The News Rundown
- John Horgan has brought new restrictions in, people are pushing Jason Kenney to do the same, Doug Ford has shut down Ontario, and the continued pandemic discussion of cases and hospitalizations dominates the narrative.
- So while cases, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions are what the media focuses on, we have to of course have an uncomfortable discussion about where our deaths in this country actually came from.
- In terms of pandemic control there are three options: COVID zero representing getting case numbers down to zero or almost zero at great cost to businesses and the social fabric of society, targeted restrictions to blunt the speed of hospitalizations in an effort to minimize economic impact (this is what all of Canada has done except the Atlantic bubble to varying degrees), and no restrictions whatsoever with an emphasis on sheltering those most at risk who are elderly, have compromised immune systems, or multiple comorbidities.
- This week the Canadian Institute for Health Information released a new report on COVID-19 deaths in long term care homes comparing Canada to other countries.
- As of recording Canada has had about 23,000 deaths. The report says that 69% of these deaths came from long term care homes, representing 14,000 people.
- Our current death count sits at 23,000.
- The international average was only 41%. This puts our percentage 69% higher than the international average.
- Running from February 2020 to March 2021 more than 80,000 residents and staff were infected in 2,500 care homes.
- While the deaths are a horrible number the study also sheds a light on what was going on in our long term care homes.
- Residents received less medical care, they had fewer visits from doctors, and there were fewer hospital transfers.
- Dr. Samir Sinha said that this report “really tells us that there were things that we could have done to avoid a lot of the deaths that we saw in Canada and that countries, frankly, that were better prepared prior to the pandemic, that had better funded systems, they performed far better than Canada has… Relative to other nations in the world, Canada has actually the worst record overall.”
- Dr. Sinha is director of health policy research and co-chair at the National Institute on Ageing which is a partner in the aforementioned study.
- Residents' health not only deteriorated but their mental health did as well with family members not being able to visit in person.
- This all culminates in an increase in the total number of resident deaths being higher than years prior even in places which had overall few COVID deaths.
- The report also highlights that there was no learning done between the first and second waves as the second wave was bigger and broader resulting in more long term care deaths.
- This has spurred some to call for national standards on long term care homes, a potential election issue for the NDP or even the Conservatives.
- The stark findings of this report can not be wished away and despite everything else going on should have been front page news this week.
- This report only represents the first 6 months of the pandemic, a full 4-5 before the vaccine became widespread for the elderly.
- We have the full report linked in our show notes at westerncontext.ca
- Early on those who were against lockdowns, shutdowns, and generally restrictions said that our best path forward for the health of everyone would have been to shelter those who are elderly, immunocompromised, and generally unhealthy while the rest of us go about our business.
- If we had followed even half this advice we may have been able to limit the deaths in our long term care homes.
- As it stands in Alberta as of recording, we have 1,994 deaths with 1,665 over the age of 70.
- What’s more, our death count skews heavily towards those with 2 or more comorbidities. 2.4% of our deaths had no comorbidities, 6.7% had 1, 13.5% had 2, and 77.4% had 3 or more conditions.
- The numbers are slightly more broad for hospitalization and ICU admission in the province with about 80% of people hospitalized or going into the ICU having 1 comorbidity or more.
- Put simply the younger you are and the healthier you are means that you are statistically more likely to have a better outcome, while yes, even the young and healthy can experience bad outcomes, it’s significantly more rare.
- This advice was given early on in an effort to protect everyone but it should have been listened to in addition to everything we were doing to protect our long term care homes.
- It is downright shameful that this advice was ignored, we saw the horrific outcomes, and now it’s detailed in this report that should have been front page news this week.
- While many have incurred costs from Covid-19, the rapidly plunging Canadian economy has increased costs on just about everything, which as we've mentioned before, affects those the most who have the least.
- Almost everything in the past year has shot up in price. Forget about the astronomical price increases on real estate in Canada, which have risen the highest in the G7 by far in the past 15 years, and have also jumped by the highest % increase in the G7 during the pandemic. While we could certainly talk about housing today, we'll leave that for another show and instead focus on the price of basic goods.
- Everything from gas for your car, to groceries, to anything delivered on a truck has already increased by a large amount over the past year due to rippling repercussions felt from the fallout of early shutdowns in 2020 and the new reality that politicians are pushing us towards.
- If you live in BC, already an expensive province to live in, the provincial NDP government played a nasty April Fool's joke on us on April 1st - by raising the carbon tax from $40 to $45 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, a hike which was also delayed a year because of the pandemic. Here's the thing though - we're still in this pandemic, and currently BC is experiencing the worst spike in infections yet.
- In a statement Wednesday, ahead of the tax hike, NDP Housing Minister Selina Robinson ruled out any suspension of the tax. “We were clear these delays would be in place for one year, until this April, which we confirmed last September to give time for businesses to have more time to implement the changes,” she said.
- Interim B.C. Liberal leader Shirley Bond said given the restrictions on indoor dining announced Monday, which we will talk about later, the new taxes are coming “at the worst possible time” for restaurant and hospitality workers and should be suspended.
- Bond said: “People have just been told many of them won’t be able to work for three weeks, and new taxes are being added. Many people are just barely hanging on.”
- Kris Sims, B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said in a statement that the increased carbon tax is “kicking people while they’re down.” and that it's "very disappointing to see Premier John Horgan increasing the carbon tax."
- “People will be paying more to heat, eat and drive to work as of tomorrow. Everyday working people are stretched to their limits right now, and when politicians increase the carbon tax, they increase the cost of heating, eating and getting to work.”
- Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, says that the carbon tax increase will push the price of gas into the $1.48 region in VIctoria - joke's on us, it's already been around there for the last month or so!
- The BCTF said the carbon tax will cost 9.9 cents per litre of gasoline, 12 cents per litre of diesel, and 8.8 cents per cubic metre of natural gas, which will cost drivers an extra $7 to fill up a minivan, $12 extra for a light-duty pickup truck, and $65 for a big rig that delivers food and essential goods.
- Trucking costs will increase, and farmers will feel their purse strings tighten because they pay that same tax on natural gas, which is used for drying grain, in order to get their product to market, either as grain by-products (ie, breads, cereals, etc) or to feed livestock (ie: beef, pork, chicken, etc.) It will all trickle down to consumers, and lead to a noticeable jump in price at the checkout tills at your local grocery stores.
- But the carbon tax increase was not the only tax to be introduced in BC on April 1st. One of the new taxes is the so-called Netflix tax, which requires “Canadian and foreign sellers of software and telecommunication services” with more than $10,000 in B.C. sales to register, collect and remit provincial sales tax.
- The tax will cost the streaming service’s premium subscribers an extra $14.27 a year. Netflix subscribers were recently notified that “due to a recent change in British Columbia’s tax laws,” the seven-per-cent provincial sales tax will now be added to monthly membership fees.
- Spotify also warned customers of the impending tax, assuring their fees would increase by “no more than $1.05 per month,” depending on their subscription plan.
- This tax does not just affect streaming services though, leading to the moniker of a Netflix tax to be undescriptive of just how widespread this tax is. The new tax on digital services requires “Canadian and foreign sellers of software and telecommunication services” with more than $10,000 in B.C. sales to register, collect and remit provincial sales tax. Yes, so anything you buy online now, or purchase through a digital subscription, will now carry a higher cost due to the tax.
- Meanwhile, if you like sweetened drinks, as of midnight Thursday B.C. will be charging a seven per cent provincial sales tax on the tasty beverages. Marketed as a pop tax meant to curb kids from drinking overly sugary beverages - it's also more widespread than it's been advertised as, much like the "Netflix tax"
- Sims said: "It’s actually [also] applied to diet pops and those expensive ones you get at the grocery store, the ones that are sweetened with stevia leaf and monk fruit. Even though they contain no [artificial] sugar, they are still getting the sweetened drink tax."
- The tone deaf nature of Premier John Horgan's tax increases just compound the tone deaf nature of the government over the past week - included in a triple whammy of blaming this so called third wave of infections on the 20-39 demographic, which is the last to get a vaccine and the most likely to be working in face to face jobs, as well as a BC court enforcing an injunction against old growth forest protectors on Vancouver Island, leading to those who are trying to stop the logging of old forest ecosystems to be arrested.
- Even though John Horgan doesn't seem to care about our old forests and ecosystems, he apparently doesn't mind us planting new ones.
- Said Kris Sims: "I did find something to give you some sunshine. They don’t tax flower seeds or planting bulbs and it is springtime. So if you want to do something joyful that doesn’t tax you, go outside, enjoy the sunshine and plant some flowers. They don’t tax you for that."
- Well...they don't tax us on those yet, at least. Just give them time...oh wait, the BC populace did that last fall when electing Horgan's NDP to a majority government until October 2024. It might be worth creating a bingo card to tell what they're going to tax next.
- This week the Alberta government released the new K-6 education curriculum. This project has been in the works since the UCP took office.
- The new curriculum is slated to be pilot tested this fall potentially coming into full effect in September 2022.
- All stakeholders have until September 2022 to provide feedback to the government on the revamped curriculum.
- The new curriculum focuses on results based decisions after Alberta’s provincial test results focusing on numeracy and literacy have fallen in recent years.
- George Georgiou, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta feels that “the best proven methods” of teaching are what’s been selected in the curriculum.
- The province approached top researchers in the world for parts of the English Language Arts curriculum.
- Georgiou who was involved heavily in building the new curriculum said that the students are not going to be guinea pigs and anything that hasn’t been research proven to work would not be included.
- The math curriculum has also been updated to focus on core fundamentals of learning how to do arithmetic, it builds a foundation for a career in construction, it brings in spatial reasoning early on, and teaches students to manage their finances through financial literacy.
- The curriculum also weaves computer science into the K-6 curriculum to ensure that students are not just users of technology but will also be able to be creators and later, innovators and leaders in a booming economic area.
- The new curriculum though isn’t without its critics, mostly coming from the opposition NDP and those in the social sciences.
- A criticism is that education about First Nations treaties begins in grade 4 and the dark history of the residential schools is taught in grade 5. The criticism is that these histories should be taught earlier.
- Former Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is “delighted” that Alberta has developed a curriculum on treaties and residential schools. He also feels that “education, in general, is the key to reconciliation.”
- He said, “I am honoured to be a validator of the new education curriculum and look forward to its transforming and positive change.”
- The question needs to be asked, do you want students to learn about this when they can comprehend the true horrors of the residential schools or do you want it taught earlier when their reasoning centres are not as developed and they need to have the content distilled down by a teacher?
- On this, the Premier said, “There are some who would like to teach that Canada is basically a completely unjust or even legitimate settler state and that our entire history is one of injustice and genocide. I think that is a terribly distorted, ahistorical view of this amazing country we’ve built.”
- Now you would think that this is as far as the critics would go with the curriculum but they went further than that this week.
- Former NDP health minister Sarah Hoffman said that the new curriculum has the risk of having kids “empathize with the KKK”
- In grade 6 students will be taught about racial segregation, the rise and fall of the KKK, and racial intolerance.
- The grade 6 curriculum that mentions the KKK also says, in the same paragraph, “the activities of the KKK are diminished and are no longer practiced in Canada. In Canada, it is unlawful for one group to promote hatred of another group.”
- All students will learn about black history and racism in Canada and around the world. For the first time students will learn about black settlement in Alberta and the deep injustices of the past. Students will also learn about slavery, emancipation, and early Canadian immigration helped shape Canada.
- The curriculum teaches the history of the day to provide context on the issues of today (we do this here at Western Context too).
- The former NDP minister has a problem with highlighting what the KKK was about, in particular that it “appealed to Americans and Canadians who felt distracted by social changes and advances of the groups they believed were inferior.”
- That is racism and is what the KKK stood for. Talking about it and providing history of segregation in the United States and racial prejudice is not teaching kids to empathize with the KKK, it’s history that needs to be understood to understand racism today.
- We could go through story after story covering the response to this curriculum but in all likelihood this is a case of the vocal minority speaking up while most Albertans are fine with the proposed changes.
- In a final attempt at discrediting the curriculum people have taken issue with Jason Kenney’s grandfather being mentioned in the grade 6 music curriculum, he was a famous big band performer in the 1940s in Western Canada.
- Keep in mind that people have until September 2022 to provide feedback on this curriculum and that’s why it’s being pilot tested this fall.
- Unfortunately though there has been a coordinated effort to stop that pilot test with numerous school boards, including Edmonton Public, stating they won’t be pilot testing the curriculum.
- This is the equivalent of a child picking up their toys and going home in the hope the party won’t continue for everyone else. Except in this case the hope is to delay, disrupt, and cause a public stir that will last long enough to become a 2023 election issue.
- At the end of the day though, this is another 2019 election campaign promise that the UCP has delivered on and perhaps that’s what everyone’s upset about… that the UCP is actually doing what they were elected to by 55% of the population.
- What a week it's been in BC. The new faster spreading variants of Covid-19 have caused panic in the media, with a renewed 24 hour news cycle focused on increasing case counts, rather than the vaccines that the government have promised to us.
- 2 weeks ago on March 17th, John Horgan was asked about the possibility of a third wave of infections amid the scramble to vaccinate our most vulnerable population. At the time, Horgan said that he was "confident that we're on the right track," when asked about the rise in hospitalizations. He said: "It has been a slow increase, and as we start to vaccinate more, we'll see a reduction in caseloads, and hopefully a reduction in hospitalizations as well."
- At the time, it was pointed out that this was unlikely to happen. Hospitalizations were already up 35%, critical care cases up 42%, and active cases in the Lower Mainland were up 68% since the beginning of February.
- Horgan's scenario assumed that B.C. will see a sharp decline in transmission over the spring as seniors and those at highest risk to spread the virus are vaccinated. That could allow for a summer relatively free of restrictions, even if 20-30% of people choose not to get vaccinated.
- When you begin to pretend that a pandemic is over at the same as a virus is not only still on the loose, but has spawned even deadlier mutations of itself, you are asking for trouble. And for weeks, case numbers of COVID-19 have been on the rise in British Columbia. So have reported cases of variants from the U.K., South Africa and, most frighteningly, from Brazil, where the P.1 has devastated young people. These variants send people to intensive care twice as often as the original strain of COVID-19, and there is a 60-per-cent higher chance of death.
- As predicted by everyone but the BC government, that reduction of caseloads has not happened, and instead not even a week after his rosy predictions, BC became mired in the midst of a wave that has swept the country.
- So who did John Horgan turn to to take the blame for faulty government messaging, including relaxing outdoor restrictions right before they were clamped down on again? Was it his cabinet? Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry? No, it wasn't anyone of his generation, many of whom will be likely seeing a vaccine in the next few weeks. It wasn't the multitudes of 60+ aged people at anti-mask rallies around the province.
- No, it was young people aged 20-39, the demographic at most risk of infection because of their propensity to be working in jobs that require face to face interaction. Not only that, but they are most often in the most precarious jobs where they have no choice but to be at high risk of transmission. Also, they're most likely to be living in shared accommodations, and they will be the last age cohort to get a vaccine, which every delay experienced by the BC government gets the date pushed back further and further.
- I say they, but I really mean we, as I'm a part of this demographic as well, as about a third of the BC population lands in this demographic. Yes, BC has a large proportion of seniors, but there is a significant working age demographic in BC as well.
- Of those young people, Horgan lectured us: "Don't blow this for the rest of us. Do not blow this for your parents and your neighbours and others who have been working really, really hard, making significant sacrifices so that we can have good outcomes for everybody. The cohort from 20 to 39 are … quite frankly, putting the rest of us in a challenging position."
- Yes, John Horgan rather than showing leadership and taking responsibility for the mess his government has put us in, from slow vaccine rollouts to faulty messaging, to changing restrictions week by week over the past month, he decided to blame those who likely have no choice in whether they get infected or not.
- Premier John Horgan also appears to have no regrets about his choice of words, blaming young people for B.C.’s latest surge in COVID-19 cases: “I got their attention. That’s exactly what I wanted to do,” he said.
- “Premier Dad at his worst,” as one Twitter user put it, suggesting Horgan had just sent the entire cohort of 20-to-39-year-olds to bed without supper.
- Horgan faced a huge backlash for his comments, and he's even facing criticism from within. UBC New Democrats President Justin Kulik says people in that age range have been hit hard during the pandemic: “Education, job loss, our mental health — we’re seeing that it’s young people putting themselves at risk every day to keep our province working. But we’re still getting the blame at the end of the day and being told not to ‘blow it for the rest of us,” he said.
- Kulik said: "I think it's important the Premier apologize for this comment (blaming 20-39s for virus spike), not just because it's not backed up by data, but because young people have given so, so much."
- Based on the numbers provided by the BCCDC, people aged 20-29 make up 24% of people who have gotten #COVID19 since March 13. It was 23% in the first year of the pandemic.
- People aged 30-39 have made up 19% of people who have gotten #COVID19 since March 13. This is up from 18%.
- BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau also took time to call Horgan out for blaming young people, saying “maybe the government could look at the data and systemic conditions that are leading to higher case counts in this demographic and step up to help them. Just like we did for seniors.”
- She pointed to reasons such as the “precarious, low-paid, public-facing work” young people can’t afford to miss amid the pandemic’s impact on the economy, as well as relying on public transit, caring for relatives and minimal affordable housing options forcing them to have multiple roommates.
- The people with the most individual responsibility in the entire province aren't people in their 20s and 30s. They're Horgan and B.C.'s most senior public health official Dr. Bonnie Henry. And on Monday, they took very little responsibility.
- It seems unimaginable that the province would maintain a status-quo position on its fairly lax public-health measures amid such a threat. But that’s precisely what it did.
- Henry continued to urge people to maintain physical distance from one another, but ahead of spring break, she actually eased restrictions – allowing people to gather in larger numbers. Yet it had been obvious for weeks, if not months, that many people weren’t following her advice. Vaccines are here, after all! The great panic is over!
- Dr. Henry tried to make much the same argument that Horgan did — that B.C. was in a precarious but acceptable place in its battle for awhile, but suddenly, things shifted all at once.
- "Our balance in B.C. is now off. In the last six days we've seen the start of exponential growth in new cases."
- But that's not how exponential growth works. And Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller at Simon Fraser University who has been warning about a variant-influenced surge arriving in March for months now, argues the government missed an opportunity to prevent a third wave.
- She said of the miss by the government: "It is frustrating. We had border measures … and I think those are potentially very powerful, but they came a little too late, and at the same time we weren't able to stamp [out] the B117 expansion, and now we're facing the consequences of that."
- And the numbers bear that out. Vaccinations have rapidly reduced deaths due to the virus in B.C. since the middle of December. But all other key metrics the province uses — rolling average of new cases, active cases and people under active monitoring and hospitalizations — starting going up in the middle of February. There was never a period longer than a couple of days where they were going down. And now, here we are.
- Or, as Colijn put it, "the total doesn't look exponential until the small thing gets big."
- Case counts could come down, as they have after other times strong restrictions have come in, or they could rise, based on the strength of the variants and people's pandemic fatigue. Vaccinating more than 20,000 people every day could start to put a dent in general transmission and the potential of widespread hospitalizations, or the virus could prove to be stubborn for awhile longer, further eroding people's mental health and patience for following guidelines.
- So with case numbers ballooning to more than 900 a day and setting new records, Dr. Henry realized that her mantra – be kind, be calm, be safe – was not having the same effect it once did. Like students with a substitute teacher, British Columbians just started to ignore her. Enter the so called "3 week circuit breaker restrictions" by Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Henry.
- Now, there will be no indoor dining and no patrons in bars or pubs; pick-up and delivery will be fine, as would outdoor patios. Gyms will be closed except for one-on-one training; retail stores can remain open. They are shutting down Whistler’s ski resort, which likely should have happened weeks ago, as its reputation of a party town was beginning to have disastrous consequences.
- "[These new measures are] not circuit breakers, they're just measures that are in place. And without a strategic plan to get out of them, they're going to have to stay in place until something changes," said Colijn.
- So here we are, into another three weeks of doubt, after more than a year of fighting a pandemic with measures that never open everything up or shut everything down.
- "We've come a great distance, but we cannot blow it now," said Horgan. Left unsaid was whether those words were better directed at 20 and 30 somethings, or to himself.
Word of the Week
Wave - any surging or progressing movement in a sudden increase in a specified phenomenon, feeling, or emotion
Quote of the Week
“Education, job loss, our mental health — we’re seeing that it’s young people putting themselves at risk every day to keep our province working. But we’re still getting the blame at the end of the day and being told not to ‘blow it for the rest of us. I think it's important the Premier apologize, not just because it's not backed up by data, but because young people have given so, so much." - UBC New Democrats President Justin Kulik on BC Premier John Horgan’s comments blaming 20-39s for the virus spike.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: This is Not a Joke
Teaser: A doctor finds that Canada’s care home response is the worst in the world, BC imposes new taxes on a struggling populace, and Alberta introduces an updated modern education curriculum. Also, John Horgan blames young people for the rise of the 3rd wave.
Recorded Date: April 2, 2021
Release Date: April 4, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes