Alberta’s worst COVID-19 rates are in racialized communities, data show

As happens in most cities, given the poorer socio-economic conditions and housing, along with the fact that many are front-line workers who cannot work remotely:

The worst rates of COVID-19 infection in Alberta’s two largest cities are in areas with higher proportions of racialized people, including the northeastern corner of Calgary, where the per-capita number of cases is more than twice the provincial average.

The province has yet to publish detailed statistics on the relationship between race and COVID-19 infections, despite promising to track and release that type of information months ago. But Statistics Canada data show a relationship between high rates of COVID-19 infections and the proportion of people who identify as visible minorities. In northeastern Calgary, for example, 80 per cent of people were recorded in the census as non-white.

Premier Jason Kenney has singled out large multigenerational households and social gatherings among South Asian people. He was criticized for telling a local radio station on the weekend that a sharp increase in infections in northeast Calgary should be a “wake-up call” to follow public-health advice.

Arjumand Siddiqi, who holds the Canada Research Chair in population health equity and teaches at the University of Toronto, said data from places such as Toronto, Montreal and some American cities all point to the same conclusion: People of colour are more likely to get sick from COVID-19 because of their socio-economic status, not culture.

”This pattern of racialized people having the worst health outcomes relative to whites is something we see for almost every health outcome I can think of,” Dr. Siddiqi said.

“What we think is probably the primary driver of racial inequalities in COVID is who is doing essential-service work. That’s the trigger, because with COVID, you have to be outside to be exposed.”

Alberta has not reported neighbourhood-level data for COVID-19 infections, but divides each of the two major cities into more than a dozen health areas.

Calgary’s upper northeast area has by far the highest rates – for both active cases and the total number of infections since the pandemic began – in either city. It also has the highest proportion of people who identify as visible minorities, as well as the largest household size, the largest percentage of people who do not speak English and the largest number of recent immigrants.

The second highest-rates in the city are Calgary’s lower northeast, which also has the second highest proportion of visible minorities, at 56.2 per cent.

In Edmonton, the highest infection rates are also largely in areas with higher-than-average proportions of people who identify as visible minorities, although the relationship is not as stark.

For example, the Castle Downs and Northgate areas both have the highest rates of infections since the pandemic began and both have higher proportions of racialized people than the rest of the city. Mill Woods South and East has the second-highest proportion of people who identified as a visible minority and the area currently has the fourth-highest rate of active infections in the city.

Dr. Siddiqi said the theory that those higher rates are primarily linked to culture or social gatherings is misguided and not supported by the data.

“This is not a matter of individual choice and decision making,” she said. “People have to go to work.”

Mr. Kenney appeared on RedFM for an interview in which he talked about COVID-19 among South Asian people in northeastern Calgary. He referred to “a tradition to have big family gatherings” as he explained the outbreak in the area.

The Premier has since said he was not attempting to cast blame and that he recognizes the risks faced by South Asian and other racialized people, including taking on higher-risk front-line jobs.

“It is not a phenomenon unique to Alberta,” Mr. Kenney said on Wednesday.

“I think it’s most obviously connected to the issue of socio-economic status. Many newcomers, when they start their lives in Canada … they are typically starting out at lower levels of incomes and that often creates greater vulnerability to situations like this.”

He said the province is responding by increasing support for people who need to isolate, including by offering them a place to stay outside the home, and is also looking at how to help overcome issues such as language barriers and transportation.

Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said her office has been collecting data on race and COVID-19 infections and is looking into how best to release it.

Aimée Bouka, a Calgary doctor who has written about the relationship between race and COVID-19, said the province appears to have very little data about how racialized people are getting sick. She pointed out the province’s contact-tracing system has fallen apart, making it impossible to know what is happening during the recent spike in cases.

”It’s even more shocking and surprising to have it brought up publicly with such a level of confidence,” she said.

“How come none of us can actually see this? Where is the data that really links what he says is cultural behaviours to the actual spread of COVID-19?”

Dr. Bouka said narrowing in on cultural factors ignores a growing body of evidence that working and living conditions are driving infections in racialized populations. She also points out there have been many examples – across cultures and racial backgrounds – of people flouting the rules by holding parties or other events.

Jay Chowdhury, who lives in northeastern Calgary, became infected with COVID-19 at a prayer meeting in early March, before the lockdowns and restrictions that swept the country in the spring. He was in a medically induced coma for more than three weeks and is still recovering.

Mr. Chowdhury agreed that many in the area are in jobs that place them at higher risk.

“The people living in [northeastern Calgary] are people working at the airport, working at the hospital, working at McDonald’s,” he said.

“These are people who don’t have a job where they can work from home. … They are hard hit because they have to be physically present.”

Still, he said he has heard of instances of people flouting the guidance around social events, which he attributed to a “meet and greet” culture. He said it appears that South Asian people he knows in the area are getting more serious about following the new restrictions, including a recent ban on all gatherings.

Amanpreet Singh Gill, president of the Dashmesh Culture Centre, a large Sikh Gurdwara in northeastern Calgary, said people who attend his Gurdwara have been diligent about following public-health advice. Many weddings have been cancelled or changed to respect limits on gatherings and recent Diwali celebrations were significantly scaled back.

George Chahal, who represents the area on city council, said he viewed the Premier’s comments on the weekend as targeting the South Asian population. Mr. Chahal said work and housing appeared to be the primary factors, adding people in the area are taking the pandemic seriously.

“There is a lot of fear out there,” he said. “People are worried about their families.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-albertas-worst-covid-19-rates-are-in-racialized-communities-data/

Gary Mason on Premier Kenney’s singling out of the South Asian community and his avoidance of recognizing the impact of socio-economic factors (although cultural factors also play a role):

If there’s one community that has been singled out for its role in the spread of COVID-19 in this country, it is the South Asian.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney stirred controversy last week when he delivered what he called a “wake-up call” to South Asians in his province. In an interview with South Asian radio station RED 106.7 FM, he said there had been a much higher rate of the virus among this particular group, and linked the phenomenon to “big family gatherings” and “social functions” in their homes.

Likewise, South Asians have been the focus of attention in the B.C. city of Surrey, where they are the dominant minority and where there has been a disproportionately higher number of cases of the virus than elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.

The same applies to the Ontario region of Peel, where South Asians make up 31.6 per cent of the population, but have accounted for 45 per cent of COVID-19 cases.

So what gives? Are South Asians flagrantly disregarding government orders to help prevent the spread of the virus? Are they putting culture ahead of public-health security? Or does something else explain the numbers?

While there have assuredly been members of the South Asian community who have flouted public-health edicts, there’s no evidence that their numbers are significantly greater, percentage wise, than those in the broader population who have done the same.

Yes, weddings, spiritual holidays, music nights and celebrations of life are often enormous, sacred happenings in South Asian culture. Over the summer, for instance, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said some of these events had helped accelerate the spread of the virus in Surrey, and she called for restraint.

The message seemed to have been heard: Last month, despite broad concern about the public-health consequences of the major five-day Indian festival of Diwali, there were no reported instances of a dramatic surge in the virus in those areas with high populations of South Asians.

The more likely cause of higher-than-normal rates of COVID-19 among South Asians is their socioeconomic status. Many occupy low-paying, public-facing jobs that are essential to the economy, from truck drivers and hospital workers to cleaners and aides in long-term care homes. They rely on public transit to get to and from work. And when they do get home, it’s often to a house that includes multiple generations of a family. There can be 10 or more people sleeping under the same roof, sometimes because of tradition, and sometimes out of financial necessity.

The fact that South Asians are disproportionately suffering the consequences of the disease is also the result of another ugly reality: Racialized people in this country have worse health outcomes than white Canadians. They often have higher rates of the kind of underlying conditions that the virus preys on: heart disease, diabetes and obesity among them.

And many new immigrants, from South Asia or elsewhere, don’t speak English. Public-health information related to COVID-19 has often only been made available in English and French, and not in languages such as Punjabi or Hindi. That can come at a cost.

While Mr. Kenney later acknowledged that some of the occupations held by South Asians put them more directly in the path of the virus, the scolding tone of his warning to the community did not sit well with many. It just helps perpetuate a false narrative: that an irresponsible minority is to blame for the whole province’s high COVID-19 numbers.

There is also the rank hypocrisy of it all. This is the same Premier who effectively gave a pass to hundreds of mostly white anti-mask protesters in Calgary, but has now deemed gatherings in the homes of South Asians to be the real problem.

The fact that the death rate from the virus is 25 per cent higher in neighbourhoods with large South Asian communities should concern us all – our politicians and public-health officials in particular. But the response shouldn’t be condemnation. It should be investigating what the root causes behind the numbers are, and what can be done about it.

What can we do, for instance, about low-paid workers who might feel sick but go to work anyway because they won’t otherwise have money to pay their rent? What can be done about the dismal state of our overwhelmed contact-tracing systems, which are failing those whose jobs put them most at risk of contact?

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-scapegoating-south-asian-canadians-for-high-covid-19-numbers-is-just/

Lastly, second year medical student Sharan Aulakh takes a similar tack:

COVID-19 cases soar in Alberta, with the province now accounting for nearly 25 per cent of all active cases in Canada, Premier Jason Kenney appeared on a popular South Asian radio station in Calgary, calling for the South Asian community to do more to bring down surging infection rates.

According to Kenney, the South Asian community is responsible for the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in Alberta, zeroing in on northeast Calgary, an area with a significant South Asian population, for having a particularly high number of COVID-19 cases. While Kenney tried to assure listeners that he doesn’t mean to blame or target any particular individual or community, his message misses the mark.

While the community is diverse, a large proportion of Albertans of South Asian descent are employed in essential frontline services and do not have the privilege of being able to work from home. They are grocery-store workers, transit operators, and truck drivers; they are the nurses, health-care aides, and support staff in clinics, hospitals, and long-term care homes. Along with an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, many have limited employment benefits and access to compensated sick leave. South Asians are also more likely to live in multigenerational housing. Often, this is a result of financial constraints that are more likely to be faced by recent immigrants. Many within the South Asian community are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. For the premier to selectively call out and chastise the South Asian community for seemingly shirking their responsibility in this pandemic betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the different structural factors that shape how COVID-19 disproportionately impacts certain communities. It further perpetuates unfair and harmful narratives of the community.

In reality, the reason for the rise in COVID-19 rates in Alberta over the past month has been the Kenney government’s relative inaction in the face of a worsening pandemic. Kenney’s refusal to implement appropriate public health restrictions is the reason for the rapid spread of the virus, not South Asian culture.

Alberta is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada that has not introduced a provincewide mask mandate. Even in the face of a broken contact tracing system, Kenney refuses to adopt the federal contact tracing app, citing the monstrous challenge of deleting the provincial app and downloading a different one. When Alberta physicians called for a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to limit the strain of the virus on the health-care system, Kenney responded with the closure of group yoga and spin classes.

Over the weekend, hundreds of maskless Albertans took to the streets to participate in anti-mask demonstrations in Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer. Even though current provincial regulations limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people, Calgary police officers watched from a distance. While Kenney delivered a reprimanding “wake-up call” to South Asians, threatening the community with policing and monetary fines, he refused to condemn these anti-mask rallies. It is clear that for Kenney, the right to protest trumps Albertans’ right to safety and health.

Rather than scapegoat a community that has done much to combat the COVID-19 pandemic — from staffing hospitals to cleaning schools to driving buses — the provincial government would far better serve Albertans by prioritizing a pandemic response based on public health, not on ideology. While efforts to combat the virus are our collective responsibility, it starts at the top.

Sharan Aulakh is a second-year medical student at the University of Alberta with a background in public health.

Source: Kenney should blame his inaction for COVID surge, not South Asian community

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 2 December Update

Main news continues to be with respect ongoing sharp spike in infections along with death rate increases:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: Alberta ahead of Germany, Japan ahead of Australia
 
Deaths per million: British Columbia ahead of Philippines, Canadian North ahead of Japan
 
COVID Comparison Chart.002COVID Comparison Chart.003
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 25 November Update, Picard on Alberta

Main news continues to be with respect ongoing sharp spike in infections along with death rate increases:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: Italy ahead of UK, Prairies ahead of Ontario, Canada less Quebec ahead of India, Canadian North ahead of Pakistan
 
Deaths per million: Italy and UK now ahead of Quebec, Prairies and Alberta ahead of India, Pakistan ahead of Atlantic Canada, Canadian North ahead of Japan
 
November 4-25 increase:
 
Infections per million: Greatest increase in Canadian North and Western provinces, moving ahead of many European countries
 
Deaths per million: Similar pattern with respect to deaths
 
 

André Picard’s critique of Premier Kenney and his government’s response to the pandemic:

Feckless.

That’s the only way to describe Alberta’s “tough” new measures.

In response to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in the province, Premier Jason Kenney declared a “state of public health emergency” on Tuesday.

He started out with a little muscle flex, saying “no indoor social gatherings will be permitted, period.” Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

But then we learned that restaurants will be open for in-person dining, bars will remain open, and so will casinos, gyms, stores, primary schools (Grades 7-12 are going to remote learning).

Heck you would be hard-pressed to find anything that will be closed.

Places of worship are allowed to hold services with one-third of capacity, just as they are now but “we are moving from recommendations to rules.”

Mr. Kenney also earnestly announced that masks would now be mandatory in the province’s two big cities, Calgary and Edmonton. But they already are mandatory because municipal governments have been a lot more pro-active and sensible than the province.

What we saw Tuesday was inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.

But Mr. Kenney’s true nature was revealed when he began prattling on about how he has resisted a lockdown because it would be an “unprecedented violation of constitutional rights.” He once again heralded the importance of “personal responsibility” while, at the same time, announcing rules that clearly suggest people don’t have to be very responsible.

Acting forcefully to protect citizens from the ravages of a global pandemic is not a violation of their rights. Quite the opposite.

Just hours before Mr. Kenney spoke, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced the closing of all restaurants, fitness and recreational facilities, libraries, museums, casinos and more for at least two weeks.

Why? Because the province had a “surge” of 37 cases. Thirty-seven. Business owners actually demanded the lockdown, saying severe rules are the only way to retain consumer confidence.

Alberta recorded 1,115 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, along with 16 deaths. And that was the lowest rate in a while, because testing is way down. In recent days, Alberta has had more cases than Ontario, which has more than three times the population.

The testing system is overwhelmed. The contact tracing system has collapsed. Hospital beds, and all-important intensive care beds in particular, are filling up fast. There are dozens of outbreaks in hospitals and care homes and schools.

Alberta’s pandemic response was great for many months – the Premier was right to underline that fact. But the harsh reality today is that public health and hospitals alike are dangerously close to losing control of the situation.

Mr. Kenney said it himself: “If we don’t slow the ER and ICU admissions, it will threaten our health system.”

But then, in the next breath, he was back to talking about how it’s essential to keep businesses open.

Who knows what the public will make of this Jekyll and Hyde discourse? The between-the-line message seems to be: It’s business as usual.

Yes, the pandemic is a blow to the economy; yes, it’s taking a toll on our mental health; yes, there is a lot of collateral damage.

But if there’s one thing we have learned – or should have learned – is that all that will continue, along with the harm of COVID-19, unless you go all-in to slow the spread of the virus.

Mr. Kenney said the “balanced approach” he has chosen will ensure that the spread of the coronavirus is interrupted while allowing businesses to remain open. But you can’t have it both ways.

The evidence from around the world is crystal clear: This approach is a fast-track to failure. Not only will the virus continue to spread, but the economy won’t flourish because people will still be scared.

Quebec has been in lockdown for more than two months – with rules that are way more strict that what Alberta is imposing – and it’s barely able to keep its COVID-19 numbers static, never mind lower them.

Does anyone seriously believe Alberta will be able to do better by essentially doing nothing?

Albertans should brace themselves because they’re in for a world of hurt in the coming weeks.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-jason-kenneys-balanced-approach-is-a-fast-track-to-failure/

Alberta government considering immigration changes during pandemic

Will be interesting to see what changes he proposes with respect to Alberta’s Provincial Nominee Program as well as how he informs the overall debate around post-pandemic immigration policy:

Premier Jason Kenney says changes are coming to Alberta’s immigration practices as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the government won’t yet release details, the premier said the province can accommodate fewer newcomers as a result of global travel restrictions and Alberta’s economic crisis. He made the comments during a Facebook live video question and answer session on Wednesday night.

He said the government will push Alberta employers to “do everything they possibly can to look within Alberta to the huge and growing number of unemployed people” when hiring.

A formal policy announcement should come within weeks, a government spokesperson said Thursday.

However, immigration lawyers cautioned any rapid changes to immigration rules could have unintended consequences.

Although business prospects are rough right now, Calgary lawyer Evelyn Ackah said they will bounce back. When they do, they’re going to need immigrants to do the jobs Canadians just won’t do, she said.

Few Canadians apply for jobs in slaughterhouses or at fast-food restaurants, lawyers say.

Ackah said as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, prospective immigrants are contacting her from China and India. They’re interested in buying and running businesses in Canada. Those job creators are who the province should be attracting, she said.

“Quick changes, boom boom boom, they have long repercussions and it takes a long time to resolve, and so, I really want to not let this crisis change the direction and the trajectory of immigration’s process,” she said.

Limited provincial control

With immigration being federal jurisdiction, there are limited steps Alberta’s government could take to curtail newcomers, said Megan Dawson, a partner at McCuaig Durocher in Edmonton.

The Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program allows the provincial government to select immigrants who are already working temporarily in Alberta to apply for permanent resident status if their skills and education fill an economic need in the province.

It’s a joint program with the federal and provincial government. In 2019, the province sponsored 6,000 immigrants through the program. From January 2015 to March 2020, nearly 50,000 people came to Alberta through the program, said Adrienne South, press secretary to the minister of labour and immigration.

The nominated immigrants are a fraction of the more than 232,000 people who became Canadian permanent residents during the same time period and intended to live in Alberta.

The federal government controls the admission of temporary foreign workers, refugees and other express entry newcomers, Dawson said.

Employers must often recruit workers with specialized knowledge and skills when people with the right training can’t be found in the province, she said.

Those economic immigrants often train Albertans and help companies create new jobs for locals, she said.

Alberta has a list of workers it doesn’t need, including teachers, actors, athletes and real estate agents. Dawson said the province could potentially expand that list of categories.

“There already are safeguards in place to show, that we did our best to hire Canadians for this job first,” she said.

“I think the ramifications could be potentially unintended or unexpected in a negative sense for some Alberta businesses if they’re not able to staff their business with foreign workers.”

Source: Alberta government considering immigration changes during pandemic

Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

As I worked with a number of those mentioned in the article, couldn’t resist reposting this. Alykhan Velshi, a really bright guy, has of course in a further irony, ended up shilling for Huawei despite the overall Conservative suspicion of China:

When Norway’s massive pension fund announced that it had sold its positions in major Canadian energy companies like Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources, Alberta’s premier came out swinging. “To be blunt,” Kenney told reporters last week, “I find that incredibly hypocritical.” After all, he said, Norway continues to develop its own oil and gas resources, including the 2.7 billion barrels that are contained in the new Johan Sverdrup field that is already producing 430,000 barrels of oil per day.

For those of a less pugilistic orientation, Norway’s decision might be seen as a prudent act of financial diversification; one that Alberta could easily emulate if it wanted to. If Norway is already producing oil and benefitting from the tax revenue and jobs it creates, there’s no need for them to double down by also investing their one-trillion-dollar nest egg in companies that also depend on the price of oil. This isn’t a philosophy that’s particularly popular in Alberta, mind you, given Alberta Investment Management Corporation’s well-documented history of being more heavily exposed to the energy sector than other pension funds.

But while Kenney was quick to call out Norway’s alleged hypocrisy in selling their shares of oil sands companies, he has so far remained silent about the news that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was busy buying them. As Bloomberg reported last week, it now owns 2.6 per cent of Canadian Natural Resources, and two per cent of Suncor, which makes it the eighth and 14th largest shareholder in the two companies respectively. Ironically, it also added to its position in Equinor, the Norwegian company that’s developing the Johan Sverdrup field.

As Premier, Kenney has been at the forefront of recent efforts to paint Canadian oil and gas as more “ethical” and therefore more worthy of investment. This narrative, which was first advanced by Ezra Levant, has been deployed most visibly in the conversation about the Energy East pipeline and the decision by New Brunswick’s Irving Refinery to buy its oil from Saudi Arabia rather than Canada. But Kenney’s affiliation with it goes back much further than that. It was his former director of communications and parliamentary affairs, Alykhan Velshi, who created the “Ethical Oil Institute” in July 2011, and his former executive assistant, Jamie Ellerton, served as its executive director between January 2012 and April 2013.

Kenney is hardly alone in his fondness for Levant’s narrative, though. Its core tenets—namely, that Canada’s legal, environmental and regulatory standards make our oil more inherently virtuous—are practically articles of faith in the oil and gas industry. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Nancy Southern, the CEO of Atco and a founding member of the Business Council of Alberta, was quick to invoke it: “I think it is time for people to stand up and demonstrate true moral leadership about the fact that the world is better because of petroleum products,” she said.

But if Saudi Arabia’s oil is a conduit for its anti-democratic and values, as ethical oilers like to argue, then what about its money? That money comes from the sale of its own ethically-challenged oil. Suncor and Canadian Natural Resources can’t prevent Mohammed bin Salman or the Saudi Public Investment Fund from buying their shares, but those who have been more than happy to bang the drum about Saudi Arabia’s moral and ethical failings could speak up here.

So far, though, they’ve been conspicuously silent. Take Eric Nuttall, a fund manager with Ninepoint Investments and a frequent purveyor of the ethical oil narrative. In a recent tweet, he sounded positively delighted by the development, and made no mention of the ethical dimensions of Saudi Arabia’s money. “So much for Canadian oil companies not being attractive to foreign investors!” He wrote. “We are 100 per cent invested in Canada given highly attractive valuations and improving takeaway capacity and it’s interesting that Saudi Arabia agrees with us.”

In fairness to the industry, it’s hardly alone in speaking out of both sides of its mouth about Saudi Arabia. The federal government recently renegotiated a $14 billion deal that will allow the sale of Canadian-made light-armoured vehicles to the kingdom (a deal that was originally struck by the Harper government back in 2014). And MBS hasn’t been shy about using Saudi Arabia’s wealth to buy its way into companies and communities throughout the west, including a recent bid to buy the English Premier League’s Newcastle United football club.

But if Canadian oil and gas companies are going to accept Saudi Arabia’s money, it’s probably time for their proxies to retire arguments about the immorality of their oil. After all, as Jason Kenney will tell you, nobody likes a hypocrite.

Source: Saudi Arabia is buying shares of Alberta’s oil sands companies. The ‘ethical oil’ argument is dead.

Delacourt: Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle

Couldn’t resist posting given its reference to my Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism with respect to Alberta Premier Kenney’s critique of Dr. Tam:

Sooner or later, someone was going to say it: Who made Dr. Theresa Tam the boss of all Canadians?

The fact that it was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is not surprising, historically or politically.

But Kenney’s words on Monday were a crack in a wall of remarkable deference to the authority of Canada’s chief medical officer over a month of national lockdown. As we now head into month two, the question is whether Canadians more generally are starting to bristle at the doctor’s orders.

The federal government issued an emphatic “no” on Tuesday.

“Canadians have demonstrated that they have a tremendous level of trust and confidence in our public health officials and in our medical system,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “And we are going to continue work with top medical officials like Dr. Theresa Tam to make sure that we’re doing everything we need to do.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Tam and other provincial public health officers have been conferred with the authority of “rock stars” in this crisis.

But Kenney’s remarks on Monday broke a united front of assent to Tam’s advice — not just as it applies to the future, but to the past as well.

The premier said that Alberta was going to seek out tests and medication to fight the pandemic without waiting for approval from federal Health bureaucrats. Then, in a bit of a drive-by swipe at Tam personally, he also threw doubt on the advice the doctor had already given in the early days of the virus outbreak.

“This is the same Dr. Tam who is telling us that we shouldn’t close our borders to countries with high levels of infection and who in January was repeating talking points out of the (People’s Republic of China)about the no evidence of human-to-human transmission,” Kenney said in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics program.

There’s an old joke about how you get 50 Canadians out of a pool. You say: “Canadians, get out of the pool.” This pandemic, by and large, has made that joke feel a little too close to home, as a whole nation has put life as we know it on hold to comply with medical orders to contain the COVID-19 virus.

Deferential as we are, we likely wouldn’t have gone to these extraordinary lengths on the basis of political advice alone.

The federal government spent $30-million on a wave of ads with Dr. Tam as the sole spokesperson. (And no, that’s not the voice of Trudeau at the end of the ad, though it does sound an awful lot like him. I asked and the answer was no.)

Day after day, premiers and political leaders line up at podiums to give public briefings, backed by the latest information from the doctors in charge. Whenever a question is asked about what’s going to happen next, the unfailing answer is that governments will be heeding the instructions of the top doctors.

This in itself is evidence that we’re living in unusual times. We don’t always listen to doctors and medical experts, on matters of smoking, obesity, exercise or even climate science, for instance. Statistics aren’t always as persuasive as they are these days, when we’re all scouring charts for flattened curves.

Kenney, as mentioned earlier, has a long history of skepticism about stats and evidence as they’re used in the federal government. One of his own former bureaucrats in the citizenship and multiculturalism department, Andrew Griffith, has written some compelling work about how Kenney forced the public service to rebalance evidence and political considerations while he was minister.

The idea was that politicians are in government to weigh all kinds of public interests against the weight of impersonal numbers and charts, including the intelligence the political types gain from mixing with people outside the corridors of the civil service. So as I said, it’s not that surprising to see Kenney balking again at blind subservience to public servants’ advice, even from Canada’s top doctor.

Is that such a bad thing? Reasonable people might well agree, in fact, that while the medical health of Canadians has to be a priority in this pandemic, the economic health of citizens is owed some due deference too, especially as the financial devastation deepens.

Dr. Tam, for her part, stayed right out of the dispute on Tuesday when asked about Kenney’s remarks, saying only that it’s her job to take many things into consideration, including advice and insights from other countries.

It would be grossly unfair and probably unproductive to make Tam a target, even if Canadians are increasingly bristling at life under doctor’s orders.

But deference to authority in general is a fragile commodity, especially in a nation undergoing an endurance test of indefinite length. Canadians aren’t rebelling, at least not yet, but their deference has time limits.

Source: Susan Delacourt: Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle

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.

Source:    You don’t stop a virus by bleeding democracy Editorial <img src=”https://www.theglobeandmail.com/resizer/p5aED50QGxv9DJSWx6332Wy7vT0=/163×0:4746×3055/600×0/filters:quality(80)/arc-anglerfish-tgam-prod-tgam.s3.amazonaws.com/public/5D7WOGR7DNNH3AJ33H42OZMKTU.jpg” alt=””>     

Jason Kenney denounces ‘useful idiots’ amid uproar over university lecturer’s Holodomor denial

A very Kenney comment, and warranted:

A day after Ukrainian students vented their fury at a University of Alberta lecturer who called the Holodomor famine “a lie,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney slammed the “useful idiots” who engage in genocide denial.

Dougal MacDonald, who is listed as a lecturer in the university’s education department, said on Facebook that the Holodomor was a myth perpetuated by the Nazis. His comments led the Ukrainian Students’ Society to call them “harmful and false beliefs” that are unacceptable for an employee of the university.

“Sad to see some in Canada still engaged in this genocide denial,” Kenney said on Twitter on Thursday morning although he didn’t mention MacDonald by name.

Kenney also posted a video of a speech he gave about Holodomor, which was a fierce condemnation of “Western, supposedly-progressive voices who were complicit in one of history’s great cover-ups.”

“These were the useful idiots of whom Lenin wrote. Westerners who purposefully lied about one of the great acts of mass murder in human history,” said Kenney.

The speech was delivered last week at a Holodomor commemoration in Calgary and the video was posted in full on Thursday morning as the scandal around MacDonald erupted.

MacDonald’s comments were originally reported by The Gateway, the student newspaper at the U of A, and MacDonald responded to the paper’s story with a statement decrying the “irrational assertions” and “defamation” directed at him.

The term Holodomor means “to kill by starvation” and refers to the famine in Ukraine that killed millions of people in 1932–33. The genocide has been recognized by the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures, including in Alberta.

In his Facebook post, which was archived online by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, MacDonald describes the Holodomor as a myth perpetuated by the Nazis to discredit the Soviet Union.

“In Canada, former Nazi collaborators and their spawn have long led the phony Holodomor campaign,” wrote MacDonald.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress urged its members to contact the university and demand the dismissal of MacDonald, even providing suggested text for an email to the school’s president.

“This is a stark reminder that, even in 2019, we cannot afford complacency in Holodomor education and awareness,” the organization’s website reads.

MacDonald was a candidate for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election in the Edmonton-Strathcona riding, which NDP candidate Heather McPherson won. MacDonald tallied 77 votes. His banner photo on Facebook is an advertisement to subscribe to the Marxist-Leninist Party’s online bulletin and his profile picture is a photo of Fidel Castro. His photos on Facebook are a collection of historical leftist leaders, like former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara and former North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung, who MacDonald describes as a “great leader of the Korean people.”

Although the university did not respond to a request for comment before press time, it said in a statement to the Gateway that the university is “balancing many interests and obligations” while it is “carefully monitoring this matter.”

The university has a commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom for its staff, which includes “the right to comment (and) to criticize without deference to prescribed doctrine.”

In responding to the Gateway’s questions, deputy provost Wendy Rogers noted that MacDonald was making the comments as a private citizen and that they did not reflect the university’s views.

“The University of Alberta actively fosters an inclusive culture committed to the expression of, exposure to, and debate of diverse points of view,” a draft statement on freedom of expression on the school’s website reads. “Our campuses are forums for rigorous debate.”

Source: Jason Kenney denounces ‘useful idiots’ amid uproar over university lecturer’s Holodomor denial