Wednesday Night #1267 – with Thomas Mulcair

For several reasons, this was an unusual Wednesday Night.
It was a singularly one-topic evening. Given the level of expertise represented by new guests, Thomas Mulcair and Professor Peter Brown, and the recent events in the National Assembly regarding Mount Orford, it was inevitable that the evening’s discussion concentrate on environmental matters.
The high degree of interest in the environment on the part of all those gathered around the table, no matter what their backgrounds or professions, was indicative of how highly Québécois value their environment and how politically sensitive the topic is. If there was only one conclusion to be drawn from the discussion it would be that concern for the environment – and the future of our planet – is an issue on which the people are way out in front of their governments, and governments at all levels should be paying attention.
Rarely, if ever, has Chairman David permitted one guest to dominate the evening’s discussion – that Thomas Mulcair was allowed to do so speaks volumes for his mastery of the topic and his articulate examination of the issues.
Finally, not since 2002, when she was in Shanghai for IATA, has Diana been absent on a Wednesday Night. David presented her excuses and reminded the gathering that only the presence of
Al Gore as keynote speaker at tonight’s dinner at the Canada 2020 conference and the early Thursday morning session with Jeffrey Sachs could have enticed her away.

[Editor’s note: had I known that Al Gore would speak for 80 minutes after dinner and a full day of conference, in a darkened room, I would have come back to Wednesday Night and returned for the next morning’s session. No, we didn’t see the movie, but we did see the slide show, and those who had seen the movie tell us that his script at the conference was identical to the narration, including inflections. While I would not subscribe to L. Ian MacDonald’s somewhat waspish account of the Al Gore evening, from all accounts, Mr. Mulcair was a far more engaging keynoter – and did stand for questions. Jeffrey Sachs , on the other hand, did not disappoint.]

The environment
The Quebec Liberal government put an end to debate in the National Assembly on Monday night, forcing the adoption of the controversial bill on the privatization of the ski hill in Mount Orford National Park. The sale of the hill is considered to be a mistake on two levels. Politically, because the government is out of sync with the public which is easily the most environmentally militant in Canada, and thus is burning its political capital. Second, legally; you don’t sell public, protected land to private development interests unless there is an over-riding public good consideration. This is a fundamental issue of both legality and trust. Note that other parks, including Mont Tremblant have retained ski hills and/or golf courses within the public lands, while allowing residential and commercial development on adjacent private lands.
Furthermore, from an ecological standpoint, it is simply wrong to think that all land is interchangeable, – that any piece of land can be swapped for another, without consideration of the ecosystems that interrelate and contribute to one another’s health and the protection of biodiversity.
While the sale of the ski hill and adjacent golf course has been opposed by a coalition of environmentalists, local authorities and dozens of community groups, – even prominent Liberals -, one of the problems with this debate is that it unnecessarily pits environmentalists and economic development proponents against one another. ‘Sustainable development’ does not imply economic stagnation, and economic development does not necessarily condemn the environment.
In fact, market forces today play a role that is equally important as that of any government environment protection agency. Respect for environmental regulation has become a market-driven issue, as evidenced by the example of forestry practices in Southeast Asia [ more on this] and those supported by the Forestry Stewardship Council whereby wood products must receive certification of provenance from forest areas that are designated for cutting before they are exported, or before they are accepted by an importing nation.
What politicians need to understand is that the origins of the market demand lie with the public, which was first awakened in the 1960s to the dangers of environmental degradation and the link to human health by Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”. Since that time, public awareness of – even militancy on – the issues has driven the actions of government.
Even the worst environmental situations can be reversed. Witness the clean-up of the pulp and paper mill at Clermont in Charlevoix where in 30 years the situation has been so completely reversed that the river is again overflowing with salmon – a source of personal pride to many of those who work at the mill.
Québec’s new law on sustainable development has introduced a new era, one in which principles of sustainable development are applied to government decisions
One of the most interesting and important of the 16 principles set forth in the Act is number 16: ‘Internalization of costs’, meaning in simple terms, how to deal with, account and compensate for the harmful effects, or leftovers, of a product or project.

The economy – Jacques Clément
Resources have come down 20-30% since May 10 because the increases of previous months could not be maintained. China is still buying (growth is 9.5%) as is India. World Bank has revised its estimates to almost 5% growth around the world, including OECD countries. Inflation is rising though not yet alarmingly, but central banks are tightening interest rates. Jacques predicts that China will reevaluate the Yuan on the anniversary date in July. Canadian and U.S. central banks will continue to tighten rates, twice by ¼.
Canada’s economy is booming as the jobless rate fell again in May with best job creation in four years, housing starts continue to be strong, inventory rebuilding. Canada has a stronger economic picture on the horizon than the U.S.
In the U.S. inflation has reached 5.5%; it cannot continue that way. Bernanke has to slow down consumer spending to control trade imbalance. But despite the rise in the trade deficit, the U.S. dollar is gaining in value. The TSX has undergone a correction of over 12%; this is not cause for alarm but confirms that good portfolio diversification is a must.
Tar sands development is booming, and will not be derailed by labour shortages or housing problems
[Canada’s Oil Sands Output May Triple By 2020]

It is undeniable that sustainable development is linked to the alleviation of poverty and the improvement of human health. One of the shocking problems is the frightful toll of malaria which kills more than 8,000 people every day and costs Africa alone about $12 billion a year. It is a social and economic weight that burdens most tropical nations, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, and impedes their growth and prosperity. [
facts and figures on this topic]
The frightening toll of malaria can be reduced with simple and inexpensive (US$5) Insecticide-Treated bed nets (ITNs), which last for 5 years. This is a proven preventative measure, which has been highly successful where deployed. Pierre Arbour mentioned that Jean de Brabant and his wife are raising funds locally for the purchase of such nets and contributed some facts to the discussion of the project
[Editor’s note: We are often impressed by how current are the issues that Wednesday Night raises and explores. On Thursday morning at the Canada 2020 Conference, Jeffrey Sachs made an emotional plea for support of the bed net campaign: “We could save more than one million children per year that are dying of malaria by helping to distribute on a mass basis, like we do with immunizations, bed nets to protect the children against malaria, and with the modest additional expense to distribute effective medicines that would dramatically cut the disease burden and the number of children dying. Our estimate is that this would require about $2 to $3 per person per year in the rich world. Think about it: $2 to $3 per person in the rich world. A billion of us in the rich countries– that’s $2 billion to $3 billion per year– could save more than a million lives” His plea struck a responsive chord with several people at the Conference whom we hope to link with the project that Jean and his wife are working on.]

Softwood lumber
When the issue of softwood lumber first arose, the U.S. raised a valid sustainable development issue which was that there was no way that Canada could supply that much wood, at that stumpage fee without cheating. Quebec promised to undertake a scientific analysis of Québec’s forestry industry practices to find out whether they were sustainable. The findings of the Coulombe Commission released in 2004, were very simply: you are cutting more trees than can grow back.

Concluding remarks
On this Wednesday Night we have been extraordinarily privileged to discuss public policy with three politicians who have common sense, a well-defined set of values and a strong commitment to public service. By the same token, one of the endearing aspects of these discussions is that the participants have the ability to laugh at themselves.

— In Canada it is not so much that we are lacking laws and regulations with respect to environmental matters, we are lacking the will to enforce them
— The average (wind) turbine will be 3 to 5 million watts within the next five years

— Why is there a differentiation of environmental responsibility between individuals, companies and municipalities – should not all of them be equally subject to regulation and to pursuit in the courts for actions that are not in the interest of sustainable development?
— One of the real surprises to us was the emphasis in some 45 submissions on the protection of landscape – paysage – the absence of standards to preserve the visual beauty of the countryside
— The pay-as-you-throw (away) system concentrates the mind wonderfully
— Think of what would happen if we gave away electricity the way we give away water
— You can’t be diversified in Canada – there are only resource stocks
— What do Boisclair, Charest and Dumont have in common? They have limited life experience, they have always been in politics, they have no knowledge of the ‘real’ world


The Prologue
Despite the writer’s block, combined with a severe “Marvin” infection that inflicted the author of the invitations last week, it was indeed another wonderfully diverse and entertaining evening which ended in a heated discussion of Anne Coulter’s latest outrages
This week, we are back on the ground, as it were, and delighted to have as our guest . While currently best known as the recent highly respected Quebec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, he is also a long-time actor in community and legal affairs and has been a professor at Champlain Regional College, St. Lawrence Campus, Sainte-Foy, Professor, civil law course, Concordia University, and Professor, Legal translation, University of Québec, Trois-Rivières. He has served with the Legal Affairs Office, Conseil de la langue française, and was Director, Legal affairs, Alliance Québec. His involvement with education includes stints as Commissioner, Appeals Committee on the Language of Instruction, and Board member and Chair of the Board, English Speaking Catholic Council.
We are not sure whether the fact that he is a certified coach of the Québec Ice hockey Association excludes him from discussion of the World Cup (that would be a pity!).
Much as we may have
Mount Orford on our minds – and in our hearts – Mr. Mulcair’s varied background and interests will most certainly lead us into many other topics. Nonetheless, we would like to hear his reply to the Letter to the Editor from Donald Johnston published in the Gazette of June 6.
Re the Mount Orford dispute, about which I read online:
True, I have watched this debate from afar as secretary-general of the OECD in Paris until I stepped down last month. But I am amazed at the reaction to the program for Orford.
I understand the ski mountain would be privatized, but that there would be the addition of more parkland outside the existing public ownership periphery.
Is this not a “win-win”? What could be more sensible? I write from abroad but remain a landowner in the Townships with deep attachments to the area.
In all likelihood the ski hill would gradually die with no other activities to support it. On the other hand, if Quebec taxpayers wish to subsidize the hill and the skiers, it could be kept alive but as a continuing burden on those taxpayers. I don’t think this is a sensible option.
I’m scratching my head wondering why there is opposition to this plan which seems to satisfy the demands of those concerned with sustainable development.
Donald Johnston Ste. Valière, France

It is unlikely that sustainable development will not make it to the Agenda and on that topic, we commend Josh Freed’s Saturday column Happiness is shifting your carbon use into neutral.
A Canadian environmental story that initially escaped our attention concerns a study, Polluted Children, Toxic Nation, released on June 1 by Environmental Defence. The Toronto watchdog group had five Canadian families – six adults and seven children – tested for 68 toxic chemicals. On average, they found 32 of the chemicals in each parent and 23 in each child!
We note that Québec children in French schools will soon be allowed to learn English from first grade – thus finally equalizing the situation with the anglophone tots who have been deemed sufficiently intelligent to not have to wait to learn a second language. And what about the PQ debate on extending the hours of the province’s schools to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sounds like the good old days when we went to school!
Ranging beyond our provincial borders, we must surely consider the arrests of terrorists – many under-age (is there a legal age for terrorists?) – in Toronto, which made the news worldwide. It has been fascinating to listen to/watch Canadian public opinion on this event. We have heard much criticism of the way the announcement has been handled by CSIS and the RCMP, including conjecture that the prosecution’s case may be damaged by the public allegations and apparent manipulation of the media. Others opine that the arrests are simply part of a slavish copying of U.S. Administration attitudes and behaviour. And on that subject, how many have followed the declarations of John Hostettler, chairman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on immigration and border security? “South Toronto, like those parts of London that are host to the radical imams who influenced the 9/11 terrorists and the shoe bomber, has people who adhere to a militant understanding of Islam,” he said. Do read further to discover that Mr. Hostettler, a member of the Christian Right (naturally), was arrested in 2004 when he was caught carrying a loaded handgun at Louisville, Ky. airport.
Terrorism leads us to the death (by bombing) of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the role played by the U.S. in making this thug more important on the world stage than he ever should have been. We heard Robert Fiske on CBC on this topic – a splendid interview. The question is, of course, what will his death mean in the internecine war in Iraq? And the three suicides in Guantanamo – what will the effect be on the administration of justice by the U.S.? Dismissing the suicides as a “PR move” hardly seems a positive contribution to policy.
On a more uplifting note, this Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Soweto riots – they continued for a year, but the results were a great triumph and although South Africa is far from perfect today, with luck, progress will continue.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1267 – with Thomas Mulcair"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson September 13, 2007 at 12:39 pm ·

    Talks to ensure Mount Orford ski season going well: Quebec
    KEVIN DOUGHERTY, The Gazette
    September 13 2007
    The drawn-out saga of Mount Orford still hasn’t been settled, but negotiations are “intensifying” to ensure the ski centre will operate this winter, provincial Environment Minister Line Beauchamp said yesterday.
    After losing its majority in the March 26 election and facing the combined opposition of the Action démocratique du Québec and the Parti Québécois in the legislature, the Liberal government scrapped plans to privatize the ski and golf operations on the mountain.
    On July 12, Beauchamp sent a lawyer’s letter to Mont Orford Inc., operator of the ski centre, asking if the company was ready for the new ski season.

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