The News Rundown
- With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the rise around the world, a much more contagious but so far less deadly variant, certain provinces in Canada are getting rapid antigen testing kits available to the public with the holidays just around the corner.
- The Ontario government has released a list of pop up locations in the Greater Toronto Area where people can pick up free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests. Some provinces, such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, have also offered rapid testing kits free to the public. Soon, residents in Alberta and Quebec will have access to them from pharmacies.
- But in B.C., where some regions have seen an uptick of COVID cases including Omicron infections, rapid antigen tests have only been distributed in selected sectors such as long-term care homes, correctional facilities and some businesses.
- Despite growing calls for B.C. to provide the tests to households, personal-use tests won’t arrive in B.C. until January, Health Minister Adrian Dix said: “We spoke about those as early as November. We’re expecting a supply of these at-home tests to arrive from the federal government in mid- to late-January. We will be taking immediate action. Those will be provided and a plan will be laid out for the use of those tests.”
- When a politician says that the action will be immediate, he's defining immediate to mean something different than the rest of us believe it to be of course. With most other provinces distributing rapid tests, why is BC the only one at the back of the line?
- B.C. has mainly received three brands of rapid tests from Ottawa so far: Abbott ID Now; Abbott PanBio; and BD Veritor. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said some other provinces such as Alberta and Nova Scotia have a type of at-home kit that’s more amenable to distributing to people – the BTNX kits. But the ones B.C. has require a health care provider to administer and a machine.
- Adrian Dix would not say which tests British Columbia got from Ottawa, but he said none of the rapid tests available from the federal government are intended for home use. He said “on-label” take-home tests are not yet available, though he did not address why other provinces are offering them for that purpose, only saying: “Our process is informed by the science.”
- Dr. Henry has also downplayed the effectiveness of tests. They are not a panacea, only a tool, and a limited one at that, said the provincial health officer, repeating objections she has raised many times over the life of the pandemic, such as that rapid tests deliver false positives and false negatives. Some tests also require a health-care professional to administer and a machine to read the results. She also says that “[t]hey don’t pick up lower levels of the virus. We can’t rely on them for single-use testing.”
- Dr. Henry noted there’s a global supply issue with many of these tests, but that doesn't match with the actual statistics. Health Canada distribution data show, as of Dec. 3, B.C. had received more than 3,200,000 rapid tests, deployed 1,970,000 and only used 314,468. Mr. Dix said 35,000 rapid tests are used every week, and 534,333 tests have been used in total.
- Later in the press conference Henry got around to admitting that the B.C. stockpile does include some 700,000 rapid testing kits that might be adapted for home use. The testing kits arrive in boxes of 25 to 35 which could be broken down and distributed separately with the addition of a single dose bottle of diluent.
- Alas, says Henry, “it’s really challenging to break those down. It takes a lot of time.” Mainly what it takes is staff: “People power” from an already overworked public health system, she said.
- Back in September, the Nova Scotia public health agency assembled some 300,000 rapid testing kits in Ziploc bags with the help of volunteers. So why can't BC? Asked about the tests that are being freely distributed in other provinces, Adrian Dix insisted that “none of them” are in fact “designed as at-home tests.” Rather they have been “transformed to do that,” a reference, presumably to Nova Scotia’s miracle with the Ziploc bags and volunteers.
- Yet other provinces appear to have got to the front of the line and with Ottawa’s assistance, acquired perfectly usable stand-alone kits, suitable for home testing. Why was B.C. at the back of the line?
- The BC Liberal party said the NDP government has failed to use rapid tests and left millions of them in storage. Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond took the Horgan government to task over their failure to launch public rapid tests: “Most British Columbians cannot understand, or accept, the unwillingness of the NDP government to use rapid tests as an additional layer of protection throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been calling for increased use of rapid tests for over a year now, and there has been no progress on getting rapid tests in the hands of families during 2021, let alone in time for this holiday season.”
- The University of Victoria is working with Island Health to get rapid at-home tests to students and staff as it grapples with an outbreak of COVID-19 that includes the new Omicron variant. In person exams at the university were cancelled this past week as at least 137 cases have been linked to off campus holiday gatherings among students. Of those cases, 15 have been identified as the Omicron variant.
- So who is to blame for BC's lack of rapid tests that can be easily used by the public? Lay it directly on public health officials, says Adrian Dix, displaying the admirable politician trait of blaming someone else when something goes wrong.
- The decisions on rapid testing — which tests to acquire, how they shall be used — are made by “public health officials,” according to the health minister: “We have a committee of senior officials that gives advice on rapid testing. It’s driven by science and driven by public health in B.C. They provide advice and recommendations on what the most effective tests are because they validate tests and they see what the most effective tests are, the most accurate tests are, and then they act accordingly. It’s on their counsel, their advice, their decisions as to which rapid tests we have.” Well, their decisions, and the NDP's unwillingness to change with the times, have led BC into an unacceptable struggle to catch up with every other province in Canada.
- Despite the Horgan government claiming that they are following "the science", doctors are also admitting that public tests are a useful tool in the fight against rising cases of Covid. Dr. Matthew Miller, assistant dean at McMaster University’s department of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, said “If someone tests positive with a rapid antigen test, it makes sense to go and get PCR testing as confirmation,” citing the not always reliable nature of the rapid tests.
- Even if it was a false positive however, it still makes sense to get a 2nd opinion on your health care. Dr. Miller says: “If we can use these so that a lot more people are testing themselves — again, as a supplement to the existing public health measures and personal sort of safety measures that we know reduce risk of transmission — that can only be a good thing.”
- Dr. Victor Leung, an infectious diseases physician and medical microbiologist in the Lower Mainland, believes much of the information presented by Henry and Dix about rapid tests was either confused, misrepresented or inaccurate: “The response from the provincial government and the public health teams with respect to rapid antigen tests does not make a lot of sense and it also seems that the answers shift in terms of why we’re not using them. It is not very consistent.”
- Dr. Leung said only one of the four different rapid test products that BC has received actually requires a specific machine: “Abbott ID Now is a type of nucleic acid testing, more specifically called isothermal nucleic acid amplification, and it can be done in about 15 minutes, as well. That’s the test that needs a machine and it generally is placed in labs or clinics or other types of medical facilities because it does require a setup with the machine. If she is talking about a test that needs a machine, then the numbers don’t add up to me. Unless she’s adding BD Veritor and mixing that with the nucleic acid test,” Leung explained.
- Dr. Leung explained that Lucira is also a nucleic acid test amplification test, more specifically loop-mediated amplification or LAMP test and Leung explains: “These types of nucleic acid tests are good for all phases of COVID infection from prior to being infectious to the time you’re very infectious,” he said.
- The other test products that British Columbia has received – Abbott Panbio and BD Veritor – are known as rapid antigen tests, which detect the protein of the virus when there is enough virus for someone to likely be infectious: “These rapid antigen tests are actually much better, much more accurate because it tells you if this person is currently infectious,” explained Leung.
- Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, who was formally involved in British Columbia’s SARS response in 2003, said rapid tests shouldn’t just be used when there is an outbreak, such as the one at the University of Victoria, but used in a more proactive manner: “The proactive way, which is like Nova Scotia is doing, is to use rapid tests when [infections] are low to keep them low. In B.C., we should be doing everything possible to use rapid tests.”
- Dr. Filiatrault said British Columbia had a good opportunity on Tuesday to reduce transmissions by making tests more available but opted against it — something that she finds puzzling: “There’s a complete disconnect here in BC. Why is BC not using this technology?”
- Filiatrault believes it is far better to give people the tools to make informed decisions, even if rapid tests aren’t nearly as accurate as PCR tests: “You know, if you don’t test, you have a 100% chance of missing that you’re infectious.”
- Dr. Dalia Hasan, an Ontario-based physician and founder of COVID Test Finders who recently launched a petition urging the Horgan government to be proactive and provide COVID-19 rapid antigen tests at no cost, recently said that B.C.’s public health officials have “blood on their hands” because they continue to deny that rapid tests work.
- Hasan goes further than other doctors on the Horgan government's culpability: “The messaging coming out of the public health leaders has quite frankly been dangerous for their residents. They have denied that COVID is airborne and their messaging is congruent as if COVID is over. They’re not welcoming the public health tools that would safeguard their residents. They’re denying that rapid tests are effective and that there’s any utility when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
- So at the end of the day, it's clear that BC's approach to rapid tests has failed, and their obstinance towards getting rapid tests available to the public has left BC at the back of the line in Canada. That's simply unacceptable. The politicians have shifted blame to public health officials, but as we've seen in other jurisdictions, if something needs to get done, it can get done. So why not in BC? We need to demand better from our government.
- Brian Jean is on the road to becoming an MLA yet again in Alberta.
- Brian Jean, the leader who took the Wildrose to opposition status after Danielle Smith broke the party, the same Brian Jean who agreed with Jason Kenney on a unity agreement between the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives has won a UCP nomination on the platform of removing Jason Kenney.
- The UCP is a democratic party and the steps going forward require Brian Jean to win the yet to be called by-election for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche and for the party to deliver a result of non-confidence at Jason Kenney’s leadership review this coming spring.
- Much of the media is reporting that this is a major defeat for the Premier but Brian Jean, if elected, will be subject to the same caucus rules as any of the other MLAs who disagree with the Premier.
- Brian Jean’s main driving force is that he believes that the NDP will win the next election and in order to sell that belief to the UCP, he must either be a very good salesman or believe it himself.
- In general affirmations when repeated often enough can make things happen, good or bad, so UCP members should be very careful about their line of party discourse going into 2022 if they want to win in 2023.
- UCP members should also appreciate the fact that Brian Jean sought the nomination for the UCP and not a smaller right leaning party that could split the vote as some have done in the past.
- Brian Jean won against engineer and economist Joshua Gogo with 68% of the vote. It’s worth noting that Gogo was more in line with Jason Kenney’s wing of the party.
- At the end of the day, we’ll repeat what we say when those in the media become too concerned with internal party matters of any party.
- If there’s anyone in the media or those listening to this story that feel they have a stake in Jason Kenney remaining as leader or not, they should become UCP members and make the necessary arrangements to vote in the upcoming leadership review.
- The point to be made is simple: the UCP members decide who the leader will be, that person faces the NDP. Those who do not want to see the NDP in power have an obligation to make their voices heard, support whoever they want, and after the leadership review, either support Jason Kenney or whomever the new leader is.
- The NDP while in power enacted policy after policy that was at odds with the customs and preferences of rural Alberta.
- Combined with an economic price shock in 2014 and high spending and an investment climate that pushed investors away, the economy suffered.
- Through 8 months in 2019 and a tiny bit of 2020 and the pandemic the UCP government has recovered the job losses of the pandemic, the job losses from 2015-2019, and restored natural resource investment and production rates to that of what it was prior to the 2014 price shock.
- This happened while undertaking massive pandemic spending, facing a contracting economy, and dealing with the shadow of an unfriendly federal government.
- Albertans who are incredibly liberty minded are rightfully upset at the need for restrictions, especially those who live on acreages in our province.
- But the point remains that under an NDP government we’d be looking at more spending, more lockdowns, and ultimately a slower economy.
- The general mood of the province if polls are to be believed is that no one is pleased with the government but who has been pleased with the last 2 years?
- Globally when it comes to per capita death rates and even within Canada, Alberta has done well in the pandemic. It’s also been done with minimal restrictions that if you talk to anyone from outside this country, they’re outright surprised.
- There are people who wanted the UCP to take a Florida approach with no restrictions at all but given our economic record and our COVID record, we’ve struck a hugely delicate balance that has positioned our economy to take off like a rocket if not for a federal government hostile to natural resources.
- Going back to Brian Jean though, the media would have you believe that the province is falling apart. The economic record speaks volumes.
- It’ll be up to UCP members in the spring to decide whether to embrace Brian Jean or let Jason Kenney continue as Premier but UCP members and the media would do well to summarise where we’ve been and just what has been accomplished.
- On Thursday, the mandate letters from Prime Minister Trudeau were sent to his cabinet ministers, which contain priorities for each ministry, and put together display the direction that the government will take on certain issues, as well as the areas that the government is prioritizing.
- The letters, 38 in all, indicate while ending the pandemic remains the top priority, the government needs to get back to focusing on the rest of its agenda, including the top priorities of indigenous reconciliation, combatting climate change, and ending systemic discrimination and inequality. Trudeau says these issues cross government departments, and are among the problems he said can only be solved by delivering results Canadians can actually feel: “As we...help people in time of crisis we have to make sure we’re actually delivering in ways that are tangible.”
- To that end, Trudeau is ordering each minister to publicly report on their progress. Trudeau said that’s not just about marketing the fact that $10 million was spent on a program, but showing evidence of what that $10 million actually did: “(That) is something that the government doesn’t think deliberately enough about and that’s certainly something we’re trying to change.”
- Absent in the mandate letters is any priority to tackle inflation, grow the economy, create more jobs, or deal with the housing crisis.
- Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s midterm report, released Tuesday, made it clear that, for this government, social priorities far outweigh economic concerns. Stronger-than-expected economic growth (part of it inflation-induced) has lowered the projected deficit for this year, to a still-eye-watering $145-billion. But instead of using the increased revenue to lower that figure, the Liberal government will be increasing spending on social programs instead.
- But while the Liberals are spending more of what we don't have and sending us further and further into debt, the economic problems of the nation aren't waiting, and new competition from the US in the form of Biden's Build Back Better bill could severely damage Canada's car industry.
- A proposed provision in the Build Back Better bill would impose a stiff tariff equivalent on electric vehicles built in Canada for sale in the United States. When Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio, was asked about a letter that Freeland and International Trade Minister Mary Ng had sent urging senators to drop the restriction, Mr. Brown replied: “I don’t care what Canada thinks.”
- If the Senate passes the bill with the EV import restriction in place, the Canadian economy could take a significant hit. And it won’t help that the federal government is threatening to impose retaliatory tariffs in return. Canada cannot win a trade war with the United States, and that trade war will itself damage the economy.
- In the meantime, the OECD predicts Canada will be the worst performing advanced economy over the next decade, and the three decades after that. An OECD report offers insights on whether Canadians can look forward to meaningful gains in average living standards in the decades to come. The findings are sobering. The OECD predicts Canada can at best achieve real per capita GDP growth of only 0.7 percent per annum over 2020-2030. This places us dead last among advanced countries.
- Unfortunately, the next decade is not an aberration. The same OECD report projects Canada will also post the worst economic performance among advanced countries over 2030-2060, with real per capita GDP advancing by just 0.8 percent per annum. In other words, Canada will be dead last not only for the next decade, but also for the three decades after that.
- All this comes amid growing concern within the public service over the Liberals’ lack of interest in generating economic growth, but that lack of concern should come as no surprise. Like his father Pierre, who showed little interest in economic issues, preferring to focus instead on constitutional concerns, the Prime Minister places a low priority on fiscal or monetary policy.
- When asked in 2014 whether he would be willing to run deficits as prime minister, he famously replied: “The commitment needs to be a commitment to grow the economy and the budget will balance itself.” On his watch, the budget has never been balanced.
- Asked about rising inflation during the election campaign in August, he said, “You’ll forgive me if I don’t think about monetary policy. You’ll understand that I think about families.” Pretty soon, families will notice Trudeau's inaction when inflation makes it harder to make ends meet.
- Because of Trudeau's lack of focus on the economy, on average, Canadian living standards and our quality of life relative to other countries are set to decline as other countries make their economies more productive. Long range projections are not certain, of course. But in providing a glimpse of a possible future, they offer us an opportunity to reflect and make a course correction lest they become reality.
- It is time for Canada’s political class to rethink their priorities and take steps to create the conditions for a more productive economy. This will require some hard thinking and expertise about how to raise labour productivity growth and real wage growth through higher business investment per worker, faster innovation adoption, and adjusting the incentives (and disincentives) facing Canadian companies aspiring to operate at scale.
- Unfortunately, if an inflation crisis, a floundering economy and massive debt wasn't enough to get Trudeau to think about the economy, then likely nothing ever will.
- Leading up to the election this year and in the shadow of the 2020 and 2016 US elections, the focus was on safeguarding the vote and preventing any foreign interference.
- But, this week a new report from Global News (and only Global News) suggests that there may have indeed been foreign interference in as many as 13 ridings this past September.
- The story is very quick to point out that potential interference was peddled against the Conservatives and that they “made [themselves] a target” because of their stance on China.
- Canada’s two intel agencies briefed the Conservative party and an anonymous Conservative party source shared some details with Global.
- Of the 13 seats, most were seats where the Conservatives were competitive. But some were just absurd, such as Mississauga Centre where Liberal Cabinet Minister Omar Alghabra won with 54% of the vote.
- In most of the cases there’s suspicion of mail in ballot fraud, potential foreign government paid campaign workers who got envelopes of cash to do things for other campaigns, and illegal advertising.
- The Conservatives also used the WeChat social media platform which is prevalent in the Chinese Canadian community and found that at times the messages they posted were removed.
- The important bit of this story is that the Conservatives need to work with new Canadians and in particular any Canadians with an immigrant based background to build that base. But even with that in the forefront, questions about losses in the lower mainland deserve a second look.
- Long time Richmond Centre incumbent Alice Wong lost by less than 1,000 votes. Steveston-Richmond East incumbent Kenny Chu lost by about 3,500 votes. There were other ridings where things looked suspicious such as Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam and Fleetwood-Port Kells in British Columbia, and Markham-Stouffville, Markham-Unionville, Richmond Hill, Willowdale, Don Valley North, Scarborough-Agincourt, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, and Newmarket-Aurora in Ontario.
- These ridings on their own don’t tip the balance of power in government but when combined with other factors such as get out the vote operations, potential vote splits, or micro-targeting of voters, they begin to paint a clearer picture of what happened on election day.
- The very fact that Global News is the only outlet with this story should concern everyone.
- In the US what was proven to be fake this year led to a multi-year study about purported Russian involvement in the 2016 race. Coverage that permeated the nightly news into Canada.
- Yet here there’s a very real chance that foreign actors from within the Chinese Communist Party exerted influence on our most recent election and we haven’t heard a peep.
- The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) were aware of what was going on during the race and briefed the Conservatives but following up, there has been no discussion from any ministry about how severe what happened was and what the recourse will be going forward.
- We’re also at the phase of the investigation where everyone still is speaking anonymously because no one has been authorized to talk about what happened.
- Let’s put ourselves in an alternate reality where the Conservatives won a narrow minority (5-12 seats) and also lost the popular vote.
- Would Liberal or NDP or democracy advocate groups be saying we should look at a dozen or so suspect ridings? Yes.
- And we need to be clear that we’re not talking about this alternate reality because it paints a better picture of what would happen, we’re talking about it because it illustrates how absurd it is that any call, even a minor one, of foreign interference seems to be being glossed over now.
- The security apparatus and the Conservative party is no doubt looking into it but that doesn’t excuse the media-at-large from ignoring the story.
- The more people talk about this story, the more pressure there will be for others to turn their investigative reporting divisions onto it and figure out how extensive if at all the intrusion by foreign actors (likely China!) was into the 2021 Canadian election.
- With another election about 2 years away in all likelihood, Canadians deserve to know just what happened and we aren’t being served well by the media today.
Word of the Week
Rapid - happening in a short time or at a fast pace
Quote of the Week
“The response from the provincial government and the public health teams with respect to rapid antigen tests does not make a lot of sense and it also seems that the answers shift in terms of why we’re not using them. It is not very consistent.” Dr. Victor Leung, an infectious diseases physician and medical microbiologist in the Lower Mainland, on the BC government’s stance on rapid COVID tests.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Testing Our Patience
Teaser: BC has completely missed the boat on public rapid tests, Brian Jean wins a UCP nomination contest in Fort McMurray, and Trudeau continues to ignore the economy and inflation. Also, we discuss foreign interference in Canada’s elections.
Recorded Date: December 17, 2021
Release Date: December 19, 2021
Edit Notes: Coughing
Podcast Summary Notes