Wednesday Night #1486

It was noted that Herb Bercovitz is celebrating his 86th birthday on Wednesday 1486, which explains his absence. All present expressed warm wishes to Herb for many more years of health and enjoyment of life.
The question was raised of celebration of WN #1500 – due in 14 weeks – what is planned? What is the actual date of the celebration? [Subsequently verified as 1 December, therefore not in conflict with NSOA’s plans for an event the following week].

SNC-Lavalin and the Olympic roof
In June, the OIB announced it intended to sign a contract with SNC-Lavalin to replace the roof, but the board had to reissue a call for tenders after changing some of the contract’s details. Roger Taillibert (remember him?) was recently in Montreal to promote his memoirs and suggested that SNC-Lavalin was not up to the job – and anyway the job shouldn’t be done. Meanwhile, Wednesday Nighters wonder why the premier Quebec-based engineering firm should not be the evident choice for the roof repair.  Questions about SNC-Lavalin’s undue influence with the Quebec government were dismissed as irrelevant, given the intricate web of relationships between government and industry in Quebec.

Housing market
I think now is a propitious time to unload
U.S. Home resales dropped a record 27.2% to an annual rate of 3.83 million in July, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, inventories rose to 12.5 months from 8.9 months in June, pressuring already depressed home prices. Inventories are at their highest level in more than a decade. In Canada, the market is leveling off, likely because many people rushed into the market in the first half of the year; generally, Canada’s housing market follows the U.S. and there are parallels to watch. Given that interest rates are slowly rising in Canada and there is little evidence of pent-up demand, we are likely to see a decline in the Canadian market. Another economist reminds us that the housing dynamic is speculative and prices will decline once the market realizes that prices are not continuing to go up, and that ratios between buyers’ incomes and the price of houses are no longer relevant. (Nor do sale prices bear any relationship to rental levels.) A third economist suggests that the gravest fear is of deflation, when prices plummet and interest rates do not rise.
Diana introduced the bill for the construction of #33 in 1893. The total cost was $7, 917.78   This stimulated a debate about how to measure the price in today’s terms, emphasizing that the CPI is not an accurate reflection of the cost of living.

Montreal arts and music
Hans Black recounted the events (non-existent seats sold by Place des Arts)  surrounding the most recent performance of  the talented young Polish-Canadian pianist, Jan Lisiecki  at PdA on May 3rd. He will be performing again in Montreal for Kent Nagano in early December. While the career of this young man has taken off,  he remains a very charming, ‘normal’ person, partly due to a sage and caring family.
The opening of the new 2000-seat concert hall next year will pose some dilemmas for PdA – MSO may be playing in the new hall at the same time as l’Opéra de Montréal in Wilfrid Pelletier – and the performances will be competing for the same audience. Will the demise of the Spectrum perhaps fill some of the seats?

It works well in practice, but does it work in theory?
An amusing thought, but with much underlying wisdom. If the world is to overcome the current crisis, there is a need for rigorous examination of philosophical principles. There is a paucity of theory – as evidenced by the schism at the Toronto G20 between saving and spending advocates in the current economic condition. In Toronto the savers won – but for how long?
Spain and the UK are experiencing the same fate as Greece, with massive levels of debt. Is debt reduction counterproductive in a recessionary environment? On the other hand, increasing the debt is potentially frightening due to the threat of monetary collapse, lack of jobs and consequent civil unrest.
[Update from the Economist Not out of the woods
CONCERN that Greece’s debt crisis might presage similar episodes elsewhere in the euro zone has not disappeared, despite a €750 billion ($990 billion) backstop agreed in May 2010 in concert with the IMF. Sovereign-bond spreads (the extra interest compared with bonds issued by Germany, the safest credit) have drifted back up in a handful of other countries, notably Ireland and Portugal. Attempts to tackle budget deficits through public spending cuts and tax increases have offered some reassurance to bondholders, but have also held back GDP growth.]
The continuing theme of lack of long-term vision and planning was again invoked.

The New School of Athens (NSOA) is launching a series of conferences representative of the three major stakeholders – governments, business and civil society – around the world, all themed around shaping the post-crisis world, and examining a number of national models and the lessons to be learned from each. The first will be held in November in Bordeaux under the chairmanship of  former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé. In April, Montreal will host the conference on the Canadian model. Conferences looking at the U.S. and European models are scheduled for 2011, followed by four examinations of non-western models: Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The conferences will be constructed on the same problem definition, with the same 5 topical (the economy, social policy, the environment, security and health) round tables – different speakers – all trying to define what we can learn from the various national models, none of which works completely; the Canada model, for instance, is widely praised for deficit management and its banking system.  The aim is to combine the successful elements from each model into a new equilibrium. Right now we neither know where ‘here’ is, nor where ‘there’ is.
The Greek crisis may well be the subject of a separate conference as there is much to learn from what many consider the seed event for all the others.
It is important to understand that the New School of Athens is not simply a think tank that organizes conferences, but a think and do tank that will develop action plans based on the outcomes of the conferences and round tables.
A powerful new website for NSOA will be launched shortly and will incorporate a “Dialogues” section where relevant studies, articles or questions will be published on governance-related issues. Comments to advance the dialogue will be invited from Wednesday Night experts and others.
The question arises as to whether certain nations, i.e. the U.S., are prepared to consider a new model which could involve philosophical, foundational changes and an abandonment of the laissez-faire policy espoused by the conservative right-wing.

Bulls and bears at Wednesday Night
We seem to agree that we like some stocks
Citing historical precedents (of course) Ron Meisels maintains his bullish position, believing that we may have come to the end of the market woes and that we are at the beginning of a major up-leg in the market, with some excellent buying opportunities.
Whereas, Hans Black is bearish on the market, although there are sectors that he likes. His view is “We will likely slip into or have already slipped into another recession. We expect that this will become more apparent in the months ahead and by Q1 2011 the debate will be over. Just as in 2008 and early 2009, significant selling pressure will lead to buy points which we hope to take advantage of.” He believes that many financial companies have not recognized the problems on the balance sheets. However, he also believes there are excellent good technologies, bio tech will continue to do well. In times of economic and population stagnation, a major concern is how will large corporations grow? Only by buying smaller companies with promising new technologies or products.  It’s all about mousetraps and connectivity.  He suggests all should read In Striking Shift, Small Investors Flee Stock Market — Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year … Adding to the gloomy picture are demographic considerations (aging populations and low birth rates) in the G8 countries and the anger/civil unrest in the U.S. which requires political management.
Adding to the gloom, a third voice suggests that the U.S., having crammed fifteen years of growth into five years is now delusional about the economic consequences of its behavior. Like Greece, the U.S. needs to overhaul its society, put it on a different foundation, one that puts greater emphasis on productivity, but the U.S. is struggling to reach agreement on how to do that and even what the end goals are. Although some discount parallels with Japan, the basic cause of Japan’s problems was the absence of political will to change the status quo. The U.S. is showing worrying signs of the same stasis.

Immigration policy is coming to the fore again with the arrival of the Tamil-bearing ship. One question  that has not been adequately addressed is that Canada has both a rural and an urban economy, but few immigrants today show interst in the rural areas because a) they don’t come from cultures that privilege those types of activity and b) the current selection process is skill-based. There is competition for the same skills among developed nations and Canada is not doing well in that competition. However, with all the discussion of immigrants, employment and public policy, it is worth remembering what Bill Clinton said – that real change comes only through individual initiative, not the umbrellas offered by government agencies, unions or organizations with similar protective mandates.


Do not be startled by the “For Sale” sign on the lawn. After 39 years (almost to the day), we have come to the conclusion that it is time to open a new chapter of our lives in a somewhat more modest surrounding – but one that will always have a welcoming space for Wednesday Night.  This is not a sad announcement. Rather, a joyous new beginning in a downsized world where there is a janitor to do our bidding – and someone else to worry about snow removal. Nothing has happened yet, but we look forward to relinquishing our marvelous house to someone who will love, care for it, and maintain its unique personality, while we continue to nourish Wednesday Nights in a new and exciting environment.

Please circle Wednesday, September 1 in your calendars for the book launch at 33 for Robert Landori-Hoffman’s latest oeuvre “Havana Harvest” – another page-turner from our favorite Wednesday Night spook – or is he? One of the joys of reading Robert’s work is the nagging question of what is fact and what is fiction.  (Book review)

Regrettably, most of the items on our agenda are pretty gloomy, however, we are delighted to have Kimon Valaskakis with us for the first time in a long time – and the last time for three weeks – as so many issues today relate to aspects of governance. We should also be sharing some exciting news about the New School of Athens.

We might lead off with Michael Valpy’s piece about this year’s Couchiching Conference “Governance and its discontents” – the debate on what role the state should play in Canadians’ lives, particularly timely in light of the dismissal (for lack of a better word) of a number of individuals in positions to defend the interests of ‘ordinary’ Canadians. Although when measured against Burma/Myanmar , Gaza’s Palestinians , Afghanistan and so many other parts of the world, our problems are seemingly minor, we continue to worry about the erosion of power of the watchdogs (Pat Stogran comes to mind) over programs and rights we take for granted as part of the unique Canadian culture Harper’s growing ‘black list’ a threat to democracy. At the risk of being considered frivolous, we, like Lysiane Gagnon, also worry about certain powers that extend too far.

The CIVICUS  9th World Assembly, a notable event in Montreal related to many issues of governance and the role of civil society, has likely passed unremarked by most. We urge you to pay attention. Civil society finds new resolve in working together at CIVICUS World Assembly to solve global crises ; The world hits home at CIVICUS – Global problems, global responses at Montreal assembly

The relatively slow trickle of aid to devastated Pakistan; may, as many commentators point out, be closely related to the widely held perception that government in Pakistan is corrupt at best and that aid will not reach those who need it. We note the comment “I haven’t heard in the media even once how much donations the ruling elite have given to this fund, how can the government expect me to put my money in it?” Flood Aid Exposes Distrust of Gov’t

While there are fewer headlines about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we are sure that you have not overlooked the newly discovered the 22 mile-long plume – a development predicted by our OWN Judy Geologist some months ago. Meanwhile, in Africa, it appears that Royal Dutch Shell benefits from a whitewash review from UNEP over spills in the Niger delta.

The controversy in the U.S. over the 9/11 Mosque – otherwise known as Cordoba House – is an incredibly emotional issue – even though it did not start out that way. It has created both hysterical and thoughtful reactions among people of all political persuasions and could well influence the mid-term elections.
One Wednesday Nighter comments:
I hope that when the topic of the Mosque near ground zero is discussed, your guests will not confuse the message with the messenger and will not consider any House of Worship as being anti-American or face discriminatory regulation.

You have surely not missed the flurry of public policy activity regarding Canadian sovereignty and the Arctic. We confess to a certain bemusement with respect to the photo of Mr. Harper in Mary Poppins pose – is he really using his umbrella to transport him to Churchill and beyond?

For Canada, the most acute and divisive issue currently is the Tamil refugee question. Good immigration policy is most certainly a key element of good governance, and poses a dilemma to many countries other than Canada. Where does generosity end and foolhardiness begin? There is no easy solution and much reaction is, necessarily, emotional, especially among Wednesday Nighters, many of whom have first-hand experience. There has been much honest debate and exchange amongst some of our Wednesday Nighters.

Two samples:

“The recent arrival of Tamil refugees could be interpreted as an example of the “globalization” of the business of conflict. Migrations of refugees, immigrants, who are motivated by the wish to establish extraterritorial bases of operations for groups invested in the conflict, find points of entry to countries like Canada to be able to establish themselves to send aid and support back home.  The shift in our population will carry with it increasing instances of economic, conflict refugees and those fleeing environmental disasters. Cleo Paskal touches on this issue on her recent book.  It is tempting to think of Tamil refugees as succumbing to the pressure of the LTTE to provide support to the cause at home by travelling abroad to find work to send money back home.   We can’t ascribe blame or accuse them of affiliations with the LTTE without definitive proof.”

“Tamils already in Canada,without prior affiliations to the LTTE have stated on more than one occasion that they have been coerced, under threat of maiming and death to members of their families, into donating to “the cause” in Sri Lanka by members of the LTTE based in Canada  That is another aspect of “economic” aid to “family members” which it is impossible to quantify accurately due to the code of silence which most victims have maintained. However, enough have spoken out.
Furthermore, the vast majority of so-called refugees arrive in this country without documentation or documentation that is false. How can one really learn if they are “bona fide” or not? Such people demand extreme scrutiny by the various agencies in this country. When we are beset by shiploads of them, with pressures such as demonstrations by their countrymen already resident here, some of whom have their own agendas, the tendency of these agencies is to hasten the process which is not in our best interests. What about these poor Tamils who have been waiting in the immigration queue since before the arrival of Sun Sea ? When, at last, will they be “processed”?
Does that mean we should be against Rwandans, Tamils, Haitians, etc who wish to come to this country?  Not at all. But they can come in through the front door, not the back door, and in spite of the apparent rules of international law, I do not regard by  specially fitted ship accommodating hundreds to be an acceptable mode of entry.
In addition, the United States is our immediate neighbour. Lax immigration practices, a direct threat against ourselves, represent a threat against the U.S.

All of which illustrates that there is no clear answer to the many questions raised.”

Finally, in our tradition of an off-beat or entertaining story to cheers us all up, we draw your attention to this latest evidence of Canadian ingenuity (entrepreneurship, anyone?) Cannabis electric car to be made in Canada, while we cannot ignore George Monbiot’s scathing review of vertical farms

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1486"

  1. Hewlett October 4, 2011 at 4:35 am ·

    My attention was drawn to this paragraph above:

    “The relatively slow trickle of aid to devastated Pakistan; may, as many commentators point out, be closely related to the widely held perception that government in Pakistan is corrupt at best and that aid will not reach those who need it.”

    Highlight on “…AT BEST AND THAT AID WILL NOT REACH THOSE WHO NEED IT.” I’m sorry for being rude to Pakistan but I think that they have robbed their citizen all through out. From the taxes that they are paying, from their education, future and even faith. I just think that if there was any way that people can escape from being an Islam, they should grab it right then and there.


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