Wednesday Night #1283 – with Stéphane Dion

4 October 2006
Many of you will remember the invitation for Wednesday Night #1273. Now, exactly 10 Wednesday Nights later, we are somewhat surprised to hear today from a new voice at the Stéphane Dion campaign office that he will be with us tomorrow evening. We understand this fortuitous event may have something to do with Catherine Gillbert’s unflagging nagging. Whatever the cause …we are delighted and honoured to welcome Stéphane Dion,
[Unfortunately, although October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and World Animal Day, we do not expect “Kyoto” to attend.]
Known to many of us for his skillful presidency of last November/December’s Montreal meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Stéphane Dion had a life before politics. He has been a visiting professor at the Brookings Institution in Washington, is the author of numerous articles and books, and taught public administration and political science at the Université de Montréal from 1984 to 1996, the year he entered politics and was named Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs by then Prime Minister Chrétien.
He is now one of the leading candidates for the Liberal Party Leadership, [endorsed by the Montreal Gazette, no less] with a campaign based on his Three Pillars vision that balances economic vitality, social justice, and environmental sustainability.
The Vancouver Sun, for one, thinks he will be the next leader of the Liberals. The column, headed “Charming Dion will take the Liberal helm”, predicts that at December’s Liberal convention, “the compromise leadership candidate who will come from behind to unite all forces opposing Michael Ignatieff, and win, will be Stéphane Dion.” And Lysianne Gagnon writes in the Globe & Mail “Mr. Dion is actually running a surprisingly good campaign. He clearly stood out in the candidates’ debates in Winnipeg and Moncton”; she continues, quoting Michel Auger, the political columnist for Le Soleil,: “Only Dion, Ignatieff and Rae have the qualities needed to become prime minister of a country that’s a member of the G8.” We think that is a telling point, especially as we have listened to so many comments recently that Canada has become virtually irrelevant in international affairs — a long slide from the glorious days of Mike Pearson and the creation of the Blue Berets.
In the week that has seen the new UN Secretary-General virtually anointed by the Security Council straw poll, we are rightly preoccupied by the question of what is leadership. Therefore, we would ask Mr. Dion what he believes to be the essential qualities of leadership – and whether they differ according to the country and time in which they are exercised.
Maintaining the tradition of Wednesday Night to discuss economic and market issues, we would also plan to raise the news from Reuters that Canada Emissions Trading Plan Awaits Ottawa Policy – a topic dear to the heart of the Montreal Exchange.
Finally, at least one of us cannot resist taking a poke at the new Chief of Staff to the present Minister of Environment, who, according to our very own Lucienne Robillard, once headed an unnamed organization that disputed the science of climate change.

The Report
Scribe’s Prologue:
For the first time, we at Wednesday Night are breaking our otherwise inviolable rule to protect the anonymity of guests through the non-attribution of quotations or opinions. This Wednesday evening, we had the pleasure of welcoming Mr. Stéphane Dion, accompanied by his colleague, Eleni Bakopanos.
Mr. Dion’s presence was as apolitical as possible considering that this is the time when the Liberal Party of Canada is undergoing a leadership campaign. His remarks were mostly in response to questions asked of him of particular importance to Wednesday Nighters, nearly all of which related to his views on climate change and biodiversity, with a hint of the long-term future of the species homo sapiens. While most of the following paragraphs relate to Mr Dion’s contribution to the discussion, some interventions by other invited guests are included.

Stéphane speaks
It was not that long ago that the wealth of Canada was dependent on the wealth of the provinces of Québec and Ontario, but more recently, Canada has become a relatively wealthy country, at least partially due to the relevance of our natural resources to the world economy. For the first time in Canada’s history we have a petro dollar, wealth that is not linked to manufacturing. But we also have had untrammeled development of the tar sands, a matter of concern to former Alberta premiers and current candidates to succeed Ralph Klein. This recently recognized wealth combined with our mutually beneficial relationship with the United States has, perhaps, led us to neglect the medium and long-term benefits of conservation measures that are being practiced in other parts of the world, notably in Europe. The fuel-efficient automobiles and aircraft manufactured in Europe Asia have made such inroads into the North American market as to possibly put the future of local automobile and aircraft manufacturers in jeopardy.
The fact of the matter is that, although a financial incentive is necessary through direct investment, tax incentives or subsidies, measures to conserve energy can be cost effective. Investment in environmentally friendly homes and factories,windmill power, sustainable development, rational development of the tar sands, biogas, ethanol, or other energy sources, would not only lead to a cleaner environment but also to diversification of the economies of Saskatchewan and to the benefit of all Canada. Wider use of Biofuels would help farmers dispose of what is otherwise waste while improving the sustainability of resources.
Alberta’s dependency on petroleum would thereby be reduced as these other energy sources are developed. Nuclear energy should not be promoted until the science has advanced to the point of ensuring the safe, dependable, inexpensive disposal of spent fuel.
The reduction of emissions is not only important for continuing human survival but is financially economical in the longer term. Profits rise as emissions fall. However, Mr. Dion’s interest and policy statements are not limited to those questions relating directly to the Kyoto Protocol and climate change. He has issued papers on healthcare, social justice, clean water and the soon-to-be-released paper on biodiversity and nature which will, among other things remind Canadians of the existence of the Act governing Species at Risk (SARA), which is not used because we do not have money (to date) to implement it.
The removal of contaminants from air and water removes products harmful to health, provides a cleaner environment and waterways and enables the conservation of animal wildlife as well as a healthier population.
There are climate change sceptics, some of whom suggest that whatever changes there may be are not going to be as drastic as suggested; others maintain that the changes we are seeing are not man-caused, but merely due to cyclical changes, and indeed, whether sea levels will rise to the extent predicted. Some of the deniers are distinguished scientists who point to previous eras such as the time when the Vikings found grapes growing wild in Newfoundland. These individuals suggest that there may well be another glacier age in some 5-6,000 years, but believe that today’s focus should be on the alleviation of poverty.
According to the sceptics, the melting of sea ice should have no effect whatsoever on sea levels. But the oceans are becoming warmer, causing water levels to rise moderately. Certainly, even if it now seems that the recent predictions of a flooded Europe appear greatly exaggerated, it remains possible that even minimal changes in sea level will change legal maritime boundaries given that it can be expected that rising ocean waters will flood small island-countries, particularly in the Pacific, raising the question of the ripple effect of the realization of that possibility. International bodies will be affected, not least the United Nations where each now holds a seat; what happens to the U.S. military bases located on a number of these islands. Above all, what would be the fate of the then-displaced current inhabitants of those small island states?
No matter how drastic (or not) the scenario one believes in, the world and its political leaders cannot afford to wait until the problem reaches irreversible proportions.
An extremely important aspect of the world’s ecological problems, too seldom discussed, is world overpopulation. The biblical view is that the world and its bounty were put here for the benefit of Man who seems to have taken this gift too literally to his own detriment.
Other questions were raised about the role and mandate of the CBC in promoting healthy practices (much as was done through limits on tobacco advertising) and the ways in which the federal government might actively promote such practices. Why do so many young people suffer from diabetes, asthma and other such problems and what can public policy do to counter the situation. One suggestion offered was that the federal government support a policy whereby the nicotine content of tobacco is reduced.
What about the rights of Francophones outside Quebec? The federal government has a long-standing policy to assist minority groups to obtain their rights – including Anglophones in Québec. However, the current government appears to be gutting the programmes designed to assist such groups and may even be heading for a confrontation over the Charter.
[Editor’s note: after a few more brief exchanges, Mr. Dion had to leave to catch a plane. We were impressed that after his departure, Linda Julien, stated that he had asked particularly that Wednesday Nighters with suggestions for his platform (particularly healthcare) get in touch with her so that she might relay these ideas to him. This is a first for Wednesday Night. We have welcomed many politicians, but Stéphane Dion is the first to actively solicit input. We applaud his openness to suggestions and recognition that he cannot have all the good answers, and we urge Wednesday Nighters who have something to contribute to his platform to contact Linda.]
The comments made following Mr. Dion’s departure focused largely on which of the leading Liberal candidates might offer the best choice for Canada, who would be likely to ally themselves with whom and, inevitably, which might be the best for – or most acceptable to – Québec.
One commentator pointed out that Mr. Dion’s concentration on the environment as the underlying issue, tied to the Scandinavian model, represents the most radical vision of Canada’s future, and that this could have widespread appeal, especially to younger voters across the board. In this respect his vision may overcome the usual regional/provincial (in both senses) perspectives and truly represent a new national vision for Canada. On the other hand, Michael Ignatieff not only has a broad and representative majority of delegates, but has also released an environmental policy that closely parallels Stéphane Dion’s thinking.

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