British ‘orphan’ submarines had a litany of problems

The four British Upholder-class submarines eventually sold to Canada were known to have a litany of problems – particularly the submarine that would become known as the Chicoutimi, the Ottawa Citizen and CanWest News Service reported Oct. 8. The Upholder submarines were “orphan” ships, said Martin Shadwick, a research associate at the York Centre for International and Security Studies. The Royal Navy had originally planned to build eight to 12 of the submarines, but quit after four when Britain decided on a nuclear submarine program. Although there is some equipment that is the same as that in the nuclear submarines, some of it is different, said Shadwick. Another problem is that the buyer doesn’t get the benefit of other customers’ experience with the vessel because only four were built. But the now-stricken Chicoutimi was also “an orphan among orphans” – she was the first of a quartet of subs to be built, and she was built in a different shipyard than the other three.

There are also questions about how much care the submarines received between their decommissioning and their sale to Canada – a span of four years. “It could be that the British expected to find a customer rather quickly,” said Shadwick. “The data is spotty.” Perhaps even the British didn’t realize how long it would take to sell the submarines. “With the Royal Navy you’re dealing with a quality organization,” he said. “But the amount of work they put into them is based on how long they thought they would stay parked.”

On paper at least, the four submarines were a tempting possibility for Canada, Shadwick said. Canada even got the subs for no cash upfront in exchange for rent forgiveness to allow the British military to use training facilities in Canada. “People in the academic community knew there had been problems and it would be hard to get them out of the mothballs. I don’t think anyone understood the extent of the problems,” Shadwick said.

York and the bus lane

Media continued to follow York University’s exchanges with Toronto Transit Commission Chair Howard Moscoe over the route of a designated bus lane from Downsview subway station to the Keele campus. According to the North York Mirror Oct. 8, Moscoe wrote the University Thursday, challenging Professor Ted Spence, the University’s point-man on improving public transit, to debate him in front of an audience of York students, to “let the students decide who is working in their best interests.” Spence told the Mirror that a debate was unlikely. “At York University decisions with respect to land use are the responsibility of our Board of Governors,” he said. “It’s not something I’m in any position to debate to a conclusion. I don’t think the TTC makes decisions that way and at York we don’t make decisions that way.” The Globe and MailThe Toronto Sun and Global News also ran accounts of the exchange.

Don’t stop China’s bid to buy Noranda

In an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail Oct. 7 about the probability of China Minmetals Corp. gaining control of Noranda Inc., Isaiah Litvak, a former holder of the Pierre Lassonde Chair at York’s Schulich School of Business, wrote that China‘s phenomenal growth helps to explain its increasing appetite for raw materials. A major motivation for foreign direct investment by resource-based multinational corporations is to gain access to natural resources, frequently to feed the industries of their home market. This was certainly the case with US resource-based multinationals and their foreign direct investment in Canada. Why should China be any different?

There is an element of hypocrisy in arguing that a Minmetals takeover of Noranda should be prevented because of China’s human-rights violations. Its violations of yesteryear did not dissuade Pierre Trudeau, in 1970, from recognizing the People’s Republic of China, a policy maintained by successive prime ministers, wrote Litvak.   

How upstarts can outwit corporate giants

Everyone can name Davids who became Goliaths: Microsoft, Dell and MCI. But there’s also a special breed of small business that carves out space in concentrated sectors dominated by multinationals, reported The Globe and Mail Oct. 7. “The important strategy for these companies is to target their competitors’ weak spots,” said Larry Ginsberg, a small‑business consultant and adjunct professor of entrepreneurial studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “Don’t take them head on, or they’ll crush you.” Ginsberg’s advice for these entrepreneurs is to identify business lines the large players ignore or take for granted, and then strike: “It’s targeting where the big guys don’t perform well,” he said.

Taking a calm look at rage

Rage is not an angry film, reported CanWest News Service Oct. 7. The hour‑long news documentary examines the rising tide of anger in the workplace, on the road and in the sports arena. It buttonholes psychologists David Wiesenthal, professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, among other experts, as to the reasons why, then proposes a handful of solutions.

Protection comes at a high price

Since the bear market dawned in 2000, financial institutions have been blitzing the market with “principal protected notes” linked to mutual or hedge funds, or various baskets of securities, reported the National Post Oct. 7. Typically, these notes put 60 per cent or 70 per cent into a strip bond maturing five or seven years out, then “risk” the rest in the chosen security, sometimes with leverage. Even if the equity portion falls to zero, the risk‑free portion preserves the initial capital over the guarantee period. That seems appealing but the peace of mind the guarantee offers is an “optical illusion,” said Moshe Milevsky, a finance professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. That’s because when the notes mature, the principal you get back is in nominal pre‑inflation dollars. Its purchasing power will be 10 to 15 per cent less, and you incurred an opportunity cost by foregoing a possibly superior investment elsewhere.

On air

  • York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden applauded the Ontario government’s $300 million in research funding in news reports on CJCS-AM, Stratford, and French-language CHYK-FM, Timmins Oct. 7.
  • Political science Professor Robert Drummond, dean of York’s Faculty of Arts, talked about the pending throne speech amendment vote in Parliament on “The John Moore Show” on CFRB-AM, Toronto Oct. 7.
  • Michael Mandel, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, appeared on Italian-language “Studio Aperto” on CFMT-TV, Toronto Oct. 7.
  • York University student Brandon Pardy commented on whether the speech from the throne would appease the average taxpayer, in a CBC Radio item aired on “West Coast Morning” in Corner Brook, Newfoundland Oct. 6.
  • York University researcher Andrew Monk discussed the results of a new study that says people find cellphone use in public so irritating because humans are inclined to want to know both sides of a conversation, on CBC Radio’s “As it Happens” Oct. 6.