The News Rundown
- On Vancouver Island, locals know the power of the western red cedar. Nicknamed the tree of life, it has an important place in the ecosystem. As timber, it is also incredibly valuable. It has a distinct appearance, aroma, and a high natural resistance to decay. Because of this, it's extensively used for outdoor construction in the form of posts, decking, shingles, and siding. It is commonly used for the framing and longwood in lightweight sailboats and kayaks. In larger boats it is often used in sandwich construction between two layers of epoxy resin and/or fibreglass or similar products. It's about 30% lighter than common boat building woods, such as mahogany, but for its weight it is quite strong.
- The western red cedar is found primarily in coastal and inland southern BC, stretching along the coast from the southern tip of the Alaska panhandle all the way south to the California border. But why am I talking about the western red cedar? This week, it has come to light that one pulp mill, the Harmac Pacific mill in Nanaimo produces a soft blend of pulp made from cedar, which is then used to make medical masks, gowns, drapes, screens, and other hospital supplies that are much needed during this current pandemic crisis.
- Levi Sampson, the director of the mill, says that an unnamed U.S. company that's been ordering the K10S pulp for years suddenly doubled its orders over the past week.
- Sampson says the more than 300 employees of the mill “feel a huge responsibility. We're not the doctors, nurses, or paramedics on the frontlines, but we're making a product that will wind up on the frontlines."
- The Harmac Pacific mill is actually the only mill in the world that produces the particular blend of K10S pulp that is required to make certain medical supplies. The K10S pulp used for the medical supplies is made from western red cedar, as it produces a softer fibre for products like the gowns and masks. The formula has been perfected over the years, making it suitable for these particular medical products and is unique to Harmac Pacific. Harmac is the only mill producing it according to Sampson.
- On Thursday, Trump released a statement on Twitter: "We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. “P Act” all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing - will have a big price to pay!"
- 3M refers to a company based in Minnesota that makes face masks and respirators, among other things. 3M is based in the US, but has factories around the world, including in Canada. With China halting exports of masks from 3M's factories in China, it has had to ramp up production in other countries to make up for the worldwide shortage of N95 masks, so named because they filter 95% of what comes through the mask.
- President Donald Trump applied the Defense Production Act against the American company 3M which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to obtain as many N95 respirators as it needs from 3M. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro stated that there were concerns that 3M products were not making their way to the US. 3M replied that it has not changed the prices it charges and is unable to control the prices its dealers or retailers charge.
- As America has been hit the hardest with the pandemic, Trump has been trying to source medical materials, and stop exports into other countries.
- Now, what has been hard to figure out, is if the wood pulp produced by Harman Pacific that is used to make medical supplies, goes into making the highly sought after N95 masks, or if the unnamed American company they do business with is indeed 3M. No one in the media has made this clear, and so rumours and false information have abounded on social media.
- 3M, for their part, has said on Friday that "there are significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators."
- 3M warns that ceasing those exports could cause blowback: "Ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek."
- That said, Trudeau has said that Canada will not retaliate for Trump's measures, calling the restriction of goods between the US and Canada a 'mistake': "There is much trade that goes back and forth in essential services and it could hurt Americans as much as it hurts anybody else. That is the point we’re making very directly and have been making for many days to various levels of the American administration and that message is getting through."
- Health Minister Patty Hajdu this week acknowledged that, heading into the crisis, Canada did not have enough personal protective equipment including N95 masks. The government said it’s now accelerating the procurement of these supplies.
- The government announced a shipment of more than 11 million masks this week alone.
- 3M Canada's operations currently do not manufacture N95 respirators but the company says they doubled the amount brought into the country in the first three months of 2020.
- "We are doing all we can to continue to increase the supply of N95 respirators in Canada to support our healthcare workers, first responders, and those in critical infrastructure roles," 3M Canada President Penny Wise says in a statement published online.
- On Friday, the American Center for Disease Control, or CDC, recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
- The CDC has not recommended N95s for public use, but the general public has been buying up face masks since February, leading to a global shortage, along with interrupted supply chains.
- This crisis has shown that Canada needs to have its own manufacturing sector for critical emergency supplies, as we cannot rely on our trade partners to help supply us during a global pandemic, nor can we rely on China's manufacturing sector when our relationship with their government is precarious at best.
- The Alberta energy industry has been hit hard over the last decade or so.
- It has weathered the disapproval of the Keystone XL pipeline by former President Obama.
- A collapse in 2014 of world oil prices and subsequent recession.
- Hostile policies under the former NDP and current Liberal government.
- A lack of market access due to pipeline projects such as Energy East and Northern Gateway being cancelled and disruptions of the construction of the only approved project, Trans Mountain.
- A lack of investor confidence causing countless projects to be paused or outright cancelled such as the Teck Frontier mine.
- Another collapse of world oil prices triggered by Saudi Arabia and Russia.
- And finally the global pandemic caused by the Wuhan virus.
- This week it was announced that TC Energy (formerly Trans Canada) will be going ahead with the US$8b valued Keystone XL pipeline as it has cleared all major US regulatory hoops.
- The pipeline will carry oil from Alberta through Montana, South Dakota, and into Nebraska where it will meet up with the existing line to take product to the US gulf coast.
- The Alberta government has agreed to invest US$1.1b in the project as equity that will cover planned construction costs through the end of 2020.
- The remaining US$6.9 billion is expected to be funded through a combination of a US$4.2-billion project level credit facility to be fully guaranteed by the Alberta government and a US$2.7-billion investment by TC Energy.
- TC Energy will reimburse the government of Alberta 12 months after oil is flowing through the pipeline.
- This is a direct action by the Alberta government to invest in 6,800 resource based jobs this year ensuring that even in this difficult economic time, progress is being made within the energy industry.
- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said, “Today we are moving forward with a project that is essential to our future prosperity. This investment in Keystone XL is a bold move to re-take control of our province’s economic destiny and put it firmly back in the hands of the owners of our natural resources, the people of Alberta.”
- The plan is for Alberta to sell its shares for a profit after the pipeline is built and the project will generate a net return of over $30b in royalties and higher prices for Alberta oil.
- TC Energy president and CEO Russ Girling said that the project “could not have advanced” without the support of both President Trump and Premier Jason Kenney.
- This is going to be one plank of many to get the economy back on track when it’s time to open things up and unpress the pause button.
- It is important to make significant progress both on the Canadian and US side of this project this construction year, not only because of the current downturn but in the chance that President Trump is not re-elected, this project must not be in a state where a future administration can shut it down yet again.
- The project is expected to be completed in 2023 with oil flowing shortly thereafter.
- As more and more unemployed Canadians seek monetary assistance from the government as we move through the pandemic, the current number of unemployed is estimated to be roughly 3 million.
- About a third of those will receive nothing from EI or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), predicts an analysis released Thursday that offers a picture of who is not covered by the safety net Ottawa has created for workers. Economist David Macdonald, who authored the study says “There’s still people who are falling through the cracks.”
- As those unemployed, along with many others face stressful economic uncertainty, Canadians can sleep well at night, knowing that the politicians in charge of doling out money gave themselves a pay increase on April 1st, the same day that the federal carbon tax increase.
- Yes, it's what many would think to be a cruel April Fool's joke - a carbon tax increase that would inflate prices of goods, groceries, fuel, and other necessities of life during a worldwide health crisis, along with a pay increase for all MPs and Senators, during a time where many Canadians are facing total economic uncertainty, and the economy is headed for a recession.
- Under legislation passed in 2005 to depoliticize parliamentarians' pay, salaries paid to MPs and senators increase automatically on April 1 each year, based on the average increase negotiated by major bargaining units in the private sector.
- This year, MPs are entitled to a 2.1 per cent hike, which will increase their base salaries by just over $3,750 to $182,656. By law, senators are paid $25,000 less than MPs. Hence, they'll each pull in a base salary of $157,656 this year, a 2.4 per cent hike. That doesn’t include housing allowance for time in Ottawa or the per diems that they get to cover meals while on government business.
- It also doesn’t cover extra pay for sitting on a committee, chairing a committee or being a cabinet minister — that will net you an extra $85,500 yearly. Well, add another roughly $2,800 to their annual salaries. For the Prime Minister, who earns double what an MP makes, his annual salary of $357,800 is about to go up by almost $5,700.
- Unfortunately, it's not an April Fool's joke, it's very real. And what's worse, is that the government had the chance to freeze the pay increase but for whatever reason, decided not to.
- In the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, the previous Conservative government froze parliamentarians' salaries for three years. Asked Monday about a similar salary freeze now, Trudeau said: "I haven't heard the Parliament of Canada having those discussions, but I'm sure they will reflect on it now that you've asked the question."
- That's the worst way to weasel out of a proper answer. The Parliament of Canada hasn't had those discussions because the government has not chosen to act on this matter, and the Prime Minister, who leads the government, could have easily made the decision as former Prime Minister Harper did 12 years ago.
- Granted, a roughly $5000 average increase for each of the 338 MPs and 105 senators wouldn't amount to too much in savings for taxpayers in the grand scheme of things, instead, it's the horrible optics of the country's leaders not declining a pay raise when so many Canadians are out of work.
- After Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh promised to donate their pay increases to charity, Trudeau was quick to follow.
- Various Conservative MPs have issued statements over the past week promising to donate their imminent pay boosts to charities. Given the current crisis, Alberta MP Blaine Calkins called the pay hike “not only untimely but, frankly, it’s in poor taste.”
- And that's exactly it. At a time when Canadians are worried about how to put food on table, make rent payments or care for their families, our Prime Minister decided to give himself more money. It's disgraceful.
- The novel coronavirus outbreak as it was described in January is changing the world as we speak.
- It’s a virus that hasn’t been introduced into a human population prior thus making it very dangerous as no one has antibodies.
- How does this happen?
- It’s similar to SARS and MERS in that the virus jumped from animal to human.
- Richard H. Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, said on Thursday that there is a real possibility that the virus entered the human population due to a laboratory accident.
- Ebright’s remarks were quoted in both the Washington Post and MSNBC, earmarking him as a coronavirus expert.
- Meanwhile China’s top virologist on bat-borne viruses, She Zhengli has sworn on her life that the virus did not come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
- The Wuhan Institute of Virology examines and experiments on many strains of corona viruses, all of which would be deadly if they managed to cross the human-animal barrier.
- Shi and her colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported in early 2017 that after five years of surveying they had discovered 11 new strains of SARS-related viruses in horseshoe bats from China’s Yunnan Province. The virologist said at the time that the 11 strains contained all the genes to make a SARS coronavirus similar to that of the 2003 outbreak.
- Shi also contributed to a study that was published in February that said that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is 96.2% identical to a viral strain detected in horseshoe bats from Yunnan province.
- In a separate paper, Chinese researchers noted that horseshoe bats that are known to carry the nearly-identical viral strain live 600 miles away from Wuhan.
- What’s more these bats were never a food source at the Wuhan wet market and no bat was ever traded in that market.
- That led these other researchers to postulate that “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.”
- Going back to The Washington Post and MSNBC, they have quoted Ebright in saying that the idea that the virus is a bioweapon should be “firmly excluded” but didn’t include his idea that the virus could’ve been introduced through a lab accident.
- In particular he said in his interview, that idea “cannot-and should not-be dismissed.”
- One of the first doctors in Wuhan to raise the alarm about the spread of a SARS-like virus in the city was detained by police in December and told to “stop making false comments.”
- That doctor, named Li Wenliang, died from the virus in February.
- Fox News evening host Tucker Carlson aired a story this past Tuesday covering the allegations we’re talking about right now.
- As Tucker Carlson is a Fox News host, most of what he says is maligned by the media and ignored but as we’ve seen throughout the week, this story has continued to develop and it’s highly likely the mainstream media will be talking about it next week.
- The media and government in China is one of the most dishonest and corrupt you will find on this planet. No ifs ands or buts. Period.
- The world has a right to know what exactly may have happened.
- Instead the media is concerned about not upsetting China and getting continual ratings hits from airing daily numbers showing new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
- Soon, the discussion needs to turn to asking the hard questions of our leaders, when will the origins of the virus be discussed and when can we get the economy going once again.
Word of the Week
Production - the action of making or manufacturing finished goods from components or raw materials
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Give and Take
Teaser: A Nanaimo mill is the sole producer of pulp for critical supplies, TC Energy and the Alberta government help to finish Keystone XL, and federal MPs give themselves a pay raise. Finally, a discussion about where exactly in Wuhan this crisis emerged from.
Recorded Date: April 4, 2020
Release Date: April 5, 2020
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes