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ST. ONGE: It’s time to get smart about fighting COVID-19

“Instead of inflexible rules that dissipate limited resources, we need focus: a careful assessment of where restrictions have the most impact, and where rapid testing can be best used to fend off outbreaks.”

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Deploying millions of stockpiled unused tests to asymptomatic individuals working in high-contact environments – such as  health care and senior care – could save lives among those most at risk from COVID-19.

Canada’s testing and screening for COVID-19 has so far been broadly mediocre. Grand promises have consistently led to lackluster results such that, to date, Canada has conducted just half of the COVID-19 tests per capita performed in the UK or the US. Many were baffled last month as news broke that Quebec has had nearly 1.3 million rapid COVID-19 tests warehoused and collecting dust even as the number of cases and deaths steadily marched on. In fact, across Canada, as of mid-November, an estimated 3.8 million unused tests were in storage while bureaucrats debated how to use them.

Those same bureaucrats might point to federal regulations requiring tests only be used on symptomatic patients leaving the likely much larger number of asymptomatic, yet still contagious, carriers to continue spreading the virus to the most vulnerable. Those bureaucrats might also blame Health Canada’s delays in approval from testing, to treatments, to vaccines.

Meanwhile, caregivers worry about unwittingly infecting their at-risk patients. The CEO of SafeCare BC reported that “staff are currently living in fear that they could bring COVID-19 into the care home, or home to their families. This is a huge mental health burden that our health-care workers shouldn’t have to bear.”

This bureaucratic foot-dragging is emblematic of the government’s response to COVID-19. More precisely, the one-size fits all policies that remain unresponsive to new data and new facts on the ground. After all, it may have made sense to hoard tests early in the pandemic when there was a shortage, but today, those millions of tests collecting dust could be used for heading off precisely the deadliest type of outbreak, that is those that occur in senior homes and similar care environments.

We’ve seen a similar problem with lockdowns, where early decisions made with imperfect information were frozen in amber by bureaucratic inertia. Namely, had we known how starkly COVID-19 discriminates by age and morbidity – with the average age of an excess COVID-19 death in Canada being over the age of 85 – then we might have focused far more resources on senior centres and preventing hospital transmission, rather than sending home preschoolers or paying construction workers to stay home. With such smarter “targeted” intervention, we might have saved many more lives with far less social and economic devastation, ranging from mass unemployment and bankruptcy to an epidemic of drug overdose, depression, and even suicide. 

Instead of inflexible rules that dissipate limited resources, we need focus: a careful assessment of where restrictions have the most impact, and where rapid testing can be best used to fend off outbreaks. This could mean, for instance, a concentrated effort to deliver plentiful rapid tests on a regular schedule and regardless of symptoms, to caregivers and health care workers interacting with the elderly or most at-risk.

This targeted mass testing could be paired with testing of asymptomatic elderly or vulnerable patients, to head off peer-to-peer transmission. By deploying these tests in a focused manner, they could do the most good as soon as possible, rather than continuing to collect dust awaiting their deployment. 

We all want government responses that are flexible and responsive to changing realities. With such widespread need across Canada, we cannot waste any more time with scattershot approaches, outdated data, or fighting yesterday’s wars in terms of resource constraints. Targeted mass testing of those in sensitive positions interacting with the vulnerable can ward off the deadliest outbreaks before they get out of hand.

Peter St. Onge is a Senior Fellow at the Montreal Economic Institute

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Charles Martell III

    December 27, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    The Wuhan Flu needs to be treated just like any other Corona Virus of the past 2 decades.
    Look after the Seniors’ Homes & those with Health Issues . . .
    Under 50 your chances of surviving the virus is 99.96% . . . under 18 is 99.998%

    Average age of the deceased in Canada is almost 80 . . . and most had co-morbidities.

    The PCR test is a complete joke . . . after 35 revolutions 100% fail rate !

    Imitating the China Model is destroying lives and Economies . . . killing far more people than the Wuhan Virus.

  2. Mars Hill

    December 27, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    small business man has his response to how the virus is being handled…

    https://twitter.com/i/status/1342995101149245440

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Opinion

ANDRUS: A change in governance, not just a change in government is needed

Canadian democracy is one-person-one-vote, but votes are worth much more in some parts of the country than in others!

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The results are in, another federal election is over, and what does Alberta get?

Nothing.

I wrote last week about how Alberta is left out of most federal election debates and discussions because of the need for politicians to appeal to the vote-rich centers of Quebec and Ontario.

Some of you quite fairly asked what should be done about this and, while Project Confederation spent considerable time discussing these challenges since we launched two years ago, we also have many new supporters who have joined us recently.

So, now the federal election results are known, a recap is perhaps in order.

There are two major issues with how federal elections work in Canada.

First, seats in the House of Commons are not distributed proportionally to population.

The Maritimes, representing Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have a combined 32 seats for 2.3 million people, or one seat for every 73,000 people and Quebec has 78 seats for roughly 8 million people, or roughly one seat for every 100,000 people, while Alberta has 34 seats for four million people, or about one for every 120,000 people.

Canadian democracy is one-person-one-vote, but votes are worth much more in some parts of the country than in others!

The second issue is the relative sizes of Canadian provinces.

The truth is, even if seats were perfectly distributed according to population, Ontario and Quebec would continue to dominate Canadian politics.

There are roughly 30 seats in the “905” region of Ontario — which represents Durham, York, Peel and Halton — plus another 25 seats in Toronto proper. Add in another 78 in Quebec, and a party can almost win a majority in just those two provinces alone.

One solution to this is to grow the West.

As more people move to the West to create lives and earn livelihoods made possible by our superior public policies and freedoms, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the West in general will increase in population and influence compared with the rest of the country.

This isn’t some fanciful dream, it’s already been happening for years, the West now has much more influence than it used to, and the trend is continuing.

But that is a long-term change.

For the foreseeable future, Ontario and Quebec will continue to have an outsized influence.

The policies causing Alberta the most harm, such as equalization, are designed to benefit eastern Canadians at the expense of voters in Alberta, and this is unlikely to change any time soon.

So, how is it that Alberta — the economic engine of the federation — has such little representation in Ottawa?

We contribute $20-plus billion per year to the rest of the country through equalization and various other transfer programs and yet election after election we are treated as the doormat of Ontario and Quebec.

Other countries solve this problem by having a second house of parliament — a Senate — explicitly designed to protect the interests of their provinces or states.

The House of Commons should represent, and protect the rights of us commoners while the Senate should represent and protect the rights of the provinces.

Instead, in Canada the Senate is appointed by the prime minister, and acts as a tool to help consolidate power, not distribute it.

In 1993, the Reform Party dominated Western Canada, sweeping the West on a platform centred around a Triple-E (equal, elected, and effective) Senate.

A Senate with effective powers, an equal number of senators per province, and chosen by popular vote would provide a regional balance to parliament, one that could allow for the Senate to act as a check on the House of Commons that is dominated by eastern interests.

Without regional representation in Ottawa, the federal government will continue to take advantage of Alberta and our economy.

The constitutional structure is rigged against us, an institutional problem caused by an unfair separation of powers between the federal government and the provincial government.

This is why systematic changes, not just tinkering, are absolutely necessary.

Albertans will be going back to the polls October 18 to vote in the municipal elections, along with a referendum to abolish equalization from the constitution.

Premier Jason Kenney’s equalization referendum is a good first step, but it must lead to significant reforms to the constitution — otherwise anything that changes with equalization can be undone with ease by the federal government in Ottawa.

Next month’s vote also includes elections for Senators-in-Waiting.

While not quite a Triple-E Senate, it’s a move in the right direction, though the likelihood of any elected senators being appointed by Canada’s current prime minister is low.

If the West wants a “Fair Deal,” then next month’s equalization referenda and senate election must be seen as the first step on a long journey, not the destination itself.

We need a change in governance, not just a change in government.

Josh Andrus is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

EDITORIAL: Kenney must resign, now

“For the good of the conservative movement, for the good of the United Conservative Party, for the good of Alberta, and for the good of restoring our freedoms, Kenney must resign. Now.”

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Premier Jason Kenney has so badly bungled his responsibilities to Alberta that the time has come for him to resign. 

In fact, massive sections of his own party are demanding it.

His own caucus is rife with MLAs that have “no confidence” in his continued leadership. More than 30 party constituency association presidents have agreed to push for an emergency leadership review. The UCP’s vice-president (of policy) and a member of the party’s central board of directors says that he must resign now

Kenney has failed to live up to nearly all of his major election platform commitments: a successful fair deal fight with Ottawabuild pipelinesend corporate welfarekill the carbon taxbalance the budget, implement recall legislation, and most importantly: make Alberta “Strong and Free”. 

The premier was dealt a difficult hand with COVID-19, but his handling of it has been nothing short of disastrous. Rather than make Alberta “Strong and Free,” he has overseen an authoritarian growth in the power of the government over the private lives of Albertans. 

Acting on his orders, police attacked a kid playing hockey

Acting on his orders, police raided churches and erected barricades to keep worshipers out

Acting on his orders, police arrested pastors for refusing to stop preaching.

Acting on his orders, police jailed small business owners and seized their property

Acting on his orders, protests and rodeos were outlawed

Acting on his orders, Health Minister Tyler Shandro failed to build sufficient hospital capacity for a predictable surge in COVID-19 cases, to point where now the Alberta government is begging the Canadian military to intervene.

Acting on his orders, private businesses are now legally required to discriminate against citizens that do not have a mandatory vaccine passport

While Albertans suffered under the weight of a creeping tyranny, Kenney enjoyed a nice dinner on the rooftop of Alison Redford’s Sky Palace, in clear violation of his very own restrictions. In that dinner, he was joined by Finance Minister Travis Toews, Environment Minister Jason Nixon, Sandro, and a group of young staffers. 

Kenney is expected to make Shandro walk the plank this afternoon, and offer his political head up to appease his caucus and party that are demanding his own.

As terribly as Shandro has conducted himself as health minister, the buck does not stop with him; it stops with Kenney.

Shandro was not a rogue minister operating without supervision. He was following orders from his boss. 

Kenney is a well-known micromanager. Kenney and Shandro both are members of the Priorities & Implementation Cabinet Committee (PICC) that oversees all of the major COVID-19 decisions. The decisions to impose, rescind, and reimpose restrictions were made not just by Shandro, but by Kenney and the rest of this powerful cabinet committee. The decision to retract Kenney’s solemn pledge never to impose a mandatory vaccine passport was made not just by Shandro, but by Kenney as well. 

Shandro is to blame, but so too is Kenney and much of the inner circle around him. 

If Albertans are right in demanding Shandro’s resignation, then they are at least as right in demanding Kenney’s. 

It’s sad Kenney’s earlier, brilliant political career has degenerated to this. He was a smart and capable minister in the federal Harper government. He operated with boundless energy in his efforts to unite the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. He triumphed in the UCP’s leadership race, and did Alberta a great service in dispatching Rachel Notley’s NDP after just a single term in office. He campaigned on a mandate of fighting for a fair deal for Alberta.

But Kenney’s continued presence in the premier’s office is now a grave threat to all of those accomplishments. 

He played a significant role in Erin O’Toole’s defeat at the hands of Justin Trudeau, leaving Alberta in weakened position. 

He risks splitting the United Conservative Party back up into its PC and Wildrose elements, something that’s already well underway with the growth of the Wildrose Independence Party. 

His continued leadership seems certain at this point to lead to a return of the Notley NDP to power. 

His presence creates the very real risk that Albertans will vote ‘no’ in the equalization referendum, as an opportunity to send him a message.

“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

For the good of the conservative movement, for the good of the United Conservative Party, for the good of Alberta, and for the good of restoring our freedoms, Kenney must resign. Now.

This editorial was jointly written by the Editorial Board of the Western Standard

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Opinion

NAVARRO-GENIE: The endemic path is the way out

“As a result, it is not people declining vaccination who are putting us in the gravest danger. It’s those who, perhaps fewer in numbers, continue to dream of, and push for, a global eradication of SARS-CoV-2.”

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Marco Navarro-Genie a columnist for the Western Standard

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s plan to treat the coronavirus as endemic was the way out of the COVID-19 crisis. That he again adopted restrictions, lockdowns, and vaxports for the province does not vaporize the endemic approach. For those keeping count, this is Alberta lockdown number four. 

But his declaration, paraphrasing Joe Biden, that we have “a crisis of the unvaccinated” offers no solution. The newest health impositions reveal a “vaccine” that doesn’t act like traditional vaccine. Old vaccines simultaneously provided individual immunity and a barrier against the spread of infection. The COVID-19 shots do not all that well either. 

The COVID-19 shots are no infection barrier, especially among elders. Alberta Government statistics show comorbidities are a better predictor of infection than the absence of vaccination. For those older than 60 with pre-existing conditions, over the last 120 days the rate of infection is higher for vaccinated people than for the non-vaccinated. Among those aged 80-plus with pre-existing conditions, the vaccinated have acquired the virus at three times the rate of the unvaccinated. 

For all its risks and failures, the COVID-19 shot lowers the rate at which the infected end up in hospital or succumb to the illness. This is certainly good. But we should come clean on the abysmal infection result among the older cohorts, even among those with no comorbidities.

Medical bureaucrats, legacy media, and governments have made the pandemic out to be all about case numbers, and in this sense we continue to fail our elders despite the rhetoric about vaccination. Not surprisingly, instead of immunization or the risks, the debate has moved to how vaccines help avoid the harsher reactions to the virus.

The central question about how to exit the crisis, however, is this:  if everyone were vaccinated tomorrow, it’s clear now from existing data the spread of infection would not stop. Oscillating somewhere between 30 and 50%, those vaccinated still contract and spread the infection. Data from Israel show, and manufacturers now admit, the efficacy of the COVID-19 shot declines within months and the limited protection it offers may not last past six months.

The COVID-19 shot is not the promised silver bullet. Booster shots, we now hear, are the immediate and longer-term solution. But the rush impulse to give everyone boosters, already being indulged in the United States, bring us to significant ethical and practical problems.

In ethical terms, rich countries offering boosters further delays the first shot for half the planet’s population. The policy universalizes the Justin Trudeau approach: rob vaccines from the poor to give to the rich. 

On the practical side, more variants will arise in a world where half the population has not been “vaccinated” and in which a quarter to half the vaccinated can still transmit infection. The catalogue already includes more than 3,000 mutations of SARS-CoV-2, and there will be more. As the Brazil and India variants have shown, populous countries like Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and so forth might, be ripe for generating more “variants of concern.”

These variants have great potential to find their way to Canada each time, challenging the efficacy of the shots and producing waves of new cases among vaccinated and unvaccinated. Given the speed at which medical bureaucrats make politicians panic, and given the speed at which healthcare systems are brought to the brink of collapse, new infection waves will push toward the only alternative leaders know: restrictions and lockdowns. 

All of this, let me repeat, has the potential to occur and likely will, even when every single person in Canada has been vaccinated. 

Therefore, a better exit strategy from leaders is needed than just relying on the limited ability of the vaccine. Failure to devise and implement such strategy will condemn us to live in a repeating cycle of clamping and reopening. It will continue to weaken economies, increase anxieties, family violence and mental health disorders, augment unemployment, keep deaths by overdose at rates as high or higher than we have had, continue school closures, bankruptcies, restrictions on elective and not-so-elective procedures for chronic and other diseases, and maintain the focus of fear on COVID-19 that has caused more death than the virus.  

As a result, it’s not people declining vaccination who are putting us in the gravest danger. It’s those who, perhaps fewer in numbers, continue to dream of, and push for, a global eradication of SARS-CoV-2. They drive the policies that subject us to lockdown cycles.

They are far more dangerous than the virus itself.

Marco Navarro-Genie a columnist for the Western Standard and is president of the Haultain Research Institute, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. With Barry Cooper, he is co-author of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).

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