The News Rundown
- COVID has been a disease that has completely upended what the media has talked about for 18 months now.
- There has been a moving target due to new information coming in and this has led to an erosion of trust in the media.
- This is amplified by the media’s fear tactics of reporting daily case numbers with daily deaths. The amount of impact this has on anyone hearing this almost daily for 18 months can not be understated.
- That’s why this week the media and those in the NDP opposition collectively gasped and reeled at the news of a 14 year old boy supposedly dying of COVID.
- But what actually happened was that 14 year old Nathanael Spitzer died of a brain tumour that he had been fighting for 9 months.
- The doctors didn’t give Nathanael 9 months, they gave him 5 or 6.
- The family involved does not want this nine month cancer fight overlooked because of COVID.
- In the final days of Nathanael’s life he tested positive for COVID and as a result his death was erroneously classed as a COVID death.
- The family said, “It’s not like he had all this time that was taken away from him.” The most important thing for the family was for Nati (as his family called him) to not have the death of their son classed as a COVID fatality.
- To them this is the government writing them off.
- When presenting the data to the public, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said, “This includes the death of a 14-year-old who had complex, pre-existing medical conditions that played a significant role in their death.”
- Today Dr. Hinshaw apologized, she said, "The pain of losing a child is terrible enough without having that loss compounded by a public debate about the circumstances. I'm sorry if the way that I spoke about that death made your grief worse.”
- Going forward the province also will not publicly report any COVID deaths in anyone under 18 until a review has been undertaken. They will also be prioritizing accuracy over timeliness.
- For deaths in the pandemic so far, they have been prioritizing timeliness in the interest of transparency.
- In the past there has been a great push for the province to ensure every death and case is reported accurately.
- In this case there was a social media groundswell around the family centred around independent media outlets. Typically these calls that the media get it right and that COVID death numbers may be over-inflated are passed off as fake news.
- It is important to remember that all fake news has a basis in reality and too many times the media does not do their job in asking all the questions.
- When I heard that a 14 year old had passed away my eyebrows were raised because young people are extraordinarily resilient to COVID and there should always be an extra layer of skepticism and questions asked from the media when anyone under 18 dies for any reason.
- It doesn’t make the death less tragic but it shows the external dynamics that are in play.
- The province also reported 30 deaths on Thursday October 14th. Some media outlets reported this as 30 deaths within the last 24 hours but all they had to do was listen to Dr. Hinshaw’s statement to learn that these deaths took place between October 7th and 13th. There’s a big difference between 30 deaths in one day and 30 deaths over 6 days.
- Before we leave Alberta, I also have to tell you about CBC Edmonton being caught by Reuter’s Fact Check this week.
- A news report produced by CBC Edmonton discussing modelling and projections garnered media attention when it appeared as though they were using mannequins.
- This led to the idea that if there’s room for a mannequin, it might not be very busy in the ICU. This took off on social media.
- Reuter’s correctly reported that there was missing context as when CBC Edmonton was contacted they said that they used the wrong footage when discussing projections and modelling. The footage initially came from a story on how the ICU works.
- CBC Edmonton issued an apology but the damage to media trust was done.
- This is why context is so important.
- Canada will be delaying the implementation of the Liberals digital services tax, one of the signature promises of their election platform, and may have to abandon it altogether, after the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reached a deal on a multilateral tax approach.
- The OECD is made up of high income countries that are dedicated to democracy and the market economy, like the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, much of western Europe, Japan and South Korea.
- The agreement spans further than just OECD member countries though. The agreement by 136 countries sets a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent for multinational companies. It will also require the largest and most profitable global companies — those with global sales above about $28.7 billion a year and more than 10% profitability — to pay some taxes in countries where they operate, even if they don’t have a physical presence there.
- The OECD deal aims to end a four-decade-long “race to the bottom” by setting a floor for countries that have sought to attract investment and jobs by taxing multinational companies lightly, effectively allowing them to shop around for low tax rates.
- But in exchange, OECD countries will have to remove or hold off on implementing their own digital services taxes. That includes Canada’s promised tax on tech giants, targeted at large companies that operate online marketplaces, social media platforms and earn revenue from online advertising. Companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, as well as Uber and Airbnb, if they also meet minimum revenue criteria, would be covered by the tax. The government estimates it would bring in $3.4 billion over five years.
- The office of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Liberal government would delay the implementation of the digital services tax from Jan. 1, 2022 to Jan. 1, 2024. The Canadian DST would only come into effect if the OECD agreement hasn’t come into force by 2024, but if the Canadian tax is implemented, it would be retroactive. Freeland said in a statement: “In that event, the DST would be payable as of 2024 in respect of revenues earned as of January 1, 2022. It is our sincere hope that the timely implementation of the new international system will make this unnecessary.”
- The delay is due to a section of the OECD agreement that requires “all parties to remove all Digital Services Taxes and other relevant similar measures with respect to all companies, and to commit not to introduce such measures in the future.” Countries can’t impose any new digital services taxes until at least the end of 2023, or until the new agreement is in force.
- Whether the tax will affect other initiatives the Liberal government has promised to implement to take on Big Tech is less clear. The Liberals have pledged to introduce, within 100 days of Parliament’s return, both legislation aimed at forcing companies like Netflix to pay into the Canadian content system, and legislation following the Australian model that would see Google and Facebook compensate news outlets for their content.
- “These commitments relate to corporate tax measures and not to regulatory actions of government in areas such as broadcasting and content licensing,” a government source said when asked whether those would count as “other relevant measures” under the OECD agreement.
- Unfortunately, it remains to be seen what effect this will have on consumers of digital content, ie: pretty much everyone these days. The media hasn't delved too deep on what these governmental tax measures mean for ordinary citizens and just how much these things will cost us. Because tax increases aren't exactly attention grabbing, these consequences will fly under the radar. However, they are still important to talk about because they could have far reaching impacts on the economy, and how we do business.
- In what started in late August with a scene of chaos at the Kabul airport and ended with photos of people falling off the side of a plane, the situation in Afghanistan became an issue yet again.
- Canadians waiting to be evacuated lined up at the Kabul airport standing knee deep in sewage but the military evacuation never came.
- Now they are forced through an intricate web of passing Taliban checkpoints and escaping to Pakistan.
- The families left behind are forced to run cover saying those who have escaped are in different parts of the country on business.
- By the estimate of the Canadian military there were 10,000 Afghans who helped the military and wanted to come to Canada, a few hundred have been extracted, and 1,700 remain in Kabul who are slated to be airlifted to Canada.
- There was also the promise of the Trudeau Liberals to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, 9,400 have been approved, and just under a quarter of those have actually arrived in Canada.
- Time and time again with all three of these cases, the problem is the situation on the ground.
- Spokesperson Peter Liang said, “The most significant challenge is the extreme volatility of the situation on the ground, and ever-changing circumstances around documentation required at checkpoints and international crossings, which make it exceedingly difficult to get Afghan refugees safely out of the country now that it is under the control of the Taliban.”
- It has been said that the Taliban offered control of Kabul to the US Military before they withdrew. This would have kept Kabul as a safe zone and allowed military flights to continue uninterrupted.
- The US also gave up Bagram Air Base leaving behind tons of military hardware including things like helicopters, tanks, and trucks.
- Those left behind if discovered awaited a horrible fate.
- A former interpreter for the Canadian Forces, Naseer Khwaja, managed to flee to Canada in August but his brother did not get out.
- On August 15 his brother was abducted who also worked for US and British troops and was placed next to an explosive laden vehicle which was detonated. That was his punishment by the Taliban for helping US forces.
- Another former Afghan employee that worked for the Canadian Forces, Mohammad Ismail detailed his journey from Kandahar to Kabul and eventually out of the country through Pakistan.
- Multiple checkpoints at night and then a stay in an Islamabad hotel before flying off to Canada.
- This story showcases just a handful of cases of what the withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan created.
- A withdrawal that saw few Canadian forces exfiltrated and the country fell to chaos.
- This was the issue that started the late summer election campaign and faded away after about 10 days.
- But at the end shows why a principled approach from Canada and our allies was needed through the very end.
- Not long after the 2017 BC election had engineered a result in such a way that allowed the BC NDP to take power not long after, it presented a change for how the province was administered. Suddenly, necessary infrastructure projects that were underway after being greenlit by the BC Liberals were now facing a threat of being cancelled.
- One of which was of course the Site C dam near Fort St. John. The Liberals were confident that even if they didn't win the election, that the amount of construction and money put forward already would lead to an astronomical waste if the incoming NDP decided to cancel it. In the end, John Horgan did say that that construction would continue, much to his regret.
- Another infrastructure project that badly needed to get off the ground was the replacement for the over 60 year old Massey Tunnel, a major transportation artery that provides a vital route for automotive traffic underneath the Fraser River between Delta and Richmond in Metro Vancouver. I previously talked about this back on Western Context 33, way back in 2017. Since then, there's been some news on the matter that will not shock anyone who knows about government inaction, decision reversals and budget overruns.
- This was a replacement project going back decades. In early 2006, it was reported that the provincial government had plans to expand the tunnel's capacity, from 4 lanes to 6. This ended up not happening, and the tunnel remained 4 lanes only. In Sept 2012, then Premier Christy Clark announced plans to replace the aging tunnel within 10 years, addressing the congestion and safety issues currently plaguing the structure. Originally, the work was going to be completed at a cost of $3.5B. Work began a year later on plans for a new bridge to replace the tunnel, and environmental assessments took a few years to receive approval. In early 2017, the project cleared all the necessary bureaucratic and environmental hurdles, and the bridge was to begin construction that year.
- In comes the May 2017 election which resulted in a change of power. John Horgan scrapped the project in favour of a solution with more research and consultation with the Metro Vancouver mayors, who were opposed to the BC Liberals' 10 lane bridge plan. On October 2, 2019 the Metro Vancouver mayors recommended a new 8-lane tunnel as the replacement of the Massey Tunnel.
- Earlier this summer, the BC government announced the go ahead of the new 8 lane tunnel, subject to Indigenous consultation and environmental approvals. Benefits of the tunnel versus the bridge are claimed to be less visual and agricultural land impact, less elevation change for cyclists and long haul truckers to struggle with, rain cover for cyclists and pedestrians, and will allow bottleneck improvements to begin immediately on highway 99 approaches. The toll free tunnel is scheduled for completion in 2030 with a projected cost of $4.15B, which is $650M higher than the original estimate of the bridge replacement, which had it gotten worked on earlier would have gotten finished much earlier.
- Now, the NDP have finally released the much-delayed business case to justify replacing the aging Massey tunnel with the eight-lane tunnel instead of a bridge. But true to form, in posting the 100-plus-page document on the Transportation Ministry website, the government blanked out details that would let us really see the validity of the NDP's plan. The current business plan provides no basis to fairly assess the cost comparison between the NDP’s tunnel and bridge options because all of the numbers that would allow one to do so were suppressed in the version released to the public.
- In green-lighting the replacement project back in August, the government claimed a $70-million advantage for the tunnel — $4.15 billion as the all-in cost of construction versus $4.22 billion for the bridge. Never mind that on taking office in 2017, the New Democrats cancelled the B.C. Liberal plan to build more bridge (10 lanes) for less money ($3.5 billion), writing off $100 million that had already been spent.
- Among the numbers blacked out were the itemized cost breakdowns for constructing the new eight-lane tunnel and burying the sections at the bottom of the Fraser River, building the roadworks at either end, and removing the existing tunnel when the new one is finished. Likewise the comparable breakdowns for the eight-lane bridge alternative were blotted from the business case. Also blanked: the value-for-money analysis, contingency budgets, interest during construction, the projected inflation rate and the budget for property acquisition.
- The NDP intend that the tunnel will be built under one of their project benefit agreements, favouring union labour and benefits. But they blacked out the percentage estimate for what that requirement will add to the cost of construction.
- Also shrouded in secrecy are passages discussing project risks. The business case does concede that “the delivery of the immersed tube tunnel has a greater risk profile than the bridge crossing.” But that admission is followed by a sentence of perhaps two dozen words that is completely blanked out, leaving the risk a mystery. Another passage about the risks are equally nebulous: “A total of (blank) risks were quantified for the risk analysis. Of these (blank) differentiate among the procurement options being analyzed and (blank) are material but apply equally to all procurement options.”
- It's clear that the redacted parts of the cost assessment are not there for safety reasons, or to protect the economic interests of the province, it's purely for political reasons. Having killed the Liberal proposal for a 10-lane toll bridge, the New Democrats were not likely to come back four years later and admit that a bridge — albeit toll-free, smaller and costing more money — was the right decision after all.
- South Delta BC Liberal MLA Ian Paton, one of the main architects of the bridge project, feels vindicated: “We always said the bridge was a perfect answer and the bridge would be opening literally a year from now if we’d kept the bridge project going. The public in British Columbia need to know where we are going with this, we need to know what the figures are and what taxpayers are going to be paying for this.”
- The 10-lane version had already passed environmental approval and permitting when the B.C. Liberals were driven from office. The business case indicates that the tunnel faces another four years of environmental approval, consultations, feedback, and permitting with provincial and federal authorities before a hoped-for start of construction in 2026, almost an entire decade after the previous plan would have started.
- The NDP jump-started approval for the replacement project in the first week of the national election campaign in hopes of lining up funding commitments from the federal parties. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole weighed in with an endorsement, as did Liberal cabinet minister Carla Qualtrough, but neither party committed to a specific share of funding.
- If the re-elected federal Liberals do commit, it will likely be well short of 50 per cent of the cost. And if Ottawa follows past practice, the dollars will be capped, ensuring the province alone will be on the hook for the inevitable budget overruns.
- In any event, the replacement project is still a long way from the start of construction, never mind the finish. It's estimated that the tunnel will be completed in 2030 at the earliest. For Metro Vancouver commuters stewing in their cars, that translates into another nine years of delays and frustration.
- Had the previous proposal gone through, the new 10 lane bridge would have likely been completed by now. Horgan's government is now 4 years into power. We're likely to see more decisions like these cost BC more money. The only thing remaining is to find out what they are.
Word of the Week
Bridge - a structure or idea that makes it easier to traverse two differing landscapes, either physically or communicatively
Quote of the Week
“We always said the bridge was a perfect answer and the bridge would be opening literally a year from now if we’d kept the bridge project going. The public in British Columbia need to know where we are going with this, we need to know what the figures are and what taxpayers are going to be paying for this.” - South Delta BC Liberal MLA Ian Paton, one of the main architects of the bridge replacement project for the Massey Tunnel
How to Find Us
Episode Title: A Bridge to Nowhere
Teaser: Dr. Hinshaw apologizes for the misreporting of covid deaths, a new OECD agreement puts Trudeau’s big tech tax on hold, and many still trapped in Afghanistan wait for Canadian help. Also, Horgan’s delay of the Massey Tunnel replacement could cost BC.
Recorded Date: October 15, 2021
Release Date: October 17, 2021
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes