The Mail

The Mail

August 10 1998
The Mail

The Mail

August 10 1998

The Mail

Down the road

These people buying gas-guzzling behemoths that spew ever more pollutants— don’t they care about their children’s and grandchildren’s future? (“Big wheels,” Cover, July 20). Are their egos so pathetic that they need these things to prove that they are something special? What about the danger they pose to regular cars? It is hard to decide if I feel more anger or pity for them.

Winifred Tuori, Lindsay, Ont.

A very efficient and environmentally friendly vehicle already exists, which you can buy for less than !/30th the cost of the Toyota Prius mentioned in your article, “Green machines.” It’s called a bicycle. While bicycles are used for almost everything motor vehicles are used for, their utility is unsurpassed. Bicycles, ridden according to the rules that apply to all vehicles, provide the safest, most efficient way to commute.

Wade Eide, Montreal

Currency correction

The “40-per-cent exchange rate” reportedly being offered in American dollars by tourist shops is not “an even greater discount” when our dollar is worth 67 American cents (“Down on the dollar,” World, July 27). When one Canadian dollar equals

67 cents (U.S.), one American dollar equals $1.4925 (Cdn.). Tom d’Aquino of the Business Council on National Issues was quoted as saying that the latest episode of dollar weakness is worse than in the mid-1980s when “the dollar hit 76 cents American.” In fact, our dollar fell below 70 American cents in 1986 before recovering.

Adil Sayeed, Kingston, Ont.

Heart of the matter

Since January, no business issue has generated as much impassioned debate as the merger proposal between Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada (“Better banks, not bigger banks,” The Road Ahead, July 27). That is as it should be. Given the

economic importance and historical prominence of banks in Canadian society, any changes must be thoroughly examined. At the heart of the matter is whether Canada should stay in the financial services industry as a producer or an importer. Our merger, if allowed, will help ensure a viable Canadian industry, run by Canadians for Canadians—with a head office in Canada. That is our goal; by no means an easy task. Change is unsettling. So, from Day 1, we made some guarantees. Among them:

• No rural Canadian community will lose branch service as a result of the merger. In communities where either bank is the only bank, we will keep our branches open. Where Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank are the only banks, we may consolidate the real estate, but no employees will be laid off.

• To increase our current total of 2,500

Historic partnership

According to Barbara Amiel’s column of May 25 (“Saying sorry is fine, but only to a point”), Jan. 7, 1998, was a landmark day for Canada. On that date, this country entered an entirely ahistorical era—an era that would see the federal government begin a process of apology and compensation for every perceived historical slight or injury. Of course, Jan. 7 was the day Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart offered the government’s Statement of Reconciliation to aboriginal peoples in Canada for both the ineffective past relationship and the wounds caused by implementation of the residential school system. In that statement, Stewart expressed the government’s profound regret and deep sorrow, adding that the residential school experience should not have happened. The statement was accompanied by a $350-million healing fund to aid communities, nations and individuals who suffered at the hands of the system. For aboriginal people across Canada, it was indeed a landmark day.

However, for Amiel and others of her mind, it was a day in which rubber-kneed government doled out heaps of taxpayers’ dollars in exchange for extended political longevity. For a government to take responsibility for the misguided choices and errors of the past was tantamount to allowing anyone with a gripe to demand and be awarded both an apology and a reward for their pain. The integrity of the government’s action was missed entirely. In the aboriginal way of seeing, an apol-

ogy is a healing action. It is a spiritually driven human dynamic that allows the giver and the receiver equality. It is both an admission of wrong and an acceptance of necessary change to strengthen and heal a relationship. An apology needed to reflect the giver’s investigation of the moral reasons behind the harmful act and his readiness to employ different means in future dealings between the parties.

Once such an apology is tendered, the two sides become equally responsible to effect change. The giver is responsible for implementing change in behavior. Conversely, the receiver becomes responsible for changing the manner in which the apologizer is viewed and treated.

When the government offered its Statement of Reconciliation, it was saying to the aboriginal people—and to Canadians in general—that it had examined the thinking that led to the ineffectiveness of the past relationship and the implementation of the residential school system. The accompanying healing fund was the first tangible evidence of that desire. Ms. Amiel chose to view it as compensation. It was not.

No amount of money can compensate a people for the loss of self-esteem, identity, language, cultural pride, spirituality or history. Dollars can never replace the souls lost to suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, violence or assimilation. This is not a process of compensation—it is a process of empowerment.

Phil Fontaine, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, Ottawa

bank branches in Canada to 3,000.

• To spend $1.4 billion a year on research and development, an investment that will not only provide better service for our customers, but contracts for our suppliers.

• To invest $750 million in training over the next five years to help our employees acquire skills needed for long and rewarding careers with the new bank. After all, we proposed this merger because we intend to grow faster, not to shrink.

Still, for many Canadians, this is not enough; the credibility issue is paramount. That is why I have stated publicly that if the Canadian government wants to set up some sort of third party to set clear, objective criteria for all financial services providers that will also measure their performance, Bank of Montreal would have no objection.

Matthew W. Barrett, Chairman and CEO, Bank of Montreal, Toronto

Real men

In “The end of feminism is not at hand— alas” Quly 27), feminists seem to be Barbara Amiel’s target, yet she offends almost every human alive. She judges men on their attire and whether they can lift heavy things (in particular, women). I judge a man on his character and values; if strong and true, we have a real man. The world is full of real men, but I doubt most own $2,000 suits.

Jennifer Pakulak, Barrie, Ont.

Be a real man, wear a black suit, grope a few women. What a message. Mrs. Conrad Black, you have totally missed the point of men in dresses and women in pants. The role of men and women is evolving. Not every woman supports the actions of Anita Hill or Paula Jones, but surely you must support their need to be treated as people, not as objects.

Murray H. Brooker, St. John’s, Nfld.

The Road Ahead

Billionaires to the rescue

Let's compare Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires, updated last month, with the United Nations estimate of the cost of eradicating extreme poverty in the world. The United Nations calculates that for $40 billion (U.S.) per year, the following could be provided to all the poorest people on the planet: primary schooling ($6 billion), basic health care and nutrition ($13 billion), reproductive health and family planning ($12 billion), and low-cost clean water and sanitation ($9 billion). The beneficiaries of this spending would be the poorest people on earth, the 1.3 billion souls who currently earn $1 (U.S.) per day or less.

On the other side of the equation, the world’s growing roster of billionaires now numbers well over 400. Forbes limited its July, 1998, tally to about 200 of those fortunate people, whose total wealth tops $1.3 trillion (U.S.)—more than the combined income of the poorest 50 per cent of humanity. In other words, the world’s billionaires could eradicate the global scourge of absolute poverty—a historic achievement—with an allocation of about three per cent of their assets, which in almost every case are growing by far more than that each year anyway. In fact, the wealth of the world’s top 200 billionaires rose by more than 30 per cent on average in the last year. If the donor pool were broadened to include the 200-plus billionaires not on the Forbes list, the amount required would fall to under two per cent of billionaire assets.

Governments at all levels are chronically strapped for cash, yet wealth continues to pile up at the very top of the heap. What

Blaise Salmon,

Victoria

would be so wrong about asking the world’s richest to donate a small fraction of their increased wealth? As an investment professional, I understand that for many people, the very idea of funding the end of absolute poverty with billionaire donations is unrealistic, perhaps even wrongheaded, and maybe a dangerous threat to the soul of capitalism. But what if billionaires could “invest” instead of “donate"? What if they were planning to make a profit out of the end of poverty? Then everybody could relax. That would be good, sound business thinking, with that fashionable “global” feel to it. Building markets, building customers for our exports, customers with purchasing power. It’s not about helping poor people, for goodness sake. It’s about the biggest untapped pool of purchasers in history. People who with a minimum amount of basic health care and education could well become consumers.

Didn’t the Asian tiger economies find that investing in health and education returned about 64 per cent, while investing in buildings and infrastructure yielded only 16 per cent, according to a UN study? And the World Bank recently found that investing in basic nutrition programs yielded a 15-fold return in GNP growth. Investing in development is a high-return proposition.

If we want to get a serious job done—and what could be more serious than ending absolute poverty?—-we need serious money. If we want serious money, let’s talk serious investing, billionaire investing, and let’s get on with the job. The profits could be revolutionary. But remember, it’s not about helping poor people.

The Road Ahead invites readers to advance specific solutions to Canada's political, social and economic problems. Unpublished submissions may run condensed as regular letters or appear on an electronic bulletin board.