THE NATION'S BUSINESS

If Canada is a zoo, it’s a jungle out there

‘People are taxed to the limit and if levies are raised again, those with the best brains and marketable skills will leave the country’

Peter C. Newman January 16 1995
THE NATION'S BUSINESS

If Canada is a zoo, it’s a jungle out there

‘People are taxed to the limit and if levies are raised again, those with the best brains and marketable skills will leave the country’

Peter C. Newman January 16 1995

If Canada is a zoo, it’s a jungle out there

‘People are taxed to the limit and if levies are raised again, those with the best brains and marketable skills will leave the country’

PETER C. NEWMAN

THE NATION'S BUSINESS

Only four months ago, when the last Russian troops left Berlin, abandoning their final European bastion, the farewell ceremonies were marked by speeches from Boris Yeltsin and Helmut Kohl. When the Russian president made the point that 320,000 Red Army soldiers who helped defeat Hitler lay buried in German soil, the German chancellor shot back that “the Wall and its barbed wire were a heavy and enduring burden on our relationship.” Later the same day, speaking in what was formerly East Germany, Yeltsin called for an end to Cold War rhetoric. ‘Today,” he proclaimed, “is the last day of the past.”

Maybe. But it was also the first day of the future, and what’s happening in the world today doesn’t quite add up to the peaceful climate promised when the superpowers stopped trading threats.

The UN Development Program reports that 17 nations—including Egypt, Burma and Zaïre—are in immediate danger of social disintegration, due to regional disparities in wealth and income, food scarcities, ethnic conflicts and rights abuses. John le Carré, the British novelist who maintains solid connections with Western intelligence sources, recently estimated that at least 100 wars are currently being fought around the globe, each claiming its dead and wounded. During the past decade or so, a dozen heads of government were either assassinated or deposed and executed. That grisly tally included among its victims the politicians who once ruled Liberia, Nicaragua, Egypt, Bangladesh, Iran, Lebanon, Grenada, India, Sweden, Pakistan and Romania. Eighteen countries at present suffer the indignity of having parts of their geography occupied or threatened by local terrorist groups. The downtown cores of European cities are being harassed by roving gangs—fuelled by 18 million unemployed—of increasingly desperate unemployed men and women. And there could be a few more Bosnias on the horizon. Now, for the really scary stuff. According to Glenn E.Schweitzer, the former director of the International Science and Technology Center in Moscow—funded by Western nations to help retrain and re-employ former Soviet nuclear scientists—at least 60,000 of the 100,000 or more top scientists and engineers who developed the Soviet Union’s remarkable nuclear, biological and chemical weapons systems during the Cold War, are now underor unemployed. “Of great concern,” Schweitzer reports, “are the travelling squads of Russian scientists and engineers in search of commercial business in China, India, Syria, Iran and other countries. Russia is also heavily populated with foreign organizations engaged in activities behind closed doors that open only for chosen customers. And of course in the electronic age, transferring information abroad for a price is not difficult.” Boris Yeltsin’s misadventures in trying to quell the revolt in Chechnya could so fatally undermine his authority that another coup d’état attempt may succeed. While Yeltsin feels that he cannot peacefully negotiate the dismantlement of the Russian Federation, at least half of its constituent republics are threatening to secede, and its economy appears just months away from collapse.

In the Middle East, quite apart from the continuing Israeli-PLO troubles, the area is successfully perpetuating its reputation as the world’s most lethal potential powder keg. The chief threat is Iran, dedicated to destabilizing its neighboring states of Turkey and Azerbaijan. Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani is attempting to organize a bloc of aggressive rogue states, including Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba and Iraq, to combat American “imperialism” around the world. Iraq itself hasn’t given up the struggle for control of the Kuwaiti oilfields, the theory being that if Saddam Hussein can inflict enough damage on Iraq’s competitors, the embargo will have to be lifted on his oilfields. The Saudis are having their own troubles combating domestic Islamic radicals and trying to deal with an economic downturn that is adding to the existing burden of the country’s $140-billion external debt, mainly to the United States.

Africa languishes in its usual turmoil, with revolution looming in Swaziland and intermittent civil wars being fought in Rwanda and Algeria, with bloodshed expected in Nigeria, where there is mounting opposition to the repressive military government. On the Asian side of the globe, the Japanese economy, once the epitome of cool efficiency, continues to be in such a state of despair that most money men spend more time praying at Shinto temples than trading in their offices. As the mid1997 deadline for Hong Kong’s return to China approaches, mild panic is setting in, with the local stock market in the toilet and many of the colony’s most prestigious investment houses getting ready to fly the coop. In China, everything awaits the imminent death of Deng Xiaoping, and the leadership transition promises to be troublesome. A cooling of SinoAmerican relations is likely and there are fears among the Taiwanese of a mainland Chinese invasion. China’s main internal problem is that its coastal communities, which are attracting most of the foreign capital, are a world apart from the poorer hinterland provinces.

Back in the Southern Hemisphere, there is mounting trouble in Uruguay, and Mexico is in the most perilous position among Latin American countries. Quite apart from its economic crisis, new populist rebellions are springing up in at least three states (Campeche, Oaxaca and Tabasco), while the resurgent Zapatista rebels in Chiapas are now being armed from Nicaragua.

Back home, the situation is less bloody but hardly more hopeful. “My feeling,” says Andy Sarlos, the Bay Street deity who watches trends from a worldwide perspective, “is that if the Canadian government is not able to cope with the deficit on one hand and resolve the unity problem on the other, the outflow of Canadian capital will be devastating. Investment money will disappear from Canada as fast as it’s now leaving Mexico. People feel they’re already being taxed to the absolute limit now and if levies are raised again, those with the best brains and most marketable entrepreneurial skills will leave the country.”