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On June 11, the Global Elite Gather in Montreal: Will the Maple Spring Say Hello?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
From June 11-14, Montreal will be hosting the International Economic Forum of the Americas at the 2012 Conference of Montreal, which will bring roughly 150 speakers from the global elite to speak to an audience of other elites and sympathetic media spokespersons. This year’s conference will include as the keynote speaker, Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve System (the U.S. central bank), who was once considered for nearly 20 years to be “the most powerful banker in the world,” and as such, was largely responsible for causing the global financial crisis, along with the heads of the central banks of Portugal, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico and Canada. There will be delegates from 24 countries around the world gathering at the Hilton Bonaventure Montreal Hotel to discuss the theme of “A Global Economy in Transition: New Strategies, New Partnerships” in front of roughly 3,000 participants. Along with formal discussions, “the Conference of Montreal will also enable the world’s various economic and political players present on this occasion to strengthen their relationships and develop new business opportunities.”
Here is the website in English: The Conference of Montreal
Here is the website in French: Conférence de Montréal
Here is a Facebook Event for a protest/manifestation at the Forum.
This conference will include key policy-makers and power-holders in Canada, North America, and around the world. It provides a forum through which the global elite may meet, talk, debate, shape consensus, and discuss policy-objectives of their respective nations and institutions. The ideology of those present is relentlessly pro-globalization, pro-Capitalist, and pro-power. The speakers are often advocates of neoliberalism, globalization, fiscal austerity, privatization, corporatization, imperialism and social control. This conference takes place in the midst of Quebec students standing up against educational austerity and protesting against policies which benefit the rich at the expense of the many. Will the ‘Maple Spring’ say hello to the global elite as they gather in Montréal?
The event, which is hosted by Power Corporation, owned by the billionaire Desmarais family, and a host of other corporate sponsors, receives 25% of its funding from public sources, including the Government of Canada and the Province of Québec, which alone contributes nearly $200,000 to a Conference hosted by billionaires. But remember, while public subsidies are available for billionaires to discuss how to make billions more, there is no money for education, social services, health care, or your future.
What is the Conference of Montreal / International Economic Forum of the Americas?
The stated “Mission” of the IEFA/Conference de Montréal is “to heighten knowledge and awareness of the major issues concerning economic globalization, with a particular emphasis on the relations between the Americas and other continents.” The Conference “strives to foster exchanges of information, to promote free discussion on major current economic issues and facilitate meetings between world leaders to encourage international discourse by bringing together Heads of State, the private sector, international organizations and civil society.” Among the stated “Objectives” are:
* To give its participants access to privileged information while fostering free and extensive discussions on various aspects of economy, with contributors and experts from among the best qualified;
* To promote relations between governments, international organizations, business people, members of the civil society, workers associations and universities;
* To allow its participants from various areas in the world to have business meetings during which they can develop their company or organization internationally
The International Economic Forum of the Americas/Conference of Montreal began in 1994 “at a time when the globalization of the economies was beginning to emerge at an increased rate” with the founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the end of the Cold War, development of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements, and thus, there was “the idea that Montreal could be the host city for an international yearly economic conference concerned with this phenomenon of the globalization of economies.” The first Conference took place in 1995.
The 18th annual conference of the International Economic Forum of the Americas will include “some of the most important international decision makers have already confirmed their attendance.” The focus of this year’s Forum will include: “the financial crisis and its impact on the world economy”; “International trade, and in particular the new Americas-European Union economic space, including the Canada-European Union trade agreement: this important trade agreement, which should be finalized in 2012” and will include “a number of executives from Canadian and European companies [who] will take the opportunity to meet at the 2012 Conference of Montreal to form new business ties for this new and important economic space”; and of course, “developing and extracting natural resources.” The full program can be reviewed here: Program 2012.
This year’s speakers list includes representatives and leaders from: the C.D. Howe Institute, the World Economic Forum, Bombardier Inc., Citibank, the European Commission, McKinsey & Company, Rio Tinto Alcan, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Rector of the University of Montreal, the President of the Canadian Bankers Association, the Governor of the Bank of Canada (a former Goldman Sachs executive), J.P. Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas, Governor of the Bank of Portugal, former Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, Power Corporation of Canada, Canadian Ambassador to the United States, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Conference Board of Canada, the World Bank, Scotiabank, PepsiCo, McGill University, Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Deutsche Bank, the Chairman of the Bank for International Settlements (the central bank to the world’s central banks and the most powerful financial institution in the world), the Brookings Institution, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the World Policy Institute and the World Bank, among many others.
At the 2007 Conference of Montreal, Premier Jean Charest stated that, “Quebec is deeply committed to the process of globalization,” and that, “Quebec has built an economy open to the world which has allowed us to reach a very high standard of living because globalization has worked for us.” By “us” he means his friends and informal advisers at Power Corporation and the Forum. In his speech to the Conference, Charest stated that, “We believe very much in equality of opportunity.” Apparently, this is not the case for students.
The Founding Chairman of the International Economic Forum of the Americas is Gil Rémillard, Counsel for the law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, and between 1985 and 1994 he held several different positions in the Quebec government, including Minister of International Relations, Minister of Public Security, Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Forum is Paul Desmarais Jr., Co-CEO of Power Corporation of Canada alongside his brother André Desmarais, both sons of one of Canada’s richest billionaires, Paul Desmarais Sr, collectively making up Canada’s most powerful family. Paul Desmarais Jr. sits on a number of corporate boards, including: Power Corporation of Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Investors Group Inc., The Great-West Life Assurance Company, Great-West Lifeco Inc., London Insurance Group Inc. and London Life Insurance Company; in the United States: Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company; in Europe: Pargesa Holding S.A. (Switzerland) and Groupe Bruxelles Lambert S.A. (Belgium). He is a member of the Board of Directors of Gesca Ltd, Les Journaux Trans-Canada Inc. and La Presse Ltd in Canada; Suez and TotalFinaElf in France, among others.
Another member of the Board of Governors of the Forum is the wife of Paul Desmarais Jr., Hélène Desmarais, Chair of the Board of Directors of HEC Montréal (Canada’s leading business school), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Montreal Enterprises and Innovation Centre (CEIM), Vice-President of the Board of Directors and member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal (which praised the passing of Bill 78), and is a member of the Board of directors of The Montreal Economic Institute, a right-wing think tank which has been promoting more neoliberalism in Québec and blaming the student strike for the “financial cost” it has made to Québec; and she is a board member of the C.D. Howe Institute, one of Canada’s most influential think tanks.
Another member of the board of governors of the Forum is Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University, who is also a member of the Trilateral Commission and is on the board of directors of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Other members include the presidents of the Chamber of Commerce of Canada and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan, a major mining company; the CEO of GDF Suez, a French electricity and gas company; the CEO of Hydro-Quebec; and the executives of the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, UNESCO, the OECD, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Energy Agency (IEA), as well as Louis Lévesque, Canada’s Deputy Minister of International Trade.
The Forum’s official ‘Partners’ include first and foremost, the Desmarais-owned Power Corporation of Canada, followed by the Royal Bank of Canada, Rio Tinto Alcan, Cisco, Total, GDF Suez, McKinsey & Company, SNC Lavalin, Hydro-Quebec, BNP Paribas, Bell, Citibank, Desjardins Group, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, with media partners including the Financial Post and La Presse (owned by the Desmarais family).
The ‘Power’ Behind the Conference of Montreal
The Desmarais family is unquestionably Canada’s most powerful family. The Desmarais family, wrote Christa d’Souza for the London Telegraph, are “Canada’s equivalent of the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts.” Founded in 1925, Power Corporation of Canada is an investment company involved in communications, business, and especially finance. In the 1960s, the company began to invest in energy, finance, industry, and real estate. In 1968, financier Paul Desmarais took over the leadership of Power Corporation, and rapidly expanded the assets held by the company, including by the 1970s: Canada Steamship Lines (transportation); Consolidated Bathurst (pulp and paper); Investors Group, Great-West Life, Montreal Trust (financial services); and Gesca (communications). Power Corporation expanded across Canada, Europe, and into China. Paul Desmarais stepped aside as Chairman and CEO in 1996, though remaining as the controlling shareholder, and had his two sons, Paul Jr. and André, become Chairman and President and Co-CEOs. Power Corporation owns Gesca, a communications company which in turn owns La Presse as well as six other daily newspapers in Quebec.
Paul Desmarais Sr. is one of Canada’s richest individuals, which is, of course, no surprise, and as Konrad Yakabuski wrote for the Globe and Mail, “Desmarais has been personally consulted by prime ministers on every major federal economic and constitutional initiative since the 1970s. Most of the time, they’ve taken his advice.” Power Corporation has taken large stakes in major European companies such as Bertelsmann, Total and Suez. In the mid-1960s, a protégé of Desmarais was a young Montreal lawyer named Brian Mulroney, who would later become Canada’s Prime Minister. Paul Sr. groomed his sons, and especially André, who is now perhaps the most well-known Canadian businessman in China. André also married the daughter of another Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien. Desmarais Sr. also got involved in French banking through Paribas, and later, Pargesa, which handled investments in a wide range of European corporations, and shot Desmarais into the accepted ranks of French nobility and the old-monied European elite. Paul Desmarais Jr. is close friends with the recent French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and socializes with Spanish royalty, the Rothschilds, and other European oligarchs. The Desmarais family have strong connections to Canada’s four major political parties: the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and the NDP. This has included close ties to Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the Parti Québecois and Premier of Quebec; Jean Chrétien, former Canadian Prime Minister; Brian Mulroney, former Canadian Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation; Bob Rae, an NDP leader; and Paul Martin, another Liberal Prime Minister who worked for Power Corporation. In the 1990s, the international advisory board of Power Corporation included former Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau. Brian Mulroney was sure to create friendly ties between the Desmarais family and soon-to-be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who put two Desmarais-connected politicians in his cabinet, Peter Mackay and Maxime Bernier.
Quebec author Robin Philpot wrote a scathing critique of the power of the Desmarais family several years ago, suggesting that, “Over the last several years, [Paul Desmarais Sr.] has spun his web to such an extent that it now enables him to call the shots,” especially in promoting his right-wing economic vision, with “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada.” Of course, it’s not only Canadian politicians with whom Desmarais is close, but French and American politicians as well, including Sarkozy, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Desmarais owns seven of the ten French-language newspapers in Quebec, and has been close to nearly every Quebec premier, apart from Parti Québécois leaders Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry. Philpot alleged that Desmarais “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest,” who is the current premier imposing tuition increases. When Desmarais received the French Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour) from Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean Charest was in attendance, of which Philpot stated, “He took him along like a poodle.” Philpot added, “It’s a very unhealthy situation for a government to be indebted to a businessman that has his own interest at heart. They get their hands tied.”
In rural Quebec, the Desmarais family has an estate the size of Manhattan, with a private golf course and pheasant shooting range, as well as a music pavilion where opera is performed. This is the home of Paul Desmarais Sr. Guests, such as former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, come play golf on this vast estate, and are flown in on helicopters belonging either to Power Corporation or Desmarais personally. The Desmarais family has even had the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil perform on their massive 15,000-acre estate. King Juan Carlos of Spain has even been a guest from time to time. André Desmarais is himself a member of the Trilateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller, and is also on the International Advisory Board of David Rockefeller’s former bank, JP Morgan Chase, alongside other notables such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both brothers have regularly attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group, of which David Rockefeller is a top official (founded in 1954 as an elite think tank linking Western Europe and North America). A son of Paul Desmarais Jr., Paul Desmarais III, is a banker with Goldman Sachs. At times, the influence of the family is shyly acknowledged. As French President Sarkozy stated upon awarding Paul Desmarais Sr. with the French Legion of Honour, “If I am the president of France today, it is thanks in part to the advice, the friendship and the loyalty of Paul Desmarais.”
Here is a video documenting a party thrown for the wife of Paul Desmarais, Sr., including notable guests Quebec Premier Jean Charest and former U.S. President George H.W. Bush
Protesting Power: Students Protest Outside Shareholder Meeting of Power Corporation
On May 15, 2012, as Power Corporation (with total revenue of $7.2 billion) held its shareholder meeting announcing its first quarter earnings of $264 million, and its main subsidiary company, Power Financial, announced quarterly profits of $455 million, demonstrators met outside to ensure that Power was met with protest. The National Post reported that, “one of Canada’s wealthiest and most politically connected families has come under attack as the force and rhetoric of Quebec’s student protests move from the streets into corporate shareholder meetings.”
Riot police guarded the hotel’s main entrance as protesters chanted (in French): “We must fight the thieves in ties,” and “Your wealth is our poverty.” A student group had called for the demonstration, but Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand commented, “There are radical groups that systematically want to destabilize the Montreal economy… They are anti-capitalists, Marxists.” As Paul Desmarais Jr. was announcing the company’s profits and stating, “we have a solid risk management strategy,” police on horseback outside were pushing the protestors back: “risk management.” A reporter asked Desmarais about “the protests that have shaken Quebec’s political class and caused millions worth of dollars in lost productivity,” to which he replied, “How could you not be concerned right now in terms of what’s going on?” He added:
Like all citizens, we are concerned. But we want this issue to be resolved hopefully in a respectful fashion. Let’s start with respect. With a democratic way. Within the rule of law. And that we come to an agreement that makes sense and where everybody invests in the future of our students. But everybody’s got to participate in that.
The two brothers, Paul Jr. and André, told reporters that, “they were being unfairly criticized as the company’s annual meeting became the latest target in the ongoing protests in Quebec.” Paul commented: “We’re a very caring company and I think a very caring family and we care about the society around us and we’ve always demonstrated that.” Police outside used pepper spray on protesters, one of whom commented, “I think Power Corp. is a very good example of the one per cent and it shows how private companies can be more powerful than some countries.” Desmarais would not directly answer when questioned about whether or not he supported Charest’s tuition hike, instead saying, “Frankly I’m not elected. Why should I meddle in things of people who are elected to resolve these problems. Our job is to manage our company.” The two brothers explained that, “they were reluctant to publicly comment on public issues except when they’re asked to by governments on financial issues.” That is to say, they will not publicly comment on the private advice they give to our politicians.
So the name is Power, and it fits. The Desmarais family spend their leisure time with King Juan Carlos of Spain (who recently had to apologize for going on an elephant hunting trip in Africa while 50% of youth in Spain are unemployed), they have had Cirque du Soleil perform on their family estate (larger than the island of Manhattan) with guests that include presidents and prime ministers, and have close business and even family ties to every Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau, and almost every Quebec premier, especially the current “poodle” Jean Charest. They are billionaires who sit on the boards of the major Canadian and international think tanks which set policy for our nations. The International Economic Forum of the Americas / Conference of Montreal is simply another venue through which elites gather to form consensus and debate, discuss, and promote policies which benefit the few at the expense of the many. Their rhetoric is replete with talk of “democracy” and “fairness,” but their actions speak louder than their words, their bank accounts weigh more heavily than their hearts, and their ideas more easily become policy. The elite do not go and protest in the streets, demanding justice and equality, because they call up their friends, our politicians, who they have cocktails with in social gatherings, play golf with, travel with, intermarry with, and who grant their favoured politicians financially bountiful positions on corporate boards when they leave political life. They do not have to agitate in the streets to have their voices heard because they are the patrons of our politicians and policy-makers, they are the real constituents of our constitutional “democracies,” they are the captains of corporations, barons of business, and Kings of Capital.
So this year, let the real masters of our political, economic, and social world hear the voices of the real people. Let students and others peacefully assemble and protest outside the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel from June 11-14, and have the elites inside hear the people say that we know who they are, those who rule our nations and undermine our democratic ideals.
They are the bankers and corporate executives, the heads of our universities and owners of our media, our politicians and their advisers, the patrons and “intellectuals” of the think tanks that lobby governments and set policies, the heads of foundations and civil society monopolists. Most especially it is the bankers who sit atop a vast network of social, political, and economic institutions. The bankers are the modern monarchs of our globalized state-Capitalist society. In Canada, our country is dominated by the ‘big five’ banks: Royal Bank of Canada (RBC Group), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD), the Bank of Montreal (BMO), and the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank).
Peter Kruyt is Chairman of the Board of Governors of Concordia University in Montreal, and is also Vice-President of Power Corporation. The Chancellor of Concordia University is L. Jacques Ménard, the President of BMO Financial Group, as well as being on the boards of a number of other corporations and schools. The rest of the board of governors of Concordia is dominated by bankers and business executives. The Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University is Heather Munroe-Blum, who sits on the board of directors of the Royal Bank of Canada as well as the board of governors of the International Economic Forum of the Americas, as well as sitting on a number of other boards. The Chairman of McGill University is Stuart Cobbett, who also sits on the board of Citibank Canada. Another member of the board of governors of McGill University is Kathy Fazel, who is also an executive with the Royal Bank of Canada. Another member of McGill’s board is Daniel Gagnier, former Chief of Staff to Quebec Premier Jean Charest. Another board member is Samuel Minzberg, who sits on the board of HSBC Bank Canada. Clearly, bankers and business executives run our schools.
In 2008 and 2009, Canada’s banks received a “secret bailout” from the Bank of Canada (run by a former executive at Goldman Sachs) and the Federal Reserve of the United States (owned by JP Morgan Chase and all the other big U.S. banks). Canada’s banks are always said to be the “best in the world,” and a model to follow, since they magically weathered the financial crisis untouched. As it turns out, that was BS. Canada’s banks were bailed out to the tune of $114 BILLION. That amounts to $3,400 for every single Canadian man, woman, and child, or 7% of Canada’s 2009 GDP. So Quebec students want to maintain tuition costs at less than $2,500, and we are called “entitled brats.” But Canada’s big banks, which are making record-high profits, and getting record-low tax cuts, sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash reserves, while their increased profits come from the increased debt of the Canadian population, and yet, they get the equivalent of $3,400 from each and every Canadian, which we then have to pay for through increased taxes and increased costs (such as tuition). But it’s the students who are “entitled.”
TD Bank told the Government of Quebec in 2007 to increase university tuition. In 2008, TD Bank got $26 billion in support from the Bank of Canada (meaning Canadians citizens have to pay for that through taxes… just to pay the interest on that debt!), and $8 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve (which U.S. taxpayers have to pay for). In March of 2012, TD Bank and Royal Bank (Canada’s two biggest banks) announced record profits. That same month, it was announced that the average Canadian household debt was $103,000, making income security for Canadians an “elusive dream.” More than half of the jobs created since 2008 have gone to people aged 55 and over. Increases in hourly wages did not keep pace with inflation last year, and thus, income inequality is growing. Nearly two million Canadians have student loans totaling $20 billion, with the average student debt in Canada at $27,000 upon graduation. We are told that 70% of new jobs will require a university education. A four-year degree for a student in Canada costs an average of $55,000, expected to rise to $102,000 by 2030. This was reported by TD Bank, which then stated, “we argue that students have to recognize an investment in higher education is really a long-term one.” Things are much harder for students and youth today than for previous generations. Increasing tuition in Quebec could inflate an already over-inflated student debt bubble which could do for youth what the mortgage crisis did for housing, and would end of costing the government more in the end; thus, “there is no need for additional funding for Quebec universities.” Meanwhile, all the banks have inflated a massive housing bubble in Canada which itself could pop in the near-term future, recreating here what took place in the US in 2008.
So, who is really “entitled” here? Is it the students and youth, who are simply demanding a chance to have a future, to not be disciplined and chained down with debt before we even leave our home, get a degree, or have our first job? Or is it the banks, that control the economy, inflate bubbles that create crises, get bailed out by our governments (which we have to pay for), that tell our governments to increase tuition, that get tax cuts from our governments and sit on hundreds of billions of dollars in cash reserves, and who make record profits? These banks support and sponsor the International Economic Forum of the Americas, as does the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada. So our governments have money to support a conference held by billionaires, bankers, and financiers… so that they can all get together once a year and talk about how “ineffectual” government support is, so that they can praise the “free market” while their “invisible hand” reaches into our pockets, as our politicians sit comfortably in theirs. They spew and steam about “handouts” to poor people, and then take $114 billion from the Canadian people, who are already deep in debt. These reverse-Robin Hoods take money from the poor and give it to themselves… and then charge us interest.
This system is simply too insane to consent to. Canada’s elites, like most elites, represent a class of parasites, living off and at the expense of the people, while their local and global connections to and profits from organized crime enshrine them as a type of ‘Mafiocracy’ ruling class.
Perhaps the Maficocracy should hear the voices of the Maple Spring.
From June 11-14, 2012, the International Economic Forum of the Americas gathers in Montreal, Quebec.
Let your voice be heard peacefully:
Hilton Bonaventure Hotel
900, de la Gauchetière W.
Peace and Solidarity!
For more information on the ‘Maple Spring’, see:
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.