Ninety nine years to the day after the R.M.S. Titanic hit an iceberg and sank while trying to break a trans-Atlantic speed record on its way to New York, Professor Kimon Valaskakis and his New School of Athens are determined to devise the means by which the world’s assorted economies can avoid similar disasters.
“We must face the facts,” said Valaskakis. “The recent financial earthquake caused a socio-political tsunami which has spread all the way from the Persian Gulf to Madison, Wisconsin.”
During the recent high level conference held in Montreal’s signature ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) building, Valaskakis and theNSoA held the second of a series of nine separate conferences by which the school intends to define and develop working strategies for the world’s post-crisis business environment. While three of the city’s leading political figures, including two former Prime Ministers, dominated the day’s agenda, several of the city’s leading business executives could be seen among the crowds of lawyers, journalists and academics who attended the conference. Based upon its intentions to discuss the relative merits of what conference leaders described as ‘the Canadian Model’, the conference was broken up into three separate workshops where a quasi-Socratic dialogue attempted to discuss both problems and solutions as defined by Canada’s economic experience. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in fine form when he opened the conference with a typically humorous and upbeat speech in which he stressed how working governments must learn to control their expenses and pay down debt in order to survive a future catastrophe. As the former head of Québec’s Treasury Board and a former provincial finance Minister, Monique Jérôme-Forget had more than a few words to say about the Chrétien government’s decision to cut all of its budgets to the bone while down-loading program costs onto the provinces. Chrétien said he could understand her resentment but he also believes the nation could no longer deal with its crushing debt-load. As a committed advocate for free trade, Chrétien said Canada could not step back “…unless we all step back together.”
As one of the nation’s leading business figures, Thomas D’Aquino led a workshop which discussed a multitude of different opinions about the nation’s working socio-economic model. As a former Deputy Minister of Finance and the chief economist for the TD (Toronto Dominion) Bank’s financial group, Don Drummond had a lot to say about the nation’s economic policies over the past three decades. While taking a break from the hectic life of a working politicianduring a national election campaign, his colleague, former Canadian Space Agency President Marc Garneau, did not hesitate to warn his audience about the importance of Canada’s research & development facilities and infrastructure if the nation wants to maintain its place in the planet’s new globalized economy.
“We’ve had some success,” said Garneau. As a committed scientist who understands the crucial importance of new technology in a digital world, Garneau believes the government has little choice but to increase its efforts to supportcommitted entrepreneurs if they are to compete in a global economy. While he admits Canada is putting a minimal fraction (roughly 1.5%) of its national budget into the nation’s assorted Research & Development sectors, Garneau also said it’s a fraction of what smaller nations like Israel are spending to finance their schools and laboratories. As one of the country’s leading advocates for a coherent and committed research and development policy, Garneau believes the government can learn a lot from what other people around the world are doing to help their own entrepreneurs compete in a global economy.
“While we’ve had some success,” said Garneau, “…but we could be doing a lot better.”
As the chairman of the second workshop, Monique Jérôme-Forget lost no time in reminding her audience why so many civil servants used to describe her as Québec’s ‘Dame de Fer’-Québec’s own Iron Lady. Following the morning’s session where Author Marcel Boyer described Québec’s economy as a ‘work in progress, leading PQ (Parti Québecois) ideologue Jean-Francois Lisée also had a lot to say about Québec’s economic development over the past three decades. Unfortunately, very little was said about Bill 101-Québec’s 800 pound gorilla which still refuses to leave the room. Apart from being the spark behind one of the greatest, if not the greatest, demographic shifts in the nation’s history, nothing was said about Montreal’s obvious decline following the catastrophic exodus of capital and talent which quickly reduced one of the continent’s great cities into little more than a regional center within a single generation.
Apart from the usual questions raised Canada’s geo-political contributions during the post-war era, many considered former diplomat Raymond Chrétien as the perfect candidate to handle questions raised about Canada’s place in the new post-crisis world. During the third workshop’s opening statements, Chrétien had to preside over a lot of talk about Canada’s peacekeeping tradition, its new ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, ‘reasonable accommodations’ and othermulticultural issues. Based upon a time-honored Socratic tradition, Chrétien fielded a lively debate about Canada’s assorted geo-political contributions, their relevance in a post-crisis environment and what lessons could be gained by the experience. Following a quick lunch after which Senator Hugh Segal’s short speech reminded the audience about how much they miss Canada’s ‘Red Tories’, the afternoon’s sessions included new questions and further dialogue on related subjects which managed to add further depth and dimension to the ongoing dialogue.
Valaskakis was happy after the day’s events.“This is only the beginning,” he said. Apart from his intention to recreate Plato’s Academy as a web-based 21st century university with its own well-defined mission set to focus the world’s attention on global issues, he also wants the NSoA to be a combination ‘think tank’ and ‘do tank’ focused on the “analysis of global challenges and on action plans for their successful resolution.” Citing precedents such as the successful resurrection of the Olympic Games by the French Baron De Coubertin and the recent revival of the Library of Alexandria, Prof. Valaskakis hopes new century’s NSoA will complete the trilogy. “Before long, people will be using the web to carry on a Socratic dialogue which began over 2000 years ago.”
Following the Bordeaux dialogues, The Montreal dialogues were the second in a series of nine separate conferences which will be held all over the world.
“I can only hope,” said Valskakis,”…that we’re not dépasser par les évènments.”