Wednesday Night #1242

Written by  //  December 21, 2005  //  Agriculture & Food, Arctic and Antarctic, Health & Health care, Herb Bercovitz, Québec, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1242

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Welcome to this year’s pre-Christmas/Channukah Wednesday Night.

In the spirit of the season, we offer the following Wednesday Night version of the Twelve Days of Christmas – which you are NOT required to sing on arrival, but which may set the tone for the evening.

* On the first Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Carl Beigie and economy


* On the second Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Two diplomats


* On the third Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Three Authorities


* On the fourth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Four able scribes


* On the fifth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Five Ecologists


* On the sixth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Six mayors a-squabbling


* On the seventh Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Seven authors writing


* On the eighth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Eight lawyers pleading


* On the ninth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Nine builders building


* On the tenth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Ten profs debating


* On the eleventh Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Eleven tekkies surfing


* On the twelfth Night of Wednesdays my true love gave to me
Twelve linguists babbling.

We cannot promise that all of the above will be present, but certainly most will be represented. And we do promise that we will not emulate the inspired New Yorker cartoon showing the poor recipient of the original Twelve Days of Christmas list standing at the Returns Desk of a department store with the entire menagerie. We will NEVER return our eclectic gathering, nor any part thereof.

So, please join us for what should be a stimulating evening in the company of Julius Grey, with topics as varied as the Leaders Debate, the WTO, George Bush’s newly-minted air of responsibility for (some of) his policies and whatever else we find under the Christmas tree. Do check out last week’s session on Climate Change and Iraq for some thought-provoking material and please check here for updates and links to this week’s topics.

T H E  R E P O R T

WTO and Agricultural subsidies
There are times when noble ideas conflict with personal or national interest, frequently to the detriment of their intended purpose. At other times, personal or national agendas may be cloaked in the guise of benevolence.
In September 1986, in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the stage was set for the negotiation of all GATT trading issues including agricultural subsidies. As the original signatories were grandfathered but have imposed strict adhesion to the rules on new members, the noble intent has never been realized. It is claimed that seventy-five percent of agricultural export subsidies in the U.K. benefit three wealthy landowners. In what has been described by one Wednesday Nighter in another context as the tyranny of the rurality, the weight of the agricultural vote is far greater than that of city dwellers as the low density of the population in rural areas restricts the size of rural ridings. The United States government insures farmers against crop failure at rates far below the actual cost of the program.
Peter Mandelson, European Union Trade Commissioner believes that the elimination of subsidies would mostly benefit Asia and South America, particularly Brazil and that it would be far more logical to provide African farmers with education and technology in order to permit them to compete on an equal basis. However, the unfortunate reality is that investment in underdeveloped countries usually appears to be motivated less by benevolence, than by national or self-interest. There is a problem, too, with the misdirection of development funds to corrupt government officials and the potential in some recipient countries for civil war and terrorism. (See: Trade talks: key issues)
These points give rise to the question: can one speak of subsidies in absolute terms of good and evil, or should the developed world be looking at new strategies to make subsidies work where necessary? Canada is a case in point. Without government subsidies neither the national rail system nor the Trans-Canada highway would have been completed.

We, in Canada, have witnessed the manner in which political concerns can colour the interpretation of treaties and agreements. W.T.O. and NAFTA, beneficial to all signatories, seem to have been the subject of unusual interpretation in the instance of the softwood lumber dispute. Some Wednesday Nighters, tongue in cheek, have suggested that if stumpage fees are indeed too low, perhaps they should be increased as well as an equivalent levy on the pumping of petroleum in Alberta. It is not widely believed, however, that the U.S. would see the relationship between the two. More realistic is the fear that arcane interpretation of the treaty, or more likely, Washington’s cavalier attitude towards treaties that has been witnessed on several occasions recently, would see water flowing from Canada to the U.S. in impressive quantities.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The news of the defeat in the U.S. Senate today of the crucial vote on Arctic oil drilling which was attached by its backers to the $453.3 billion Pentagon spending bill was greeted with enthusiasm by a number of Wednesday Nighters. However, the proposed development of a petroleum extraction facility in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which is protected by an 18-year-old bilateral agreement in which the two governments pledged to protect the environmentally fragile area of the continent, remains a potential for irritation between Canada and the U.S. The section of the refuge that is in Canada is a national park.
The exploitation of oil wells is destructive to the environment requiring development of roads, homes for the oil workers and the means of transportation for enormous quantities of products, including ships, planes and tanker trucks as well as airports and runways. And if it is decided to transport the oil by pipeline, there is a huge ecological footprint.
There is not universal agreement on the good or evil of this project. While most Canadians (and probably Americans) decry the destruction of this last American caribou reserve, others point to the gradual intrusion on this pristine continent since the arrival of the first European settlers.
The same arguments that have been made in the issue of the Alaska wildlife reserve were made during the development of James Bay, which has provided us with clean energy with relatively little environmental destruction. [But would that have been the case without the activists who expressed their environmental concerns?] And now, Boralex Inc., Gaz Métro and the Séminaire de Québec have signed an exclusive agreement to assess, develop and exploit the wind power potential of lands located in the Côte-de-Beaupré and Charlevoix regions, owned by the Séminaire de Québec. The area under study is far from inhabited areas, close to electric power lines, and is currently being exploited for its timber resources.
However, the Americans appear to be actively engaging in the ever-increasing use of petroleum without even a minimal attempt at conservation. [Although, to be fair, a number of American cities, including Chicago, have introduced major conservation measures.]

Bombardier, having lost ground to Embraer in the development of its C-series aircraft, is now seeking to exploit an opportunity in China. China, potentially a large market, is reluctant to buy aircraft that are not at least partially manufactured in that country. Consequently, Bombardier is seeking to fragment its manufacturing activities through establishment of specialized plants in China and Mexico, in addition to those in Montreal and Belfast. This should enable Bombardier to make significant inroads in the Chinese market as well as those of other Asian nations including India, a very promising client for the C-series. It is hoped that Bombardier’s action is not too late to salvage the project, not to mention the huge investments [subsidies – that word again!] of the federal and provincial governments.

China and India
China is anticipating a big population bulge. Population growth varies inversely to education and income. In India, the population is declining without pressure, although poverty levels there continue to increase.

Once again we are reminded that events in distant lands are subject to many interpretations and even eyewitnesses may not have a full picture. A case in point is Malawi where it is reported that a devastating famine is underway, brought on by erratic rains and an Aids epidemic that is destroying the agricultural work force. One Wednesday Nighter has just returned from that country and saw no signs of acute famine in the cities he visited, although noting that the southern part of the country has suffered severe droughts, and that the previous government pursued a misguided agricultural policy resulting in farmers ceasing to grow anything.
However, the World Food Program has said 2.9 million people in Malawi, are reported to be in need of urgent assistance “to be provided by the WFP because of the low agricultural production caused by drought, chronicle poverty and socio-economic collapse caused by wide spread HIV/AIDS disease.” There is a benign leadership which is under attack by the opposition seeking to dislodge it, so the situation remains fluid.

Elections forecast (continued)
Wednesday Nighters are still in disagreement over the outcome of the January 2006 elections, with predictions ranging from a small Liberal majority to a Conservative minority government.

Arctic exploration
In keeping with the subject of climate change and scientific research, one new guest spoke about a new small (60′ long) oceanographic boat that is being developed for Arctic exploration, noting that 2007 has been declared the Year of the Arctic. The prototype, built in France, is spending the winter in a Montreal area marina, undergoing tests for endurance of cold and ice. Students, the public and scientists will be able to monitor the boat’s voyages in the Arctic on the Internet, thus expanding their knowledge of the effects of climate change on Canada’s North.

Montreal Children’s Hospital
We take pride in the ever-increasing tolerance and inclusiveness in Québec society. However, the Quebec government last week floated a cost-cutting plan to reorganize services between the city’s two paediatric hospitals and the recent moves to emasculate or eliminate the Montreal Children’s Hospital give the Anglophone community cause for concern. This is a superior pediatric health care centre in a world-class university centre. While it is true that two pediatric hospitals in a city of Montreal’s size is rare if not unique, one is led to question whether there is not some of the same thinking involved with the move of the previous government to eliminate the Anglophone suburbs from the universe of Québec.
The idea behind complementarity is to provide more efficient health care by avoiding unnecessary duplication of services. HOWEVER, without any data to support its plan, the government has decided to impose restrictions on both paediatric hospitals with regards to what services they can offer. Thus, for example, Ste-Justine would be the ONLY paediatric trauma centre BUT paediatric orthopedics and neurosurgery would be the exclusive domain of the Children’s. This most recent government intervention has elicited alarmed reaction from the Shriners hospital authorities and could well jeopardize the construction of the new Shriners for which the Quebec government, led by Jean Charest, fought so hard. – Go figure! Several Wednesday Nighters urged all to read and sign the petition.

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