The News Rundown
- Alberta is beginning the process of returning to normal after almost 2 years of COVID restrictions.
- Alberta joins Saskatchewan in being among the first in Canada to take these steps. Quebec and PEI will move that way in March. BC has decided to wait a little while longer to monitor the situation.
- Alberta and Saskatchewan join other countries including the UK, the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark amongst others in Europe.
- In the US, states that had some of the most restrictions are also opening up. These states include New Jersey, California, Oregon, Delaware, and Connecticut.
- What Alberta is doing is not absurd, it’s a middle of the road approach that many Albertans have wanted since the beginning of the pandemic.
- According to a new poll from Angus Reid, 54% of all Canadians want restrictions to end.
- After the announcement was made Tuesday, at 11:59pm on that day the Restriction Exemption Program ended in Alberta along with capacity limits for venues with more than 500 people. Those with limits between 500 and 1000 will be capped at 500 and those above 1000 will be capped at 50%.
- Starting on February 13 at 11:59pm, masks will no longer be required for kids in schools and masks will no longer be required on anyone under the age of 12. We’ll come back to this one in a moment.
- This represents step one of what has been called Alberta safely returning to normal.
- Step 2 is slated to happen on March 1 assuming hospitalizations continue to trend downward.
- This will include the removal of cohorting requirements in schools, removal of screening prior to youth activities, all capacity limits will be removed, all limits on social gatherings will be removed, mandatory work from home requirements will be removed, and the provincial mask mandate ends.
- Step 3 will see measures in continuing care be removed and mandatory isolation becoming a recommendation only at a date to be determined in the future.
- The Edmonton and Calgary City Councils have already taken this opportunity to start bringing in their own public health policy.
- At his press conference on Tuesday, Jason Kenney expressed concern over what that would mean if cities tried to do that and said that he would hope that they would not since health is very clearly a provincial jurisdiction.
- Calgary City Council voted to end the Restriction Exemption Program in the city while Edmonton’s is consulting with city administration to see if the city can bring their own program in.
- Mask bylaws will remain in effect in both cities until further notice.
- The very fact the city councils considered this needs to be underscored because it is the Constitution of Canada that sets out the very few powers that municipalities have that are not delegated to them by the province, health is not one of them.
- Edmonton, Calgary, and any other municipalities should end the Restriction Exemption Program and mask bylaws in line with what the provincial government enacts from the health policy angle.
- If they don’t, it shows that either the municipality in question is incredibly inept or they feel they know better than the province or their own residents.
- Going back to schools, the Alberta Teacher’s Association says that they are pursuing the potential legal action against the government due to teachers who may have occupational health and safety concerns.
- This led to the characterization by the government that the ATA thought that kids were unsafe. Obviously the ATA doesn’t think that but in general, who insist on every COVID protection to try to limit themselves from getting COVID, need to come to a realization about the world we live in.
- COVID is not going away.
- We have been incredibly lucky with the balanced approach taken in Alberta where most businesses have continued to operate and we haven’t seen draconian shutdowns like out east or in other countries like Australia. Our economy is going strong and growing fast.
- Omicron mutated in such a way that it became less dangerous and more spready. That combined with vaccinations now topping 90%+ of the population in Alberta means that only a narrow sliver of the population doesn’t have some form of immunity.
- Historically this is the same path that the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 took and that bug stayed around for years.
- We are going to be in a similar situation with COVID and one has to ask, if not now, when?
- It’s telling that Quebec of all provinces announced a path forward and Ontario is thought to be unveiling their plans next week.
- Instead, we need to look to the future and utilize what we learnt over the past 2 years.
- Know how to stay clean, stay home when sick, and protect our healthcare system.
- The Premier said that Health Minister Jason Copping would be addressing this in the upcoming budget.
- But he also called on all governments in Canada to address Canada's healthcare capacity problem - that’s why we had to have restrictions in the first place.
- Jason Kenney said, “It is incumbent on governments of all stripes, in all jurisdictions to do whatever they can to avoid relying on the blunt instrument of damaging restrictions as a primary response to potential future waves with more severe outcomes… in the Canadian context we have to fix our healthcare system first and foremost. It is outrageous that Canada’s public healthcare system is in the top quartiles of the OECD in terms of cost but the bottom for per-capita beds, per-capita physicians, surgical wait times, diagnostic wait times, etc.”
- This is what we have talked about time and time again over the past 2 years here at Western Context about why we couldn’t take a more open approach.
- Barring a new severe variant emerging in the next weeks we are entering a new phase of the pandemic where the focus must be on endemic care, healing what was lost over the last 2 years, and repairing the fractures caused by those who hold negatives views of either the unvaccinated or vaccinated.
- The media needs to ask themselves why they didn’t do this since day one and governments need to be acutely aware of the divisions they’ve created.
- With everything going on this week, you might have missed that the BC Liberal party had their leadership election last Saturday, in which former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon won fairly handily after amassing a huge lead on the first ballot.
- Falcon won on the fifth ballot, taking just over 52% of the points available, and it was clear from the get go that not only was the presumed front runner going to win, but that the governing NDP viewed him as the biggest threat to their government in the race.
- Mere minutes after his win, the NDP was on the attack, pointing out other leadership candidates had spoken of the need to rebuild the party, and alleging that Falcon – as a previous cabinet minister – represents a return to the party’s past.
- Falcon’s victory speech pointed to priorities for the newly elected leader, including diversifying the party’s candidate and membership base, tackling environmental issues, strengthening small businesses and addressing affordability. He also called on people of all backgrounds to join the party. Falcon said he will be a strong advocate for a free-enterprise economy, but he also wants to ensure diversity and tolerance for people of all races, genders, faiths and backgrounds are hallmarks of a renewed B.C. Liberal party. The party gained more than 20,000 members during the leadership process, bringing its total membership to about 43,000.
- First Nations MLA Ellis Ross finished second with almost 34% of the vote and Vancouver MLA and previous leadership candidate Michael Lee was third, with about 14%. Most of the rest of the candidates were party insiders that failed to garner any meaningful level of attention or support. The leadership race was called after the resignation of Andrew Wilkinson following the party's 2020 election defeat as the NDP won a majority government.
- Falcon held a seat in Surrey for three terms beginning in 2001 before deciding not to run in the 2013 election. Falcon says he left politics to spend more time with his young family and work in the private sector with a Vancouver investment and property development firm. Falcon and his wife have two daughters.
- He held a number of portfolios in cabinet after first being elected in the BC Liberal landslide under Gordon Campbell, which saw them win 77/79 seats. Falcon's cabinet duties included transportation, health, finance and eventually deputy premier. Falcon finished second in the 2011 leadership contest, losing to Christy Clark, who served as premier until the party lost power in 2017 when she failed to negotiate a deal with the 3rd party Greens.
- Falcon announced that former leader Andrew Wilkinson will resign his seat in Vancouver-Quilchena, so Falcon can run there in a byelection. Under Wilkinson, the B.C. Liberals were reduced to 28 seats to the NDP's 57. It was clear that the party needed a new direction and that something needed to be done to counter the NDP's rise in popularity under John Horgan.
- And make no mistake, the NDP were quick to point out Falcon's past with the previous BC Liberal governments. Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon said the government is looking forward to debates with Falcon. He said: "You know, I think it's important to remind British Columbians that he just left a little while ago, and he has a record, a history. In fact, he was the architect of some very deep cuts to the province that we're still paying for today.''
- It’s no surprise the NDP have done everything in their power to stop Falcon from taking the helm, with more news releases issued during the race attacking Falcon than all the other candidates combined. Those efforts clearly failed, due in part to the fact that those very attacks likely bolstered Falcon’s credibility as the candidate who most concerns the NDP.
- Falcon joked that after all the attention the New Democrats gave him during the leadership race, they would surely want him in the house where they could keep an eye on him. Until Falcon gets a seat, Shirley Bond remains the official leader of the Opposition.
- It's clear that the question remains to be answered is will Falcon innovate the party, or will the split continue to grow between its more socially conservative rural base and the progressive but economically conservative urban base that was lost in 2020?
- The BC Liberal Party has always been a curious coalition of conservative and liberal voters (pretty much, the anybody-but-the-NDP party), but it is currently diminished, primarily because it has lost the support of progressive urban voters.
- It is clearly divided on questions of leadership, ideology and regional politics. Falcon is going to have to work very hard to unite the disparate factions of the party around his leadership, as Campbell and Clark successfully did for a time before 2017. Under them, the liberal and conservative factions in the party were held together by a relentless focus on economic issues, while social issues were generally held in abeyance.
- Even old guard party stalwarts held their socially conservative views in check. However, in the past election, some social conservatives in the party were unwilling to suppress their convictions.
- For example, At the end of the television debate in the 2020 provincial election, moderator Shachi Kurl asked the leaders to reflect on their privilege as white middle-class politicians. Premier John Horgan and former Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson stumbled badly in their responses; only Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau provided a thoughtful answer.
- The challenge for Kevin Falcon is that he not only has to answer these kinds of questions gracefully and with conviction, but unlike an NDP or Green Party leader, he has to answer them without alienating his party’s conservative voters. We will have to see how his leadership will impact the BC Liberals chances in the next election, just 2 years away.
- While provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan are moving forward to remove restrictions, the official word from the Prime Minister is that the best way to avoid restrictions is vaccine mandates.
- But some people within his own party are asking for a timeline on when restrictions will end.
- Liberal MPs Joël Lightbound and Nate Erskine-Smith have asked the government for a timeline on when restrictions will end and MP Anthony Housefather also asked the same in the House chamber.
- Two of these MPs are from Quebec and Erskine-Smith is from Ontario.
- Mr. Lightbound went further and condemned the government's divisive rhetoric going back to the election last year.
- Canadian media covered Lightbound’s press conference but once again we have to turn to the international media to see how they’re covering it.
- Politico US was in with a headline, “Trudeau’s own party is starting to turn on him over COVID restrictions.”
- Canada has garnered so much international media attention over the last 2 weeks that it’s hard to remember a time when international outlets were this enamoured with what is going on here.
- When there is one there are two, and when there are two there are definitely more in the caucus that feel the same way. The question is going to be how long individual MPs will stand until the pressure from their own ridings forces them to speak out.
- The remarks from Lightbound summarize just what has happened and how we reached this point of tension in our country that so many people said did not exist.
- People conveniently felt that Canada would be immune from the populist uprisings that brought in Donald Trump and Brexit, but it’s here now.
- During the election campaign the mainstream media and political leaders were quick to write off the protesters going after Justin Trudeau as a fringe minority.
- Those with any knowledge of history and just what led to Donald Trump and Brexit knew that there was a far deeper issue.
- Now, according to Lightbound, “From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge, to divide and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly.”
- He continued, “I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve — and during — the last election campaign.”
- The path from here is easy to see, this led to vaccine mandates for public transport, air travel, and other aspects of life including people’s livelihoods, such as some cross border truckers.
- The majority of Canadian truckers are vaccinated but the big question of vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions in general are the key issue here, not just mandates for truckers.
- In an effort to wedge the Conservatives on vaccination this fissure was opened and never shut.
- That’s how wedge politics works and has been executed for the last decade and a half successfully in the United States and has been executed here in Canada since 2015 under Justin Trudeau architected by his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts.
- It was only a few days ago that Justin Trudeau smugly answered questions saying that Canadians were as united as ever, but given the volume of discontent we’re seeing today, that is not the case.
- Last election it was the vaccine mandates and vaccinations in general. Previously it was the fictitious issue of abortion rights being rolled back somehow. Gun control has also been used as a wedge issue by Trudeau. And yes, of course pipelines and the energy industry has too which had the side effect of wedging Western Canada against the rest of the country.
- This raises a big question of whether or not the Trudeau brand knows how to govern in a minority without inflicting deep scars upon the country.
- Only 12 bills have been introduced since Parliament returned after the last election.
- Two of which were the conversion therapy ban bill and the online Canadian content bill which were reintroduced from last session.
- There is no vision being enacted that was promised to Canadians and by the time any of that starts happening we’ll be at year’s end with another election on the horizon.
- With the government turning Canadians against one another one has to wonder if the government is running out of steam as was said by John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail.
- Canada deserves a government that doesn’t say parts of its population has “unacceptable views” or are a “fringe minority” when the past 2 weeks have proven there’s a bigger issue than anyone in the mainstream has realized.
- Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that "A week is a long time in politics." Boy is it ever. Since last week's episode, where we detailed the ousting of Erin O'Toole, a lot has happened, and it began almost immediately after we recorded the episode last week. On Saturday afternoon, Pierre Poilievre immediately made a splash by announcing his candidacy in the upcoming Conservative leadership race.
- In a three-minute video released on social media on Saturday night, Poilievre criticizes government spending and says he wants to make “Canadians the freest people on earth.” Seated at a desk in front of a bookshelf with soft music playing over his words, Poilievre doesn’t mention the Conservative party by name or the contest in his announcement, saying only that he wants the job as prime minister.
- He enters the race with a considerable social media following. During last year’s election, he struck out with his own campaign videos and slogan, separate from that of the party’s or leader’s. Poilievre immediately showed his connectedness with social media, as of recording his announcement video has over 4 million views on Twitter, over 1 million views on Instagram, and 650k views on Youtube.
- Poilievre is throwing his hat into the ring before the race has officially begun and the party’s election committee doesn’t yet exist and no rules have been released. As such, he can’t begin fundraising, however, a document attached to his launch video released Saturday lists one of the options for supporters to choose to help is by purchasing memberships to vote for Poilievre.
- MPs immediately began throwing their support behind Poilievre. Ontario MP Melissa Lantsman, who was the first LGBTQ woman to be elected as a Conservative MP tweeted: “I’m with Pierre. No question — Pierre is the right answer to a strong (and) united Conservative Party.”
- Many Conservatives regard the 42-year-old Ottawa-area MP a natural front-runner in the race. He currently serves as the party’s finance critic and was first elected to the House of Commons back in 2004 at the age of 24, serving in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Throughout his time in Parliament, Poilievre has built up a reputation as a fiery performer in the House who is deeply steeped in conservative values and thinking.
- Poilievre's announcement comes concurrently with the increasingly agitated freedom convoy movement, which last week blockaded the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, and is likely the most important bridge on the continent as it is the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume, carrying more than 25% of all merchandise trade between the United States and Canada.
- Ontario's Superior Court of Justice granted an injunction to end the blockade of the bridge. The injunction was filed by the city of Windsor and the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, which argued that they were losing as much as $50m per day because of the convoy.
- Poilievre says he blames Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the situation, which is paralyzing critical infrastructure at the border. He said: “I’m proud of the truckers and I stand with them. They have reached a breaking point after two years of massive government overreach of a prime minister who insults and degrades anyone who disagrees with his heavy-handed approach. But let’s be honest, if Canadians are being inconvenienced, or in any way suffering from these protests, it is because Justin Trudeau made these protests happen and his intransigence is keeping the protests going,”
- Poilievre said it looks to him like Trudeau put a vaccine mandate on truckers “as a vindictive wedge strategy to divide Canadians and demonize an apparently unpopular minority of unvaccinated people to his own political advantage.”
- Poilievre says: “But now it’s blown up in his face. So he’s gotten himself into an impossible political situation. And unfortunately, the rest of the country is held hostage by his unwillingness to do the right thing, admit he was wrong, and lift these mandates.”
- Earlier Thursday, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen called on Freedom Convoy protesters to take down the barricades and go home. Bergen, who has been sympathetic to truckers since the beginning of the protests in Ottawa, changed her stance and asked for blockades to end. She made the comments as she presented a motion in the House of Commons asking for the end of federal restrictions.
- In an appeal to the protesters, Bergen said, “I believe the time has come for you to take down the barricades, stop the disruptive action, and come together. The economy you want to see reopen is hurting. Farmers, manufacturers, small businesses and families are suffering. I believe this is not what you want to do. You came bringing a message. That message has been heard. Conservatives have heard you and we will stand up for you and all Canadians who want to get back to normal life. We will not stop until the mandates have ended.”
- Bergen urged other parties to join the Conservatives in supporting the motion, which calls for the Liberals to present a plan before the end of the month to end federal mandates and restrictions. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of the Conservative motion, which will guarantee almost a majority of votes in the Commons when the time comes. Motions are however non-binding and the government will not be forced to implement it even if it is adopted.
- Meanwhile, Liberals are showing no signs of changing their course of action. During Question Period, Trudeau continued to repeat that the best way through the pandemic is by listening to science and by following health advice “and indeed, by getting vaccinated.” He encouraged more people to “step up” and get their shots. Trudeau also got up and left twice in 2 days during the middle of question period, leading to mocking jeers from opposition members.
- In the end, Poilievre is a real threat to Trudeau's government, as not only does he have the charisma to appeal to conservative across the country, he also has the social media following to get his messaging to the people. In this day in age, that is a very important thing that the mainstream media have overlooked.
Word of the Week
Intransigence - refusal to change one's views or to agree about something.
Quote of the Week
“From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge, to divide and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly.” - Liberal MP Joël Lightbound on his government’s approach to vaccine mandates.
How to Find Us
Episode Title: New Leaders
Teaser: Alberta moves to lift COVID restrictions, the BC Liberals elect Kevin Falcon as leader, and Trudeau’s own MP’s are questioning their pandemic strategies. Also, Pierre Poilievre shows us the power of social media.
Recorded Date: February 11, 2022
Release Date: February 13, 2022
Edit Notes: Executed!
Podcast Summary Notes