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Letter to the Editor

The Globe and Mail

444 Front Street West,
Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2S9



            Los Angeles, January 2, 2004


Copy:   Mr. Paul Martin, Prime Minister

            The Members of the Canadian Parliament

            The Nobel Committees

            The US press and media

The world’s press and media.


Object:  Your article ‘Martin opposes mandatory retirement’ in the Internet edition dated December 20, 2003.


Dear Sir or Madam:


            I take the liberty of writing you to comment the article of Mr. Steven Chase dated December 20 2003, ‘Martin opposes mandatory retirement’.


            I would like to say, first, that I am pleased to see that you addressed this important issue, the 65-age limit for country leader, in the main article of your electronic edition.  But I must also say that I am very disappointed (to say the very least) that this issue was not discussed publicly several months ago or more when I contacted some of your US colleagues (NY Times, LA Times, CNN, Foxnews,) at a time where it could have prevented the war with Iraq (Mr. Saddam Hussein was 65 early this year).  I will come back on this point toward the end of my letter, if you allow me.


Two different issues and a ‘voluntary confusion’.


            It seems that Mr. Martin (and indirectly the ‘article’) makes a confusion between two different issues: mandatory retirement (at 65 for ‘everyone’) and establishment of a 65 age limit for country leaders (prime minister for Canada), who have responsibilities incompatible with an older than 65 age.  The first issue is very complex because it concerns a lot of people at the same time, and very controversial because, as you mention it, different groups of people have different views on how to use the ‘retirement years’.  The second issue is much more ‘simple’, because it concerns 20 people at most, the possible candidates for the Prime Minister job, and would not be controversial at all, if the many benefits of this 65 age limit for Leaders were clearly presented to the people.


Mr. Martin (65), who is without any doubt a very bright man, makes this confusion voluntarily, I believe, to associate his ‘fate’ (staying prime minister after 65) to the very complex issue of mandatory retirement (at 65 for ‘everyone’).  This confusion also allows him to use to his ‘advantage’ arguments that do not apply to his personal case and to avoid addressing the most important of these two issues, the establishment of a 65 age limit for country leaders (and I.O. Chiefs).  This is ‘unfortunate’, because the 65-age limit for Leaders is critical not only at the national level, but also at the international level, in our effort to maintain peace and to defeat poverty.

He says, for example ‘Forced retirement does not make sense given the skills shortage that Canada is facing in numerous sectors’, or  Why would we turn our backs on people who’ve got skills (and) who want to work?  Even if this is true, this argument does not apply to Mr. Martin, because Canada could easily use his experience and talent as advisor, professor, …  He also says ‘I think people should be allowed to work as long as they want to work and as long as they can make a contribution’.  Again this argument does not apply to him, one does not have to be Prime Minister to make a ‘contribution’, so Mr. Martin could continue to make a ‘contribution’ without being Prime Minister, if he really wanted.   


He also says:  ‘I think an awful lot of these distinctions just don’t make any sense in today’s world’.   I do not agree at all with this remark, I think that in today’s world, a world that has become more complex and more precise (a surgeon who makes a cut 1 cm higher than where he should on certain operation may kill his patient,), a world where technologies are changing constantly and in which the volume of new knowledge is increasing very rapidly, and a world where ‘ordinary’ people are becoming more responsible in front of the justice for their actions (dangerous driving, medical malpractice, etc.), these ‘distinctions, as Mr. Martin called them, make a lot of sense.       


If Mr. Martin’s only child (if he had or has one) had to undergo a very long (10 hours or more) and very difficult surgery, I am sure that he would rather have (to operate on his child) a 40 years old surgeon who is well informed of the new knowledge and well trained with new technologies available to perform the surgery than have a 75 years old surgeon whose hands will start shacking after 1 hour of surgery.  A 70 or 75 years old surgeon whose hands shake after half an hour of surgery should not be able to perform surgery at all, even if he wants to, because it is not fair to risk the life of his patients, just because he wants to continue working as a surgeon!


This summer I was about 800 meters from the Santa Monica market in California when an 86 years old man pushed the gas pedal instead of the break, and killed around 10 people, even little babies!  Believe me, I am sure that the victims of this tragedy (if they could talk to us) would wish that certain age limits had been imposed on older persons to perform certain specific activities.  So even if people ‘should be allowed to work as long as they want and as long as they can make a contribution’, as Mr. Martin mentioned it, I am sure that everyone will agree that people should not be allowed to perform any kind of work as long as they want.


Mr. Martin may have the honesty to agree with me on this last point.  Now, given that ‘we’ ‘agree’ that there must be without any doubt some age limit to assume certain responsibilities, the questions are:  Should we establish a 65 age limit for the most important job in a country (the country leader position)?  And if yes, why should we establish this 65-age limit?  Since I have explained the importance of this limit during the past 4 years to country Leaders and I.O. Chiefs, please allow me to respond to these two questions. 


A Management issue and a legal ‘tool’ against dishonest political leaders.


The establishment of a 65 years age limit for Country Leaders and International Organizations Chiefs is, I believe, both a management (or governance) issue and an ethical issue.  A management issue because two important responsibilities of Leaders are the preparation of the new generations and the long term planning (at 15-20 years), and these two responsibilities combined together are incompatible with an age older than 65 for country leaders.  A country leader who has the chance to make it to 65 (like Mr. Martin) should have, for a long time already, prepared younger politicians to replace him, and if he has done a good job, these younger politicians should be capable of doing an even better job than him. 


It is not fair at all for an important political leader of 50 or 55 to say or think ‘I don’t prepare any body to replace me because I will be in perfect physical and psychological condition at 65 and I still will have the drive to stay Prime Minister’.  No one knows in which condition he/she will be at 65.  Even if the life expectancy at birth as increased significantly in rich countries, there is no certainty for anyone to be in perfect (physical and psychological) condition at this age (and in a perfect ‘condition’ for many years from this 65 age limit), and given the important responsibilities of leaders (particularly leaders of G8 countries like Canada), it is not fair to bet on such an eventuality.


  Perhaps Mr. Martin will respond to that by saying ‘what if there is no younger politicians who are good enough to lead the country’.  Well, if this were the case, it would only mean that he did not assume one of his most important responsibilities, the preparation of new generation, and therefore that he is not such a good leader who deserves to become the Prime Minister.   Being 65 is something that one can easily see coming (particularly when one has the long term ‘vision’ necessary to lead a country), a leader who deliberately refuses to prepare younger politicians to hold on to his position after 65 is being very dishonest, or intellectually very dishonest at the very least.


A second important responsibility of Leaders is the long term planning (at 15-20 years).  Knowing that the life expectancy at birth is 74-76 in the best countries, a 65 years old leader cannot really have a ‘clear’ long-term vision (at 15 or 20 years) of our society when his (own) life expectancy in ‘good health’ is less than 15 years.  This is even truer in a world where the new technologies (the information technology,) play an always-increasing role.  We see everywhere around the world and in international organizations old leaders who have no clue of what the new technologies can do to improve the life of millions of people.


In my different letters sent to G8 Leaders and I.O. Chiefs, I had also mentioned that someone in his 60 or 70 may more easily fail to respect the younger generation because he will never be 40 or 50 again, whereas someone in his 40’s or 50s will ‘not as easily’ fail to respect older people in their 60s or 70s, because he has a good chance of being 60 or 70 one day.  And I had mentioned the work of researchers in psychology who had derived several ‘phases’ in the professional life of managers.  The period from 62 to 67 was described to be the retirement transition phase, which should allow the managers to decrease progressively their professional activities to ‘facilitate’ their retirement life.      


More recently, in a letter sent to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, I explained that some leaders use (d) their position (and ‘power’) to cover their ‘dishonesty’ or to avoid prosecution for the frauds they organized or the crimes they committed.  This was true for Mr. Saddam Hussein, of course, but it is also true for some Leaders of democracy like Mr. Chirac (71) who uses the immunity associated with his position to avoid talking to the justice or simply to avoid any prosecution (or Mr. Berlusconi (66) who recently asked to pass a law that protects him from the justice!).  By staying in ‘power’ as close as possible to their death, some leaders simply give themselves lifetime impunity!


Moreover, since in our information (and ‘more democratic’) society the public opinion plays an increasingly important role, the efforts made to cover the ‘dishonesty’ of certain high level politicians or civil servants take often outrageous proportions and lead to ‘crimes’ that can be even more serious than the ones they are intended to cover!   The establishment of a 65 age limit for ‘Leaders’ is then more than pertinent, because it would encourage Leaders to pay a more careful attention to what they do, or otherwise they would be at risk to be prosecuted during their ‘retirement’ years, and it would also limit the damages linked to the efforts made to cover sometimes lifetimes of dishonesty, crimes or frauds.   


An ethical issue and some examples ‘supporting’ this 65-age limit.


The establishment of 65 age limit for country leaders and I.O. Chiefs is also an ethical issue, because there are in our world millions of people who do not have a life expectancy at birth of 50 or even 40, there are many people who will not have a retirement pension sufficient to live in their old age, according to a fairly recent ILO statistic ‘ 90% of the world’s working age population is not covered by pension schemes capable of providing adequate retirement income’, and finally, there are also many people who are simply forced to go on retirement at 55, or 60 to leave their places to younger people, cheaper and better trained with the new technologies. 


Political leaders, particularly the ones from rich countries, cannot ignore this ‘result’ and pretend that they do not have at least a part of responsibility in it.  If they really have done everything they could do to improve this situation when they reach 65, then they should feel that it is time to let the new generation (better educated, better prepared and more knowledgeable on new technologies) try to obtain a better result!   Keeping a lower profile at 65 is, then, not just the right ‘management’ strategy; it is also a way to show some respect for the poor and the new generations.  And many Leaders have already applied this 65-age limit to themselves, I have mentioned the case of Dr. Brundlandt, but there are others.


There are also, unfortunately, many examples of older Leaders who keep the highest position despite very poor results.  Mr. Muggabe, the president of Zimbabwe, who makes millions of his people starve every year, feels that he is doing a wonderful job at more than 70, it seems!  Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat, both also over 70, have been incapable of bringing the peace in their very little countries, despite an intense international effort and millions of dollars given to the Palestinian authority and to Israel!  Mr. Fidel Castro, who has been in power more than 40 years, could have used better the location of Cuba (near the US) to bring more freedom and more economical growth to his country!   


The Pope (83) who barely can walk or talk in public, still does not feel the need to step down although the rapes of the children by the catholic priests and the effort made to discourage the use of condom in African countries ravaged by AIDS are the symbols of his total lack of respect for the new generations and the poor.  Mr. Wolfensohn (68) and Mr. Annan (65), also tries to hold on to their jobs (at all cost, even the cost of a war!) although their results are far from satisfactory.  The ‘politic’ of the World Bank and the United Nations did not keep the African continent from being devastated by AIDS and its (past) tendency of increase in average life expectancy at birth from being reversed recently (the life expectancy at birth has dropped to 50 or even 40 in several African countries!).


An age limit to help maintain peace and defeat poverty around the world.


And, of course, ‘we’ should not forget that Mr. Saddam Hussein (65) who made war to its neighbor country, Iran, invaded Kuwait, killed many of his own people, and let the Iraqis suffer from a long embargo, did not feel the need to step down (at 65) to spare the lives of many Iraqis and to avoid the destruction of his country.  The tragic outcome of the Iraqi crisis was, unfortunately, predictable and could have been avoided, if ‘I.O. Chiefs’ had paid a more careful attention to this 65 age limit proposal I had presented them and to the remarks I made along with it. 


In my letter of December 2001 addressed to all country leaders and I.O. Chiefs, I had stressed the importance of this age limit proposal in our effort to maintain peace, and the consequences, if ‘international organizations’ were to continue to ignore it, when I wrote:  'Every time there is a conflict somewhere in the world, the International Community, particularly International Organizations, helps both sides to solve their dispute. To do that, they use logical and good sense arguments, and scientific studies exactly as I have done to justify the respect of this rule.  So why should any Leader or country part in a conflict listen to your arguments or good sense, if, yourself, you don’t even accept the most basic arguments justifying a very simple rule that would improve the situation of the world.'  


This is exactly what happened, Mr. Annan and his colleagues were unable to prevent the US from going to war with Iraq despite the fact that three permanent members of the Security Council and many other countries were opposed to a conflict (at least ‘so soon’).  In January 14th 2003, I wrote a letter to several US (and other countries) personalities including Mrs. Frechette and Mr. Stern, in which I reminded them again of the importance of this proposal and asked older Leaders like Mr. Annan, Mr. Wolfensohn, Mr. Rehnquist to resign to show the good example to Mr. Saddam Hussein, but I only received a very ‘questionable’ answer from the UN Secretariat (written on behalf of Mr. Annan) thanking me ‘for sharing my thought’!  


The World Bank did not even bother to respond although it was clear that the US would go to war, if nothing were done to get rid of Mr. Saddam Hussein.  And it was clear that the conflict would cost 100s of billions of dollars to the international community, money that would not be available to tackle our other grave international problems (environment, poverty,).  But, neither Mr. Annan nor Mr. Wolfensohn would have given up one day as Secretary General of the United Nations and President of the World Bank to prevent the war!  They would not have even said publicly that someone had proposed a solution to the crisis that was in conflict with them staying at their positions!


            They cannot say that they did not have enough time to think about this proposal and its many benefits, because, in my letter of April 2000 already, I had explained the importance of paying careful attention to the time factor and to this age limit to defeat poverty.  Because of the great number of very poor people (about 2,7 billions people live with less than 2 dollars a day), and the fact that poverty is still a ‘hereditary property’, the ‘time’ has remained our worst enemy in the fight against poverty.  I had also explained that the debt relief initiative and the efforts made by some individuals (donation of Mr. Turner,) had intellectual implications, and should encourage our Leaders to pay more attention to this ‘time factor’.    




            As you have understood, I think that Mr. Martin is wrong when he reject ‘the idea 65 is already too old for someone to serve as Prime Minister’ and I think he is wrong to seek the Prime Minister position for the next ten years.  Even if the people have ‘different needs’, ‘different ambitions’, ‘different skills’ and ‘different health’ as Mr. Martin says, they still should not forget that they have responsibilities toward every other people in their country and on the planet.  This is particularly true for the Leader of one of the richest countries in the world, of course!  A political Leader who seeks the highest position at 65 demonstrates that he did not assume properly one of his most important responsibilities, the preparation of the new generations, and shows very little respect for the poor and the new generations.


            Mr. Martin mentioned that he welcomes a debate on mandatory retirement, so he should also welcome a ‘debate’ on this very important issue, the establishment of a 65 age limit for Country Leaders and I.O. chiefs.   France has deliberately avoided this debate to keep in office a president (71) who needed the immunity of the position to avoid embarrassing (for ‘everyone’) prosecutions.  We have seen, with the war against Iraq (the war of old leaders), the result of this ‘undemocratic’ strategy.  Canada, also a ‘G8’ country, has a great influence around the world, not just a financial or economical influence, but also an intellectual influence, so it should show the example, and address this issue publicly for the benefit of all. 


            I copy my letter to Mr. Martin in hoping he will change his mind and explain to the world why it is important to respect this rule, to the members of the Canadian parliament that I contacted in early December to present them the letters I sent to the UN and the ‘US’, to the Nobel committees that I have also contacted in November to discuss the silence of US universities on this important subject, particularly just before the war (I wrote to several US university on May 29 2002 and mentioned that this proposal could prevent a then possible a conflict with Iraq), and to the press and media in the US and other countries.  Finally, I would be grateful to you, if you accepted to publish this letter to let the people of Canada judge for themselves the arguments I have just presented you.  I remain   


Yours sincerely,




            Pierre Genevier