The News Rundown
- What did we know and when has been a constant question about the Wuhan Virus causing the global pandemic.
- We know that the virus originated in China and at the very least, China was negligible in its response. A response that could have saved lives.
- The response from each country though also can save lives and buy precious time to formulate a plan of attack.
- Last month in about 1,000 pages of documents shared with the federal health committee there was a memo that confirmed what we all knew, Canada didn’t have the resources to enforce a quarantine on travellers returning from China’s Hubei province.
- February. Recall that the United States which has been consistently ahead of the Canadian response blocked flights from China at the beginning of February.
- The “experts” as they are so called say that blocking flights does not work. Flight blocking in addition to blocking nationals flying on a Chinese passport from entering the country does indeed work.
- It was estimated that there were roughly 20,000 passengers a week coming into Canada from China. How is a liberal democracy built on freedom going to have any idea how to track that many people?
- The ministry called this task “next to impossible” and cited the nature of global travel. This meant of course that “limiting [the impact of the virus” and controlling its spread once it [got to Canada]” would be the approach.
- Between January 22 and February 18, 58,000 travellers arrived from China and 2,030 of them were from Hubei province, the initial source of the outbreak.
- Of these 68 were pulled aside for further assessment by a quarantine officer and only 3 got an actual medical exam. The remaining 65 got a pamphlet.
- Canada did no screening of passengers arriving from China!
- What was instead settled on was a voluntary self isolation to “place less pressure on public health resources.”
- This was also the time that Federal Public Health Official, Theresa Tam, yes, public health, was warning us that banning certain groups from coming into our country would be seen as xenophobic or racist.
- What’s more, in a briefing note from March 10, the risk was still described as very low with just 12 cases. But even to the end of January, the World Health Organization, called the risk of transmission, “high at the global level.”
- There are talks between the federal Ministry of Health and World Health Organization. The government could’ve made a different decision but instead of cancelling flights and closing borders to non-citizens coming from source countries, Canada decided to play the role of a good globalist nation and fight the spread at home.
- This of course puts you, me, and our families at risk. And now we’re grappling with the decision of when the risk level is appropriate to open the economy yet again.
- When asked later this week about the documents tabled and the memo, the Prime Minister had this to say, "There's going to be an awful lot of learning through this, but it remains that as we get through this now, as we live through the measures that we've put in place and lean on each other and hold together, we have the best chance of getting through this in the coming weeks and months by remaining true to the advice that experts are giving us."
- Listening to the federal experts that Canada employs is what got us into this mess in the first place. Experts are good, they know science, they love science, but when said advice gets distilled through a politician it becomes a mess.
- The Prime Minister doesn’t see a problem here but the end result is simple.
- The government of Canada was either asleep at the wheel or has been employing a disinformation campaign that rivals the best of the Chinese government so that Trudeau would not have to close borders and possibly risk upsetting China or tarring his smug globalist image.
- About a month ago, right as we were getting a full bearing on the economic threat of the viral pandemic that originated in China, another disaster loomed large for the oil industry in Canada.
- On March 8th, Saudi Arabia initiated an oil price war with Russia triggered by a breakup in dialogue between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia over proposed oil production cuts in the midst of the pandemic. This led to Russia walking out of the agreement, leading to the fall of the OPEC+ alliance. Oil prices had already fallen 30% since the start of the year due to a drop in demand, and the price war is one of the major causes of the currently ongoing global stock market crash.
- The surprising surplus in production by Saudi Arabia led to lower oil prices around the world, which led to an enormous price crash. Western Canada Select (WCS), the eventual blend of heavy crude oil produced by Alberta crashed from a fairly stable $30-35 pricemark in early March immediately following the price war, to as low as below $4 a barrel by the end of March. At points, it was even in the negative. This price war has exacerbated Canada's economy at a time where we could have really used a stable revenue stream.
- Since Canada's oil is not as easy to extract as other nation's oil reserves, Canada relies on a higher price of oil for exports to be profitable, and since we don't have a reliable pipeline network, 99% of our exports are to the US, creating a saturated market. Therefore, the oil glut caused by Saudi Arabia had all but killed the profitability of Canadian oil.
- The US is negotiating with OPEC to lower production which would then lead to increased prices. But until a deal is reached we are still in limbo, at the whims of a Middle East kingdom with plenty of human rights abuses.
- Keeping in mind that it was Saudi Arabia that caused this price war due to revenge boosting their production, our crashed economy is partially laid at their feet (with much of it due to China, of course). With that in mind, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia are not friends of Canada. However, we are still doing business with them.
- Canada has struck a new contract with Saudi Arabia that eventually will allow it to resume exports of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the kingdom, according to foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne. Champagne called it "improving a situation we have inherited".
- Champagne said the revised $14 billion agreement — which for years has been a political flashpoint because of the desert kingdom's dismal human rights record — will allow the Liberal government to speak more freely about its terms.
- The original contract, signed by the previous Conservative government in 2014 and then ratified by the Liberals in 2015 after the election, was cloaked in terms of extraordinary secrecy that prevented public discussion of some of its most basic details. Champagne claimed the previous contract was so strict that the mere mention of it has resulted in "billions of dollars in damages to the Government of Canada." It's unclear where the evidence of that bold statement exists, however.
- Champagne added that, had the federal government cancelled the LAV deal — something critics have demanded for more than five years — the Saudis would have been able to sue for the full value of the agreement.
- Finance Minister Bill Morneau led a team that negotiated amendments to the deal, which now gives the government a bit more room to speak about the arrangement. It can now acknowledge the penalties in the deal for cancellation or default, which the government has cited often in defending the deal — or as political cover, in the eyes of its critics.
- The transparency gains, however, appear somewhat elusive. Large parts of the deal remain hidden from the public — including the total number of vehicles being sold, the kinds of armaments they carry, how many have been shipped already and what kind of service support arrangements have been made. In defence contracts, in-service support usually equates to about half the dollar value of the deal.
- "We really cannot talk about the specifics of the contract," Champagne acknowledged.
- The minister faced questions Thursday about the timing of the deal, coming as it does in the middle of an economic crisis that is being driven partly by an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, replying with “I can assure you that this has nothing to do with either COVID or whatever may happen on the oil market. This is not something that is related to, or any way connected with any other discussions.”
- The problem with that statement is that everything in a geopolitical sphere is connected. Canada was caught up in a diplomatic and trade dispute that erupted after former foreign affairs minister and current deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland criticized the Saudis' handling of human rights critics on Twitter almost two years ago. Freeland tweeted her support for jailed women's rights advocates in the kingdom. The Saudi government reacted by expelling the Canadian ambassador, suspending future trade deals and recalling students attending Canadian universities — a measure that was relaxed marginally later on.
- NDP foreign affairs critic Jack Harris said he wondered what prompted the Liberals to move ahead when many of the concerns about Saudi Arabia's political and human rights records remain.
- "The reasons the Liberals put a ban and moratorium [on armoured vehicle exports] in place originally still stand," Harris said in a statement. "Saudi Arabia remains an authoritarian regime with one of the world's worst human rights records."
- Champagne insisted the timing was coincidental: the Saudis signed off on the contract amendment at the end of March.
- Questions remain about how the Saudis will use the vehicles. Champagne acknowledged that the combat vehicles will be used by the internal security force that is responsible for the protection of the country's royal family.
- He declined to say whether Canada sought assurances from the Saudis that the troop carriers will not be used in foreign military operations.
- A year long Liberal government review that examined whether the Saudis had violated the terms of the 2014 contract by using the armoured vehicles to suppress an uprising in the eastern part of the country, and in combat in Yemen. It found no evidence that Canadian-made equipment was used in alleged human rights abuses.
- Whatever the government's conclusions, it's of little help to the economy currently. If Alberta's oil production is unprofitable, then the federal government has only themselves to blame. A lack of pipeline production and subsequent diversification in trading partners has led to a reliance on the US for our economy. With all the problems that we've seen over the past few months, it's clear that Canada needs to stop relying on others to get the job done. It's time we had a government that understood that.
- On Wednesday Premier Jason Kenney issued a televised address to Albertans detailing the plan forward out of this pandemic.
- Alberta also has the highest testing rate of almost 1,500 tests per 100,000 population beating out each province and countries such as the US, UK, Italy, and Australia.
- The numbers under a scenario where there was limited intervention would be seeing a peak of about 1.6 million total infections and anywhere between 16,000 and 32,000 deaths.
- The more probable scenario sees a probably total 800,000 infections with anywhere from 400 to 3,100 deaths.
- The health care system will be able to cope with this level of infection but we would likely not begin to see things open up until the tail end of May.
- Alberta is one of the few jurisdictions already looking at what happens when the economy opens up. On the federal side, it seems as though Trudeau is poised to continue the closure through the summer and potentially beyond.
- For a matter of comparison, in 2018 Alberta lost 16,081 people due to cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory illness, and accidents combined.
- We also need to remember that with this virus the vast majority of people will be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms only. This means that the virus is likely making its way through our population and the actual number infected is much higher than being reported in day to day news.
- The modelling done by the province includes these mild or asymptomatic cases.
- The political capital doesn’t exist to simply open the economy and get back to normal over the next 2 weeks. Economic data shows that this recession will be the worst since the 1930s and the data behind job losses Canada wide is stark.
- So what’s the third way?
- Michael Burry, a doctor by education, and made famous in the book and movie titled “The Big Short” was one of the few to forecast the 2008 financial crisis. He believes that we should be being more proactive in order to limit the effect of government ordered shutdowns.
- He believes the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine should be made more widely available, this drug regime is currently undergoing clinical trials at the University of Alberta.
- He also believes that the sick and elderly (the most at risk) shelter in place until herd immunity is achieved or a vaccine is available.
- He also wants widespread testing and to ID and track as necessary those sick in order to allow society to function.
- And for those who are healthy to go back to their normal lives with extra hand washing and care around the elderly and those at risk.
- He also rightly points out that being unemployed causes significant mental strife and forces families who may be in otherwise abusive relationships to stay home together causing potentially more violence and death.
- And to sum it up in a tweet, “saving the economy means life, not murder.”
- Alberta plans for there to be 6-8 more weeks of the same with a peak in mid-May.
- After this Alberta will engage in mass testing, track close contacts of those infected, enforce strong border screening, strictly enforce quarantine orders, and encourage the use of masks in crowded places.
- The Premier bluntly said that Canada waited too long to close our borders, especially from countries with high infection rates. And while Alberta can’t control who flies into the province, international arrivals will be screened and quarantined much more rigorously than the federal government did.
- It’s expected that Alberta’s recovery will be more difficult than other jurisdictions because of the double hit of the dumping of OPEC supply forcing Western Canada Select oil down to less than $5/barrel. The Premier cautioned that oil prices may tread into negative territory with the budget deficit approaching $20b.
- The provincial government has begun discussions with the US administration about a coordinated defence of the North American energy industry against Saudi Arabia and Russia who as the Premier said are “trying to permanently damage North America’s energy industry.”
- These discussions may include tariffs on foreign imported oil to North America.
- As of Friday it was reported that OPEC and Russia have agreed on the condition of Mexico joining them to cut production by 10 million barrels per day but no deal has been reached as of yet.
- Alberta has also announced a $2b infrastructure plan to repair roads, bridges, and doors and windows at schools.
- Alberta is doing more than the federal government, Alberta would have been better off with its own decisions on when to close borders, and now, when it comes time to pick up the pieces, Alberta has the best plan going forward presented.
- But the question everyone should be asking now, with Michael Burry’s common sense approach, how many lives would we save by waiting to open the economy at the end of May versus in a week's time?
- There is a third way, the media is too focused on reporting stark and frightening figures to the public to even dare to ask this simple question.
- At this time, the Prime Minister and Canada's premiers are all enjoying a large bump in popularity. In a recent Ipsos poll done exclusively for Global News, 74 per cent of Canadians surveyed say they approve of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s performance during the pandemic. In Quebec, Premier François Legault earned an eye-popping 96% approval rating, and the poll found 83% of Ontarians approve of Ford’s handling of the pandemic, as well as 83% of British Columbians in favour of John Horgan.
- At this time, Canadians are expecting their leaders to do the job that they expect them to do, to put partisan politics aside and get to work to help Canadians. Even opposition parties have been working with governments to get aid bills passed so Canadians can receive help.
- The Trudeau government has struck a deal with opposition parties to swiftly approve a massive $73-billion wage subsidy program aimed at helping businesses and workers survive the economic ravages of the pandemic.
- Passage of legislation needed to implement the program was assured Saturday after Conservatives dropped their attempt to tie the bill to the longer-term question of how Parliament should function in the midst of a national health crisis.
- Federal Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer has been working with the government to pass the bill, and said that Conservatives had won some improvements to the bill over the past week of negotiations and that their support for the wage subsidy was never dependent on settling the matter of how or when Parliament should sit going forward. The Liberals are exploring virtual sittings of the HoC, which all parties are open to, but there is opposition amongst the parties to how Parliament should meet until virtual meetings can be set up, which could take months. The Conservatives want in person meetings, the NDP are open to either, and the BQ refuse to do any more in person meetings.
- Under the bill, which is expected to pass the Commons and the Senate and receive royal assent later Saturday, the federal government will pay companies 75% of the first $58,700 normally earned by employees, up to $847 per week for up to 12 weeks. The subsidy is retroactive to March 15 and will be available to companies that lost 15% of their revenue in March or 30 per cent in April or May. Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the money will begin to flow within two to five weeks, with the government working to get it started in the shortest possible time.
- Despite Scheer working with the government to pass the various spending and aid bills as soon as possible, he has gotten unfairly trashed in the media. Kory Teneycke, a former director of communications for prime minister Stephen Harper, was one of the loudest voices to remove Scheer as leader in December. On Tuesday, CBC published an opinion piece by Teneycke which described Scheer as "a zombie Opposition leader for the zombie apocalypse" and said that the "reanimation of Scheer's career" was only possible due to Trudeau's mishandling of the pandemic response.
- According to Teneycke, "Be it Trudeau's attempt to obtain the power to tax-and-spend without Parliamentary approval for 18 months, or the performance of Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who spent weeks telling Parliament travel restrictions were ineffective, the need for Opposition scrutiny has rarely been greater. Another contributing factor is the decision to postpone the Conservative Party Leadership race – something obvious and sensible to everyone except Peter MacKay."
- Should the Conservative leadership race be postponed due to the pandemic, which is likely, it will remain to be seen if they will open up the field to other candidates, or if Scheer will re-run.
- A Toronto Star article described Scheer as a "lame-duck Conservative leader" and asked why he's still "popping up on television, holding frequent press conferences and chatting with hosts on all-news channels". Maybe it's because he's a leading figure in Canadian politics, and a major factor in Canadians getting the aid bill passed without any authoritarian overreaches by Trudeau?
- It's amazing that during this pandemic, where all Canadians are banding together to help each other, and even opposition parties working together to pass aid bills, that the media is still slandering Andrew Scheer. The politicians have put partisanship aside, can't the media?
Word of the Week
Zombie - a person or reanimated corpse that has been turned into a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought, which feeds on human flesh.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Helping the Enemy
Teaser: Canada’s response to the pandemic has been disjointed, the federal government resumes the Saudi Arabia arms deal, and Alberta releases pandemic modelling to get the economy going again. Also, Scheer curbs Trudeau’s excesses while the media calls him a zombie.
Recorded Date: April 11, 2020
Release Date: April 12, 2020
Edit Notes: Ingenious
Podcast Summary Notes