The News Rundown
- Alaskan politicians are doing their best to try to salvage the 2021 cruise ship season, a vital part of the remote Alaskan coastal economy, including by trying to change their own laws, and appealing to Justin Trudeau to change his mind on the cruise ship ban.
- Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Republican Congressman Don Young, all from Alaska, have written to Trudeau asking him to work with the group on Canada’s cruise ship ban for 2021, enacted this month. Canada’s ban on cruise ships is in effect until Feb. 28, 2022.
- Young has introduced the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act that would temporarily allow cruise ships to travel directly between Seattle and Alaska. Under the U.S.’s Passenger Vessel Services Act, all non-U.S.-flagged vessels, like most cruise ships, must stop in a foreign port such as Victoria or Vancouver before arriving in Alaska. In a statement, Young said the bill would provide relief for large cruise vessels, the lifeblood of Alaska’s summer tourism economy. He noted the relief would be temporary, applying only while Canadian ports are closed to the ships.
- Young said: “This month, Canada’s surprise decision to close their ports shocked Alaska’s communities, and has caused significant uncertainty for our small business owners and the broader tourism economy. But if cruises can safely proceed, and I believe they can, then we ought to be doing everything possible to alleviate the stress and anxiety of families whose livelihoods depend on tourists coming to Alaska to experience our great state. The COVID-19 pandemic devastated Alaska’s 2020 cruise season; we must not allow the same to happen to 2021’s season.”
- Some cruise lines have floated the idea of dropping anchor in Canadian waters, or “technical stops” where they just tie up in port but no passengers disembark. The Canadian government has indicated it would not support either option, but left the door open to doing so in the future.
- In a statement Friday, Transport Canada said that cruise vessels in Canadian waters pose a risk to the country’s health-care systems. “At this time, technical stops for cruise ships with passengers are not allowed. Should the COVID-19 pandemic sufficiently improve to allow the resumption of these activities, the Minister of Transport has the ability to rescind the interim orders. The Government of Canada will continue to evaluate the situation and make changes as necessary to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians.”
- Ian Robertson, chief executive of the organization that oversees the region’s cruise ship terminal at Ogden Point, said the GVHA is prepared to support the industry if Transport Canada, the province and public health officials allow cruise ships to dock in Victoria.
- Robertson said he thought any kind of stop in Victoria would be a long shot: “If Canada granted a technical stop we would support that, but I think the chances of that happening are very low. But we are monitoring and following it closely.”
- Robertson said while the economic benefit of technical stops would be a fraction of a typical cruise season in Victoria, it would offer work for longshore workers here and possible provision services. “For us it would be about allowing cruises to continue between Seattle and Alaska ports. Those communities have been hit incredibly hard. they are reliant on tourism and specifically cruise tourism.”
- Robertson said if the Passenger Vessel Services Act were waived this year he would have no fear it could become permanent. “It is an American law, there to protect American jobs,” he said, adding the cruise lines see real value in stopping in Victoria. “It’s a profitable cruise stop for the lines. They make a lot of revenue from shore excursions. Victoria is more than just ticking a box of PVSA requirements; they come here because they want to come here.”
- While the economic benefits of cruise ships stopping in the major coastal BC cities may be numerous, it appears that the federal government has no intention of lifting restrictions on the cruise line companies this year. While the Alaskans attempt to work with their own government on waiving restrictions, it will likely be for naught unless Trudeau has a major change of heart. What this could spell for the future of the industry will remain to be seen.
- Voters have gone to the polls in many of our provinces, BC included, since the start of the pandemic and in most cases the governments have been rewarded with bigger mandates.
- Much of the discussion in the media seems to focus around the idea that a spring election is all but a certainty.
- Opposition parties are on the record of saying they don’t want a spring vote and the NDP feels the same while they also apparently won’t support the upcoming budget if certain asks aren’t provided.
- The table is being set for a spring election both by the media and government at hand.
- Those who don’t read into the depths of parliament hill would not be aware of the angling that’s taking place.
- This week the House Affairs Committee raised the idea that Canadians should be able to vote by phone.
- The governing Liberals have a majority on this committee, other committees are controlled by the opposition, but not this one.
- For history's sake we need to be clear in noting that telephone voting has never been a method allowed in Canada.
- The opposition is against this proposal as they feel it opens our electoral process to fraud.
- A dirty word in the United States and is potentially poised to become one here too if we’re not careful.
- We need to realize that fraud occurs in every election at some level and the question is whether or not it has an impact on any results.
- Bloc Quebecois MPs in their minority report wrote, “Phone voting poses considerable challenges for properly verifying the identity of voters who vote this way. It also opens the door to fraud, something important to consider especially in light of the theft of data and personal information over the internet in recent years.”
- Conservative MPs also protested a proposal that mail in votes be counted after election day.
- “The election should end on election day and Canadians deserve to know the results without delay. Regardless of when the deadline to submit ballots occurs, there will be some votes that arrive too late. The anxiety and uncertainty that would be caused by a delay of election results is unacceptable.”
- Where have we heard this before?
- The United States.
- The difference here is that most of our politicians are calm and collected and this story isn’t driving media attention - yet.
- If it does though, you can expect fingers to be pointed at the opposition Conservatives primarily with some fire drawn by the Bloc Quebecois.
- 49,000+ Canadians voted by mail in 2019 and the vast majority were armed forces members.
- The Chief Electoral Officer for Canada has already budgeted $10m to process 5 million mail in ballots from people who live domestically who don’t want to vote in person.
- The plan is to have a prepaid package for mail-in ballots and we know how that went in BC.
- Elections Canada is certainly preparing for a pandemic election and the Liberals are setting the stage for more voting methods to come on tap in Canada and quickly.
- Our voting system is important and must be protected at all costs.
- Any push to have new voting methods, especially by telephone or online, should be subject to excess scrutiny.
- Absentee voting and voting by mail has been carried out successfully in our provinces and elsewhere in the world and it’s important for all political parties to not sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt into the process.
- Should a pandemic vote be held, mail in votes will have postage covered, for free, for the first time in Canadian history.
- For election Canada’s part they’ve also ordered 240,000 see through masks and 19 million single use pencils, 56 times the usual number of writing utensils.
- The masks will primarily be used by poll workers to ensure a more natural and empathetic experience.
- Overall Elections Canada is doing what they must to be ready since no party currently holds a majority of seats and an election could happen at any time.
- But reading the messaging coming out of committee, it’s clear that the Liberals see an election sooner rather than next year once the pandemic has largely passed.
- When the government falls or Trudeau engineers its defeat or dissolution remember that this election wasn’t necessary and only the government and media wanted it.
- SNC Lavalin and the federal government have made the news again, and to no one's surprise, it's not for a good reason. Just over a year after we learned of the SNC scandal, involving Trudeau's political interference in the independent judiciary, and breaking of multiple ethics laws, we now hear that Trudeau has been giving preferential treatment to the company once more.
- A few weeks into the pandemic, the government gifted SNC-Lavalin Group a sole-sourced $150 million contract for field hospitals – the only problem being no one asked for them. Blacklock’s Reporter revealed that records from the Department of Public Works show five months after signing the contract no one had bothered to fix any delivery dates for the mobile health units.
- The department at the time had paid $26,173,758 to SNC-Lavalin on the $150 million contract for a total five field hospitals. The contract was awarded April 9 without public notice to other bidders. The department cited “urgency” in justifying the deal: “The federal government was required to act with urgency to address a possible surge in demand on our health care system and in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”
- The department said each of the field hospitals was to contain 200 hospital beds, ventilators, masks, medical gowns and ten days’ worth of medication, back-up generators, water and oxygen tanks, X-ray machines, shower bays and latrines.
- “The self-sufficiency of the unit makes it extremely flexible for deployment where the need is greatest in Canada,” said a memo.
- The department said money spent to date on the contract included $2 million for design work and millions more spent on warehousing medical supplies for presumed future use.
- The contract was awarded despite a series of recent convictions and guilty pleas for wrongdoing involving SNC-Lavalin managers.
- The company since 2019 was fined $280 million for fraud over bribes paid to win construction contracts in Libya. SNC-Lavalin was also fined $1.9 million under the Competition Act for bid-rigging in Québec. A former company executive in 2018 was convicted in Québec Superior Court of bribery, fraud and laundering the proceeds of crime. In 2014, a second executive pleaded guilty to bribery in a Swiss Court.
- In separate cases three former SNC-Lavalin executives also pleaded guilty to breach of trust, use of a forged document and breach of the Elections Act involving $109,616 worth of illegal campaign contributions to Liberal Party organizers.
- In other SNC news, the group has released news that Ottawa's new LRT line, supposed to be serving Carleton University, is now almost half a year behind schedule, prompting questions between Ottawa council and the company on how they could get to this point with no updates over the previous 4 months. Only on Tuesday did the City's rail managers tell councillors Tuesday night about schedule 'challenges'.
- One wonders why after last year governments continue to do business with this company, given its many challenges and over budget projects being delayed. As for the sole source contracts - Trudeau's government should know better by now, but it's clear they haven't learned their lesson.
- Vaccines have been approved since December with the most recent jab being the product from AstraZeneca that has, to put it mildly, some questions around its efficacy for seniors.
- A single dose regimen put forward by Johnson and Johnson was approved in the United States this week.
- Canada’s deals with Pfizer and Moderna weren’t made until late in the process once Trudeau’s China vaccine deal had fallen through and we were near the back of the line.
- As a result the optimistic target of getting Canadians vaccinated has been targeted at September of this year by the government but non-government officials in the public-health community say in reality we could be closer to April 2022.
- This week the National Advisor Committee on Immunization issued guidance saying that the window between the first and second dose of all of the approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca) could be stretched to four months.
- The goal of the National Advisory Committee on Vaccinations is that Canada should maximize the number of individuals that benefit from the first dose of the vaccine by extending the interval between jabs.
- Based on data from the trials, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines show an efficacy of up to 92% 12-14 days after the first dose and the AstraZeneca vaccine appeared to be more effective with a greater gap between shots.
- The first Pfizer vaccine was produced in January of 2020, weeks after we first learnt of this new virus from China that became known as COVID-19.
- The clinical trials were sped up in such a way that after stage 1 trials, stage 2 and 3 could be conducted simultaneously allowing the product to be approved faster.
- From protecting ourselves with masks to social distancing and even in the far away realm of climate science we’re told to “follow the science.”
- The fully published findings of all of these vaccine programs recommends a gap of 4-6 weeks between doses, 3 for Moderna. While the data suggests that the vaccine can be effective, the full statistical rundown of the trials is one possible factor that led these companies to arrive at the recommendation of a two dose inoculation.
- It was only 4 days ago that the Chief Science Adviser in Canada, Mona Nemer, said that “British Columbia's decision to extend to four months the interval between first and second doses of three different vaccines amounts to a ‘population level experiment’.“
- She went further saying that, "I think it's really important that we stick with the data and with the great science that give us these fantastic vaccines, and not tinker with it.”
- The way the scientific community works is that you make an initial hypothesis, test it, reflect on it, write up your findings in a paper, and others can challenge it in the scientific community.
- A regimen as carried out in the initial clinical trials with a 3-4 week spacing between doses for the Pfizer and Moderna jabs was what was proven to work by the science.
- Mona Nemer feels that if provinces want to extend the gap to 4 months there should have to be another batch of clinical trials on the vaccines to ensure long term efficacy and safety.
- And it comes down to something as simple as what Nemer concluded her interview saying, "For now, we simply don't have enough data that tells us this is an effective strategy, particularly when we think that we have variants of the virus that are emerging that are not as well recognized by the vaccine.”
- So why does the National Advisory Council on Immunizations want to go down this road?
- Put simply if we go down this path as a country, 80% of the eligible population could be offered their first dose by the end of June.
- The National Advisory Council on Immunizations reports to the Public Health Agency of Canada which is part of the Ministry of Health.
- And what does June line up with? The probable time for Justin Trudeau’s hypothetical spring election that according to the media, seems all but a certainty.
- Vaccines are not something to mess around with, they’re designed often with years of scientific rigour and careful experimentation.
- To ignore the scientific method in exchange for expediency is downright irresponsible without the proper clinical trials and widespread testing.
- We could go into what phase 1-3 trials of a vaccine look like but suffice to say, they’re trials where tens of thousands patients are carefully monitored after receiving a changed dose for months by doctors and scientists.
- If we’re to ignore the scientific process for the vaccines, one may ask, why didn’t we just start jabbing people with Pfizer last summer when the first trials were complete?
- For those looking for an analogy, this would be exactly what someone wanting to skirt the science in the name of getting vaccines out faster would have done, all in an effort to speed up the vaccine timeline in Canada because we are going so slow.
- As for Justin Trudeau, he’s “very optimistic” that the vaccine rollout can be accelerated and moved closer in line to what the US expects for completion by this summer.
Word of the Week
Experiment - a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.
Quote of the Week
“British Columbia's decision to extend to four months the interval between first and second doses of three different vaccines amounts to a ‘population level experiment’.“ -- Chief Science Adviser of Canada, Mona Nemer
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Experimenting With Reality
Teaser: Alaska pleads for cruises while Trudeau says no, alternative voting methods are being readied for a possible spring election, and SNC gets a sole sourced $150M contract for field hospitals. Also, a 4 month gap between vaccine doses leads to questions.
Recorded Date: March 5, 2021
Release Date: March 7, 2021
Edit Notes: Something that shall not be named at election story
Podcast Summary Notes