Wednesday Night #1666 with Me Bernard Amyot

Written by  //  February 5, 2014  //  Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1666 with Me Bernard Amyot

Postscript: Beryl Wajsman: Former Canadian Bar President condemns Bill 60 – Bernard Amyot calls it a “vindictive act”
(The Metropolitain) Former Canadian Bar President Bernard Amyot, a leading Montreal lawyer and frequent commentator in the written and electronic media on issues of social justice, has come out strongly against the PQ’s Bill 60. Amyot’s positions have often moved issues and he felt compelled to speak out in the midst of the National Assembly hearings on the contentious legislation.
Amyot told The Métropolitain that, “All my professional life I have made respect for the rule of law the hallmark of my public engagement. The reason is simple. Our social cohesion, and the protection of our democratic values depends strongly on the fidelity we evidence towards the rule of law and due process, which fidelity obliges elected officials to work within established parameters – within the rules of the game if you like – that protect the equity and equality of all citizens.”

With Bernard Amyot and Francine Ethier WN 1666The presence of two candidates (Bernard Amyot and Peter Schiefke) for Liberal nominations in two very different Quebec ridings (Ville-Marie and Soulanges-Vaudreuil) made for a fascinating and highly focused evening. Bernard was accompanied by his wife of 29 years (he made that point!) and two young volunteers from Brebeuf, Florence (who is president of the Liberal network) and Djavan (president of the student association).   The small, but representative, group of Wednesday Nighters peppered both with questions and suggestions. While for the moment only Mark Miller is running against Bernard (with Brigitte Legault expected to announce soon), there are eight candidates in Soulanges-Vaudreuil and apparently eleven in Pierrefonds. As Peter (ever the optimist) pointed out, there is an advantage to this situation in that the person who wins will benefit from the number of supporters signed up by the other candidates.
Before addressing the numerous political and policy questions on everyone’s mind, there was a brief discussion of the sad and sudden demise of Heenan Blaikie (Storied law firm Heenan Blaikie sunk by a shifting legal landscape) – a number of us not only know the founding partners, but remember when the firm was born. Bernard’s explanation; “it’s a trust business – our clients trust us and the partners trust one another – and as soon as there is the smallest erosion in that trust, all the pillars you thought were so strong begin to crumble” was echoed by Roy Heenan in interviews the next day [Rivalries killed Heenan Blaikie, co-founder says — ‘It’s so unnecessary. That’s what upsets me,’ Roy Heenan says in an interview].It is a tragedy, but all the clients will be looked after.
Sylvia Martin-Laforge, Executive Director of the Quebec Communities  Group Network (QCGN) , was introduced by Margaret Lefebvre, who explained that the QCGN filled a void created when Alliance Quebec disappeared, although at first it was more representative of  communities outside Montreal. With Sylvia’s arrival, the organization became firmly anchored in Montreal,although  its 40 members include a broad diversity  of interests across the province. Sylvia mentioned that she had read and been impressed by Bernard’s work on language issues. This led to a discussion of Bill 60 and the dangerous mindset of Minister Drainville, who maintains that he will amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Charters of Rights are designed to protect minorities form the tyranny of the majority and consequently should not be subject to amendment on the whim of whatever government.
It was asked whether the minister is a lawyer as he does not appear to understand the concept of the rule of law as evidenced by (among other things) his apparent disdain for the analysis of the proposed Bill by his own Human Rights Commission [Update: No, he is not. He has a Bachelor’s in political science from University of Ottawa and a Master’s in international relations from LSE.]
Bernard Amyot was generous with information about himself and his reasons for running. Many of his comments are reflected in this 2012 interview he gave to the McGill Alumni Career Services 3 Questions blog series. Peter spoke eloquently of  the other candidates  in his riding, saying that those he had met were honourable individuals, each with a unique reason for running.


While 1665 was the year in which 100,000 died in The Great Plague,  please note that #1666 was the year of the Great Fire of London  that destroyed much of the centre of London but also helped to kill off the black rats and fleas that carried the plague. As there was no outbreak of plague last Wednesday, we will limit ourselves to fiery discourse this week.
We should also point out that the 1666 census of New France, organized by Jean Talon, was the first census conducted in Canada (and indeed in North America). Was there a long form, we wonder?
Yes, the natural segue is to politics and this week’s very special guest, Me Bernard Amyot, who is running for the Liberal nomination in the new federal riding of Ville-Marie (see map)   According to a recent  Globe & Mail story, this is to be one of the hotly contested ridings;  Bernard’s impressive c.v., and well established reputation, including  involvement in his profession (former president of the CBA) and in the community (National Theatre School chair, inter alia) make him an alluring candidate. [Heenan Blaikie partners to vote on restructuring as exodus escalates]
Bernard is not a stranger to Wednesday Night. Along with Groupe des cent colleagues Bruno Roy and Robert Greenhill, he was introduced almost exactly 14 years ago (at WN #935, on 2 Feb 2000) by Peter White. The account of that evening, rendered by the late Robert Stewart is a Must Read. The hot political topics of that day were the formation of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance (remember?) and the predicted imminent demise of the Chrétien government (didn’t happen then).  M. Chrétien has, not incidentally, endorsed Bernard’s candidacy.
Wednesday Nighters will certainly have many questions for him, from how he sees the role of the MP representing the heart of Montreal, to his interpretation of what Justin Trudeau’s announcement about the Senate means on a practical basis.  And we would expect him, as a good litigation lawyer, to have many questions for us.
With the mid-winter ritual of the Super Bowl over [we are not fans, but were thrilled by Renée Fleming’s rendition of the National Anthem – could we please simply have her sing it at ALL major public occasions?], we now turn our attention to Socchi in the hope that all will go well.  It is hard to reconcile our intense dislike of the waste and corruption that has prevailed in every aspect and the mistreatment of both workers and local inhabitants with our commitment to cheering on the exceptional young athletes from every corner of the world. A special shout-out to the Jamaican bobsled team who almost didn’t make it!
One more note on sports – a topic we rarely address -; we just learned about the event called “The Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race” which was hosted this year at Western University.  We cannot help but wonder if there is a connection to the announcement last week that Bombardier in partnership with the Quebec government is investing $1B in a cement factory in the Gaspé – are we to see cement skidoos in Quebec’s future?  Our inimitable Tony Deutsch comments on the news:

This is a story with considerable pedagogic value. It tells us something about what happens when politicians are put in charge of a pool of pension money that belongs to individuals. It also raises the question that if this is such a promising project, how come the promoters cannot finance their activity on the private financial markets? And if private investors are not prepared to take the risks, why should pensioners and taxpayers?

What a contrast with the tight-fisted Harper government! The price being paid by diverse groups from scientists to veterans for the achievement of Mr. Flaherty’s balanced budget is simply too great.  And why is it so urgent to balance the budget?  Adding insult to injury, many of the cost-cutting initiatives are not only doing irreparable damage, but we are finding that there are not-so-hidden costs attached, e.g. the more than $22,000 to dispose of books and research material from Fisheries and Oceans scientific libraries.  And at the same time, CBC reports that most 140-character tweets issued by the department of Industry are planned weeks in advance; edited by dozens of public servants; reviewed and revised by the minister’s staff; and sanitized through a 12-step protocol. How much is that costing the taxpayer? We dread the next shoe(s) to drop in the February 11 Budget, so conveniently tabled as most Canadians are absorbed in the Olympic coverage.
By the way, you may have missed the fact that in last October’s speech from the throne, the government committed to releasing an updated federal science, technology and innovation strategy. Here’s the consultation document for the revised strategy. Deadline is February 7. You may want to take a look at  Evidence for Democracy which has prepared some recommendations “to help restore public-interest science and evidence-based policy development in Canada”.
The news that Keystone XL has passed another hurdle has the PM all excited – but perhaps he and Minister Oliver should read Jeffrey Frankel’s  How to Overcome the Oil Curse. Although it addresses the problems for developing economies, there is much that is applicable to Canada’s reliance on its natural resources.  We were also surprised by Justin Trudeau’s recent comments about the pipeline and wonder why he has decided to alienate numerous Canadian environmentalists and scientists.
World Economy:
Kimon Valaskakis has a timely blog posting on HuffPost Poverty Amidst Plenty: The Unnecessary Global Fracture
All or most of the proposed topics relate to Canadian issues, however, there are developments in the rest of the world that should not be overlooked:
First, Ukraine’s president called in sick without signing into law the bill repealing the harsh restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly that were enacted in January.; now ,he is back in the saddle and probably wishing he were not.
The Syria talks appear to be stalemated and the process for handing over the chemical weapons is not going well.
Israel is facing a bit of a setback as some Scandinavian and Netherlands  investors are withdrawing investments because of the settlement issue and the Finance Minister has warned that  ‘Failed Palestinian peace talks will hit every Israeli in the pocket’
Thailand’s general election has solved no problems
A couple of reminders:
Last call
February 6 and 7  The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), in partnership with the University of Alberta’s Petrocultures Research Group, is hosting Petrocultures – 2014
Oil, Energy, and Canada’s Future: the role of oil and energy in shaping social, cultural and political life in Canada at present and in the future. Co-chaired by Wednesday Nighter Désirée McGraw, the widely diverse roster of speakers will no doubt provide both interesting information and passionate pronouncements. More information and to register
Hacking Health is returning to Montreal on February 21-23 and will be held for the first time at a hospital – Ste Justine. The theme is  Improving the health of Mothers, Children,  and their clinics and hospitals.    This amazing initiative, which began as Sauvé Scholar Jeeshan Chowdhury’s Sauvé project , bring together health professionals and technologists to work together to prototype and problem-solve new ways to deliver healthcare. It is enthusiastically backed by Wednesday Nighter Luc Sirois of Nightingale. Spread the word to friends and colleagues.
Last week we mourned the passing of Pete Seeger, but he had a long and wonderful life. This week it is the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the hugely talented actor whose memorable portrayal of Truman Capote won him an Oscar. But we loved him best as the CIA rogue agent in Charlie Wilson’s War.
For those who missed it, CBC’s The Current broadcast on January 30   Will the proposed secular charter help or hurt Quebec?  is a must-listen-to
Sometimes  the  submissions to the Charter hearings  seem more suited to the Festival Juste pour rire. Case in point last week’s witness who is terrified by the prospect  of  zombies who, failing the passage of the Charter are likely to protest throughout the highways and byways of Quebec (or at least Montreal).

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