OPENING NOTES

A BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER. WHY?

JOE CHIDLEY September 5 1994
OPENING NOTES

A BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER. WHY?

JOE CHIDLEY September 5 1994

A BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER. WHY?

OPENING NOTES

Promises to pave roads and build bridges have long been a part of Canadian election campaigns. But a bridge straight through one of Quebec’s most famous beauty spots? GabrielYvan Gagnon, the Parti Québécois candidate in the riding of Saguenay, has promised that a PQ government would look into the feasibility of a $700-million span across the Saguenay River just above where it spills into the St. Lawrence—and would expect the federal government to pick up most of the cost. The purpose of the bridge, he adds, would be to improve the depressed economy of Quebec’s North Shore region by eliminating a traffic bottleneck caused by the existing ferry service. Many area people have ridiculed the proposal, saying that Gagnon is ignoring the thousands of tourists who visit the region every year to admire the unspoiled scenery, often by ferry. Still, Gagnon notes that Ottawa is spending almost $2 billion to link the 130,000 Prince Edward Islanders to New Brunswick, and “Prince Edward Island has roughly the same population as we have [on the North Shore].” Perhaps, but for Ottawa, the Saguenay could prove to be a bridge too far.

MR. LANDSLIDE

It is a long way from the flat prairie of Alberta to the precipitous slopes of Hong Kong. But a University of Alberta engineering professor’s unrivalled understanding of hillside dynamics has made his services essential when tragedy strikes in the island colony. In Hong Kong, Norbert Morgenstern, 58, of Edmonton, is known as “Mr. Landslide.” The government there promptly called on him to investigate after a slide on July 23 destroyed a residential area on one of the steep hills overlooking the city, killing three people. “Mr. Landslide is the world’s leading expert

on these things,” said Philip Chen, a spokesman for the government’s geotechnical engineering office. “We had to bring him in.” Morgenstern has investigated numerous cases around the world, including previous fatal slides in Hong Kong. He told reporters there last week that, with many parts of the city built on precipitous inclines, it can expect more fatal landslides. “Because of the density of population and the high price of real estate,” he said, there is pressure to build even in risky areas. And that may keep Mr. Landslide returning to Hong Kong.

TALKING BACK

Veteran CBC journalist Knowlton Nash says he is worried that people might start reading his new book at the end instead of at the beginning. The last four chapters of The Microphone Wars: A History of Triumph and Betrayal at the CBC, to be published in October, document the recent upheavals at the public broadcaster, with enough behind-thescenes material to satisfy any media junkie. Among the tidbits, first published by a Toronto newspaper last week, is his description of the 1989-1993 tenure of president Gérard Veilleux, a former civil servant whom Nash depicts as a brilliant man temperamentally unsuited to the job. Nash says that Veilleux once told another

senior newsman: “I’d like to kick your f-g

balls!” (He later apologized.) The book also documents the former Tory government’s efforts to control the corporation, but Nash told Maclean’s that government interference “ain’t nothin’ new” to the CBC. “Front-page controversy has always surrounded the CBC,” he said, recalling how radio programs raised the ire of governments as far back as the 1930s. That part is in the earlier chapters.

CHECKERSTECH

In one corner, Marion Tinsley, the master emeritus of the game. Opposing him, Chinook, a program developed by computer scientists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The stakes: checkers supremacy. The two had met before, in 1990, 1991 and 1992, but Tinsley, a Pennsylvanian, won all three times. This year, however, Chinook’s processing capability was 10 times faster than in 1992, allowing it to analyze 12 million checkers moves every minute. In the first week of play at the Comput3 er Museum in Boston, man and machine 6 played six games to a draw. But then the huJ man element determined checkers history. On g Aug. 19, Tinsley, 67, became ill and withdrew from the tournament—making a computer program the world man-versus-machine checkers champion by default. Last week, Chinook successfully defended its title against Tinsley’s replacement and the world’s No. 2, Don Lafferty of Kentucky. But as chief program developer Jonathan Schaeffer remarked, the withdrawal of Tinsley—Chinook’s real target—soured the victory. “Nobody’s happy here,” he said. Maybe, but did anyone check with Chinook?

BULLETIN: A CRIME DECLINE

Violent crime is a staple of the tabloid press and TV newscasts. Shocked Canadians respond by demanding tougher laws. But is the country caught in a crime wave? Apparently not, if a report from Statistics Canada last week is the final word. It found that the national crime rate dropped by five per cent in 1993, the largest decrease since Ottawa began collecting crime statistics in 1962. According to the report, the number of homicides last year dropped almost 15 per cent to 630 killings from 732, while the rate of all violent crime fell by one per cent. In Toronto, the murder rate alone plummeted by 20 per cent. “Reality is a different story,” insisted Toronto Chief William McCormack, who said that his force’s statistics show violent crime is on the increase. But other experts sided with StatsCan. ‘We’re simply not in the midst of a major crime wave,” said Neil Boyd, director of the school of criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. But he added that public perception is unlikely to change: the more people see sensationalized crime stories, the more they will believe evil is everywhere. Even if the crime rate is dropping.

JOE CHIDLEY