Wednesday Night #1307

Written by  //  March 21, 2007  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

This Wednesday, absent startling developments from abroad, we plan on conforming to CRTC requirements and devoting the discussion largely to Canadian content.
It will be remembered that the Gazette carried the story in April a year ago that Pierre Arbour created a Foundation see also Wednesday Night 1286 which launched a scholarship fund for students pursuing business, engineering, and computer science degrees.

“The Fondation Universitaire Pierre Arbour will award 20 scholarships in 2006 and next year worth $8,000 for masters students at McGill University, Concordia University, Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montreal. The number of awards will gradually increase to 50 and include $15,000 gifts to penniless doctorate candidates.”
[Note: McGill did not make it into last year’s list, thanks to the university’s slowness in responding to the Fondation]

The results are in after the first year and before Pierre goes public, he will be with us this Wednesday, along with his Director General, Priya Coelho, to give Wednesday Night a preview.
Pierre will also introduce his step-daughter, a former competitive trampoline athlete, who is now with the administration of the Cirque de Soleil.
With one week to go, the outcome of the Québec campaign is more and more unpredictable (see Norman Webster’s piece in the Sunday Gazette) . We heard Martin Patriquin on Beryl Wajsmann‘s show recently and were intrigued by his suggestion that contrary to some pundits’ claims, Mario Dumont will take votes from the PQ in the rural areas, the backbone of the old Union Nationale support – largely because the voters feel that Boisclair is too “Montréalais”, a code word for many things, including his lifestyle. This could mean that rather than an outcome of the PQ coming up through the middle, the Liberals just might squeak in. Your thoughts?
On the federal front, on Monday, the 19th (the Feast of St. Joseph for recovering Catholics, and we remember that St. Joseph was a carpenter, therefore by inference the patron saint of cabinet makers), Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will present the federal budget, which may, or may not trigger another election. The “New Conservative Government” (Oh, Please, when will they stop using that expression?) says it doesn’t want an election, but is making very obvious preparations. Jack Layton says “If he introduces a budget that doesn’t listen to what our party has put forward, we won’t vote for it” and Stéphane Dion repeats that Liberal support requires ” … a budget that will improve the competitiveness of this country, improve social justice and environmental sustainability”. By Wednesday, we should have a better idea whether the government falls on this budget. How ironic that the federal election could be called on voting day in Québec. Pity the battle-weary Québec voter!

[Note: we are reminded that March 19 is also the fourth anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom – we will refrain from comment, unless someone insists]

However, rather than debate the possible outcomes of any campaign, we would like to look at the question of debates, including what passes for debate in the House of Commons, in the light of the thoughtful piece by John Robson in the Ottawa Citizen. While we likely all agree that a return to good manners, civility and content-heavy debate is desirable, how to effect this salutary change? Preferably starting with the imminent federal campaign.
It should be an instructive evening and an excellent opportunity to pay tribute to a Wednesday Night philanthrope.


Report

Fondation Universitaire Pierre Arbour
The Fondation Universitaire Pierre Arbour was launched towards the end of 2005 with an initial capital of nine million dollars to fund students resident in Québec at the Master’s and Doctorate level studying in four Montreal universities, with the intent of providing greater local expertise to the Province in Business Management, computer sciences and Engineering. The ultimate aim of the Fondation is to increase such skills in the province as will add to the economic well-being of Québec and its citizens. During the first year of operation, eleven scholarships were granted at the Master’s level, at $8,000. Describing the diversity of the 2006-2007 students, Pierre pointed to a Shanghai architect, who has left China for Canada and is doing his MA in Computer Science; a Mexican and another Chinese student who are pursuing the intensive MBA at Université de Montréal (and therefore receive $12,000). One interesting case is the student who is using the computer to compose music – although this appeared to be a bit of a stretch for the Fondation, it was decided to foster creativity. The target for 2007 is thirty students.
Wednesday Nighters applaud this initiative. Several, who are also professors, mention that finding support for students at the Master’s level is difficult and there are a lot who deserve it. Not only is a Master’s Degree probably a better economic prospect than a doctorate, but it is also a pre-requisite to moving forward in a professional career.

Malaria
While Malaria continues to decrease in importance in developed countries, it remains a matter of great concern in Africa. While attempts are being made by organizations in western countries to reduce Malaria infection in infants by donating crib nets at a cost of approximately five dollars each, the morbidity and mortality rate remains at an unacceptable level on that continent (it is estimated that on average, Malaria kills an African child about every 30 seconds).
A note of cautious hope has been sounded by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, who say they have modified the genes of mosquitoes and developed a strain that appears to be resistant to malaria Presumably, by releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in malaria-infested regions of Africa, the laws of natural selection would lead to these presumably superior insects totally replacing the malaria-carrying breed. Presumably, they could also be genetically modified to avoid biting humans. Then too, with the high level of overpopulation-related poverty and starvation in Africa, one must question whether an investment in attacking those problems should not be considered a greater priority.
The researchers appear to be concerned about the delay in public acceptance of genetically modified insects to fight disease, but genetic modification can lead to unforeseen results. The story of the hybrid Africanized bees meant to increase Brazilian honey production in 1956, remains a current story thanks to their deleterious effect on honey production there and more recently, in North America. Currently confined to the southern states, there is a very real risk that they will evolve to adapt to colder northern states. Some Wednesday-Nighters see such insecticides as DDT, currently discarded because of their toxicity, as a lesser, controllable risk in the fight against malaria.

The extensive use of antibiotics in intensive farming is said to have led to a significant increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Despite the success of living modified organisms (LMOs), sometimes better-known as GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, in increasing crop yields in areas of the world where starvation is a perpetual threat; in encouraging a diminution of reliance on pesticides; and development of crops that are resistant to drought and salinity, and that can use nitrogen and other nutrients more efficiently, there remain many valid concerns about the science provided by manufacturers of GMOs and the consequences of “fooling with Mother Nature” with possible other environmental effects.

[Editor’s Note – little known fact. Montreal is home to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the international treaty that seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology, and regulates their labelling, shipment and transhipment.]

The Federal Budget
The federal budget tabled in the House of Commons on the 19th is seen by economists as highly political, extremely well thought out, brilliant and a prelude to a possible majority Conservative government in a June election in addition to possibly helping Jean Charest in his quest for re-election. The Finance Minister has focused all the priorities of the government in this document. It is also noted that in the areas that don’t make headlines – the non-political side of the budget -, there is indication that the mechanics of the Finance Department are working very well.
A June federal election would take advantage of Stéphane Dion’s lacklustre performance thus far, well in advance of the next Liberal convention. For Charest, the budget may have been a mixed blessing as, in response to the liberal gifting to Quebec of some $3 billion, he promptly announced tax cuts rather than investment in health services and education. Furthermore, it appears to some that anticipating Ottawa’s generosity towards Québec, he permitted himself to play the role of statesman in the current electoral campaign, attacking the personality of his opponents rather than their platform.

The Quebec election – March 26
While generally expressing disappointment in Mr. Charest’s conduct of the campaign, the consensus is that a Liberal minority is very likely, unless the effects of the federal budget give them a majority. The ADQ, although looking strong following an extremely clever and well run campaign, is believed to be likely to fall apart at the polls because of the dubious strength of most of its candidates and the potential combined strength of the cohesive, combined, highly organized Bloc and P.Q. electoral machines. It is predicted that the P.Q. will gain a sufficient number of seats to ensure André Boisclair’s position as Leader of the Opposition until the following election, failing which, some believe that Gilles Duceppe will be persuaded to take over the P.Q. leadership for a final referendum, with Bernard Landry possibly moving to Ottawa to become Bloc leader. The creative imagination of the minds of Wednesday Nighters knows no bounds.

The Economy (See also Jacques Clément’s Report)
Bank of Canada remained steady at 4¼% on March 6 for the sixth consecutive meeting, “as the economy has been operating at or just above its production capacity”.
The housing situation in the U.S. is alarming. The statistics are frightening. Housing starts declined nearly 5.5% since the beginning of the year after a 19% decline in the fourth quarter, the steepest decline in fifteen years. New home sales in January dropped 16½%, the largest in fifteen years. Existing home sales rebounded 3% (January) after a yearly 1% decline. Prices have declined for the sixth consecutive month. Housing permits were down 2½% in February for the twelfth decline in the last thirteen months and the builders’ sentiment was tumbling in early March. The sub-prime mortgage market has been crushed and is in distress. Late mortgage payments in the fourth quarter were at a three-and-a-half-year high. Foreclosures, estimated at two million, are at a record high and 1.5 million Americans could lose their homes. Moody’s has estimated that 100,000 jobs in housing could be lost and one thousand companies could go bankrupt.

The Market
Though bubbles abound in the economy, the stock market has been remarkably successful and stable over the last five years, but some fear that values are disappearing very quickly and that inflation is much higher than the official figures indicate. There is some concern over greed, complacency liquidity and risks, leading to more volatility in 2007. Some experts believe that this complacency may suddenly turn to panic, oddly enough, less due to performance than to increasing geopolitical risk. Other experts are concerned about the risky activities of hedge funds in which trillions of dollars have been invested, which are unregulated “and we don’t know what they are doing”. They are perceived by some as a source of great volatility but in fact, are systemically volatility reducing.
One Wednesday Nighter highly recommends “Investing with Anthony Bolton, The anatomy of a stock market winner” by Anthony Bolton, Jonathan Davis

MSE and carbon emissions trading
Montreal owns a majority stake in the Montreal Climate Exchange, created in 2006 but stalled as it awaits the government’s pollution regulations. It already has a partnership with Chicago’s climate exchange, which runs a voluntary emissions trading market. Chicago is linked to Europe’s emissions market. Everything is in place and ready to operate as soon as the price p/tonne of carbon emissions is fixed. It is a mechanism that is working around the world and is fairly efficient. Individuals can participate, but it is a very expensive activity. There will be pooling in time.

Quotes:

· It’s revolutionary technology and it’s transformative and disruptive, so naturally we don’t (yet) know anything … but that’s what progress and advancement mean

· The U.S. economy is basically weakening – Canada is still very strong

· Until now, I thought that nobody could beat the team of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, but this budget is the most outstandingly crafted budget I have seen

· This is also true from the capital market’s point of view

· Mind you, they have money – and that makes a difference

· Canada is a solution looking for a problem

· One day there will be a giant computer to manage a global cyber-market

· We don’t want to make money, we want to reduce emissions – what we are doing is finding out the cost of reducing those emissions – it is a price discovery mechanism

· There are a lot of (Liberal) voters who are angry with Charest over the de-merger and Mount Orford issues – not a question of federalism, or ethnicity, but simply of broken faith – will they stay home, or park their votes with the Green Party?

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