Wednesday Night #1565

Written by  //  February 29, 2012  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

The presence of two new faces provided delightful excuses to wander away from the proposed bill of fare in new directions.

Carl Ravinsky, introduced by Margaret Lefebvre, is a Montreal lawyer with an eclectic commercial law practice that includes mergers and acquisitions, particularly in the oil and gas sector. That’s his day job. He is also president of the Conservative Riding Association of Westmount-Ville-Marie. When asked why he became politically active at the age of 50, his disarming answer was “after many years of complaining with friends about the stupidity of some government policies, I woke up and decided that I should get involved and try to change things. At least then, when I saw something happening I would know who to call to offer my thoughts on how things should be fixed.”

Language is power
Christopher Schoch, introduced by Catherine Gillbert, the child of an American mother and French father, grew up in California and later worked all over the world for major companies in what is sometimes described as Organizational Development. He now makes his home in Montreal and devotes his skills to working with management level Francophones who have reached a corporate level where they must present in English to peers. [See his website for “Passer à la Vitesse Supérieure” which describes what his clients need and how he helps them. As Chris sums it up: “It’s all about rhetoric – the art of persuasion”.] This is not always easy for even those whose English language skills are more than adequate. French is the language of precision and clarity, while English is filled with mysterious idiomatic Old Boys’ jargon, or curious expressions, such as the legalistic/debating formula “with all due respect” which implies the exact opposite.
Multilingualism and early childhood education
Last week, one guest spoke about his very young son’s education. With the help of games, songs, books and toys, the child, who is not yet two, is learning to speak French, English, Spanish and Mandarin and having fun doing so. He can already read simple words.
We are indeed fortunate to live in a city which enjoys two languages and two cultures and the opportunity to raise children bilingually from their earliest days. There is much nonsense spouted about the harmful effects of learning two (or more) languages in early childhood, but little if any evidence to support those fears. On the contrary, the ability to not only express oneself in another language but literally think in it, develops a mental flexibility and openness that benefits both the individual and society. [Editor’s note, a recent article in The Guardian points out that “Research suggests that bilingual people can hold Alzheimer’s disease at bay for longer, and that bilingual children are better at prioritising tasks and multitasking” Being bilingual may delay Alzheimer’s and boost brain power

Canadian Identity
While the flag is the symbol of the American nation, it can be said that the language is France’s national symbol (the agonizing of l’Académie française over the inclusion of a new approved word in the Lexicon is indicative of the passion with which la langue française is defended). What, then, is Canada’s national symbol?
One person recalled the line in the famous 1957 Red & White Revue, My Fur Lady, “The trouble with Canadians is that they are always trying to prove to the British that they are not Americans and to the Americans that they are not British.”
Most believe that Canadians have matured and are now comfortable with themselves (their identity), but an account of a deplorable incident concerning a Columbian refugee at a local CEGEP illustrated that there pockets, at least in Quebec’s education system, where Quebec nationalist sentiment trumps Canadian identity.
Canadians should take pride in the reputation the country enjoys overseas which ranges from admiration for the successful weathering of the recent global economic crisis, to memories of the valiant role that Canada played in World War II, underlined at the services commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Allies’ Landing on D-Day.
While over the years, Canada’s military has suffered from inadequate – and poorly conceived – equipment and support services, the Conservative Government is committed to ensuring that Canada has the strong military that is required in today’s context.
This would explain its adamant refusal to reconsider the purchase of the F-35s, even in the face of fiercely escalating costs and delayed delivery schedule. Some Wednesday Nighters maintain that the F-35 is the wrong plane for the purpose, but that is another story.]

Robocalls
Should the current headline story be described as a scandal? One view is that given how little is known about what is alleged and what happened the use of the word scandal is overblown, and furthermore, it is hard to believe that there has been a mass violation of the Canada Elections Act. “To suggest that the Prime Minister was ordering people to make robocalls is laughable.” While this view is not universally shared, Wednesday Nighters can at least agree that eventually the facts will be established.

Nuclear News
The effect of Fukishima on the Japanese economy is disastrous. Recent figures show that it shrank 2.3 percent on an annualized basis largely caused by a slump in exports, but domestic demand has been weak and rebuilding of the devastated area has been slow. Out of 54 nuclear plants only 2 are operating. And this, despite the fact that nobody has died from radiation effects [Editor’s note: see Wall Street Journal article Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power “There’s no evidence that low doses of radiation are harmful and no reason to paralyze our economy out of fear of nuclear power.”]
Douglas Lightfoot recently made a presentation to Members of Parliament on nuclear energy stressing that it as by far the safest way of producing electricity.
The Lightfoot Institute has received a grant to prepare to make a full-length feature film on “Nobody’s Fuel” and perhaps a shorter documentary for airing CBC.

SNC-Lavalin
While there is surely more to come on the firm’s activities in Libya (and possibly Mexico on behalf of Saadi Gadhafi) , SNC-Lavalin has been in the headlines this week for another (certainly related) reason. The stock that every self-respecting Canadian investor usually includes in his/her portfolio has plunged thanks to news an 18 per cent cut to its expected 2011 profit. While the revision includes a loss of $23 million after a recalculation of its financial exposure to projects in Libya and a recalibration of costs on certain projects in two business units, the bulk of it relates to $35 million in ‘project payments’ that appear dubious.
A number of questions have also been raised about some of the company’s senior personnel – see SNC-Lavalin hired diplomat’s spouse for Gadhafi project

The market
For a technical analyst, the SNC trading patterns (volume, price behaviour) last week indicated that something was wrong e.g. somebody knew something. On a positive note, gold was down today, probably a scare tactic, but more likely related to the Bernanke statement in which he failed to mention further QE is on its way.

Prologue
Leap-year Wednesday should mean something special. We wondered how often the 29th of February fell on a Wednesday and whether/when the Salon had previously enjoyed this special occasion. Not, apparently, an easy answer to find. We were offered a complicated formula which we swept aside believing that someone else must surely have done the homework for us, however even Wikipedia let us down with the statement that “The Gregorian calendar repeats itself every 400 years, which is exactly 20,871 weeks including 97 leap days. Over this period, February 29 falls 13 times on a Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday; 14 times on a Friday or Saturday; and 15 times on a Monday or Wednesday.” We therefore leave it to the WN mathematicians to enlighten us. Or perhaps our cycles expert?

Despite, or perhaps because of, the exceptional triple conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and the crescent Moon over the weekend (our visibility was sadly hampered by the elements), it has not been a great time for several organizations. Or maybe it is simply the post-Carnival Lenten season, though some of the world’s travails pre-date Ash Wednesday by more than a day or two.

The Costa cruise line has suffered another blow, though mercifully not as dire as the Costa Concordia. This time, sister ship Allegra is adrift in the Indian Ocean, with more than 1,000 passengers and crew stranded after a fire in the ship’s engine room. No mention of any mysterious Moldovan ladies.

It has not been a good time for the Conservative (Harper) Government, has it? Between the hapless Mr. Toews and his Bill C-30, and the ever-widening reports of robocalls and nuisance calls by live operators in the lead-up to the election, Mr. Harper must wish he had stayed in Iqaluit where his announcement of some funding for adult education was deemed overdue and the sums inadequate for the needs of the aboriginal community. But, that reception was a lot better than what was going on in the South where even Andrew Coyne mused in the National Post All too plausible to think the Conservatives are involved in the robocall scandal

While considering Bill C-30, you may have overlooked what has been proposed by Mr. Obama on the same issue Obama proposes online privacy “bill of rights” – Seven point plan calls for “individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection, and accountability.” We have not examined the President’s proposal, but from the lack of furore aroused, we can only assume that it has a kinder, gentler approach than its Canadian ugly sister.

Which leads us to another organization that is not enjoying itself these days – Stratfor, the Texas-based global intelligence guru that was hacked by Anonymous which then, apparently turned over the results to WikiLeaks. The first batch of e-mails was released on Monday, but so far has not quite lived up to the advance all-in-caps billing MASSIVE LEAK REVEALS CRIMINALITY, PARANOIA AMONG CORPORATE TITANS Instead, the Atlantic posted a caustic commentary: Stratfor Is a Joke and So Is Wikileaks for Taking Them SeriouslyThe corporate research firm has branded itself as a CIA-like “global intelligence” firm, but only Julian Assange and some over-paying clients are fooled. OUCH! That must have hurt the large egos of both George Friedman, founder of Stratfor, and Julian Assange, not to mention the corporate clients of the former.
More entertaining is Stratfor’s Glossary of Useful, Baffling, and Strange Intelligence Terms, published by WikiLeaks – obviously a send-up, as Mr. Friedman has never been noted for his sense of humour.

The Republicans aren’t having much fun either. The operative verb describing Romney and Santorum in the battle for Tuesday’s Michigan primery is ‘sniping’. We had always understood that snipers were marksmen, but it remains to be seen whether either candidate has come close to hitting the target. Meantime, Rick Santorum’s attack on JFK’s speech about separation of Church and State is not only without basis, borders on the hysterical and is a risky political tactic. Analysts are saying that there are risks associated with Newt Gingrich’s decision not to contest the Michigan primary, but at least he has some good reasons, generally related to Super Tuesday.

The Eurozone is also not exactly tripping the light fantastic. Not only do the G20 finance ministers insist that the bailout fund be increased before they will put more money into the IMF to assist the region, but there appeared to be some frayed tempers at the weekend meeting. So now all eyes are turned to Thursday’s Brussels Summit. Meantime, in the face of widespread anti-German sentiment, we really wonder about the wisdom (let alone tact) of sending German tax collectors to Greece to help instil some efficiency in tax collection – maybe they could go to Italy?

No week is complete without a reference to China. This week, with the publication of the World Bank’s report on China 2030, the long-term outlook without reforms is not as rosy as the leaders might wish. ABC reports that “Officials say such entities, supported by low-cost credit from state banks and shielded from foreign and private competitors, are helping to drive economic and technological development. Independent analysts say, however, that state companies are consuming massive subsidies while private companies create most of China’s new jobs and wealth.” Why does this sound so familiar? Try substituting SME for private companies.

On a brighter note is the Economist recommendation Using globalization for good … The argument isn’t “many factories in China have terrible labour conditions, therefore we shouldn’t buy Chinese products.” That would indeed be silly. It would also be completely doomed. Globalisation is a fact, not an option. We import huge amounts of stuff from China, and will continue to until Chinese wages rise much, much higher than they currently are. Rather, the argument is “many factories in China have terrible labour conditions, therefore we should demand that Western companies that source their products in China use their bargaining power to force Chinese factories to improve working conditions.” Sounds good to us.

TransCanada Pipeline must be one of the few happy organizations this week – almost under the radar was last Wednesday’s news that Obama ‘welcomes’ plan to build southern Keystone leg “The president welcomes today’s news that TransCanada plans to build a pipeline to bring crude oil from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf of Mexico” As to the rest of the project, time will tell.

Finally, all is not gloom and doom. At least we can joyously celebrate Christopher Plummer. Come join us in raising a glass to this Canadian treasure and his well-deserved Oscar.

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