Issues

January–February 2007

Re: “A Fascinating Snapshot,” by Conrad Black

Re: “A Fascinating Snapshot,” by Conrad Black

On rereading my review of Margaret MacMillan’s book on President Nixon’s visit to China in your last issue, I find that although I expressed my liking and admiration for the author and for this book, the tenor of part of my review was one of inadvertent condescension. That is entirely inappropriate and was unintentional, but I apologize to Margaret MacMillan for the slightly patronizing tone of several sentences in my review. Of course, I have no standing to take any such stance with her, and it is an unbecoming attitude at any time. If I had reread sooner and more carefully what I had written, I would have altered the tone to indicate more clearly the very high opinion I had of the book, despite certain minor concerns. I emphasize that it is an excellent and interesting book, as this author always produces. I have apologized to Margaret MacMillan in person, but wished to do so before all your readers as well.

Conrad Black
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Canada’s Kyoto Delusion,” by Mark Jaccard

Re: “Canada’s Kyoto Delusion” by Mark Jaccard

Although Mark Jaccard attempts to present a picture of sober and hard-nosed assessment, his reasonable tone does not obscure the fact that he has missed the boat entirely with his claims about Canada having done nothing about its Kyoto targets and our climate change challenge in general. From start to finish, he tempers what otherwise would sound like reasonable advice.

Having served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, been an advisor to the Chinese government and even been consulted by our very own Cross-Country Checkup, he is clearly an acknowledged expert on climate change. However, he discusses “our country’s policy catastrophe” but ignores the real catastrophe, which is that he, along with those whom it benefits in the short term, does not entirely buy into the real threat of climate change. I quote: “Canadians should be demanding of their politicians if they wish to see their country make a contribution to the global effort to address this potentially grave threat to the planet” [my italics]. “Potentially” means he hasn’t accepted this threat completely.

He speaks of how the United States and Australia, as examples of countries in situations similar to Canada, have “aggressively and successfully negotiated less ambitious targets” [my italics]. Successfully? Mr. Jaccard does not get it. Laughably, he applauds the federal Conservatives and Alberta’s enthusiasm to “move beyond the tight Kyoto timeframe to discuss policies that will cause significant reductions in greenhouse gases over a period of several decades” [my italics].

We don’t have decades to build policies and take action. This is like listening to one of Sir Humphrey Appleby’s speeches in a Yes, Minister episode: We take this very seriously and will devote our full attention to it (which means: if we wait long enough, the problem will go away or the government will change). So why does Mr. Jaccard take this position?

Mr. Jaccard never bought in; what a waste of paper. None of this changes the real need for countries like Canada to face these challenges squarely instead of practising and perpetuating stalling tactics. I pose a simple question to everyone who still sits on the fence or buries his head in the sand: If the greens have it wrong, what are the consequences? We shift our economy from oil (oil companies could even take the lead?) and potentially gain the competitive advantage over those that haven’t done so yet. We have a cleaner planet. We survive.

If, on the other hand, those like Mr. Jaccard get it wrong, what are the consequences? He will survive; I will survive; but what of our children? (I cannot begin to imagine what our grandchildren will inherit.) It is irresponsible of Mr. Jaccard to talk about policy while not being completely forthright about his real opinion of the threat from climate change and the challenges facing all of us. He cannot afford to be wrong about this.

Lawrence Wardroper
Ottawa, Ontario

A response from Mark Jaccard

I found it both amusing and irritating to read Lawrence Wardroper telling your readers what I really think after he read my article on climate change (“Canada’s Kyoto Delusion,” January/ February 2007). He has to work hard to make unfounded assumptions, twist my words and ignore other things I say in order to make his case that I do not believe climate change is a serious risk that calls for immediate policy action. People who know me and have followed my research, writing and policy advice these past 20 years know he is completely wrong.

According to Wardroper, because I refer to climate change as a “potentially grave threat to the planet,” I have not accepted this threat completely. But scientist colleagues (such as those on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have taught me to use qualified language when talking about a risk that has great uncertainty— especially in terms of what changes to the climate might actually occur. To do otherwise reflects arrogance or the bluster of the insecure. The scientists tell us there is a very serious risk and that is enough for me to champion the need for immediate strong policies, as I have been doing relentlessly.

I say this several times in the article, and have been writing it in public documents for almost two decades. But Wardroper knows what I really think. He knows this because at one point in the article I note that significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will occur only over several decades. Wardroper then explains that “we don’t have decades to build policies.” These are his words, not mine. I am referring to actions, not policies; the latter must be immediate, the former take decades as we renew our infrastructure, buildings and equipment. As someone who models the energy-economy system, I recognize that it takes decades of concerted action to turn the ship around, and these only start to happen if we immediately implement strong policies, as I keep arguing in the article. We cannot just bulldoze Wardroper’s house or apartment tomorrow in order to make it a zero-emission dwelling, much as I might wish to.

It is interesting that those of us who try to find honest language that increases the chances of getting immediate policy action—by not denying people the right to feel the science is still uncertain, by not seeking to kill people’s livelihood if that is really not necessary to achieve our climate objective—should be critiqued for not using the language of religious zealots in having absolute certainty and in wanting the sinners in Alberta and elsewhere to pay huge albeit unnecessary costs. I wonder whose approach has a better chance of saving the planet.

Mark Jaccard
Vancouver, British Columbia


Re: “Our Poorest Neighbour,” by Barbara McDougall

Re: “Our Poorest Neighbour,” by Barbara MacDougall

Barbara MacDougall’s review of Haiti: Hope for a Fragile State displayed a giant lacuna on the role of the United States in Haiti.

Let’s begin with her commentary on the presidency of the former leader of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, by the people of Haiti, on two occasions.

Before he had finished his first term of office he was ousted by the first George Bush, which resulted in sufficient anarchy and chaos in Haiti that refugees began making it to the shores of the United States. This prompted Bill Clinton to facilitate the return of Aristide to Haiti.

After Aristide was elected a second time, the second George Bush, like his father, arranged a coup to remove him from office. You will recall the sorry pictures in the media of Colin Powell attending at the airport in Haiti to oversee Aristide’s removal to Africa. What is most embarrassing for Canada is that under the Paul Martin government we participated in that coup. Our motives were to mend fences with a U.S. still angry over our non-participation in Iraq and it represents the first time in our history that we have engaged in colonialism.

MacDougall characterizes it this way: Aristide was a strong-man who was “finally ousted in 2004 after two kicks at the presidential can.” She displays in this comment a sad mixture of paternalism and contempt for the democratic process.

MacDougall also fails to mention that the U.S. under Woodrow Wilson occupied Haiti in 1915 and ruled by military government until 1934. The Americans took complete control of the economy and drafted a constitution allowing foreign landownership. They made sure Haiti met its foreign debt payments—mainly to U.S. banks. When the U.S. left, the only cohesive institution in Haiti was the military—with predictable results.

Toward the end of her commentary, MacDougall asserts that U.S. friendship is essential in Haiti’s future. There was a time when Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production, its staple food. Now all of its rice comes from the United States. This is no accident. Using politics and military might to steal markets is not friendship.

The newly elected president of Haiti is René Préval. Préval was a staunch and loyal supporter of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He won the election even though the small wealthy elite in Haiti supported by the U.S. did everything it could to prevent Préval supporters from getting to the ballot boxes on election day. The U.S., for now, has acquiesced in the result, preoccupied as it is with affairs in Iraq.

Many years ago James Laxer said that the U.S. has a history of treating Central and South America as its own private preserve. Little has changed, except that some countries are managing to struggle onto their own feet while America’s attention is diverted elsewhere. If the U.S. stays diverted and leaves these countries on their own, then perhaps there will be reason to hope for a better future even for Haiti.

Robert A. Konduros
Cambridge, Ontario


Re: “The Entrepreneur from Central Casting,” by Fred Langan

Re: “The Entrepreneur from Central Casting,” by Fred Langan

Fred Langan’s review of Wayne Lilley’s biography of Frank Stronach is almost as misleading in the discussion of multiple voting shares as the book itself. While the author and reviewer make it clear that dual voting shares are legal, the entire tone of the discussion is that there is something unsavoury about them—that while they are not illegal, they are certainly immoral, primarily because they allow the owners of the multiple shares to control companies with ownership of a very small proportion of the equity. They don’t seem to know that the concept dates back to the happy days when policy makers in Canada were concerned with keeping control of Canadian firms in the hands of Canadians. Dual shares were introduced so that Canadian entrepreneurs could raise capital without selling control of their companies to foreign investors. The staff of the Royal Commission on Corporate Concentration, 1976–1978, reviewed the concept in detail and its value to Canada as a part of Canadian public policy was reaffirmed at that time. The reason that they are not common in other western industrialized societies is that no other major developed country has such a high degree of foreign control of its economy—a proportion that would undoubtedly be even higher in Canada if there were no shares with multiple voting rights.

As to the specious comment that those who bought Magna A shares that have only one vote were suckers—all one can say is “some suckers.” At the end of 2005, as an easy check of the record shows, Magna had a total three-year Class A shareholder return of 16 percent and a five-year return of 17 percent. Magna’s 15-year return for shareholders is over 20 percent. And, of course, to imply because they were suckers that those who bought the shares—pension funds and so on—did not know that Stronach controlled Magna through multiple vote shares is ludicrous. They were not “suckers”—they were very smart investors.

While the Stronach system may be far from perfect, do Lilley and Langan really believe that executive compensation in companies where the shares are widely held leads to more equitable compensation? Are they unaware of the compensation of John Roth, CEO of Nortel the year before the company’s value collapsed? Do they really believe that the shareholders in companies where there are no multiple voting shares have anything to say about levels of compensation? Do they really believe that the vast majority of owners of shares in public companies are anything other than investors?

The bottom line is that they (the author and the reviewer) don’t like Stronach. Rather than admiring him they mock him for having the courage and the commitment to run for public office to fight for what he believes. How many other chief executive officers of Canadian firms can they name who have been willing to do the same? They report he is difficult to work with. How many other senior owner-executives did they compare him with? Rather than characterize Stronach’s rise from an almost destitute immigrant to pre-eminence in one of the major industries in Canada as a great Canadian business success story, they explain it as almost a fluke based on a flaw in the Canadian financial system.

There are some who believe that Frank Stronach, with all his idiosyncrasies, is an engineering and business genius. How unfortunate that the writer and reviewer of this unauthorized biography are so warped by their prejudices and their distaste for the characteristics and success of the person they are writing about that they cannot recognize his brilliant achievements.

James Gillies
Toronto, Ontario


The LRC welcomes letters. We reserve the right to publish such letters and edit them for length, clarity and accuracy. E-mail editor@lrcreview.com.