The News Rundown
- No matter how much one tries to get away from the news of the pandemic it is brought up time and time again.
- This week the NDP shared “leaked modelling data” as they call it with the media.
- The data itself shows projected trends for ICU usage over the next few weeks.
- First things first, this is not modelling, it is a projection.
- Modelling needs to take into account the entire picture of the pandemic from test positivity rates to virus reproduction value and total cases.
- The data shown, even says that this is from the AHS Early Warning system that in itself is always used even outside the pandemic.
- The last batch of official COVID-19 modelling was done in April and the province says they have not sought any further model development.
- This should have been the end of the story but it wasn’t.
- First, the media received confidential data from an internal system and should not have published it as it serves to only push one narrative.
- Second, nowhere and no-one has talked about Alberta’s actual hospital capacity.
- On September 20th, the CBC reported that Alberta’s ICU capacity was 272, this number included both adult and paediatric ICU beds as well as cardiac patients but didn’t include burn beds.
- As of October 20th, Alberta had 70 specific dedicated COVID-19 ICU beds.
- Just this past week the province said that there are over 8,000 hospital beds available while just under 200 of them are ICU beds.
- The province aims to add 2250 beds and 425 ICU beds over the coming weeks.
- The data gets more interesting though when you look at the entire Alberta Health Services Picture: There are 35 ICUs consisting of just over 700 beds that include a breakdown of adult, cardiac, cardiovascular, paediatric, and neonatal ICU beds. Splitting this evenly, that would be 140 ICU beds in each category but it’s fair to say it won’t be split evenly.
- In April when the modelling was initially done Premier Kenney said that there could be as many as 1,081 ICU beds made available if necessary.
- What is ultimately clear from all of this is that the number of ICU beds depends based on what kind of unit you’re looking at and when you’re making that measurement.
- It also doesn’t begin to touch the idea that even in April the province was ready to respond with more than 1000 ICU Beds.
- ICU capacity is treated as a linear number in the daily reporting in such that it is assumed that one person coming in and going out means the number should go down, but what actually happens is one person goes in, another goes out, and the ICU number remains constant.
- Dr. David Zygun, medical director for the Edmonton health zone, said that under normal circumstances the province's ICUs operate at 70 to 90% capacity and at times over 100%.
- The reporting this week has also led the province to be the lead of the national news and the target of Ontario’s health minister.
- ICU doctors have been seen on TV becoming emotional as they say that if beds fill up they may have to resort to triage, deciding who has the best chance to live, but remember, that’s what they went to school for.
- Concern has also been raised about the potential of a field hospital being set up in Calgary but the province has said this is about being prepared and the resources are unlikely to be needed.
- Instead, the focus should be on the news that Alberta is slated to get its first vaccine shipment on January 5th with health care workers and those in long term care receiving the first doses.
- This is news that the federal government could not deliver last week but once again Alberta has taken the lead on our own affairs.
- The story should have also been that we are one step closer to ending the pandemic and our hospital system has the capacity to fill the needs of those who may get sick.
- BC Ferries has been in the news again, and this time it's not a lighthearted story about a mask wearing logo that looks suspiciously like something else. During a recent voyage home, BC Ferries passenger David Franklin was handed a leaflet from Transport Canada, warning if he didn’t leave his truck and move up to the passenger deck, he might pay dearly for it. The Nanaimo resident couldn't believe his eyes when he read out what the pamphlet said: “Transport Canada may issue fines of up to $12,000 to any passenger for the unauthorized and illegal access to the enclosed decks while a ferry is underway.”
- When passengers refuse to leave their vehicles on the lower car deck, ferry staff come around, knock on windows, and inform drivers of the rules. Their refusal to leave will be reported to Transport Canada, staff say. So far, roughly 1,000 drivers have been reported, though fines have yet to be determined.
- Franklin, who takes the ferry every two weeks, wants to stay in his truck to avoid getting COVID-19: “I’m risking my family, I’m risking everything by going up to the top deck. Transport Canada needs to realize who’s going to pay for my family if I go up and get COVID.”
- For decades, passengers were allowed to remain on the lower decks. Then, in 2017, Transport Canada laid down the law: everyone had to leave. In March, when the pandemic first surfaced, passengers were allowed to return, but in September - as COVID-19 cases had already begun to spike again - Transport Canada reversed that decision.
- According to Transport Canada, adequate measures are now in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it isn't safe for people to be in their vehicles on decks that aren't open: "BC Ferries must comply with Transport Canada regulations and the company supports the regulation and its intent," reads an announcement from the federal department. "Enclosed car decks are spaces that represent inherent risk to the travelling public."
- Journalists have requested an interview with the transportation authority, but are being told that senior staff were too busy. In earlier statements, Transport Canada said the rules were needed to ensure the safety of passengers on lower enclosed decks.
- Premier John Horgan raised the issue with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. When the decision was initially reversed in September, he had harsh words against the decision: "This is an unwelcome intrusion by the federal government. We believe our marine highway is an essential service to a huge number of British Columbians."
- When informed this past Wednesday it could amount in a $12,000 fine, he said “Well, I didn’t realize it was $12,000, so that’s new information for me. By and large, I believe it’s the greater of two evils. I would prefer that people stay in isolation in their car rather than going into a communal area where they could transmit or collect COVID-19.”
- Other ferry systems around the world, including in nearby Washington State, encourage passengers to remain in their cars. In fact, passengers who park on BC Ferries' upper decks are asked to remain there. They should only leave to get something to eat or use the washrooms. Transport Canada, still refusing an interview, argued not all ferries are built the same way.
- In early November, RCMP officers started to do walkabouts aboard some BC Ferries vessels to help “educate passengers” and enforce federal transportation rules. The RCMP said Transport Canada and BC Ferries requested help from officers to conduct “joint on-board ‘walkabouts’ and to enforce the regulation.”
- The fines are a much harsher penalty than what is in place from the province to penalize those who organize large, unsafe gatherings or ignore provincial health orders. Those fines can be anywhere from $200 to $2000.
- Darren Johnston, BC Ferries executive director of fleet operations, admits the timing is not ideal but said BC Ferries had little choice. Transport Canada was "firm" on its decision and any discussion between the federal agency and BC Ferries regarding this matter is now over, according to Johnston.
- He said ferry staff will try to direct as many cars onto unaffected upper car decks as possible. The renewed policy won't change the number of vehicles allowed onto ferries. Johnston also said ferry staff will try to organize the departure and return from car decks so passengers do not crowd stairs and space around elevators: "It's going to take a cooperative effort by everybody involved, our crew and passengers alike. We just need to make sure that everyone maintains a cool head."
- If it weren't for an unwelcome intrusion by the federal government, passengers like David Franklin, who need to use the ferries frequently, could travel with peace of mind.
- Boil water advisories on reserves will not be lifted by March 2021 as promised.
- Indigenous Services Canada has said that 97 boil-water advisories have been lifted since 2016, while 59 remain in place in 41 communities.
- Those listening from abroad may be shocked to hear that portions of our population live without potable water.
- Canada is held up as one of the great indicators of triumph and progress but these boil water advisories exist and put parts of Canada on the level of Africa.
- The government came out this week and admitted that the target won’t be hit and said that more than $1.5b is available to finish the work.
- The funding will include $616.3 million over six years to help train water treatment plant operators and help retain qualified workers, while $553.4 million will go to help prevent future drinking water advisories, and $309.8 million will pay for work halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other project delays.
- A few weeks back on the podcast we covered the current situation at Roxham Road in Quebec.
- There in addition to hotels housing migrants, The Rebel uncovered trucked in water for use by the illegal migrants.
- Instead, here, for people who have lived in Canada for generations, and are Canadians, are sitting on boil water advisories.
- Members of the Neskantaga First Nation have been residing in a Thunder Bay hotel for more than 40 days.
- Neskantaga First Nation is a remote fly-in community 450km north of Thunder Bay where the water is not safe to use.
- Neskantaga has the longest-duration boil water advisory of any reserve in the country — for at this point, 25 years.
- 300+ Neskantaga members have been staying at the Victoria Inn Hotel since October 19th.
- The hotel has become a community where one ballroom has been turned into a classroom and Christmas plans at the hotel are going ahead.
- The earliest estimate of when they might be able to return home is December 15th but with that Band Councillor Gary Quisess is skeptical.
- The long awaited fiscal update from the federal government was finally delivered by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday. The fiscal update, which was carefully not called a budget, but is still subject to a confidence vote in the House of Commons, laid out the economic plan, or lack thereof, of the government for the foreseeable future. For those looking for a reduction of federal spending? They will be sorely disappointed.
- The Liberal government is preparing to spend up to $100 billion to kick start the post-pandemic economy as it stares down a record-high deficit projection of more than $381 billion for this fiscal year. Freeland said the government's immediate priority is to do "whatever it takes" to help Canadians and businesses stay safe and solvent.
- The short-term stimulus package is valued at $70 billion to $100 billion over roughly three years. The government says the stimulus spending — intended to build a greener, more inclusive, more innovative and competitive economy — will launch after a vaccine is distributed and life begins to return to normal. Remember when we talked about the economic "great reset" that the mainstream media had labelled a baseless conspiracy theory? This is what this is referring to.
- Freeland had this to say on the matter: "When the virus is under control and our economy is ready for new growth, we will deploy an ambitious stimulus package to jump-start our recovery. Spending roughly three to four per cent of GDP, over three years, our government will make carefully judged, targeted and meaningful investments to create jobs and boost growth."
- So in essence, even after the vaccine is here, whenever that is, and we can start getting back to normal, the Liberals will continue to spend and spend and drive the country further into debt, because they go off the debt to GDP ratio to point to successes. What happens when the economy shrinks or interest rates go up? Well, they will still continue to spend.
- The minister said the risks associated with not providing enough economic support right now outweigh those involved in spending too much. Freeland said the government will not repeat what she called were the "mistakes" made following the 2008 recession, when the Stephen Harper led Conservative minority government introduced austerity measures to rein in spending. After some initial stimulus spending, Harper's government cut federal spending across the board with a deficit reduction action plan that downsized the budgets of most departments and agencies by five to 10 per cent.
- It was a predictable cheap shot from the Liberals, who never miss an opportunity to blame a government that hasn't been in power for over 5 years. Those who actually have working memories will know that after the 2008 recession, Canada was in a far better position than many other western countries. The Harper Conservatives managed that global recession without Canada having the highest unemployment or spending of our allies. For the Trudeau Liberals to go in the complete opposite direction completely is worrying.
- Not only that, but the federal government is making more intrusions into provincial government territory. With promises of a national child care program, a national pharma care program and national standards for long term care, this fiscal plan is an all-out assault on provincial jurisdiction.
- Given Trudeau’s record in handling the federal response to the pandemic, premiers would be wise to oppose his plans to muscle in on their constitutional-guaranteed jurisdiction with his national programs. As we've noted in different episodes of Western Context, Trudeau and his government botched dealing with the border in the early days of COVID, they spread misinformation about the effectiveness of masks in the first few months of the pandemic, only to reverse their decision later on. They also dropped the ball with the emergency stockpile and early warning system and now they are messing up the delivery of vaccines.
- The feds are often given credit when it comes to financial supports but even there, they’ve gotten it wrong more than right and they show that in this update. The wage subsidy was originally introduced last spring at 10% despite protests from both the Conservatives and NDP that it should be 75% to save jobs. They eventually got it to 75% after a long delay that helped speed up layoffs and then reduced it to an amount up to 65% as the second wave of COVID was hitting. The wage subsidy will now go back up to 75%.
- They’ve also messed up the rent subsidy for small businesses more than once and on a loan program for large corporations gave out more contracts to consultants than loans to businesses.
- Not only that, but their hailing success, CERB and its replacement, were also a failure in that it penalized people from going back to work. This has led to massive unemployment that sees Canada 2nd only to Italy in the G7 for unemployment numbers.
- Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole called the economic statement a "stealth budget" and accused the government of "burning money to hide its incompetence." He called the government's response to the pandemic "erratic and confused." O'Toole said the government's approach is to add to the national debt load rather than create the conditions that would get people back to work.
- O'Toole said there can be no plan for rebuilding the economy until there is a solid plan to procure vaccines: "Our government had the duty to learn from its errors in the first wave, but instead of that, it failed to provide vaccines for Canadians at the same time as our allies."
- The Conservatives have been critical of the government's efforts to secure rapid testing and vaccines, accusing the Liberals of leaving Canadians at the back of the line for vaccinations.
- As for this fiscal update providing a plan for the economy, it’s only a plan to use the pandemic as an excuse to act on Liberal spending promises they’ve never felt they could afford. Now it’s full steam ahead on Trudeau’s transformation of Canada.
- The finance minister said the next federal budget — expected sometime in spring 2021 — will present a more concrete plan on how Ottawa will provide "affordable, accessible, inclusive and high-quality child care from coast to coast to coast." The federal government is committing $20 million now to begin the work of crafting its new "child care vision."
- The fall economic statement tabled by Freeland includes $70-100 billion in unspecified fiscal stimulus spending over the next three years, earmarked for jump-starting an economy hammered by lockdowns. The money to pay for a national child-care plan could be drawn from those funds.
- While the details have yet to be worked out, the federal government will send more than $400 million to the provinces and territories starting in the next fiscal year to begin recruiting more early child-care educators ahead of a possible surge in new spaces.
- NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the Liberal plan to launch a secretariat pushes a national child-care plan further down the line, when support is needed now to help care providers struggling with staff shortages and spiking COVID-19-related costs. Singh said "The Liberal government is nowhere near what is required to not only keep the existing spaces. They're nowhere near even expanding to get to universal child care. That's where we're at right now."
- In creating a framework for a national child-care system to reduce costs for families and encourage more women with kids to join the workforce, the government plans to further levy sales taxes on digital companies to help pay for all their promises. But make no mistake, the media would lead you to believe that big mega-corporations like Netflix, Apple, Spotify, and others would be paying tax to the government. No, the companies will not be paying the tax. It will be another sales tax on consumers, yet another Liberal intrusion into the wallets of Canadian citizens.
- Under the current rules, foreign-based digital businesses without a physical presence in Canada can sell goods and services without charging the GST or HST. U.S.-based Netflix, for example, doesn't levy the GST or HST on its digital streaming services nationwide — but Apple, which does have Canadian operations, charges all its iTunes customers the relevant taxes.
- Quebec and Saskatchewan already require Canadian and foreign digital service suppliers to register for and collect provincial sales tax on services like Netflix and Spotify.
- The government says the current regime is unfair to Canadian companies and "deprives the government of tax revenues that could be used to better the lives of everyone." Freeland said sales taxes will apply to all goods and services consumed in Canada — regardless of how they are supplied. It's consumers who will pay the tax, not the companies themselves.
- While the federal government has long said it would coordinate any new regime with other Western nations, Freeland said Canada is now prepared to go it alone on taxing digital companies. Former finance minister Bill Morneau had said the government would pursue digital sales taxes only once other G20 nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) crafted standards that could be applied in all jurisdictions. That international work is still ongoing.
- Some observers — including Michael Geist, an internet law professor at the University of Ottawa — have warned it will be difficult to create this new tax as there will be significant administrative and enforcement challenges.
- The decision to tax services offered by companies like Netflix is an about-face for this Liberal government. In the 2015 federal election campaign, then Conservative leader Stephen Harper promised a government led by him would never tax Netflix and the Liberals responded with a no-Netflix-tax promise of their own.
- There have also been changes to a program meant to help the provinces weather extraordinary drops in revenue have been given a thumbs-down by both government and opposition politicians in Alberta.
- Federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland announced the changes to the fiscal stabilization program while delivering her government's economic update on Monday.
- The cap currently set at $60 per person is set to jump to $170 per person in the current fiscal year. Provinces are eligible for extra funding if they experience a five per cent year-over-year drop in non-resource revenues, or a decrease of more than 50 per cent in resource revenues.
- When asked about the changes on Tuesday, Finance Minister Travis Toews said they weren't what Alberta was asking for: "Very disappointed that the caps weren't lifted entirely. It really doesn't go far enough."
- If Ottawa removed the $60 cap for the period going back to the 2015-16 collapse in global oil prices, Toews says Alberta would be entitled to receive another $2.9 billion in stabilization payments.
- Toews received some support for his position from an unexpected source — Opposition leader NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who also agrees payments should be retroactive: "We also put forward the same position when we were in government that the finance minister is currently putting forward that there should be no cap," Notley said.
- All in all, the federal government is spending way more than it should, is trying to reshape the economy for their own goals, and is muscling in on provincial jurisdiction at a time when provinces and the federal government should be working together. But for those who have watched the Trudeau government in the past 5 years, it's business as usual.
Word of the Week
Fiscal - relating to government revenue, especially taxes.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Unwelcome Intrusions
Teaser: ICU bed totals in Alberta are misreported, a federal decision may put BC Ferries passengers at risk, and Trudeau admits he failed to solve the First Nations boil water advisories. Also, a fiscal update from Freeland leads to more spending and taxes.
Recorded Date: December 3, 2020
Release Date: December 6, 2020
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes