The News Rundown
- Throughout this pandemic we have been told time and time again to trust the science, follow our respective government's direction, and to do our part. Unfortunately for British Columbians, we have had to take a lot of our directions on the good faith that our government knows what it's doing. For anyone who watches a lot of TV, they will know that "hope is not a plan".
- It turns out that the BC Centre for Disease Control does actually report on Covid hotspots in high detail - those reports just aren't made public. While the most that people will get from the news are numbers in each health region in BC (Island, Interior, Van Coastal, or Fraser), a much more detailed breakdown is actually out there. If some think that it's good news that the BC government is actually basing decisions based on more finely tuned statistics, then it could also be said that it's actually bad news, because the data can't be studied or scrutinized by non-governmental sources. And it appears that our provincial government is the only one that is withholding this information from us.
- A pair of internal reports leaked from the BC Centre for Disease Control highlights that health authorities in BC are only releasing a fraction of their available COVID-19 information to the public.
- The internal reports — each of which runs over 45 pages — are four times longer than the weekly reports published by the Centre. They delve into the details of COVID-19 case counts and vaccinations at the neighbourhood level, breakdowns about variants of concern, and more. The documents also show which areas have the highest test positivity rates and whether people in those hot spots are being vaccinated.
- The reports go into a level of detail the Centre has so far refused to make public despite repeated calls from academics and researchers. The city of Toronto regularly publishes neighbourhood-level case and vaccination data, as well as breakdowns by age, income and ethnicity.
- Dr. Caroline Colijn, Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Infection, Evolution and Public Health, said more detailed information can help in understanding inequalities in the impacts of the pandemic and impact public health responses.
- Colijn said: “When the Ontario science table put out a graphic that said vaccination wasn’t reaching the people in harder hit communities, it caused change.”
- B.C. doesn’t make anywhere near the same level of detail available to the public. Vaccination data is published largely at the health authority level, making it difficult for the public to know if cases or vaccination rates are higher in Vancouver or Richmond, for example. Perhaps as a partial result, authorities in BC still struggle to contain cases and boost vaccination levels in some parts of the province, including Surrey, as detailed maps in the leaked reports show.
- Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry admitted BC has struggled with publishing data because of ongoing IT issues: "We don't actually have systems to support the same consistent collection of the same data over time. We are releasing more than what other provinces are releasing."
- This simply isn't true. The kind of information leaked in the reports is easily available to the public online in other jurisdictions across Canada.
- In Toronto, neighbourhood-level case and vaccination data is made public regularly, along with breakdowns by age, income and ethnicity. A similar amount of data is available in parts of Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba.
- Dr. Sarah Otto, Canada Research Chair in theoretical and experimental evolution at UBC, says that giving the public access to more granular data could affect how people judge risk levels in their day-to-day activities. This is true. For example, if you put up signs on a beach that says the water is infested with sharks, likely not many people will go swim at that beach. If however, you put a general alert out that sharks could exist on any number of beaches in a province wide area, then people probably won't take the proper care in areas that they should.
- Epidemiologists, researchers, journalists and residents have been requesting more data for months, eager to understand the movement and dynamics of the virus affecting their lives and endangering their loved ones.
- Colijn and Otto both acknowledged that communicating public health information is a complex task. Public health needs to “avoid mixed messages,” said Otto. “But by controlling the message so strongly. I think it backfires a bit.”
- It certainly backfires if the message turns out to be wrong, as so many of our Canadian governmental messaging steeped in 'science' has turned out to be over the last year. Advice around not wearing masks, the safety of travel, and spread levels have been all routinely disproven over the past year.
- Just a few days ago, the BC CDC has finally updated its website to acknowledge COVID-19 is spread by airborne aerosols, not just infected droplets that can only carry a few metres, which the BC CDC had erroneously claimed to be the main source of transmission. Aerosols are much smaller particles and can drift in the air like smoke. They disperse quickly outdoors, but not in poorly-ventilated indoor settings.
- It’s a message hundreds of scientists have been sharing for nearly a year — most recently in an article published in The Lancet which argued the virus was “predominantly” spread by airborne transmission.
- Until recently, the BC CDC’s “how it spreads” webpage had stated that the virus could both be spread by small droplets that hang in the air and larger droplets, but that “the majority of COVID-19 infections are spread from one person to another through larger droplets.”
- This was corrected because of a public outcry based on information that was publicly shared. If we can't trust the BC government to give us the correct advice based on the info they're hoarding for themselves, perhaps they should share more of this information so other scientists can study it and come to better conclusions.
- This week the Alberta government brought in a new wave of restrictions to attempt to stop the spike of COVID-19 cases.
- These new restrictions move K-6 students to online learning, workplaces with an outbreak need to close for 10 days with exceptions for critical workplaces, retail businesses will limit capacity to 10% from 15% or a minimum of 5 customers, patio dining will close, personal services must stop, indoor one to one training must stop, and outdoor social gatherings will be limited to 5 people, places of worship will be limited to 15 people as they were in the first wave of restrictions, and funerals will be limited to 10 people.
- It is important to note that these restrictions are in effect for areas where there are more than 50 cases per 100,000 people and more than 30 active cases.
- There are also a good number of exempt communities including: Kananaskis, Birch Hills County, City of Lloydminster, Jasper, County of Two Hills, Pincher Creek, Crowsnest Pass, and Drumheller to name a few.
- There is a map and daily updated list of where these new restrictions are in effect. In total 41 out of 142 municipalities are exempt from these restrictions as of May 6th, or almost one third.
- Fines will also double from $1,000 to $2,000. That is ultimately the crux of the matter here, restrictions have been in place but Albertans in general have stopped following them.
- K-6 schooling was moved online because the number of staff and support members isolating would mean that schools would not be able to function.
- In general, spread within schools is low, it’s outside of schools where the spread is happening and this is putting the strain on the school system due to isolations.
- As we have said many times before on the podcast, jurisdictions can clamp down hard as we have seen in countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Quebec. They can mitigate strain on the healthcare system which is what the majority of Canada did. Or you can focus on protecting the vulnerable while allowing the virus to move through the community.
- For us to be able to do this would require a massive expansion of our healthcare system. This is possible in the United States because unlike Canada, there is a healthcare and health insurance industry in the United States.
- Many politicians from the likes of Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, and Joe Biden have aimed to use the pandemic as a change agent. A self centred Conservative Party of Canada or United Conservative Party would use the pandemic as an opportunity to embrace a market based approach to health care.
- Many, many Albertans would like our government to take the American approach to handling COVID and we would have certainly seen a different economic result if we did, but we simply don’t have the healthcare industry to make such an endeavour possible.
- The pandemic underscores how important it is going forward that both our procurement systems and healthcare model change to allow for greater flex capacity.
- There is also a general sense in the province amongst some that we are now under a “hard lockdown”.
- There is no hard lockdown or curfew. Previously I detailed that nearly a third of Alberta communities are exempt from the most recent round of restrictions.
- Online news outlets like Rebel News and Western Standard have been pushing the idea hard that this is a hard lockdown and freedoms are being curtailed excessively.
- There is no curfew. Albertans have not been issued a stay at home order. Retail has not been shut down. One can make an argument about the restaurant business being harmed after they were encouraged to open patios.
- But suggesting we’re under a hard lockdown does nothing to help the argument.
- There was also a news article published in the Western Standard suggesting that Jason Kenney said that he wants a new base of support for the UCP.
- He was responding to a statement by the organizer of a freedom rodeo near Bowden who said, “We will not stand by idly and watch as not only our businesses but also our western heritage and more importantly, our basic human rights are ripped out of existence by the tyrannical beings of our current world.”
- “The tyrannical beings of our current world” should apply to the likes of Iranian ayatollahs or remnants of the ISIL terrorist group.
- The Premier said that if the type of people issuing the statement that the organizer of Bowden rodeo did are the UCP’s base, then he would want a new base.
- That wasn’t the most interesting thing this week though, Brian Jean, former Wildrose leader and unity partner issued a statement on his Facebook page stating numerous times that the Premier has failed in addition to perpetrating the new base comment.
- The interesting part is that Brian Jean used the same language as NDP leader Rachel Notley who called Jason Kenney’s latest actions a “profound failure.”
- For the last 14 months the focus has been on the pandemic, but that will end, and soon.
- Leaders in right of centre conservative social circles including Brian Jean, those at Western Standard, the Rebel, and elsewhere need to remember that the NDP are likely not a flash in the pan success.
- Albertans need to remember that the NDP are smiling with what’s happening this week, conservatives win in Canada when united.
- The NDP will take their agenda and push it further and harder to the left, undoing all gains in freedom, economic power, and red tape reduction earned over the last 2 years if elected again.
- Despite what some may think, Alberta’s not doing too bad, it would be worse with Rachel Notley, Sarah Hoffman, and Joe Ceci at the helm both economically and for personal freedoms.
- Everyone needs to remember what damage the NDP did to this province with many of their hidden policies including the carbon tax and anti-farm Bill 6.
- The media has also taken to Alberta bashing this week as well spurred on by the federal NDP’s MP Heather McPherson from Edmonton-Strathcona in the House of Commons through an emergency debate.
- Alberta still has a lower death rate per capita than Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec. We also still have an impressive testing regime and our daily death curve is flat to the point that our average is about 4-5 times lower than in the second wave and on par with the first wave last spring and where we were coming out of the second wave that spanned December and January.
- This is what should have been reported this week, a true picture of what was going on and that the new restrictions are not nearly as imposing as what we saw in Ontario or Quebec, along with the news that starting Monday all Albertans 12 and up will be eligible for vaccination and that Alberta is looking at sourcing extra vaccines from our neighbouring states to the south.
- Months later, questions are still swirling around Trudeau's PMO, with many wondering about just who knew of the sexual misconduct claims against former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance. The Prime Minister claims that he didn't know about it, and that his staff did not tell him anything. He has also vigorously defended his Chief of Staff Katie Telford who claims in committee early on Friday that she did not know anything about the allegations.
- Telford was grilled by the Conservative members of the committee who wanted to know why an allegation first made in 2018 against retired general Jonathan Vance was not immediately forwarded to Trudeau. Telford never directly answered the question but instead repeatedly laid out what she said was known in March of 2018 and what was done to address it.
- "It has been hard, for everyone involved, to separate what is information we have in the last number of months with the information we did not have in March of 2018. We didn't have any information about the allegation, we didn't know anything about it. It was something that all the appropriate follow-up was done through the appropriate people and the appropriate people was the Privy Council Office."
- The Commons defence committee is looking into who in the Liberal government knew about a claim of sexual misconduct involving Vance when it was first raised three years ago by Canada's former military ombudsman.
- Telford told the committee that on March 2, 2018, then defence ombudsman Gary Walbourne told Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan of an allegation of personal misconduct made against Vance.
- Elder Marques, who worked in the Prime Minister's Office at the time, told Telford that Sajjan's office was seeking advice from the PMO on how to "ensure that the allegations were properly addressed."
- Telford said Michael Wernick, then Canada's top civil servant, told both her and Marques that the complaint had to be taken up by the Privy Council Office and that elected officials and political staff should not be involved.
- Telford said Wernick told her he would involve Janine Sherman, deputy secretary to the cabinet responsible for personnel issues, in coordinating the matter for PCO.
- "I was not given the substance or the details of the allegation," Telford said. "My office and the minister were not given the substance or the details of the allegation. We did not know what the complaint was about."
- Conservative MPs on the committee pushed back against that claim, citing a March 2, 2018 email between Sherman and a PCO staffer discussing "allegations of sexual harassment" and suggesting Telford did know about the nature of the claim against Vance in 2018.
- Telford has maintained that she and Trudeau didn't learn the complaint was sexual in nature until it became the subject of media reports in March of this year.
- Earlier this year, Wernick said that on March 2, 2018 he was alerted by Marques to an allegation of "sexual harassment" made against Vance but wasn't given specifics.
- Wernick told the defence committee in March of this year that he had "no reason to think that the prime minister was aware of any of this at the time."
- "The only person I know who would have been aware would be Elder. I don't know who he would have spoken to in PMO at the time, but I think effectively both Minister Sajjan and PMO had given carriage of the file to us at PCO."
- The PCO ultimately didn't conduct an investigation into the complaint because Walbourne refused to cooperate, insisting that he had given an undertaking of confidentiality to the woman who made the claim against Vance.
- But during his testimony before the defence committee in March, Walbourne said that he did tell Sajjan details of the complaint.
- "I did tell the minister what the allegation was. I reached into my pocket to show him the evidence I was holding. He pushed back from the table and said, 'No,' and I don't think we exchanged another word," Walbourne said.
- The meeting ended, Walbourne said, when he asked Sajjan for direction on what to do about the allegation.
- O'Toole, in Question period, has grilled the Prime Minister on the issue: "He just told the House that his office was not aware that they were of a 'Me Too' nature. The only trouble is his team used the term 'sexual harassment' in their emails about this incident in March 2018. Will the prime minister be honest with this House and with the women serving bravely in our Canadian Armed Forces, that he was aware and he failed them for three years?"
- These allegations have to be the final nail in the coffin of Trudeau's reputation as a feminist Prime Minister. If he wasn't aware of the problem, then he was employing people as his close allies that did know about the issue and then either did nothing or covered it up when they knew something was wrong. Clearly something was wrong here, and they are still trying to cover up who exactly knew.
- It was only a few weeks ago that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled the first budget of the Liberal minority government.
- That budget projected the budget deficit for fiscal year 2020-21 to be $354.2b followed by a deficit of $154.7b to gradually shrink down to 2025-26.
- An invention of the previous Harper government was the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a non-partisan official who would audit the government's finances and report to Parliament.
- The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that the size of the federal deficits is likely going to be $5.6b per year higher than estimated by Minister Freeland and her office.
- Put simply, the government is underestimating the cost emergency programs like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and over estimating the impact of economic stimulus.
- Now of course you might wonder why that is. First the pandemic era programs are massive and can’t easily be turned off, that’s what happened after the Great Depression.
- Secondly, the impact of the provided economic stimulus will be lower since before the pandemic the Liberals were providing economic stimulus in relatively good economic times.
- The Finance department also combined new stimulus with old spending announcements and extended pandemic support spending which allows for spending to grow more than forecast.
- Through this maneuver, the actual amount spent on stimulus is actually only $69.2b over three years rather than the $100b promised.
- This means that the government is using the guise of pandemic required stimulus to prop up programs started before the pandemic began.
- Where the report becomes really alarming though is the debt to gdp reckoning.
- Previously under Finance Minister Bill Morneau we were told that we could support the pre-pandemic spending because our debt to GDP ratio was low.
- The Parliamentary Budget Officer also estimates that the debt to GDP ratio won’t return to pre pandemic levels until… 2055. 34 years from now.
- This means that Canadians will have to face a fiscal reckoning after the pandemic ends because Canada will not be able to afford new spending without making cuts or raising taxes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- While the government sees no issues going forward, former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney called the budget a “hybrid budget” meaning that it would take more than one budget cycle to transition to a more sustainable and faster growing path.
- David Dodge, another former Governor of the Bank of Canada said that the budget lacked growth focused initiatives and that only $25b of the $100b estimated for new spending increases investments, everything else will increase consumption.
- The government also failed to properly define the value it is using for inflation. Whether that be the consumer price index, a value of common goods consumers buy or core inflation that focuses on the costs of goods and services excluding the food and energy sector.
- This has allowed the government to pursue a policy of spending when in reality the spending programs initiated prior to the pandemic were actually increasing inflation making things more expensive for everyday Canadians and decreasing the amount of fiscal room we have to work with today.
- This PBO report combined with the continual waffling on how the government is measuring inflation raises far too many questions and sets Canada up on an economic path that is far from certain.
Word of the Week
Disclosure - the action of making new or secret information known.
Quote of the Week
"We don't actually have [IT] systems to support the same consistent collection of the same data over time. We are releasing more than what other provinces are releasing." - Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on why BC is not releasing more COVID-19 stats than other provinces are releasing
How to Find Us
Episode Title: A Lack of Disclosure
Teaser: The BCCDC is withholding information from the public, Alberta’s new restrictions are wildly mischaracterized, and we get no closer to the end of the Vance allegations. Also, the finances of the Trudeau government are much worse than they realize.
Recorded Date: May 7, 2021
Release Date: May 9, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes