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Corn-based ethanol: The negatives outweigh the positives JEFFREY SIMPSON From Wednesday's Globe and Mail July 30, 2008 at 7:58 AM EDT Canada's governments have done something really stupid in subsidizing corn-based ethanol, and requiring its increased use, but apparently cannot correct their mistake. As a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, corn-based ethanol is a poor option; as a farm subsidy program, it's also a poor bet. Making matters worse, corn-based ethanol takes corn-for-food out of production, and moves land from other kinds of production into corn, thereby adding to what are already rising food prices. Governments, here and in the U.S., thought they were doing great things for the environment and helping farmers, too. Ethanol policy was, to quote the Harper government, a "win-win." Actually, it was a lose-lose policy for all but corn producers, who, naturally enough, have rallied furiously to protect their good fortune. Many researchers have exposed the follies of subsidizing corn-based ethanol production, the latest being Douglas Auld, in an extremely well-documented paper for the C.D. Howe Institute. Mr. Auld has surveyed the research literature about the putatively beneficial effects of corn-based ethanol on replacing gasoline. The theory is that such ethanol produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline from a vehicle engine. Indeed, it does, but that simple statement ignores what energy is required to produce a litre of ethanol. When the so-called "lifecycle" of ethanol production is counted, Mr. Auld concludes (as have many others) that ethanol doesn't lower GHG outputs. Remember, too, that ethanol delivers less energy per litre than gasoline, so more litres of production are required to move a vehicle a certain distance. Mr. Auld, therefore, correctly concludes, "It is clear from the evidence to date that there is no consensus regarding the efficacy of corn-based ethanol either to reduce GHGs or reduce overall energy demands." But we aren't dealing with "evidence," rather with political optics from governments wanting to look "green" and from a desire to help farmers. And so, the Harper government replaced the previous special tax exemption for ethanol to a producer credit that will cost the country about $1.5-billion. To this sum were added loans, biofuel research grants plus mandatory ethanol content requirements. In other words, the government pushed up the supply of corn-based ethanol through subsidies, then pushed up the demand through regulation. Provinces got in on the act, offering producer credits and mandatory ethanol content requirements. Putting the provincial and federal policies together produced whopping advantages for ethanol of about $400-million a year. For such money, Canadians might expect at least some decline in greenhouse gas emissions. They will be disappointed. There will be few reductions, and Mr. Auld estimates that these might cost $368 a tonne - way, way higher than other per-tonne costs for eliminating carbon dioxide, the main climate-warming gas. By contrast, one part of the Harper government's proposed climate-change policy would see big companies that do not meet their intensity-based reduction targets paying $15 a tonne into a technology fund. World prices for carbon offsetting these days are about $30 a tonne. However, even if this form of ethanol is a climate-change bust, at least it's great for farmers. Not so fast. It's a boon to the corn producers, but to supply all the additional demand for ethanol, up to half the current farmland for corn will be used. As more land is diverted to corn for ethanol, there will be less corn for human and animal consumption. So whereas corn producers will gain, livestock producers will suffer. As their costs rise, so will the price of their products to consumers. It's wrong to blame the rush to ethanol for rising food prices here and abroad. Let's just say the rush contributes to the problem. Mr. Auld estimates that if you take the direct subsidies for ethanol production of $400-million a year, and add the costs of higher food to consumers, the wealth transfer to corn-based farmers could soon be about $800-million. It's the classic case of subsidies distorting markets: One group gains and mobilizes all of its resources to protect its gains, insisting these gains reflect the public good; whereas in reality almost everyone else loses but doesn't complain. So we have a silly policy with hundreds of millions of dollars going down the policy drain, achieving none of the objectives the politicians claimed.
High tech US firms outsource to Montreal Tue, 2008-11-11 06:03. David Cohen An IT recruitment agency in Montreal says there has been a spike in the number of American companies crossing the border into Canada -- especially Montreal -- to do their software development and to save money. Kovasys Technology cites the unstable economy in the US, and massive layoffs. It says more and more companies are deciding to save money and move their IT operations to a cheaper but not out of the way location, and for many, that means Montreal. Quebec introduced subsidies for high tech companies less than a year ago.
Cuban art makes a grand showing in Montreal By Diane E. Foulds, Globe Correspondent | February 3, 2008 MONTREAL - Canada is a great enabler. For years it has served as a virtual way station for travelers, allowing them passage to Havana without running afoul of US travel restrictions. Now it is making possible a journey through Cuban art. The prestigious Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is hosting the most comprehensive retrospective of Cuban art ever held outside Cuba's borders. More than three years in the making, the show surveys some 400 works by more than 100 Cuban artists. More than half of the works were brought from Cuba; the rest are on loan, largely from private collections in New York and Miami and museums, particularly Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art and the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, whose holdings of Cuban art are the world's largest outside Cuba. Paintings and photography dominate, but sculpture, poster art, music, video, magazine covers, installations, films, even cigar wrappers make an appearance, all with the objective of capturing Cuba's elusive national identity, or "cubanida." It is an ambitious task. For historical perspective, the museum has subdivided the show into five categories: colonial art of the 19th century, interwar avant garde, the post-World War II renaissance, revolutionary art after Fidel Castro's rise in 1959, and the caustic conceptualist art that has emerged since 1980. Each section begins with photographic close-ups of the people, conditions, and mood of the era, which is an education in itself. Murder victims slumped on the street, an unsmiling Ernest Hemingway in a bar, prostitutes waiting for customers. Girded with these impressions, you then see the period through an artistic lens. There are dark-haired beauties and strong colors, which you would expect in Caribbean art. Less predictable is the originality of the work, the result, in part, of the island's geographic isolation. The big surprise is how good it is. For Nathalie Bondil, director of the Montreal museum, it was a revelation. Having accepted an invitation to visit Havana's newly renovated Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the French-born art historian was astounded "by the scale and quality of the art," she said. On a whim, she proposed an exhibit. In the three years that followed, Bondil traveled to Havana eight times. Bureaucracy was minimal, she said, as unlike the United States, Canada enjoys good relations with Cuba. But the magnitude of the undertaking raises questions. Why, with Castro ailing, would Cuba roll out such a candid look at domestic achievements, hopes, and disappointments? Could the regime be loosening its grip? The timing was "nothing political," Bondil said. She acknowledged Cuba's current drive to spur tourism, saying more Canadians visit its ocean-swept beaches than any other nationality. Bondil's motive was simple: to take the lid off Cuban culture. To make it happen, Montreal has picked up the tab. The museum has added several pieces to its collection and is keeping the door open for future collaboration. Meanwhile, it is turning the show into a veritable Cuban celebration. Ongoing events include lectures, tours, and a Cuban film festival, including "Strawberry and Chocolate," an Academy-Award-nominated 1995 comedy about homosexuality. A 424-page catalog is being published in English, French, and Spanish. In its five chapters, some artists are given long-deserved recognition, like Marcelo Pogolotti, who produced hauntingly colorful avant-garde work in the interwar years. Authored largely by Cuban scholars, the essays don't mince words. Discussing a contemporary artist's habit of ridiculing political propaganda, for example, Panama-based art critic Gerardo Mosquera laments that political slogans "have reached heights of absurdity comparable to North Korean standards." The subtext is hard to miss. One is the message that there's a lot more to Cuban culture than crumbling facades and 1950s-era American cars. The fact that Canada is hosting the exhibit and not the United States, even though US institutions have larger collections of Cuban art, is a subtle reminder of the price the US public is paying for the embargo. Havana boasts a world-class art academy, an esteemed photography school, and an impressive, if little known, art scene. Little known, that is, except for Wifredo Lam (1902-82), who ranks among the 20th century's leading painters. A whole gallery of the show is dedicated to Lam, a surrealist and Picasso protégé who died in Paris and whose paintings are stylistic hybrids reminiscent of Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, and Wassily Kandinsky. Born to a Chinese father and an African-Cuban mother, Lam spent most of his life deconstructing the Afro-Cuban aesthetic. He lived many years in Europe, but returned to Havana in the 1960s. In 1967 he orchestrated one of Cuba's greatest artistic moments, the collective painting of a massive pro-revolutionary mural. The canvas, a patchwork of images radiating outward in a great spiral, was the handiwork of some 100 Cuban and foreign writers, painters, and intellectuals. Each was assigned a square; number 26 was reserved for Castro, but he never showed up, so the square was left blank. This is the mural's first appearance outside Cuba. One of the show's biggest revelations is how tolerant Castro has been of provocative art. Though dependent on Soviet subsidies, the Cuban leader eschewed Socialist Realism. And though artists were censored and even jailed in the 1980s and beyond, their defiance was not quelled. "Castro was always open to abstract and Pop Art," Bondil said. "It was completely different from the situation in Russia." When the Soviet subsidies vanished, living standards dropped, and works of art became even more politically abrasive, taking aim not only at Castro, but at the United States, too. A display called "Cuba, Island of Fiesta and Siesta," parodies the Cuban stereotypes pervasive in US society. But with Florida only 90 miles away, the US presence remains a constant in Cuban thought. All the more reason to hope that a similar show opens in the States. "I must say that the lenders have been especially touched and happy to collaborate with us on this show," said Bondil in an interview published in the January issue of the museum's magazine. "The passion for Cuban art transcends all borders." Diane E. Foulds, a freelance writer in Burlington, Vt., can be reached at [email protected] http://www.boston.com/travel/getaways/canada/articles/2008/02/03/cuban_art_makes_a_grand_showing_in_montreal?mode=PF