Globe editorial: This is a story about race in Canadian politics. And it’s hopeful

Agree. Recent federal election largely confirms:

This is not a story about race.

But to understand how it isn’t, we have to talk about how, in another, less successful country, it could be.

In 2016, the census found that 31 per cent the residents of the City of Calgary were immigrants. Thirty-six per cent of the population were members of a visible minority, including 9.5 per cent who were South Asian. The picture is almost exactly the same in Edmonton: 30 per cent of residents are immigrants and 37 per cent are visible minorities, including 9.5 per cent who identify as South Asian.

Two weeks ago, the people of Edmonton and Calgary went to the polls and elected new mayors. Both were born outside of Canada. Jyoti Gondek, Calgary’s top magistrate, was born in England to parents of Punjabi descent and came to this country as a child; Edmonton’s Amarjeet Sohi was born in India and immigrated in his teens. On the census, both would be counted among the roughly one in 10 city residents of South Asian descent.

We bring up race not because it was an issue in the elections of Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi, but because it was not. And let us give thanks for that.

In many other countries – less happy, less peaceful countries – the story would have been very different. There, race, religion or ethnicity are the basis for politics. Sectarian divides slice through the possibility of shared citizenship, with lives and politics organized along those lines.

That’s how much of the world is. (Ask an immigrant.) In the worst cases, it results in the failed state of Lebanon, or the violently extinguished state of Yugoslavia, or the Rwanda genocide.

But here’s what we believe can safely be said about the mayoral elections in Calgary and Edmonton: The race of the candidates, their religion (or lack thereof), and their status as first-generation Canadians appear to have been irrelevant to most voters. Maybe not all voters, whether pro or con, but surely most.

Consider: Nine out of 10 voters in Calgary and Edmonton are not of South Asian heritage. Yet Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi each won 45 per cent of the vote. That means that most of those who voted for them were from “another” community.

And we put the word “another” in quotation marks because, this being Canada in 2021, most voters don’t see it that way. They weren’t marking their ballots through a prism of race. They didn’t see the winning candidates as coming from some other community, but rather as part of their shared community – Calgarian, Edmontonian, Albertan, Canadian – that transcends where you or your parents came from, where you pray or do not pray, and what colour your skin is.

Canadians are not saints, and Canada is not some magic land where racism never existed. It is not some place where no lines have ever been drawn labelling some people as “us” and others as “them.” Canada has a long history of evolving varieties of sectarian divisions.

But Canada also has a long and accelerating history of expanding the definition of “us,” and extending membership in the shared community to people who, in another place or another time, might have been excluded. For example, until 1954, the mayor of Toronto had always been a Protestant from the Orange Order. But that year, the citizens of Toronto ended all that, electing Nathan Phillips. Phillips was Jewish; nearly all of the city’s residents were not. Most were Protestants. It didn’t matter.

It was a similar story half a century later, in the three mayoral elections won by Naheed Nenshi in Calgary. The vast majority of the people of Calgary are not Ismaili Muslims; it didn’t matter. Overwhelming majorities chose Mr. Nenshi as their representative. And though three-quarters of the residents of Brampton, Ont., are visible minorities, in 2018 they elected Patrick Brown as mayor.

This ability to see beyond differences and biology and faith is something that Canada will need ever more of in its future. Canada is on the road to becoming a majority-minority nation, where no ethnic or racial group is the majority. That’s already the situation in Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto, and the other big cities are not far behind.

The voting in Calgary and Edmonton is a reminder that this future is hopeful, not ominous. If a Canadian is defined by all that we hold in common, in spite of differences, then everybody’s part of the majority.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-this-is-a-story-about-race-in-canadian-politics-and-its-hopeful/

Globe editorial: Why did Ottawa kill GPHIN? Because politicians get no credit for averting a disaster that hasn’t happened yet

Of note, the overall challenge facing governments with respect to longer-term planning and preparation.

Silent on some of the internal decision-making processes that led to the weakening of GPHIN as it is still not clear whether the decision to shutter GPHIN was bureaucratically or politically-driven. Suspect the former given the small resources involved.

Somewhat normal to have tensions between scientific/medical experts and public service generalists but more serious in this case.

Notable recommendation that touches on this: 2.8 There should be sufficient public health expertise in GPHIN’s management to fully understand event-based surveillance.

A new independent review of the mismanagement of Canada’s pandemic early warning system, which was effectively shuttered by the Trudeau government in the months before COVID-19 made itself known in Wuhan, China, says all the right things.

Released Monday, the report urges Ottawa to better fund the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), and to make better use of the invaluable intelligence on disease outbreaks around the world that it gathers by scanning medical reports, media and other markers on a constant basis.

That, of course, is very good advice. It’s a given that, in the future, there will be more outbreaks in our connected world; it’s not a question of if, but when. Maintaining a well-funded early warning system, and creating a risk assessment group inside Canada’s Public Health Agency to analyze its finding and directly advise decision-makers, is a no-brainer.

But here’s the thing: Coming up with good advice on how to prepare for the next pandemic, and getting politicians to act on it, isn’t hard when a disease that has killed more than four million people worldwide, including more than 26,000 in Canada, is still spreading.

As the report itself says, “The best time to discuss pandemic preparedness is when it is most present in the minds of Canadians and of the governments who serve them.” 

Okay. But what happens in five or 10 years, if there’s been no outbreak in the interim, and those same governments start to lose interest in life-saving measures that don’t make headlines but which, if successful, prevent them?

The fate of GPHIN is just one of several glaring examples of what happens when Canadian governments decide that, since a disaster hasn’t happened recently, now must be a good time to cancel the insurance policy.

Created in the early 1990s, and eventually folded into the Public Health Agency of Canada, GPHIN was a world-leading scientific body that tracked outbreaks such as SARS, H1N1, MERS and Ebola, and shared its findings with the World Health Organization.

The Harper government indirectly weakened GPHIN in 2014, when it stripped PHAC of some of its independence. But the Trudeau government delivered the coup de grace in May of 2019, when it told GPHIN to stop its international monitoring and focus on domestic outbreaks.

It’s impossible to say for sure that turning off Canada’s early warning system contributed to Ottawa’s sluggish and confused response to the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020. It certainly didn’t help.

What may be more important, though, is how the evisceration of GPHIN fits a pattern in Canadian politics.

For instance, after the scare of the SARS epidemic in Toronto in 2003, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care prepared for a future outbreak by spending $45-million on 26,000 pallets of masks, face shields, needles, disinfectant wipes, disposable thermometers and other vital medical equipment.

But in 2017, the province’s Auditor-General found that more than 80 per cent of the supplies were no longer usable. The stuff had been left to rot, because the government never allocated money to manage and replenish the stocks.

In another example, this one from before the SARS crisis, the Ontario government in 2001 laid off a group of PhD-level scientists hired to watch for emerging diseases. “Do we want five people sitting around waiting for work to arrive?” a Health department spokesman asked at the time.

Yes. Yes we do.

This is going to be the real test of Canada’s postpandemic response: Can measures urgently agreed to while COVID-19 is still an omnipresent threat survive subsequent governments that start to chafe at the independence that GPHIN and PHAC need in order to do their jobs, or become annoyed at money being spent on what may at times look like just a bunch of scientists sitting around waiting for a crisis to arrive?

The GPHIN report is wrong: The best time to discuss pandemic preparedness is not when it is top of mind, but when it has receded to the background and there is no political gain to be had by talking about it.

That’s the critical moment. Canadians won’t automatically be at risk the next time a virus threatens to become a pandemic somewhere on the planet. The danger will come before that, when governments decide to cut back on the vital but unheralded work that could have kept them safe.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-why-did-ottawa-kill-gphin-because-politicians-get-no-credit-for/

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 11 November Update

Main news continues to be with respect to rapid increase in infections in most countries and provinces:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: France ahead of New York, Italy and Sweden ahead of Quebec, British Columbia ahead of Philippines
 
Deaths per millionUK ahead of USA, France ahead of Sweden, Canadian North ahead of Nigeria
 
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 4 November Update

Main news continues to be with respect to infections and relative increase of COVID cases and deaths in Prairie provinces:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: Germany now ahead of Alberta, Canada, India, Prairies now ahead of Philippines
 
Deaths per million:nPrairies now ahead of Australia
 
 
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 28 October Update

Main news continues to be with respect to infections:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: UK higher than Quebec, Alberta higher than Canada, Germany higher than Ontario, Prairies higher than British Columbia 
 
Deaths per million: Prairies higher than Atlantic Canada, both higher than Pakistan
 
October 7-28 increase:
 
Infections per million: Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) join European countries in highest percentage increase
 
Deaths per million: Highest increase in Prairies, particularly Manitoba and Saskatchewan 
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 21 October Update

Apart from overall large increases in infections in most jurisdictions, and corresponding increases in death rates in some, overall country and jurisdiction ranking largely unchanged.

Deaths per million: no change
 
Infections per million: Sweden now higher than UK (so much for herd immunity), Japan ahead of Atlantic Canada
 
Weekly:
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 14 October Update

No changes in relative ranking as overall rate of infections climbs in most jurisdictions:

Weekly:
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 7 October Update

Highlights:

Deaths per million: USA now ahead of UK

Infections per million: France and Quebec ahead of Sweden, Japan ahead of Atlantic Canada

Weekly:
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 30 September Update

Highlights:

Deaths per million:Canada less Quebec now ahead of Germany

Infections per million: Ontario now ahead of Germany, Canada less Quebec ahead of Philippines

Weekly:

Monthly Comparison (September 2-30 increase percent):
Infections: British Columbia and Prairies in top 5 jurisdictions with highest increases
Deaths: No provinces in top 5 in terms of increased death rates but British Columbia, Alberta and Prairies in top 10
The Globe has an editorial highly critical of the Ford government:

The German language probably has a word for the state of being surprised by the unsurprising, unprepared for the expected, and caught off guard by the danger you were on guard against. English does not have such a word. But when this pandemic is over, we are going to have to come up with one.

We’ll need it to describe what appears to be happening right now, in Canada.

Governments from coast to coast knew a second wave was coming. It was as predictable as fall. It was as expected as the rising of the sun. It was as surprising as the first snowfall – timing and severity uncertain; occurrence inevitable.

And yet, somehow, many governments have reacted like someone who forgot to set the alarm clock. Leading the parade of those surprised by the unsurprising is Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government.

On Monday, Ontario reported 700 new cases of COVID-19, a new single-day record. Also on Monday, Ontario casinos reopened their doors to gamblers.

They say timing is everything in comedy and politics. In pandemics, too.

Also on Monday, the Ford government announced that, in response to the second wave, it would be hiring 3,700 more frontline health care workers. It’s a move that should have been made in May or June, not late September.

Still on Monday: Ontario reported processing more than 41,000 tests, but had a backlog of 49,586 waiting to be analyzed. By Tuesday, the backlog was nearly 55,000. The province, like many parts of the country, has recently seen enormous lineups at testing centres; lineups that are – how is this surprising? – driven by the predictable and predicted combination of rising infection rates and people needing to get tested to allow a safe return to school.

Yet again on Monday: The Ottawa Citizen obtained a memo showing that provincial health bureaucrats ordered a reduction in testing in some areas, owing to labs being overwhelmed. It’s another unsurprising result of too little test-processing capacity meeting growing demand for tests.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the pinned tweet at the top of Health Minister Christine Elliott’s Twitter feed still said: “It’s never been more important to get tested for #COVID19.” She’s right. The more people who get tested, the more often, the better. That should include lots of people who have no symptoms. But if everyone takes that advice to heart in the current system, where there are not enough tests or facilities to process them, Grade 3 math points to the inevitability of a surprisingly unsurprising outcome.

For anyone who remembers what Ontario went through last spring, that outcome looks all too familiar. We have lived this movie before.

Yes, Ontario is conducting several times more daily tests than it did back in April. Yes, Ontario has the second-highest provincial testing rate (Alberta is tops). There has been progress. There just hasn’t been enough.

With case numbers rising, as in the spring, and testing not keeping pace, as in the spring, this looks a lot like a sequel. The script has a disturbing amount of consistency. If it were run through plagiarism-detection software, someone would be getting an “F.”

More unsurprisingly surprising findings:

The most recent data from Toronto Public Health, as reported by the CBC, show that most people testing for COVID-19 don’t get results for at least two days. And nearly half of those who test positive are not followed up by contact tracers within 24 hours. Both of those numbers are well below the targets that need to be met for a program of heavy testing and contact tracing – which the province is supposed to have, but doesn’t – to be able to quickly find infected people before they infect others, and even more quickly track down anyone they may have infected.

In an effort to speed things up, the Ford government last week gave the green light for some pharmacies to begin administering tests to some asymptomatic individuals. The province also intends to hire more contact tracers. The mystery is why it didn’t do that months ago.

And last week, the province began rolling out plans for its response to the pandemic’s second wave. But this is like announcing in January that, in response to recent snowfalls, you plan to put out a tender for snowplows. It’s a bit late in the game.

And CBC has an analysis of what went wrong in Quebec:

A little over a month ago, Health Minister Christian Dubé congratulated Quebecers for their hard work at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

It was a Tuesday, Aug. 25, and the province had registered just 94 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours.

“We have really succeeded at controlling the transmission of COVID,” Dubé said at a news conference in Montreal.

It was a statement of fact, but the ground had already started to shift. In the weeks that followed, transmission increased. At first it grew slowly, then exponentially.

On Monday, the government implicitly acknowledged it has again lost control of the virus. The province is reimposing lockdown measures on Quebec’s two biggest cities, starting Oct. 1.

Until Oct. 28, Quebecers won’t be able to entertain friends or families at home. Bars, restaurant dining rooms, theatres and cinemas will also be closed.

“The situation has become critical,” Premier François Legault said Monday evening. “If we don’t want our hospitals to be submerged, if we want to limit the number of deaths, we must take strong action.”

The new measures will bring abrupt changes to the lives of millions of Quebecers. They will also prompt questions about how the public health situation could have deteriorated so quickly.

This story tries to trace how Quebec again lost control of the spread of COVID-19.

At first, a stern warning

As Dubé addressed reporters on that Tuesday in late August, public health officials in Quebec City were busy trying to track down patrons of Bar Kirouac, a watering hole in the working-class Saint-Sauveur neighbourhood.

A karaoke night at the bar ultimately led to 72 cases and the activity being banned in the province.

There were also numerous reports by then of young people holding massive house parties and flouting physical distancing recommendations. One of them, in Laval, led to a small outbreak.

On Aug. 31, as Quebec’s daily average of new cases neared 152 cases, Legault delivered a stern warning.

“There has been a general slackening in Quebec,” Legault said. “It’s important to exercise more discipline.”

Legault and his health minister threatened stiffer punishments for those who disobeyed public-health rules, but stopped short of imposing new restrictions.

Private gatherings identified as the culprit

In late August, public health officials were attributing the rise in infections to Quebecers returning home from vacations around the province, as opposed to the start of school.

Though Quebec’s back-to-school plan wasn’t met with widespread criticism, some experts expressed concern about the large class sizes and the lack of physical distancing guidelines for students.

The government also ignored advice that it should make masks mandatory inside the classroom.

But the first weeks of the school year went relatively smoothly. By the start of Labour Day weekend, only 46 out of the province’s 3,100 schools had reported a case of COVID-19. Importantly, there were no major outbreaks.

The problem was elsewhere. Outside schools, in the community at large, cases continued to rise. On Sept. 8, the province was averaging 228 cases per day.

By now public health officials had identified private gatherings as the main culprit behind the increase.Montreal’s regional director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, was among those who urged more caution when hanging out with friends and family.

“Yes, we can have social activities, but we have to reduce contacts to be able to reduce secondary transmission,” Drouin said on Sept. 9.

Warning signs

In an effort to spell out the consequences of the increase in cases, the Quebec government unveiled a series of colour-coded alert levels.

Areas coded green would see few restrictions; yellow zones would see more enforcement of existing rules; orange zones would be the target of added restrictions; and red zones would see more widespread closures of non-essential activities.

When the scheme was announced on Sept. 8, Quebec City was classified yellow. Montreal was classified green.

At this point, though, health experts were already concerned that more was needed to curb the spread of the virus.”It is important to intensify these measures,” Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist with the Université de Montréal hospital network, said after the alert levels were announced.

The warning signs were starting to multiply.

Officials in Montreal were investigating 20 outbreaks at workplaces on Sept. 9; a week later that number had risen to 30. Long lines were also forming outside testing centres, filled with anxious parents and their children.

And more stories were circulating of private gatherings where the 10-person limit was ignored, angering the health minister.

He told reporters about a dinner with 17 people at a restaurant in Montérégie, which led to 31 cases. A corn roast in the Lower St. Lawrence, he said, resulted in 30 cases.

“To me, that’s unacceptable,” Dubé said on Sept. 15.”If people won’t understand from these examples then, I’m sorry, but they’ll never understand.”

He moved Montreal, and four other regions, into the yellow zones and banned bars from serving food after midnight. The province was averaging 338 new cases per day.

Second wave arrives

The warnings from the government did not curb the spread of the virus. By mid-September, authorities were reporting more cases in closed settings.

On Sept. 17, Herzliah High School in Montreal became the first school in the province to say it was shutting down for two weeks to deal with an outbreak. At least 400 other schools were also dealing with active cases of COVID-19.

Cases accumulated too in private seniors homes (known as RPAs), a major source of concern for public officials given the vulnerability of the residents to COVID-19.There were only 39 cases in RPAs at the start of the month, and 157 by Sept. 20.

On that day the government announced it was moving Montreal, Quebec City and the Chaudière-Appalaches region into the orange zone, the second-highest alert level. Private gatherings were capped at six people.

The province was by then averaging 501 new cases per day. The second wave had begun, according Quebec’s public health director, Horacio Arruda.

Red zone

Over the last week, Quebec’s health system has shown signs of strain as authorities race to contain the spread of the virus.

Drouin, the Montreal public health director, admitted on Sept. 21 that her contact-tracing teams were swamped by the demand.

Until now, the increase in cases had not been accompanied by a corresponding surge in hospitalizations. Most of the new cases were concentrated in younger people.But the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Quebec has increased by 45 per cent in the last seven days. Hospital staff are starting to get stretched. Several thousand health-care workers are in preventive isolation.

“We’re feeling the second wave,” Dr François Marquis, the head of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital. “We were apprehensive about it, but now it’s a reality.”

On Monday, Quebec reported 750 new cases of COVID-19. Montreal and Quebec City were classified as red zones later that evening.

Source: How Quebec went from COVID-19 success story to hot spot in 30 days

You don’t stop a virus by bleeding democracy

Why is it that governments, no matter their political stripe, cannot resist the temptation to over-reach and reduce oversight, whether with respect to bloated omnibus budget bills or during the current COVID-19 pandemic?

And while the federal Conservatives, supported by the NDP, correctly forced the Liberals to back down given a minority government, in Alberta, there is no such check on the UCP government as this Globe editorial details.

Even more shameful than the attempted federal Liberal element given the UCP’s majority and its disregard for parliament (ironic, given that Premier Kenney was an effective parliamentarian at the federal level).

Hopefully, the same conservative-leaning pundits that rightly condemned the Liberal attempted power grab will also call out the Alberta UCP power grab (the first one to do so, John Carpay: Alberta’s Bill 10 is an affront to the rule of law):

Three weeks ago, the Trudeau government tried to use the cover of the coronavirus crisis to give itself unchecked powers once enjoyed by 17th-century European monarchs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had recalled the House of Commons on March 23 to debate and pass emergency measures to shore up the economy and help Canadians who were losing their jobs.

The opposition were willing to back the minority government’s economic measures, but once they saw the draft bill, they realized the Liberals had something more in mind.

Along with tens of billions of dollars in aid for Canadians in need, the bailout legislation also included clauses that would have given the government the power to raise or lower taxes, and to spend money, without going through Parliament. These extraordinary powers were to last until Dec. 31, 2021.

The opposition, along with many in the media, this page included, were having none of it. By the end of the day on March 23, the government relented. It removed the offending clauses, the opposition offered its backing and, the next day, the bill became law.

Team Trudeau has not explained its attempted end run around democracy, probably because it can’t. There is never any reason to usurp Parliament’s critical role as overseer of government and keeper of the public purse. Every Canadian government, provincial or federal, should get that.

And yet, barely a week later, it happened again.

In Alberta, the United Conservative Party of Premier Jason Kenney used its overwhelming majority to push through a bill on April 2 that gives cabinet ministers unilateral power to write and enact new laws in public health emergencies, with zero oversight by the provincial legislature.

Under Bill 10, the only requirement for enacting a new law is that the relevant minister “is satisfied that doing so is in the public interest.” The only limit on that power is that a new offence cannot be applied retroactively.

It is utterly wrong for democratic governments to seek unilateral powers under the cover of an emergency. It is also unnecessary. There is no justification for it – especially not the one that says governments need to move quickly in a crisis.

Alberta passed Bill 10 in less than 48 hours; the Trudeau government, having secured the support of the opposition, passed its original bailout measures in the same short period. Last weekend, it took less than a day for Parliament to adopt a wage subsidy package. The government shared the legislation with the opposition in advance and made changes to ensure it would pass.

Giving legislators the chance to study, debate and vote on bills doesn’t result in unacceptable delays – if anything, as shown time and again, it improves legislation. More importantly, the transparency and accountability that comes from having to pass a bill through Parliament is the foundation of our system of government.

The Liberals and the opposition parties are now arguing about how often the House of Commons should sit during the remainder of the crisis, and whether sessions should be held in person with a skeleton crew of members, or with all MPs, via teleconferencing.

However it does so, Parliament must sit. Committees, too. And Question Period must happen, so that the government remains answerable to the House and to Canadians. That holds in Ottawa and in each of the provinces. It goes for both minority and majority governments.

Under no circumstances should any government see this emergency as an excuse to sideline the elected representatives of the people.

Thanks to their daily crisis briefings, government leaders are dominating the news coverage. Opposition voices have been sidelined, but they must be given their due in order for our democracy to function properly. That happens best in Parliament.

This crisis is demanding a lot of Canadians. They are self-isolating at home with their families. Many have lost their jobs, or are watching their businesses teeter on the precipice.

They will be able to decide for themselves whether federal and provincial opposition parties have helped the situation, or simply been a partisan nuisance. But Canadians must not come out the other end of this only to discover that their institutions and rights have been compromised by governments that grabbed for powers they were not entitled to.

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