The News Rundown
- According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, by June 2020, retirement and nursing homes accounted for over 80 per cent of Canada’s coronavirus deaths. Among the world’s richest nations, Canada had the highest proportion of deaths occurring in long-term care. It's been a big problem that Canada has so far failed to address adequately.
- The BC Ministry of Health had to spin a few stories for the media when talking about a recently uncovered report it commissioned into managing pandemic risks and infections in long-term care homes. The main issue that they had to deal with is that the report was released to the government just 2 days before last fall's election, that the NDP called unnecessarily in order to give themselves more power.
- The report, which was released by the province on Monday, was completed by professional services company Ernst & Young and dated Oct. 22. Only last week did the ministry even grudgingly admit that the Ernst & Young report existed, while downplaying the findings. A ministry of Health official called the report “A minor report designed to assist ministry staff in addressing issues,” and further said that “Minister Adrian Dix’s schedule cannot accommodate an interview at this time.”
- Next day, Dix himself met with reporters and got off to a bad start when asked about the long-term care report.
- “It’s not a review of care homes,” he insisted. “It’s a review of the services provided by people dealing with care homes in the Ministry of Health — how we could learn from the first phase of COVID-19 to draw lessons for the second phase.”
- The Health Ministry itself gave a more ambitious description of the review back in the summer of 2020: “The review is focused on understanding the sources of infection and risk, the impact of B.C.’s operational response, and recommendations for appropriate policy and operational approaches to continue to mitigate COVID-19 risks moving into the fall.”
- Dix gave a second misleading answer when asked why the report hadn’t been made public: “It was public in the sense that more than 40 groups were consulted as to the kind of services that were provided.” The findings were never provided to those groups, never mind with the public.
- Several stakeholders who participated in the review over the summer expected to receive copies of the document when it was completed and were told that would be early in the fall. They didn’t get anything until the document was finally made public the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 25.
- The CEO of the BC Care Providers Association wasn’t terribly surprised by the contents of the report, though he was disappointed that it took so long to see them.
- "The lack of coordination, the inconsistent messaging, the information differences that occurred in different health authorities, and between health authorities and the Health Ministry ... have been addressed but there's still confusion around policy, around approaches," said Terry Lake.
- “Some of the confusion and mixed messaging has been better lately because we bring this up every single week in our meetings with the Ministry of Health. And I have to say, the Ministry of Health officials we deal with are excellent, but they have to (talk to) the health authorities or the provincial health officer and then we wait a week to find out the answer. There really hasn't been a co-ordinated, consistent approach to a pandemic and of course the deadly impact on long-term care."
- Striking out for a third time on Friday, Dix also claimed that the report was largely flattering to the NDP government. “Overwhelmingly, I should say, it is favourable to the performance of the government in the first phase.”
- Unfortunately for Dix, the contents did not match the ministry’s characterization (“minor”) or the minister’s (“overwhelmingly favourable”).
- Rather, over 28 pages, Ernst & Young detailed failings in prevention of infections, emergency preparedness, staffing, training, and communications in long-term care and related facilities. The review also found the Health Ministry had showed favouritism in distributing personal protective equipment to public and non-profit care homes over private ones. The report closed with 14 short-term and five longer-term recommendations.
- Ernst & Young also highlighted organizational problems within the Provincial Health Emergency Coordination Centre (HECC) that meant “planning and operations workstreams were not coordinated in supporting the planning, sourcing, purchasing and distribution of PPE” and there was “confusion around who was authorized to make key decisions, including direction to (health authorities) to enter into commitments to use funds specifically around additional PPE.”
- Dix said he only became aware of the report 10 days ago. He conceded that the ministry should have released it sooner. He excused the staff for the lapse (“they have been working their guts out”) and accepted responsibility himself: “I am the minister of health.” Still, he insisted that the outcomes for the long-term care sector “have been positive — or were positive especially at the time the report was done. It has been more challenging since.” That is an understatement.
- The research for the report was conducted in July and August, when the self-congratulatory phase of the B.C. government’s management of the pandemic was at a pinnacle.
- The report was delivered to the ministry Oct. 22. Which is to say just two days before election day and at the end of the five-week stretch when the New Democrats put the entire government into caretaker mode while launching a self-serving bid for a second term.
- All the while, the second wave of the pandemic had been building without decisive action to contain the outbreaks in long-term care.
- On the day the report landed in the caretaker’s inbox at the Health Ministry, the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, reported 17 active outbreaks in long-term care, involving 546 residents and 404 staff.
- Yet the Health Ministry chose not to provide the report with the watchdog on long-term care, seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie, who said she “received my copy when the public did today.” Mackenzie contrasted the situation in long-term care when Ernst & Young did its research and how the outbreak has unfolded since then.
- “At the end of August, overall, we had experienced 41 outbreaks and about half of them had been contained to a single case. Since that time we have had a further 175 outbreaks, with less than a third of them contained to a single case.”
- Had the report’s unflattering findings been released back in October, there might well have been greater pressure on the government to take decisive action sooner than it did to protect long-term care home residents.
- This October residents of Edmonton, Calgary and many municipalities will elect new city councils, mayors in some cases, vote in a number of provincial referendums, and select senators.
- We will have occasional coverage of the municipal elections this fall, we’ll keep the politicians honest with their campaign promises (most of which are reminiscent of school council promises) and of course highlight what the media won’t.
- This week in Edmonton the mayor’s race heated up with two new entrants in Kim Krushell and Mike Nickel.
- Other registered candidates include Cheryll Watson who is the former head of Innovate Edmonton and Diana Steele, president of the Crestwood Community League.
- Current Mayor Don Iveson announced that he would not be seeking re-election.
- In her announcement Kim Krushell made note of the many businesses struggling and those that have closed and that this combined with other challenges of the day made her realize that she was the right leader for “now”.
- She also touts a “balanced and bold” approach but hasn’t provided platform details as of yet.
- Enter Mike Nickel.
- Mike Nickel, a current councillor who ran for mayor in the past against former mayor Bill Smith, promises to focus on real issues for Edmontonians and that “the woke special interest groups have had their time” at City Hall.
- Mike Nickel will provide the best value to city residents, fiscally and socially.
- If elected he aims to create the most fair and affordable place to do business in North America.
- He also aims to slim down the bloated middle management and shift focus from layers of management to the front-line workers.
- Other pledges include ending photo radar and replacing the program with flashing speed signs, ending the Epcor solar complex in the river valley and keeping it natural, and pausing the west LRT project.
- Many Edmontonians or Calgarians when they think of LRT think of fast underground or surface grade trains similar to what we see on our capital line or in cities like London or New York.
- Many people do not know that the west valley line LRT would be an at grade train system that moves at 40 km/hr with the flow of traffic.
- The project is slated to cost $2.7b (originally $1.1b) and the only benefit is that it can move more people, not necessarily faster, than our cars can.
- To address this project and other expensive projects, he wants council to create an Independent Project Management Office that would be responsible for vetting projects going forward, can it be done for this amount of money? Can it be done in this time frame?
- Nickel ultimately wants to pause the project and consider bus rapid transit as an alternative.
- This all fits within his umbrella of aiming for a city where projects will be planned properly and have oversight as he feels both of those are missing today.
- Most of his focus is around jobs and the economy and to quote Nickel himself, “it’s not about gondolas and bike lanes anymore.”
- These are the first policies he aims to put forward, the goal is to restructure the city council, tune it for economic growth, and focus on jobs.
- This is something that the city needs dearly and will need if the pandemic control measures are to continue for much longer.
- We will have more on the race for mayor in Edmonton and Calgary as it progresses.
- Everyone, including those running, need to realize that now needs to be a time where all levels of government focus on recovery. It’s time to re-tool for that and any council or mayoral candidate needs to be abundantly aware of this.
- Other potential candidates include councillor Andrew Knack and former Trudeau Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi.
- The federal government paid more than 300,000 teenagers, many of them high schoolers, nearly $636 million in benefits over the course of the CERB program, according to documents from the Canada Revenue Agency.
- The documents, obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter, an Ottawa online news outlet, show that thousands of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 were approved for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program, which was brought into place to help Canadians weather job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Dec 2020, the program has ended and those recipients still on the program have transferred to EI.
- The criteria were relatively open, with benefits available to those who had earned more than $5,000 in the year prior to applying, along with a handful of other eligibility requirements.
- Over the course of the pandemic 8.9 million Canadians applied and nearly $82 billion had been paid out as of early October, according to the most recent government statistics. Those under the age of 25 accounted for around 18 per cent of total accepted applicants.
- Statistics Canada data show those between 15 and 24 were hardest hit by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Between February and March of last year, 873,000 people in this age range lost their jobs. By April, another 385,000 lost all or most of their hours.
- Already, there have been a number of issues with the CERB benefits, including concerns about repayment shocks to some who thought they were eligible. In December, for example, the CRA sent letters to around 500,000 Canadians seeking more information about eligibility and raising concerns among some that they would have to repay their benefits.
- At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said around one million Canadians had already repaid benefits after realizing they were ineligible.
- Tom Korski, managing editor of Blacklock’s Reporter, said suspicious payments under the CERB program weren’t adding up: “The Canada Revenue Agency — this is ‘The Big Machine’ — were swarmed by a bunch of teenagers and it cost two-thirds of a billion dollars out the door. You’ll never see that money again.” Korski said.
- “They tried to do their job,” Korski said of Canada’s politicians. “MPs and senators put in that bill that it was to help workers who lost employment income … and were in dire straits due to the pandemic … The CRA mismanaged this program so badly.”
- Korski said the CERB program was implemented with good intentions, but was taken advantage of because it was passed too quickly. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said Wednesday an investigation is underway examining CERB payments to teens.
- Newly released documents show federal officials have been aware since the fall that some new parents might be receiving a smaller amount of money than they would have if not for a change in the way COVID-19 pandemic benefits are delivered to Canadians.
- On Sept. 27, eligible recipients started moving on to the decades-old EI system where the minimum weekly payment was set at $500 in line with the three "recovery" benefits. Prior to that date, benefits were calculated based on earnings, meaning any new parent that started their EI claim before the change could receive less than $500 a week.
- There were issues with how the system handled soon-to-be-mothers applying for emergency aid, which denied them CERB payments until changes to the system could be made and back payments processed.
- As well, other new parents, or those waiting the birth of their child, were put directly on EI benefits if they had enough hours to qualify, while those that didn't were put on the CERB until the government came up with a fix.
- That fix meant a one-time reduction in the number of hours needed to qualify for benefits to address concerns that some parents would lose out on benefits because they lost work hours through no fault of their own. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 35 per cent of new mothers outside of Quebec, which has its own system, didn't qualify for federal benefits.
- The pandemic has shone a light on the long-standing issue around the hours requirement, said Brock University's Andrea Doucet, an expert on parental-leave programs. Doucet said: "This was made even worse as women lost jobs and reduced (their) hours. The reduction in insurable hours was presented as temporary, but will it lead to more inclusive policies that enable more parents to make claims?"
- It's clear that in the rush to pass legislation on CERB, the federal government did not set up the parameters correctly so that people who needed the benefit the most did not get it, whereas others who did not need the benefits were receiving the maximum amount. It's another example of the incompetence of the government who should have taken a better route to dividing up the emergency benefits more fairly so that we wouldn't be in more debt than we are anyway.
- The COVID situation is still with us a year later despite waffling in the beginning and continuing questions about just what exactly our federal government is doing.
- For the last 3 weeks we have had zero good news on the vaccine front. The reason for this can be of course traced back to the Trudeau government’s partnership with China on the Sinovac vaccine.
- That vaccine project in which we invested money flopped only days later and we didn’t find out until August. It wasn’t until then that Canada entered into contracts with Pfizer and Moderna.
- It’s almost as though our federal government thought that China’s vaccine would be more reliable than the two vaccines developed in the United States under the Trump administration’s operation Warp Speed.
- The Sinovac vaccine turned out to be only 50% effective and is for all intents and purposes, useless.
- We’re still feeling the ramifications from the vaccination blunders that no one wants to talk about.
- But we’ve also made blunders at our borders.
- Today it was announced that all of our major airlines will stop offering service to the Caribbean and Mexico until April 30th.
- Two-hundred thousand plus Canadians left Canada on a vacation since October on over 1500 flights.
- Also, international arrivals will once again only be limited to the airports at Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal.
- Upon return from an international destination will have to quarantine in an approved hotel for three days… AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE.
- Following this, those who receive a negative test result can go home while the others will spend their quarantine in a government facility.
- Speaking on Friday, the Prime Minister said, "With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying.”
- We completely agree with this sentiment, in fact this is the very sentiment we should have acted upon last year.
- Aside from the first batch of cases from China, most of our cases imported were the European variety, most notably from spring break.
- Acting in January, February, or even March in terms of imposing flight limits could have limited the number of cases coming and maybe moved us closer to the likes of Taiwan or Australia.
- Back when the pandemic began we said that to control this virus we need to be ruthless or it will move through society, there are no half measures, and quite frankly western society does not have the stomach for what is needed to control the virus.
- Looking at countries like China, they forcefully confined people to their homes if sick or if they came into contact with an infected case. They could not leave their neighbourhood even if they were well.
- In other south-east asian countries they utilized tracking apps on phones that relied on actual location tracking rather than the hit or miss bluetooth tracking method we have seen used.
- We could have gone down that path and these travel restrictions upon return show shades of what countries like China did with mandatory quarantines away from home and in government facilities.
- We also need to realize that this is all a political distraction away from the vaccine problem as highlighted. These restrictions may work and may be needed, they’re largely a feel good measure as we could’ve used them last year, last fall, or even last month.
- The government doesn’t do much with this outside of the government facility option and the least they could have done was cover the hotel fees for those held up in a hotel.
- The cost for the hotel stay is said to be a uniform $2,000 per person, which is something given the high spending ways of this government that they could afford.
- Matt Gurney, writing in the national post says: The entire pandemic has been a fascinating case study between two duelling realities: modest but early action is preferable to late and heavy-handed measures (does anyone dispute this?), but it’s also hard to rally much public support for disruptive actions until the need for it is obvious.
- This sums up the core discussion of the pandemic perfectly. Canada seems to be a country that does favour the government putting forward a plan, except that plan needs to work.
- It’s worked quite well in Alberta and BC. Quebec and Ontario are a different story but success depends on the provincial governments in this endeavour since we’ve been left at the wheel on our own by the federal government.
Word of the Week
Woke - refers to a perceived awareness of social and racial justice issues, deriving from the African-American expression, “stay woke”
Quote of the Week
“The entire pandemic has been a fascinating case study between two duelling realities: modest but early action is preferable to late and heavy-handed measures, but it’s also hard to rally much public support for disruptive actions until the need for it is obvious.” - Mark Gurney, writer for National Post
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Blunders at the Border
Teaser: A mothballed report on BC long term care homes has the NDP scrambling, Edmonton councillor Mike Nickel is running for mayor to counter woke groups, and $636M of CERB payments go to teenagers. Also Trudeau announces new travel restrictions that come too late.
Recorded Date: January 29, 2021
Release Date: January 31, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes