Wednesday Night 1595

Written by  //  September 26, 2012  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

“Man stands on his little plot of land and proclaims
‘This land belongs to me,’ oblivious of the fact that for
Countless generations, other men have stood on the
Same plot of land and made the same declaration.”


Québec has elected a minority government led by a Prime Minister who some describe as brilliant, charismatic and, pointing to her previous stints as a minister, competent politician. While it is to be hoped that she will maintain the peaceful multicultural nature of the Province which has made it such a wonderful place in which to live, learn and work, early signs point in the opposite direction.It would have been instructive (although probably pointless) for Mme Marois and her devout Caribous to have participated in tonight’s discussion.

The presence of historian and biographer Bill Fong, and Paul Carvalho, whose Perception Films company is producing a five-hour biography of the city of Montreal, titled Montreal, mon amour, mon histoire, prompted a lively and fascinating discussion of the history of Montreal. While Bill has concentrated on two great Anglophone industrialists and philanthropists, the first of Paul’s series, Le soleil se lève à l’Est, features the brothers, Oscar and Marius Dufresne and the thriving community of Maisonneuve (Hochelaga Maisonneuve) which was the heart of industrial Montreal in the early 20th century.The second film tells the story of The Main and les autres – the immigrants and  the third will focus on how the St Lawrence River shaped Montreal.
Until the completion of the Lachine Canal in 1824, Montreal was the farthest western point of debarkation for European immigrants.  It was the Anglophones who brought commerce to the city and immigrants of other linguistic origins found it to their advantage to learn to speak English in order to earn a living.
Immigrants to Montreal arrived at and settled around and to the north of the port area. Montreal became the focal point of commerce and banking and remained so until increasing facility of transportation resulted in the continent-wide westward move.  Unlike Belgium, bilingualism in Québec has flourished, the peaceful co-existence of francophone, Anglophone and allophone communities constituting a model that countries currently in the midst of internecine struggles would do well to emulate.
Successful Montreal businessmen generously funded the success and growth of the city, including McGill University, which Bill noted was created as a science university, rather than one devoted to the arts. Its strong Engineering and Medical Faculties maintain their reputations to this day.  It was Sir William Macdonald who truly fostered the recognition of engineering as a discipline and founded the faculty whose building bears his name.   It was largely due to the generosity of the McConnell and Macdonald families that both faculties are still held in such high regard. Engineers had been previously considered in the same classification as Mechanics until the construction of the Victoria Jubilee Bridge in 1859, when their professional expertise became evident.
As the school system was religion-based and there was an almost total absence of Protestant Francophones to serve as teachers, the two solitudes continued until the establishment of linguistic school boards. Francophones  were frequently exploited by their more-recently-arrived  Anglophone employers. The Roman Catholic Clergy were the first to negotiate salaries and working conditions, but conflicts arose due to the differing treatment of lay and religious teachers and administrators (essentially, the religious orders who ran the schools – this was also true of hospitals – reserved the administrative posts for their members and often nuns and priests who taught were not as qualified as  lay teachers/staff, who had little or no access to such posts);  hence the rise of powerful labor unions and collective bargaining in Québec schools – and hospitals. [Editor’s note: Herb Bercovitz has shared an invaluable background  interview he conducted with Guy Desjardins who was the Director of Human Resources at the time at the M.G.H.,and had  formerly been a senior executive one of the major unions.]

The new PQ government
The Parti Québecois has deep roots which are creating conflict within the party today.  Although the PQ may be faced with many hurdles – as since, Réné Lévesque, nobody has been able to satisfy all factions – there is no question of it folding or disappearing.  It is widely supported strategically if not always tactically.  The evolution of the current ruling party’s strategy should prove to be most interesting  as the new realignment of political philosophies and personal ambitions unfold.  And, if  harsh limits on the use of any language but French are imposed, the PQ will find it challenging to attract and keep multinational investment – with serious fiscal and economic consequences.   Already Montreal’s growth rate has been half of that of Toronto between the 2006 and 2011 census, as the continental population continues to shift westwards and many talented young bilingual Québécois have left to pursue careers in western Canada or abroad.
Most around the table believe this minority government will not last past its first budget, but the opposition cannot afford to be complacent. The next election will be very important and the PQ organization is strong, particularly in the regions. The CAQ and the Liberals will have to coalesce – not necessarily merge – as disenchanted Liberals went to the CAQ in this election. Meanwhile, the purs et durs voted Option Nationale, so if Pauline Marois can strike a deal with ON members, she would have a majority. It is a time for resilience, boots on the ground, and much may hinge on who is the next leader of the PLQ.

The U.S. election
The closer he (Romney) gets to the election the less he wants the job
The U.S. Presidential election remains an important issue for Wednesday Nighters, some of whom had attended the excellent presentation organized by the CIC the previous evening.  Although the consensus is that Barack Obama will be re-elected in the face of Mitt Romney’s apparent relative difficulty in organizing his campaign, it is believed that the necessary unpopular decisions on measures including tax hikes (e.g. a national sales tax or form of VAT), will severely damage the popularity of the winner over the course of his mandate. Some wonder whether Romney’s absence of passion is indicative of his conclusion that he really doesn’t want to win in the current economic and geopolitical climate of  indications of the bubble bursting  in China, Japan’s virtual bankruptcy, Southeast Asia’s slowdown, the disastrous ongoing and apparently insoluble Middle East crises, Europe’s economic and social woes, and finally, the  American debt bomb that has not yet detonated. Another worrisome socioeconomic  – and generational – factor is the frustration of the young people who are questioning their future and ability to shoulder the costs of  social contracts.
The Romney campaign should have been able to capitalize on his reputation as an experienced businessman – although for someone who has sought the presidency for eight years, he could have done a better job of cleaning up his resumé  for public consumption, and that of Paul Ryan as a brilliant budget expert. However both have been beset by image problems and accusations of  (Romney) flip-flops and (Ryan) outright distortions, and the  Republican Convention failed to galvanize the base. In fairness, what are deemed flip-flops may originate with Romney’s success as a businessman, shifting positions in order to cut a deal. While this flexibility may well be a necessary quality in the president’s dealings with a recalcitrant Congress, it is a perceived weakness in a candidate. People want to hear and believe in the candidate’s position on any given issue.

The continuing fallout of the financial crisis was raised in the context of Mr. Romney’s experience at Bain Capital.Last month’s Rolling Stone story Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital describes his tenure as one that witnessed an epic wealth grab, destroyed jobs – and stuck others with the bill. In his defense, several Wednesday Nighters pointed out that his job at Bain was to make money for his investors and while it is not a pretty picture,  under the capitalist system it was ethical.  Unlike the morally reprehensible selling of sub-prime mortgages to individuals who clearly had no capacity to repay them. No one has been charged or gone to jail. And what about the rating agencies, whose actions were clearly major contributing factors to the financial crisis, and who have never been prosecuted?  It was quietly noted that matters are handled differently in Canada; citing the case of Nortel which had a pretty decent balance sheet, but  was  allowed to go bankrupt, and whose assets including an array of valuable patents are now held outside Canada by foreign companies. And no effort was made by the government to save the company.

Nexen takeover
The paradox is that we have an economist running the country, but he is everything but an economist on this issue
Some believe that as in the case of potash, the Harper government will follow the polls and could well not allow the deal. One investor points out that the benefits promised by CNOOC to shareholders  would enable them to reinvest their money in other Canadian oil & gas companies – unlike potash which did not offer investors an alternative in the same sector . It is also noteworthy that CNOOC has promised generous grants to several Alberta universities.
However, others point to the woeful lack of a federal industrial policy and the need for clearly-defined rules regarding foreign ownership, especially of  resource industries.

Sheila Arnpoulos has spent 5 months in Tunisia, researching Arab women,  microcredit and entrepreneurship.  She discovered that educated Tunisian women are doing a lot of things that the government should be doing, finding jobs for young men and working for human rights, especially women’s rights. She also learned that there is a professional elite that is very worried about the influence of the Islamic party currently in power and  is organizing to counter measures such as the introduction of Sharia law into the new constitution. Read more about Sheila’s discoveries in Tunisia on her blog.

The markets
Stock Market Mavens express the belief that the stock market has the potential to continue to rise, that the North American market has been oversold since 2009. And while the euro crisis has been a preoccupation since 2010, the S&P has risen 35% during the same period.   Energy stocks are gathering a lot of interest and should do well for the present. Despite some encouraging news from the European Central Bank, at least one of our experts remains unconvinced that the current economy presents much opportunity. John Curtin, meantime, has invested in distressed properties  in Fresno, California and is making a good return on his investment while the values of the properties are rising with the news that a high-speed train will soon connect Fresno with San Francisco.

Robert Galbraith’s excellent photos of the evening. All carry Robert’s copyright, so should you wish to use any of them for purposes other than a private scrapbook, please contact Robert at
Individual photos (2 pages)   slide show


OYEZ OYEZ, Peter Trent’s 608-page ‘doorstopper’, The Merger Delusion, available on October 1.    Details. We hope that this portends Peter’s return to Wednesday Night and other agreeable, non writing/editing/fact-checking tasks. UPDATE: Peter advises My book’s release date will be November 12 or 13th. The French edition has caused a delay in the launch date, as I insist the French and English editions be released at the same time. The French edition (editor is Denis Vaugeois) has not even been typeset yet, while the English is at the printer’s. I have spend the whole summer going over the French translation, and we’re talking well over 700 pages! Even the English will be around 670 pages.
We have a literary treat to offer this Wednesday. Paul Carvalho is bringing William (Bill) Fong, noted historian and author of the biography of John W. McConnell, Financier, Philanthropist, Patriot and of Sir William C. Macdonald,the father of the Canadian tobacco industry and one of the country’s foremost educational philanthropists, both published by McGill Queen’s University Press, as is The Merger Delusion. The biography of Sir William was launched almost exactly five years ago at McGill’s Macdonald Engineering building and is surely more fun to read than Peter’s tome!
Historians and writers of non fiction must be particularly careful to check their facts. We bring this matter up, not (for once!) because of Romney/Ryan’s well documented skirting of the truth, but because the Globe & Mail is not exactly covering itself with glory over burgeoning criticism of Margaret Wente’s liberal borrowing of text and quotations from other journalists, notably Dan Gardner. For the full story, read Colby Cash in Maclean’s: Globe and Mail, or Cut and Paste? Such a contrast with the praise heaped upon Henry Champ, a real journalist, who died this week. We thank Alan Hustak for the link to this special tribute which makes the point that “he never got confused into thinking the reporter was the story. To Henry, The Story was always the story.”
Perhaps we can leave the world’s problems to the UN this week? Or perhaps we should constitute the WN World Affairs Advisory Board? Whichever your choice, it is unlikely that we will completely forego any discussion of world affairs. After all, we have to prepare for our role as vocal – but knowledgeable – minority in an independent Quebec. As long as we opened that can of worms (not to be confused with the Diet of Worms – Catholics, lapsed or otherwise, and Peter Trent will understand this reference), how many have seen Beryl’s acerbic summary of Mme Marois’ first day in office?
Marois and a day of destruction
So, in this, her first full day in office, Mme. Marois has managed to add a billion dollars of debt onto the treasury that we will have to make up by cancelling the meager tuition hikes and the health tax; stifled future sources of energy revenues and made limiting the costs of hydro impossible by putting a permanent moratorium on shale gas development and closing the Gentilly 2 nuclear power plan and allowed her Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron to suggest a public inquiry into the conduct of the Montreal police – yes the police, not the marchers – during the student riots that have already cost Montreal taxpayers some $12 million. In this last act, she may have sown the seeds of her downfall even before the March budget.
Thoughts? Comments? Anyone?
We seem to have survived the first week of the new government, but there are surely more surprises in store. Who noted that on Saturday (the 22nd) the students were at it again – poor Mme Marois, cancelling the hike in student fees isn’t enough – CLASSE wants free education, although mercifully this is not a position shared by the province’s two other major student associations  Quebec student group wants free tuition now that hike is off the table    
More problems at Concordia?
In a story closely related to the students’ strike the new president of Concordia, Alan Shepard, has announced that Concordia withdraws Code of Rights and Responsibilities complaints. The president’s letter to this effect is, in our view, not impressive – it is confusing and indicates a total lack of support of the faculty members who filed such complaints. He does not appear to have the necessary skills to defuse the matter. More like a case of I am the decision maker.
World’s leaders to take on global problems at UN this week
The 67th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly was highlighted Monday  by a briefing by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, and on Tuesday and Wednesday with speeches by U.S. President Barack Obama and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, respectively. Nearly 120 heads of state and government are scheduled to attend, although solutions to the war in Syria and tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, among other issues, are not expected. Reuters (9/21), CNN/Security Clearance blog (9/23), The Washington Post/The Associated Press (9/23)
As the New York Times points out The raging conflict in Syria will take center stage starting Monday as some 120 world leaders converge on the United Nations for what is sometimes called “diplomacy’s annual trade fair.” Syria will have to share the stage at the weeklong United Nations General Debate with other intractable diplomatic problems, of course. They include the spread of Al Qaeda across the Western Sahara; the snail’s pace of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program; global riots prompted by religious intolerance; and sharp new tensions in Asia over competing claims to small, potentially mineral-rich islands.
The Economy
In Democracy’s Burning Ships Luigi Zingales offers an intriguing comparison between Hernán Cortés who ordered his troops to burn the ships that had brought them to Mexico in order to motivate them (e.g. – no way back), and the adoption of the euro by southern European economies.
“For southern European countries, joining the euro was – explicitly or implicitly – a way to force their citizens to accept a degree of fiscal discipline that they were incapable of adopting on their own. But was this a democratic decision, or one that an “enlightened” elite forced upon its unwitting citizens?
I fear that the latter is true – hence the growing resentment against the European Union. To add insult to injury, current European leaders do not “own” their past decisions. They do not admit that they or their predecessors are the ones who burned the ships. They blame Europe. The result is that the euro, sold as a way to integrate Europe further, is tearing it apart.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Policy wonders what has gotten in to Paul Krugman; why is he attacking the Baltic countries that have escaped the euro crisis?
At the socio-politico economic end of the spectrum, The Telegraph (UK) posits that The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished .
The Feds abroad and at home
We again call attention to Stephen Harper’s avoidance of the UN General Assembly while making himself readily available to pick up an award as 2012 World Statesman for his work as “a champion of democracy, freedom and human rights”, from an organization called the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. He is also making time in his too-busy schedule to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Then, there is the trumpeted announcement that in a cost-cutting measure, Canada will now share a number of Foreign Affairs facilities with the U.K. Although not everyone is happy, it seems that shared facilities have existed quietly for a number of years, as one of our diplomat experts says We already always have a few UK and Oz officers working at HQ and presumably there would always be a few staff from the other country – UK or Canada or Oz – in the other’s embassies. And our communications with DFAIT from abroad can be classified where our and UK (or Oz) policies are opposed (not just different.) If so, then why the formal announcement with UK Foreign Secretary and fanfare?
Meantime on the home front, the 2012 champion of democracy … is preparing to put ANOTHER Omnibus Bill in front of Parliament in a non-too-subtle attempt to make MPs pension reform into a poison pill for the Opposition.  Along with a number of editorialists and members of the opposition, Rick Mercer takes exception, throwing back Mr. Harper’s anti-Omnibus declarations of the distant past.
The U.S. campaign is more and more bizarre – at least that of the Romney team. From The Donald and Bill Kristol to the normally staunch supporters like Peggy Noonan (Romney campaign is a rolling calamity) and even more thoughtful conservative luminaries like David Brooks (“the least popular candidate in history.”) the disenchanted number of commentators is well over 47%. David Brooks has probably given the most reasonable (and charitable) explanation – “He’s a problem solver,” Brooks said. “I think he’s a non-ideological person running in an extremely ideological age, and he’s faking it.”
To end on a light note, with all our concerns about the nastiness of the ad campaigns and the overweening influence of the SuperPACs, here at last is the pinnacle of clever, informative infomercials as The West Wing Cast Reunites For Best Campaign Ad Of All Time (Thank you, Guy Stanley for brightening our week!).

One Comment on "Wednesday Night 1595"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson October 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm ·

    Re Nortel:
    Although some at Wednesday Night attributed Nortel’s demise to a too-rapid replacement of senior executives, and others to poor marketing, John Ivison’s report below regarding Huawei is a chilling reminder of other influences
    “David Skillicorn, professor at the School of Computing at Queen’s University, said the company was heavily implicated in the theft of technology from former Canadian tech darling, Nortel Networks. Reports after Nortel went bankrupt in 2009 suggested hackers had wandered unimpeded inside Nortel’s networks, including the chief executive’s terminal, for a decade.”

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