Wednesday Night #1399

With the advent of the winter solstice and all the accompanying festivities to accommodate and reconcile us to one another, we are happy to join in the de rigueur frenzy of well-wishing.

We genuinely love this time of year, although 20cm of snow in the flash of an eye was a bit more than we had bargained for, and our hearts go out to weary travellers trying to make their way through airports and on highways.

It is a time to take stock, look back over the year, recognize the many happy events that we have enjoyed or celebrated, the less happy ones from which we have gained strength or knowledge, and the wisdom, laughter and support that we have shared with the Wednesday Night family.

Despite the onslaught of bad news, both financial and political, we remain hopeful that the New Year will bring some sanity and good governance to the planet, that a tyrant or two will be toppled (Zimbabwe is our first choice), and that politicians everywhere will assume some responsibility for reversing the damage mankind has caused to the only Earth we have.

NOTA BENE  Holiday Schedule for Wednesday Nights
Wednesday Nights are never cancelled. Therefore, the doors are open on Christmas Eve (how would Santa get here otherwise?), the path will be cleared, the candles and fire lit, the tree ablaze with lights. David will tape the Run of the Reindeer in real time for all to enjoy.

 T H E  R E P O R T


Photograph by: Getty Images, File
It’s unclear whether Santa has always been considered Canadian based on his place of residence, or if the country has extended him citizenship as a courtesy.
Santa can call Canada ho-ho-home

On Tuesday, Canada’s Immigration Minister has claimed Santa as a Canadian citizen and offered an automatic right to re-enter Canadian visa once his trip around the world is complete on December 25th. Those wishing to dispute the Immigration minister’s claim are urged to consider Santa’s red and white uniform is the same colour as the Canadian flag and his post-code is H0H 0H0 – the post code is Canadian. More

Immigration
Unfortunately, Santa’s easy access to his Canadian visa is unique as the band of hardy devotees of Wednesday Night, who braved miserable weather and dangerous driving conditions, pointed out in the discussion triggered by recent reports of the story about the Lennikov family that we had raised last week, but which had not been addressed. The Canadian government has issued a deportation order against the family due to the father’s past connections to the KGB, connections that he had fully debriefed with CSIS. One Wednesday Nighter cited his experience as an immigrant some 40 years ago when he was asked only “are you a communist?”, reflecting the concerns of that era. He asks whether the mentality has changed.
“The system is broken” … In contrast with the policies of other developed nations, Canada’s immigration policies – and the Act that governs them – are exceptionally retrograde. In some countries that are serious about enhancing their economic performance, businesses are given the necessary leeway to bring in the kind of people they require, a fact which obviously makes a difference to foreign investors. There exists a mechanism to bypass immigration procedures by Order in Council,  but this only serves to underline how flawed the system is.  In turn, the flawed system has given rise to an  industry of often unscrupulous immigration consultants who charge outrageous fees to would-be immigrants who do not know better. And then there are the abuses of the special category of investor immigrants who have $500,000 to invest in Canada. This category is particularly worrisome because there are no requirements for security or health checks.
[Editor’s note: required reading on  Canada and Immigration should include the lucid op-ed of last September by Ann Golden, President of the Canada Conference Board]

Executive Compensation
Recent reports indicate that executive compensation in the U.S. is clearly out of line. AP reports that 116 banks that have received billion in bailout funding, have doled out an average of $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits to top executives last year. Merrill Lynch’s CEO pulled in $83 million in earnings. And the worst news?  The total amount showered on the execs would cover the banks’ bailout costs. UGH! The incestuous relationship between directors who are presidents or wannabe presidents of companies and the CEO who selects them for his board makes it highly improbable that there will be any enthusiasm for the reform of the system, no matter that it is neither in the interests of the workers or the shareholders.

Canada’s Innovation and Technology capacity
The picture is bleak.
The Conference Board of Canada is the foremost, independent, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada, which, despite its name is not an arm of the government, but generates its income from services to the private and public sector, focusing more on macroeconomic issues than does the C.D. Howe.  A recent report, Canada’s Pathways Toward Global Innovation Success: Report of the Leaders’ Panel on Innovation-Based Commerce (part of  How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada) and written by our OWN Guy Stanley points out that “Countries that regularly outperform others on innovation all have coherent strategies. These strategies differ from one country to the next but they all stimulate their country’s capacity to innovate—from the creation of ideas to the transformation of those ideas into new products and services for the domestic and world markets. Canada invests in university research and development but fails to support highly innovative companies to become successful on a global scale.”
We don’t have a government procurement program to support fledgling technologies; nor do we have demonstration programs at the provincial or national level; we don’t even have a mechanism for identifying strategically important technologies.  Unlike other  countries with successful support for innovation and technology, Canada relies totally on venture capital to support new technologies through the period from prototype to project-level first demonstration phase. Canada does not systematically use any of the technology forecasting tools that other countries use regularly. Finally, we have no implementation capacity for those parts of government that do carry out technology forecasting.
The report identifies three areas of expertise where Canada could and should be a world leader: water management  one of the most interesting areas of technological competition around the world is filtration) , clean energy (including clean coal and nuclear) and regenerative medicine.
Guy points out that there is a great opportunity for a Canada-wide water infrastructure program for municipal upgrading, given that about 63% of the national water infrastructure is used up. Such a program could bring together various nanotechnologies  creating  integrated solutions for a global market.

The decline of the Canadian civil service and what that means for public policy
One explanation for the failure of many public policy issues is the new management theories introduced during the Mulroney years. Contarary to the era  of the great Deputy Ministers of the ’60s and ’70s who ran their departments in every aspect – process and policy – as literal fiefdoms, the Mulroney approach was based on a wish to destabalize the public service which was perceived as too closely linked with long-time Liberal government and poliicies. Mobility of top management became the fundamental principle – a good manager could manage anything and his/her skills were portable between areas as different as agricultural policy and science. Thus Deputy Ministers, ADMs and Directors General were moved from one ministry to another without having any grounding in the subject(s) to be dealt with – and were rarely left in any one position long enough to gain the necessary in-depth knowledge of the subject.
The next step in ’96, the reduction of the civil service by buyout (stimulated by economic management rather than political ideology), resulted in the loss of those entrepreneurial spirits who worked within government.
And today, the decision-making apparatus is entirely controlled, and public policy driven, by political experts in the PMO. One observer has commented that people with real expertise in subject matter are routinely excluded from meetings because the calibre of the ministers (exception made for the PM and one or two others) makes Sarah Palin look competitive. [Editor’s note: Remember the unlamented Maxime Bernier, or Rona Ambrose.]
Today, because of these actions,  the federal government has lost the basic information generating/gathering/analysis capacity that would be up to international standards. One need only look at the website of the World Economic Forum to realize how weak the Canadian institutional capacities are. The provincial governments are not in such dire straits, but they do not possess the resources of the Feds.
Business operations are no better
The problem is not limited to our government(s). Canadian business operations  generally do not have the forward-looking managers that you would find in a competing European or U.S. company- the kind of person who asks the question: ‘five years from now what kind of a company will we be?’ Another weakness is the attitude of business towards government financing, business seeing government as a cash cow, rather than the catalyst for new developments.

In conclusion, as we worry about Canada’s ability to survive, let alone compete, there may be some inspiration in Tom Friedman’s most recent offering, “Time to Reboot America” (We don’t just need a bailout in this country, we need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history.), perhaps substituting the word ‘Canada’ where appropriate.

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