Wednesday Night #1345 – with Marc Garneau

Written by  //  December 12, 2007  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Photos of the evening by Robert Galbraith

The timing of Mr. Garneau’s first visit to Wednesday Night could not possibly have been more appropriate, given that during the afternoon, the Honourable Lucienne Robillard, MP for Westmount Ville-Marie for some 12 years, made a surprise announcement in Parliament that she will resign effective January 25, 2008.
Also highly relevant, is the launch on December 14 of Radarsat-2, Canada’s highly advanced next-generation Earth Observation satellite (from Kazakhstan).
[Editor’s note: A very broad range of topics was discussed. In the interest of brevity and accuracy, we have chosen to concentrate on only a few.]
Marc Garneau, Liberal Candidate
Lawyers and Politicians are said to be the least trusted of professionals by the public, a truly sad state when we consider that the most important job in any country is the running of that country.
With the exception of a couple of Conservative representatives and one Parti Québécois convert, Westmount-Ville Marie has been a traditional Liberal riding, represented mostly by lawyers and for the last 12 years, a parachutee from inner space.
Liberal candidate, Engineer, Naval Officer and Astronaut, Marc Garneau, an international personage, personable, dedicated to accessibility to his constituents if elected, and frankly independent in his thinking, is actually domiciled here. Although Mr. Garneau suggested that engineers may lack political skills because of their tendency to think in a linear fashion, he demonstrated throughout the evening the intellectual rigor, independence of thinking and the people skills that are most sought – and rarely found – by the public.
Deteriorating physical infrastructure and moral issues that require solutions that do not depend so much on how they affect the lifespan of the government at the time would, perhaps, be better solved by an engineering approach. Although Parliament remains supreme, answering only to the electorate, the voting population is more likely to be influenced by the media than by their elected members, who mostly come from backgrounds distrusted by the electorate. To complicate matters further, it is the missteps, the miscalculations and mostly, changes in tax benefits that make the news. It is into this arena that Marc Garneau makes his entry, pledging his determination to value his integrity and independence above party politics or political expedience and to champion accountability in all aspects of government policy and programmes.
The AECL & shutdown of the Chalk River nuclear reactor
One issue that demonstrates one of the lacunae in Parliament has been that of nuclear isotopes, their necessity and the neglected requirements for safety upgrades at the reactor. It is impossible to know whether the dispute between Parliament and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission over the AECL Chalk River facility could have been avoided; in the final analysis, Commons has acted correctly, albeit after some highly partisan and unconstructive charges, but this event demonstrates both the need for full accountability, and the technical expertise at the decisional as well as at the executive level of government.
GST reduction
The one-percent reduction in G.S.T. was advertised as putting more money into the hands of Canadians, thus stimulating the economy. In reality, a well-targeted income tax cut would have done more for the economy, achieved the same political purpose, while the $5 – $6 billion of GST revenue would have been better spent in terms of renewing infrastructure, supporting R&D, health and education. Despite the trumpeted benefits, the savings on GST are minimal for the more affluent in our society and even less for those who have little spending power beyond untaxed food.
The more sceptical might believe that the saving permitting the reduction in G.S.T. might have been achieved by downsizing government, forcing a subsequent tax increase by a future government of different political stripe.
Canada’s role in aerospace
Considered principally a supplier of natural resources to the world, Canada’s place in the aerospace industry might come as a surprise to many. In what has become a two and a half billion dollar industry, Canada, in fact was the third country in space following the Soviet Union and the United States (Alouette 1 was launched in September 1962), the first to put a communication satellite in space – Early Bird (Intelsat 1) launched in 1965, and in 1972, the Anik A-1 communications satellite made Canada the first country with a national communications satellite in geostationary orbit. The $300 million budget of the Space Agency is minimalist, but by making the right decisions (i.e. not to attempt to invest in rocketry) the CSA has managed to maintain Canada in the forefront of technological achievements, thus contributing to the development of important technology and to a source of justifiable pride. [Editor’s note: the Canadian Space Agency Website has an informative history of Canada’s space milestones.]

The environment
From the time of the clear blue photos taken of our planet from Apollo 8, the deterioration of the earth’s climate is evident from space.
A prevalent view from early days is that the Kyoto targets were unachievable by Canada, however there was much that the governments of the day could have done to stem the increase in emissions, as well as embracing emissions trading. Instead, Canada is at 747 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent – six percent below 1990 levels is 560; we are now 187 megatonnes above that figure (2005 figures).
The development of new technologies required for the sustainable development of the planet should be considered an investment opportunity, as is the case in such countries as Sweden, Denmark and Germany. This is the position taken by Stéphane Dion in his Three Pillars vision for Canada
Unfortunately, the national government of whatever political hue has failed to take a leadership role since signing on to Kyoto, and although there is now an opportunity for Canada to put the good of the planet ahead of short-term national considerations, our performance at the Bali Conference, after the promise of the Montreal Climate Change meeting only two years ago, has set us up to be an international laughing stock – or worse. As suggested earlier in the evening, there is a time for politicians to say “we didn’t get it right” and to then try to fix the problem, rather than persisting in laying the blame on other parties. Sir Nicholas Stern has said it clearly: we cannot afford not to act.
The economy
With the cut of interest rates by ¼ on Tuesday, the Fed failed to deal effectively with the current crisis and the Stock market has reacted badly. At best the Feds have shown themselves to be poor communicators and inexperienced and this affects the reaction to the policies announced on Wednesday that are designed to fix the credit crisis in the banking system. It will be a difficult time for the markets in the coming months in the United States, with growing risk of recession .
Despite the good fundamentals in Canada, where the economy is reasonably healthy with declining interest rates and falling retail prices, there is no doubt that the Canadian markets will be affected by the spillover from the U.S. It seems that the upward trend of the Canadian dollar has been broken. Prices will continue to fall in Canada. The one concern is the continuing creation of liquidity that is being pumped into the economy without fear of consequences. At the end of the line, perhaps within a few years, there may very well be a price to pay.

Infinitheatre
The presence of three representatives of Infinitheatre led to a quick presentation on the annual fundraiser for this feisty organization. Montreal Idle will be performed January 6, 8-10 at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre, 5170, ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine.Tex Dawson wrote this spoof on dreary reality shows and the performers include a number of well-known Montrealers. For more information, call 514-987-1774. It’s a great cause and sure to be entertaining.

And so, the end to a memorable evening.

The Prologue

We are very pleased to have Marc Garneau, the Liberal candidate for Westmount-Ville-Marie, with us this coming Wednesday. While it is highly improbable that he is unknown to you, we would remind you that Dr. Garneau holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from London’s Imperial College of Science and Technology, and that in addition to his brilliant career as Canada’s first astronaut and subsequently Director of the Canadian Space Agency, he was named Chancellor of Carleton University in 2003.
We look forward to an evening of exchange on many topics and the opportunity to explore his ideas as a Star candidate and the federal representative of our riding on public policy issues such as innovation, R&D, higher education, the economy and the environment. No doubt he will also speak on the ideas he expresses in “Reconquering Canada: A new project for the Québec nation“, the new book edited by André Pratte.
Other possible topics (we will try to stay away from Mulroney-Schreiber) are listed below and there will surely be more by Wednesday.
Some possible topics
Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan
Please read Robert Galbraith’s wrap-up piece and his page for his reports from Afghanistan
Conrad Black’s sentence is to be handed down on Monday – no doubt there will be conflicting views at the table – no matter what the sentence is! Meanwhile CBC reports that “A defiant Conrad Black, facing the prospect of years in a U.S. prison, has chosen to remain anything but silent ahead of his sentencing”.
George Bush’s subprime rescue plan
The rescue plan will freeze interest rates for up to five years for some subprime borrowers. Others will be fast-tracked into new, more manageable private loans, or will be allowed to borrow from the government’s Federal Housing Administration. Is it a good idea? Our economists and pension specialists will certainly have views.
The Bali Climate Change Conference (see also related posts)
The [Québec] Liberal government [has] announced a new series of green measures on Thursday designed to further reduce greenhouse gas production, as part of the province’s pledge to honour the Kyoto Protocol.The measures target energy efficiency, recycling, transportation, new technology development, air quality, public education and municipal financing. And Charest calls Dumont a dinosaur (we guess that’s more politically correct than ‘girouette’) for believing environmental considerations harm the economy.
– Is this why Stephen Harper is visiting Mario Dumont’s riding???
The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Monday to Al Gore and Indian scientist Rajendra Pachauri, chairman on behalf of the IPCC while Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer who waged a long legal battle against biotech giant Monsanto, received his “alternative Nobel” prize Friday during an evening ceremony at the Swedish parliament. Schmeiser and his wife Louise [have been] awarded The Right Livelihood Award, founded in 1980 to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.” The Schmeisers are being recognized “for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers’ rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws.”
Venus ruined by greenhouse gases (Thank you, Ron Roberston)
Once styled as Earth’s twin, Venus was transformed from a haven for water to a fiery hell by an unstoppable greenhouse effect, according to an investigation by the first space probe to visit our closest neighbour in more than a decade.
Like peas in a cosmic pod, the second and third rocks from the sun came into being 4.5 billion years ago with nearly the same radius, mass, density and chemical composition. But only one, Earth, developed an atmosphere conducive to life.

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