Wednesday Night #1393

We return to some semblance of normality this Wednesday after last week’s back-to-back evenings, with the happy and historic events of  Tuesday’s Election Night followed by Wednesday Night ’s more traditional – and certainly more sober – discussion of the economy, along with the huge challenges facing President-elect Obama. One of the best analyses of what awaits him in governance and Foreign Relations can be found on Stratfor (Obama’s Challenge).
First: a public service announcement. After having seen mysterious pop-up windows requesting a password where they shouldn’t normally appear, we paid serious attention to the recent BBC story Trojan virus steals banking info and David reminds you all: Do NOT give your PASS WORD in the small window.
For those of you who missed the excellent piece in Saturday’s Gazette on our friend Professor Peter Brown and his new book,
Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy ; we have captured all but the wonderful photo (but we have Robert Galbraith’s wonderful photo to replace it) and commend it to you. We are very much looking forward to Peter’s return and hope to have a mini-book launch for him and it at a Wednesday Night in the not-too-distant future.
Euphoria and economy have little in common, other than the Greek roots of each word. But the past days have contained much of both. Of course the euphoria we refer to was the emotional reaction to Tuesday Night’s Election Results, while the rest of the week was taken up with relentless examination of and news about the economy/financial crisis. There was intense examination of what President-elect Obama c/would do during the lame-duck period, who would be his Treasury Secretary (bets are still out, but we align ourselves with Maureen Farrow’s personal choice of Paul Volcker) and what role his economic advisors would play. This may have distracted some from the developments in Europe, those at the meeting of the G20 in Brazil, particularly China’s announcement, and the gloomy outlook coming from the WEF regional meeting in Dubai,- all leading up to next Saturday’s Summit in Washington.
Minister Flaherty has been much in the news, albeit his pronouncements came from Brazil. He indicated strongly that Canada will be joining those countries introducing further domestic economic stimulus packages in an attempt to help the manufacturing sector and to ease credit flows.
Amidst the discussions of the world economy, an issue that deserves more attention is that of the growing urbanisation of the world population. The Economist article on the problems and benefits of this trend deserves careful consideration.
Never fear, we have it all covered
AND we will have Tony Deutsch with us to lead the discussion.
This Wednesday will also be the 8th iteration of the West Wing of Wednesday Night. To mark the occasion, we are delighted to welcome Shauna Sylvester, a “stellar” participant in our sibling organization and warmly recommended by Alexandra. Shauna is a Fellow at the Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the Director of Canada’s World – a national citizens’ dialogue on Canadian international policy. We are very much looking forward to meeting her and having this first West-to-East exchange of Wednesday Nighters (Alexandra doesn’t count).
We will no doubt have to address the (unpopular) Quebec election campaign at some point. L. Ian MacDonald’s take pretty well reflects our own “Since three Quebecers in four don’t want the snap election Jean Charest called on Wednesday, it’s entirely up to him to frame the ballot question on why he needs a majority. It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the stupid economy.” We note with interest that the website of the QLP says English version will be available soon – would that be after the election? Says something about how much the Party takes Anglophones for granted. We also note that it is virtually impossible to find any information in either official language on the Web (and we pride ourselves in being adept googlers) on M. Charest’s economic and social development plan for Quebec’s north “Plan de développement du Grand Nord”; might that be because of the criticism levelled by assorted environmental organizations, not to mention what has been termed a glacial response by the indigenous community?

And to end on a lighter note from the National Post “As everyone knows, Bono (aka “the King of Ireland” to Sarah Palin/Tina Fey)  is single-handedly saving the planet. When he visits a city, the crime rates drops, he has already been canonized as a saint, and his breath smells like roses first thing in the morning. Scientists have been unable to determine whether or not he is a real-life angel. Now, he is taking his message to the cutthroat world of journalism. Bono is joining the New York Times! The U2 frontman will author six to ten op-ed pieces for the esteemed newspaper in 2009. He will not be paid for his contributions.”
Even if you are suffering from Obama withdrawal there will be lots to pique your interest

T h e   R e p o r t

The evening opened on a sombre note with a tribute to the great Miriam Makeba, “Mama Africa”, who died on Monday. Older members of Wednesday Night associate her with the “Click Song” which introduced many of us to the  unique qualities of the Xhosa Language, and remember her as one of the great musical figures who came out of South Africa during apartheid and conquered the musical world.

Canadian election aftermath
Is a leader what you become or what you do?
Politicians are frequently very different in real life from that portrayed by other politicians in their own as well as in opposing parties.  As a previous guest of Wednesday Night, Stéphane Dion was seen as an articulate, open politician, seeking the best for Canadians in an international world.  He answered questions without hesitation, or, if he did not have the answer at hand, the following day by e-mail.  However, some observers note that media bias during the campaign was apparent in national news broadcasts that rarely allowed him to speak in his own voice, rather the reports were framed by Conservative vocabulary, thus the carbon-shift plan, which appeared very logical as first presented, was systematically introduced as “very contentious”, etc., and morphed into a complex, poorly explained and seemingly self-serving carbon tax during the course of the campaign. Others state that Dion’s problem was that he simply didn’t listen to anyone during the campaign.   Selectively funding benefits that would have been more logically and less expensively borne by the individuals rather than the state have proven to be a successful political method of attracting voter loyalty by all governing parties.  Rather than a criticism of the Conservative Party, this is simply the template for successful election and long term governance.  Mr. Harper has held a tight rein on his cabinet and caucus who, if they wish to continue to be among the blessed, appear to be required to suppress any personal opinion in favour the party line established by their leader.  By definition, tradition and out of necessity, diplomats uncritically carry out the policies of government, but overall, Canadians seem uneasy with the concentration of foreign policy decisions in the PMO and, one Wednesday Nighter commented that people in Quebec no longer recognize themselves in Canada’s international image (or lack thereof – it seems that over the past few years, Canada has earned the sobriquet of “shrub” – the insignificant little Bush).

Shauna Sylvester is a Fellow at Simon Fraser University which is home to Canada’s World, a collaboration between 15 faculties at universities  and 40 foundations and not-for-profit organizations across the country. Through citizen dialogue,  Canada’s World addresses the gap between the citizens’ perception of Canada’s role in the world (67% think we are more influential now than 20 years ago!) and the reality of the role the country actually plays. The reality is that popularity enjoyed at home following the changes in government policy in order to gain local support has been paid for in Canada’s diminishing positive influence on the world scene in many international areas including an unwillingness to strengthen gun control legislation, prison reform, the repatriation of prisoners, Kyoto and the deteriorating environment, mediation role in international disputes, nuclear nonproliferation and worldwide political liberty.
One of the accomplishments of the dialogues is the achievement of political literacy amongst individuals who previously felt unable to participate in the process, also the creation of a network of young people who take issues in different directions. There is also a fascinating underground activity – groups forming on their own, who subsequently share the results of their dialogues with Canada’s World.  For some, the initiative is reminiscent of the Spicer Commission, which once upon a time, held a session at Wednesday Night.

The Québec elections
Mr. Charest has called a general election in Québec.  It is clear that his motivation was to gain a majority at a time when his personal popularity and that of the QLP are high, and to avoid  holding an election in a year or so from now when the financial situation of the province and its citizens has deteriorated. The ADQ  coffers are almost depleted, while the PLQ coffers are full,  and this would appear to be the right time to sink that ship. Meanwhile most Quebecers are fed up with the idea of referendums on sovereignty; although Pauline Marois, in the opinion of some, is a very intelligent person and possibly a strong leader.   The similarities between motivation for the provincial and federal elections are far greater than the differences.  Without any urgent issues, M. Charest will run an expensive campaign co-opting and selling Parti Québécois Réné Lévesque’s projets de société  including the popular dream of developing the Far North. Observers note the use of Oui on the campaign posters and literature. Is M. Charest a crypto-nationalist?

Quebec healthcare
New schemes that are flagrant abuses of the Healthcare Act are coming to light, e.g. the creation of an annual fee to join a practitioner’s “health club”.
In Québec, bribing the electorate with their own money for political gain at their own ultimate expense was honed to a sharp edge by Maurice Duplessis and has, despite many reforms and refinements, remained as an article of faith ever since.  Were it not so, it would be difficult to understand, while admitting to a superior health care plan, the province’s inability to supply an adequate number of health care professionals.  How else can one explain the graduation this year of 234 physicians whose education has been subsidized by the provincial government but, adhering to a predetermined government formula, only permitting two hundred and eleven to practice? [See Comment #2 below]  Is this a case of hubris arising from the importance of the position outweighing the public need? Or is it simply that the Health Minister is hostage to the Finance Minister? It seems that Philippe Couillard, like others before him,  enjoyed the trappings of the office for a while and then, possibly disillusioned by his inability to effect real change, retired from politics  to the private sector.  Despite the theoretical relative superiority of our health plan, the perceived tight rein held by Finance over the Health Ministry seems doomed to keep the system at a barely acceptable rather than optimal level, while leaving intransigent problems to a future generation rather than risk failure by attempting to solve them.

The financial crisis continues and will undoubtedly elude resolution for some time, as the entire system works on credit and credit is tightening among all major institutions because of their lack of liquidity.
The blame for the fallout from this political folly should more logically be placed on the shoulders of the electorate than on those of elected representatives as indeed, it is they who suffer the most.  The pervasiveness of the financial shenanigans resulting in the current world financial crisis was easily recognizable but the elected representatives, particularly in the U.S., gained from it as a complicit greedy public borrowed from the future, a debt whose ultimate need of repayment was foreseeable yet ignored for the sake of expediency. The good news today is that the U.S. administration has finally recognized that better than buying worthless paper with the bailout money is buying preferred shares in banks, thus interposing itself between shareholders and creditors, and protecting the creditors.
Liquidation of bad paper is still not complete. Not all write-offs have not been taken. The Caisse de Dépôt is a case in point and its failure to act is one of the reasons the current provincial election is taking place before the Annual Report of the Caisse is published. [Update, note the announcement that Caisse says CEO Guay on leave until Dec 10 – conveniently after the election is over.] Some pension funds have once again become unstable and a lot of people who thought they had money have discovered that they no longer do, a frightening realization. People who have to raise money are turning to hedge funds, asking to redeem their money before the end of the year, and hedge funds have to sell their assets for whatever price they can get.
In the absence of further turmoil in the Middle East oil patch, the price of oil will remain low.  OPEC, whose members control only  about 30% of crude oil production, will no longer be able to control oil prices. The situation is dominated by producers, including Russia, who are desperate for cash and will continue to sell petroleum at reduced prices, and Venezuela, probably Libya.

2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1393"

  1. A Wednesday Nighter November 11, 2008 at 9:48 am ·

    While anecdotally it seems 75% of the population may not want a provincial election, it is exactly under such circumstances that dissidents – if I may call them that – can turn out in force and “steal” it. It is therefore important that all provincial Liberals swallow their orgueil and get out and vote. I think it in our own self-interest to help the Liberals help ourselves.

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 29, 2008 at 8:31 am ·

    Quebec issues fewer permits to family MDs
    Bid to push new doctors into regions. As Montreal struggles with shortage, critics say graduates will leave province altogether.
    … For Montreal, the government has decided to issue only 54 permits even though the city has a shortage of about 300 family doctors. If new doctors decide to stay in Montreal without a PREM position, going into solo practice, their billings will be docked by 25 per cent, not for the first three years but their entire careers.
    “It’s absurd,” said Mark Roper, a Westmount family physician and chairman of the medical manpower committee of the Regional Department of General Medicine of Montreal. “It’s almost like they’re pushing young doctors out of the province.”

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