to disagree, but not before several interesting views were expressed by the New York guests who have first-hand knowledge of the drawbacks of the U.S. system.

A musical treat
In the fine tradition of the great salons of the past, Wednesday Night guests enjoyed a brilliant performance by Shem Guibbory and some pertinent comments about maestros under/with whom he has played. It was a wonderful and uplifting conclusion to a splendid evening. All joined in hoping that he and Beth would return soon and often!

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