Marijuana increases brain cells .. which is what you need for politics (and business) these days

Oct 19th, 2005 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

A University of Saskatchewan research team, led by associate professor Xia Zhang, has now raised the prospect that “marijuana stimulates cell growth in regions of the brain associated with anxiety and depression, pointing the way for new treatments for these diseases.” This can only be good news for anyone struggling to make sense of contemporary politics (and business) – in Canada as well as the United States.

To start with, there is Bloc Quebecois house leader Michel Gauthier’s proposal that Quebec take over the St. Lawrence Seaway. Then federal NDP leader Jack Layton has apparently been reading Preston Manning’s latest book on thinking big. And then you have the (technically?) illegal teachers’ strike in British California, nicely foreshadowed by the resignation of a finance minister subject to criminal investigation in Canada’s most populous province. Meanwhile there are almost certainly false rumours in Toronto bars that at least one of the Trailer Park Boys will be replacing Dr. Hamm as Conservative leader in Nova Scotia. And Nortel Networks of Brampton, Ontario has just acquired another new CEO (this time from Motorola in the US).

Marijuana increases brain cells … well, maybe ..

You can get the technical lowdown on the new marijuana research conducted by Xia Zhang and his University of Saskatchewan team in the October 16 edition of Science Daily. At least two caveats seem in order.

First “Zhang cautions” that the “cannabinoid” used in his team’s work (HU-210) “is only one of many … His previous work with marijuana shows that while the plant may contain medicinal compounds, they come in the same package as those that cause symptoms such as acute memory impairment, addiction, and withdrawal.” Second, as often seems to be the case in such matters, the research is based on the experience of laboratory rats. And you always do wonder a bit about whether humans finally are all that much like rats?

Should Quebec take over the St. Lawrence Seaway?

No doubt support in Quebec for the sovereigntist ideal (whatever that may mean exactly) is still strong, even with the lovely Michaelle Jean installed at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. And the rest of Canada should, as usual, bear that in mind. But BQ house leader Michel Gauthier’s October 15 declaration that “It’s time for Quebecers to take control of the St. Lawrence Seaway” – at a weekend workshop attended by “several dozen sovereignists” – is the kind of thing that does make you wonder about just what is going on in Quebec politics nowadays.

For one thing, part of the St. Lawrence River itself runs through Ontario and New York State – to say nothing of the Canada-US Great Lakes, which also form a part of the modern Seaway system. It could be that the Seaway needs some shot in the arm – especially in the wake of recent damage at the Port of New Orleans. And calling for fresh inter-governmental leadership on the issue might be a useful contribution to current northern North American debate. But, however well disposed towards the BQ you may want to feel, suggesting that “Quebec could take control of the seaway by separating from Canada” just sounds whacky – the sort of thing only someone or something that actually has reached some beginning of an end could say.

Now, at the bottom of the TV screen, on the evening of Tuesday, October 18, comes a further and apparently related report. According to BQ leader Gilles Duceppe, the kind of independent Quebec his party still wants will have its own “military forces and spy service.”

For a time it appeared to at least some outside Quebec that M. Duceppe was something of a forward-looking person, who had grown beyond 19th century infantile nationalism, of almost all varieties. But apparently not. And, whatever the real future of Quebec and Canada may prove to be, it alas seems increasingly hard to see how the current Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa can have much of real interest to say about the very challenging new global village of the 21st century. (Which also seems a great shame, however you look at it. More to come later, no doubt.)

Canadian New Democrats start thinking big … has Jack Layton been reading Preston Manning’s book?

Western Canadian conservative guru Preston Manning‘s latest book urges all Canadians to Think Big. And, even beyond the walls of the new Manning Centre for Building Democracy, he apparently now has an unlikely convert in federal New Democrat leader Jack Layton.

For openers there is Mr. Layton’s current insistence that unless Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government does something about five key issues it could just face a Christmas 2005 election. (The issues are: demonstrate support for public health care; take action on climate change; get the US to address the softwood lumber issue; protect workers’ pensions; and address key ethical questions, from the sponsorship scandal to David Dingwall’s expense accounts.)

The “left-leaning” Mr. Layton has also just “landed a Bay Street economist to help craft the party’s policy platform and run for the New Democratic Party in the coming federal election … Paul Summerville, who has worked in Toronto as chief economist for RBC Dominion and spent more than a dozen years as an investment analyst in Japan, says only the NDP realizes strong cities, health care and education are the keys to attracting economic growth.”

As it happens, the federal Liberals are already stressing that Mr. Layton has their ear on public health care. And no less an authority than former US president Bill Clinton, in a London, Ontario speech, has suggested that Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin is already moving shrewdly enough on softwood lumber. If he were Paul Martin, Mr. Clinton has said, “I’d be very firm in public [just as Mr. Martin is doing] and try to work on it behind closed doors.”

Troubled regional Liberals on the left coast?

As further evidence that no old-time religion ever quite dies, check out the World Socialist Web Site on how “British Columbia teachers strike poses need for a working-class political offensive.” Meanwhile other sources report that BC teachers still have the support of a somewhat better than bare majority of the province’s wider public – but not, it would seem, if their technically illegal strike goes on too much longer.

For the moment, as of Tuesday, October 18: “More labour protests and walkouts to pressure the provincial Liberal government to make a deal with 38,000 striking teachers will hit northern B.C. today and escalate elsewhere in the province after that, union leaders said Monday … The warnings came after 12,000 teachers and their supporters descended on the BC legislature lawn Monday to demand that Premier Gordon Campbell begin negotiating an end to an illegal strike that hit schools on Oct. 7, keeping more than 600,000 students out of classrooms.” (And you can hear the laments of the BC students all the way to Halifax.)

OCTOBER 22 UPDATE: It is now being reported that mediator Vince Ready’s proposed solution to the BC teachers strike has been provisionally accepted by both the BC government and teachers union officials. Assuming the teachers themselves are ready to ratify such a deal (which is not entirely clear according to a CBC TV news report last night) the end may now be in sight.

Troubled regional Liberals in the Great Lakes?

Smug political observers in Ontario might think they have already survived the kind of class war with school teachers that Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government now has on its hands in BC – under the abandoned Conservative “Common Sense Revolution” of Mike Harris. But now the presumed Ontario solution to all such things, in Dalton McGuinty’s current Liberal government, has its own problems. They turn around the resignation of finance minister Greg Sorbara, “after he was named in an RCMP search warrant as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into Royal Group Technologies, a company where Sorbara was previously a director.”

Intriguingly enough, just seven days before Mr. Sorbara’s resignation, the “principal wordsmith” of the indispensable Ontario political newsletter, Inside Queen’s Park, had remarked at a Toronto public policy forum on “the McGuinty government’s extraordinary wealth of political good luck.” And the always interesting IQP wordsmith ended his talk with: “But always remember: you don’t make your own luck … a lengthy run of the good kind is surely going to be followed by a dollop or three of the bad variety. Brace for it, Premier.”

Whether Premier McGunity is sufficiently well braced and just how bad the bad luck involved in Mr. Sorbara’s resignation will prove to be remain to be seen. In any case Ontario has already followed BC’s lead in trying to adapt what some would see as the Americanizing reform of fixed election dates to British parliamentary (or “Westminster”) democracy. And – barring some very bad luck indeed – we already know when the next Ontario election is going to be.

Conservatives in Nova Scotia … Will the Trailer Park Boys replace John Hamm?

We now know that handsome federal Conservative MP (and Belinda Stronach ex) Peter MacKay is not going to replace retiring Nova Scotia Conservative leader (and provincial premier) John Hamm. And no matter what you hear when you are out drinking, neither are at least one of the Trailer Park Boys on Canadian TV. (Bubbles has apparently been the most popular prospect in most bars in inner-city Toronto at least, followed by Julian. Ricky would clearly not do, despite his recent upgraded educational qualifications.)

Whoever does finally replace him, Dr. Hamm almost certainly deserves some kind of high political eulogy. While trying to remain constructively open to the few more actually sensible of the latest currents in right-wing thought, John Hamm has also continued to stand up for the kind of forward-looking Progressive Conservative principles of the much respected one-time federal Conservative leader Robert Stanfield. Nova Scotia will be carrying on with its current streak of good luck if Dr. Hamm’s successor carries on with something more or less like his kind of regional conservative tradition.

New directions in North America at Nortel?

The few remaining apostles of 19th century infantile economic nationalism in English-speaking Canada long ago gave up on telecommunications manufacturer Nortel Networks as any real and uniquely Canadian corporate champion. But this still surviving if somewhat beleaguered northern North American multinational corporation does remain headquartered in Brampton, Ontario. And a great many Canadian investors, big and small, continue to carry it in their portfolios.

Now Nortel has “named Motorola Inc. executive Mike Zafirovski … as president and chief executive starting Nov. 15, replacing Bill Owens … 65 and an admiral in the US Navy … Mr. Zafirovski, 51, has 30 years of experience at General Electric Co. and Motorola Inc., most recently as president and chief operating officer of Motorola from 2002 to 2005 … Mr. Zafirovski, a native of Macedonia, emigrated to the US in 1969.”

The new Nortel CEO has vowed that big and forward-looking changes are in the works. And, as Toronto Globe and Mail writer Derek DeCloet has explained: “Mike Zafirovski hasn’t yet unpacked the photos of his kids, and already the guy is succeeding where others failed at Nortel Networks. News that someone, anyone, with telecom experience will subject himself to the dreariness of Brampton, Ont., was enough to add $900-million to the company’s market value.”

(There is as yet no indication that Mr. Zafirovski will also be encouraging Nortel employees to increase their brain cells by smoking pot. And moving ahead with former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien’s plans to decriminalize marijuana in all of Canada, on the model of several US state governments, is apparently not on Jack Layton’s new economic development agenda for Paul Martin’s current Liberal minority government either.)

OCTOBER 20 UPDATE: The plot at Nortel has now thickened in ways that nicely fit the general theme of this report at large. As explained in yesterday’s Globe and Mail: “Nortel Network Corp.’s succession plans ran into a possible hitch yesterday when the communications equipment maker said its freshly appointed chief executive officer, Mike Zafirovski, is being sued by his former employer.”

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