The News Rundown
- The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for workers is the federal government program that allows businesses to receive federal money if they have seen a decline in revenues over the past few months due to the global pandemic.
- CEWS covers 75 percent of eligible employers’ payrolls — up to a weekly maximum of $847 per employee — for up to 12 weeks starting March 15.
- On Friday it was first revealed that the federal NDP had applied for the benefit.
- The NDP, ok, they’re a small party.
- Karl Bélanger, the former NDP national director said, “I’m not sure I would have made the same decision, but at the same time, I understand why they’re making it. If they are indeed facing the situation where they would have to layoff employees, then their own workers shouldn’t be excluded because of who they work for.”
- Upon further investigation both the Liberals and the Conservatives have said that they have applied and received money from the program.
- The Bloc has not applied and doesn’t intend to in the future.
- The parties say that cancellation of in person funding events and a drop in donations has led them to apply.
- The Conservatives point to the fact that they are 100% funded by donors and employ about 60 full and part time workers.
- The NDP was the only party to provide details on how much revenue dropped. The party collected $297,000 in March 2020 compared to $375,000 in March 2019. In April they collected $275,000 compared to $400,000 the previous year.
- Now the pandemic is an obvious reason why revenues could be lower but we also need to ask, what was 2019 that 2020 is not?
- An election year. A party’s donations and contributions are always higher in an election year. Most if not all parties would be showing a decline in revenue this year.
- To clarify for our listeners, the pay of MPs and their staff are paid by the taxpayer at any time.
- We are talking about the political staff that run the operations of the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, and the NDP.
- These are the people in advertising for example that come up with attack ads and strategies to twist themselves into a pretzel and make the other parties look bad.
- This is a bad look for the Conservatives amongst most others since the Conservatives tend to favour spending restraint. The Conservatives also abolished the per-vote-subsidy that granted money to political parties based on the number of votes that they got. This goes 100% against past stances of the federal Conservative party.
- On Saturday afternoon it was also revealed that the Alberta UCP was applying for the program with the alternative being to lay off their staff of 8.
- Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said, “I think it's a horrible idea for parties, and yes they’re eligible… These are non-profit organizations, they are eligible, but I think it looks really bad politically to be applying for this even though you can.”
- All parties who took this supplement should be fair game for criticism come next election.
- Here at Western Context we view the public purse used to fund these programs as a resource that Canadians as a whole can rely on but it is also our opinion that political parties themselves should not be taxpayer funded.
- Why should someone’s tax dollars go to fund the overt advancement of a cause they don’t believe in through the vessel of a political party?
- Once this story first broke people were quick to attack the NDP. They later became quiet.
- This story should serve as a jumping off point for a discussion on whether political parties should be funded at all once our governments hopefully start looking at reigning back emergency programs.
- As BC begins to execute Phase 2 of its reopening strategy, many businesses that have been shuttered over the last two months are beginning to open again. With the economy slowly starting to move again, talk has turned to finances. While the federal government has tried to cover up their debt figures, we know that it's approaching 1 trillion dollars, and the provinces have had to spend a lot of money during the pandemic crisis as well.
- BC, before the pandemic, was Canada's only province with a AAA credit rating, the highest rating available that allows for the lowest interest rate on accumulated debt as well as signalling a strong economy. Now, it appears that Moody's, S&P as well as Fitch, the three main credit rating agencies, still rate BC as AAA, due to the surpluses built up by both the present NDP government as well as previous BC Liberal governments. However, certain news stories have come out that on their own would not cause concern, but put together show that BC is having to weather the storm of the pandemic just like any other province.
- WorkSafeBC is the government agency in charge of setting and enforcing the rules for reopening businesses closed by the pandemic. The opposition Liberals suggested that WorkSafeBC could give partial refunds to employers on masks, gloves, Plexiglas shields and other safety gear, in order to ease costs of reopening.
- However, Labour Minister Harry Bains has said that even though as of 2 years ago WorkSafeBC had a $3 billion surplus accumulated over many years, it now can’t afford to help businesses buy protective equipment because it has lost almost all of its surplus in the recent stock market collapse.
- WorkSafeBC’s last publicly available annual report, from 2018, pegged the surplus at almost $2.9 billion.
- Bains says that “WorkSafeBC is not immune to COVID-19 either, their investments have sunk to almost zero when it comes to the surplus money they are sitting on. So almost all of the surplus has been wiped out a couple weeks ago because of our stock market, and that’s where the money was invested. It was wavering between $2 or $3 billion. It’s almost all gone."
- The loss of the WorkSafeBC’s surplus does not leave the organization in an immediate financial crisis. The agency is funded by employer premiums and has enough money to cover past, current and estimated future workplace injury claims, plus an additional financial cushion for an economic downturn, according to its financial documents. However, premium revenue has also dropped approximately $400 million this quarter due to mass business closures and layoffs.
- The reduced financial cushion comes as WorkSafeBC is elevated to one of the most high-profile organizations in the province. Premier John Horgan this month gave it responsibility for setting the safety rules needed so businesses like restaurants, gyms, cafés and agencies like libraries could start reopening. WorkSafeBC is also in charge of enforcing those rules and has doubled its inspection rate during COVID-19 compared to last year.
- The disappearance of the surplus has disrupted the NDP government’s plan to introduce legislation this year to modernize the worker benefits system using the surplus money.
- The NDP were also going to introduce $10 a day childcare, another plan that's now disrupted by the pandemic. On the subject of child care, Horgan said B.C. is still developing more spaces in the province, but a 10-year plan has been "abruptly stopped" by COVID-19. Horgan was asked about fast-tracking daycare to help parents get back into the workforce, but said that was not likely.
- "I'm not backing away from [creating child care spaces] for a minute, but I believe accelerating the plan we already had in place is not likely in the short term," Horgan said.
- WorkSafeBC may also get increased responsibilities if Horgan is unable to persuade Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to launch a national program to pay employees who get sick during the pandemic. Horgan has said B.C. will go it alone if Ottawa does not step up. Bains said one option for B.C. could be to expand WorkSafeBC’s mandate to include sick pay.
- Horgan said B.C. could develop its own paid sick leave program, but he insists the federal government should take the lead on such an effort. Horgan wants Ottawa to spearhead a national sick pay program that would ensure people don't go to work when they're ill, "But we're prepared to go it alone if need be. I do have allies in the federal government who appreciate the initiative I've been promoting."
- Horgan spoke about sick pay for workers so they wouldn't lose pay if they stayed home with flu-like symptoms, something that's particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other issues during a phone-in news conference.
- So it appears that while BC has big plans for social programs due to our previously strong economy, those may have to put on hold while the economy gets back into shape. While BC's total case numbers have been much lower per capita than most places in Canada, our economy took just as much of a hit as everyone else's. As businesses begin to open, we need to remember that these places being open are the reason that BC can enjoy a lot of its benefits. After all, you don't know what you've got until it's gone, and BC is finding that out along with everyone else.
- The global pandemic has seen revenues for businesses drop, these include businesses run by cities.
- This week Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson mused that transit could be shut down or partially shut down at least for the summer to save money.
- As the mayor said, “I just don’t have revenue to pay for it in the budget right now.”
- This comes as Edmonton is losing $10m a month in transit revenue. The city has also made riding the bus or our light rail trains free since mid March.
- Ridership is also down by 70-80%.
- Currently transit is running on a reduced schedule, what would normally be run on a Saturday.
- The mayor's idea of shutting down transit comes from wanting to save money so that transit can operate in the colder months instead.
- This comes from a City Council in the past that has embarked on multi-million dollar arena projects, light rail expansions without verifying the business case first, and all in all a council that is too happy to raise property taxes to keep paying for their operations that in addition to the big ticket items can’t even keep snow cleared in a timely manner or repair our roads that often resemble cratered battlefield runways. They’re so bumpy.
- The Federation of Canadian Municipalities asked for a collective $10 billion from higher levels of governments and Edmonton has already said a quarter of aid received would go to covering transit losses.
- The city does not want to reintroduce fares just yet to start recovering losses because they are looking at ways to do this safely including electronic payment instead of paper tickets and transfers. The city also wants to add capacity so those riding can physically distance themselves.
- But for everyone out there listening, you’re probably wondering why has it got to this point? Well, the mayor deems transit as essential and he doesn’t want to shut down an essential service.
- Lorne Gunter in the Edmonton Sun suggests that this is a political ploy to get more money from the provincial government to the tune of $500m.
- The mayor faced a firestorm on social media about this from transit riders and other progressives who are in the mayor’s base.
- As it stood before the shutdown, out of every dollar it takes to run transit, 60 cents of it came from taxpayers. This proves yet again that this city council in large part feels that the provincial government should run their vanity projects and fund wholly the core essentials while they deliberate like the student council body they are.
- Former City Councillor and defeated Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (who himself was a bus driver before politics) also joined the chorus and suggested that the Alberta government give the city more money.
- The situation was perhaps best summed up by Councillor Mike Nickel who tweeted a meme on Twitter saying, “so, the city makes transit fares free. Then free fares make our transit extra broke. Now the mayor wants to shut down public transit? But don’t worry we found $$$ to add dozens of emergency bike lanes! Probably enough left over to sneak in a gondola…”
- This is of course referring to the money the city spent to convert some roads to shared use and add an extra bike path and the ongoing consultations about whether our river valley needs a gondola.
- This image in itself shows the way the city council operates and why this is a fundamental problem for Edmonton Transit and for the city’s funding priorities.
- Border controls. In one form or another since the very beginning of the podcast, we've talked about border controls with an overarching theme that there is not much oversight on who's coming into Canada.
- This week, Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said that quicker action could have been taken in responding to the global pandemic, admitting that authorities were slow to act in closing the borders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Noting that the virus’ epicentre was in China early in the pandemic, it wasn’t until cases started appearing in Europe and the United States that she says sparked real concern in public health circles over it spreading to Canada.
- Tam says that "The virus itself (was) travelling across the world very fast. At that time, because of a very few cases, we were doing incremental measures."
- Critics have argued that Canada’s reaction to COVID-19 was haphazardly slow, full of contradictory messaging and following the lead of both the World Health Organization and the Chinese government. China has come under fire for allegedly downplaying the dangers while the rest of the world scrambled to contain its spread.
- On March 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the decision to keep the borders open, dismissing calls to close them as “knee-jerk reactions” that were not required to keep people safe.
- Two days after the U.S. declared a national emergency on March 13, Health Minister Patty Hajdu criticized calls to close the border, calling such measures “ineffective” against a global pandemic. Hajdu insisted that “Border measures are highly ineffective and, in some cases, can create harm,” repeating her prior claims that closing borders could actually harm attempts to mitigate the spread.
- Trudeau also said on March 13 that Canada was effectively managing coronavirus without closing borders. Days later on March 16, Canada did an about-face and closed the borders, and on March 18 banned all foreign nationals for all but essential travel.
- When asked by Bloc Quebecois MP Luc Theriault in a House of Commons committee if Tam should’ve acted sooner, she said she wouldn’t have second-guessed policy makers advising against a shutdown.
- Interrupted by Theriault who accused her of dodging his question, Tam relented, saying “Could we have done it faster? Possibly. That is definitely something that could have happened faster.”
- Data shows that the first patient was diagnosed to be on Nov 17th. By late December, the virus was spreading, while the Chinese government was censoring information. Airports in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan had started quarantining Chinese travellers by Dec. 31, with Taiwanese officials boarding flights seeking symptomatic passengers.
- China first contacted the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak on Jan. 5. While East Asia was being proactive about the virus, Canada was not. Tam herself was more concerned about calling out racist acts against Chinese Canadians than actually protecting all Canadians by calling for more stringent countermeasures. On Jan. 7, Tam said there’s “no evidence” of person-to-person spread, and called it a “positive sign” that no health-care workers had fallen ill.
- Days after Canada publicly announced the first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 25, some in the media like Brian Lilley called for stronger border screening for flights from China — then the hot spot for the virus. Countries around the world were implementing measures and it was widely discussed. Other countries instituted stricter measures, more robust screening and then eventually border closures long before Canada and have better results to show for it.
- While Canada currently sits at 16.27 deaths per 100,000 of population, countries that didn’t follow the path that Tam adopted from the World Health Organization fared much better.
- According to the global mortality data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Taiwan has just 0.03 deaths per 100,000; Australia, 0.40; New Zealand, 0.43; and Japan 0.61.
- Canada may be doing better than the United States and vastly better than Europe but we are not doing as well as we could have and part of that is due to Tam’s advice and the actions of her agency.
- She dismissed border controls as counter-productive, she implied they were racist and lectured the country about being inclusive. Not surprisingly, her annual report, released last December just before COVID struck, was titled “Addressing Stigma: Towards a More Inclusive Health System.”
- Tam and the Public Health Agency of Canada should have been preparing Canada for a pandemic but were focused on anything but. The agency spent more $5.6 million on climate change projects last year and only $3 million on funding the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile.
- Sally Thorton, a vice president at public health, told a Commons committee last week that “We actually do not focus on PPE,” Yet, they were set up to — in part, at least — focus on PPE for pandemics but chose not to over the last few years. Under Tam’s watch, health officials reduced the size of the stockpile to the point that it only had 100,000 N95 masks on hand when the pandemic struck.
- The pandemic has also raised the question if provinces should start to take control of their own border controls. The Alberta government this week released a plan that would model the success stories of South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, where earlier controls have led to a much lower infection rate.
- During the first phase, travellers arriving at the Calgary and Edmonton international airports from outside Canada will be required to pass through a provincial checkpoint where they will need to complete an Alberta isolation plan. Travellers will also undergo a thermal scan, as elevated body temperature is a potential symptom of COVID-19.
- Jason Kenney said this week: “Countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have been successful at mitigating the spread because they took immediate action securing their borders long before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. I’ve been clear it was irresponsible for Canada to wait so long to close our borders, especially from countries with high levels of infection. While Alberta does not control who can fly here, we will deploy a more rigorous approach in screening international arrivals. These measures are critical to ensure we continue to flatten the curve and keep Albertans safe.”
- If we cannot rely on Public Health Canada and the federal government to regulate border controls during a crisis, it begs the question, should not those agencies receive more scrutiny than they have for their role in Canada's response? And also, should provinces be able to include more border controls? With this federal government in power, it's looking like a better idea all the time.
Word of the Week
Subsidy - a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Going It Alone
Teaser: Our political parties are being subsidized by taxpayers, BC’s social programs are put on hold, and Edmonton might shut down its transit system for now. Also, Theresa Tam finally agrees that our border response could have been much more proactive.
Recorded Date: May 23, 2020
Release Date: May 24, 2020
Edit Notes: Patreon cut
Podcast Summary Notes