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REDMAN & THAKUR: One year of living on the edge with COVID-19

“After a year’s experience of COVID-19 worldwide, the continuing hold of discredited mathematical models regarding lockdowns remain. As well, it is increasingly evident that medical specialists put in charge of public policy ignored existing pandemic preparedness plans, for better or worse.”

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Guest column from David Redman and Ramesh Thakur

On 18 February, SKY News UK trumpeted: “Lockdown is working! COVID-19 infection rate plummets in England.” Yet, as Figure 1 shows, voluntary social distancing in Sweden resulted in an earlier and faster decline of COVID-19 deaths per capita. Another interesting feature of the chart is how the curves are policy-invariant, mimicking one another regardless of policy interventions between the various countries. The virus infection, hospitalisation, and mortality curves seem to rise and fall by seasons independently of lockdowns.

Figure 1: The UK, EU, and Sweden

A year ago, Western countries began adopting lockdown policies. To mark the anniversary, we would like to raise four analytical puzzles. The first is why abstract models have proven so seductive. On 13 February, the sober and responsible Economist magazine said “the pandemic threatened to take more than 150 million lives.” It gave no source or explanation for this Spanish Flu-like estimate. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London (ICL) has a notorious track record of catastrophic predictions out by orders of magnitude on foot and mouth diseasemad cow diseasebird flu, and swine flu. The ICL model of 16 March 2020 on COVID-19 and others copying its methodology too proved wildly inaccurate on both worst and best case estimates of COVID-19 deaths with respect to the UK, US, Sweden, and even Australia. As well, on 19 February, Canadian health officials couldn’t explain to a parliamentary health committee the basis for modelling-based forecasts from chief health officer Dr Theresa Tam that showed a rocket lift-off-like vertical trajectory (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Canada’s Rocket Model

The second is why countries have persisted with a policy whose many harms are far easier to demonstrate than benefits. If lockdowns worked, Sweden would have a higher death rate than the worst-hit European countries, and Florida would be far worse off than locked-down California, New York, and many more states. Data indicates the opposite. On 11 February, Governor Ron DeSantis pointed out that since December, Florida ranked 28th among US states on cases, 38th on hospitalisations, and 42ndon deaths per capita. In an MSNBC interview on 17 February, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt visibly struggled to explain comparable outcomes for lockdown California and no-lockdown Florida, stating “that’s just a little beyond our explanation.”

Governments are prone to use the worst-performing countries as benchmarks to pat their own backs. Thus, Canada’s 570 COVID-19 deaths per million (DPM) compares very favourably to the 1,535 DPM in the US, but Canada is 80 per cent above the world average of 317 DPM, and significantly worse than many Asian countries (Figure 3). Australia’s 35 DPM is spectacular in comparison to the tolls in Europe and the Americas, but in the mid-range of the Asia-Pacific statistics (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Canada in Global Perspective

Figure 4: Australia in Global and Regional Perspective

Despite a rudimentary public health infrastructure, multigenerational shared accommodation in congested conditions, and a vast migrant labour population returning from India, Nepal’s infection and mortality rates fell sharply, to the puzzlement of public health experts. India’s low COVID-19 mortality rate and falling infections are a similar puzzle. In December, Politico ran a headline demonstrating similar confusion, writing “Locked-down California runs out of reasons for surprising surge.” Experts are similarly baffled by the failure of any post-holiday surge in Iowa despite dire predictions.

Against barely discernible benefits, the immediate and lasting harms of lockdowns to health, mental health, livelihoods, and social life are immense. A peer-reviewed article in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation by researchers from Stanford University showed that net harms exceed net gainsbetween highly and less restrictive interventions. In the UK, 3 million people missed cancer screeningsand heart attacks, Accident and Emergency attendance dropped by 50 percent, and almost half of the 220,000 deaths were from non-COVID-19 causes, such as cancelled operations. In Canada too, lockdowns have caused massive mental health, societal health, educational, economic, and even public health damage, including deaths from other severe diseases because people are either turned away from hospitals focussed on COVID-19, or are too frightened to go to the hospital.

Australia’s former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, described elimination as a “strategy that will never work,” articulating that its pursuit would be “the greatest danger for Australia” that will “cause the collapse of the economy, massive social dislocation, depression, educational setbacks, and the collapse of small businesses.” No government should ever again have the power to shut down our lives, businesses, culture, and liberties.

Third, one explanation for the failure to control the pandemic could be that doctors have been delegated authority to make policy decisions that should have been tasked instead to emergency management experts, with input from public health specialists within their domain of expertise. A pandemic is not a public health emergency, it’s a public emergency. It affects every aspect of life: the public sector, private sector, every citizen. Every Canadian province has an Emergency Management Organization that scans across all sectors of the economy daily, looking for hazards that are going to impact them, making sure critical infrastructure is operating, and giving governments the tools needed to ensure the stability of their jurisdiction. They have been pushed aside by chief health officers who are not trained in any of this. As non-medics would be barred from hospital operating theatres, why then do we expect good outcomes from health professionals with no expertise and experience in emergency management planning and execution of operational plans?

Fourth, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was correct in his observation last April that lockdowns have no “historical scientific basis.” The scepticism towards harsh mitigation measures was stated by the WHO in 20062019, and again last December. National pandemic preparedness plans reflected the prevailing scientific and policy consensus. East Asian countries have had significantly lower COVID-19 death tolls and collateral damage to livelihoods and lifestyles because their pandemic plans were swiftly activated against COVID-19. By contrast, having reaffirmed in February 2020 its existing pandemic preparedness plan that had been drawn up in 2011, the UK abandoned any plan in March. Canada too had well-defined plans based on the hard lessons learned from previous pandemics. These were all discarded.

Going forward, the key question is what the acceptable level of mortality risk, relative to the damage to health, mental health, society, economy, and disadvantaged groups like migrants and the poor from lockdowns is. Instead of fear-driven hysteria, governments should emphasise balance and proportionality and project calm, competence, and composure. COVID-19 is now endemic and will keep circulating, returning (especially in winters), and mutating. We cannot endlessly repeat lockdown cycles. The overall goal should be risk management, not risk avoidance, denial, or eradication. We must break the cycle of fear with a clear plan that people can understand and support.

David Redman is a retired Canadian Army Lt. Col and a former head of Emergency Management Alberta. 

Ramesh Thakur is a former UN Assistant Secretary-General and a Canadian as well as Australian citizen, is emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.

Opinion

GIEDE: Why are Canada’s Conservative leaders so terrible?

“We conservatives are in dire straights if the most we can do is ape our opposition, and badly to boot.”

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Why does every Conservative leadership winner go on to be a colossal disappointment?

While most of us are still reeling from Erin O’Toole’s announcement last week of his carbon tax that “isn’t a carbon tax”, all I can feel is a sense of deep disenchantment. Like many social conservatives, I marked O’Toole as my second choice on the ballot, after Derek Sloan. I even wrote a column at my old digs telling others to do the same.

With the announcement of a carbon tax that goes into an O’Toole Petro Points rewards program, I find myself in the same position as people 30 years my senior, who recall scraping Mulroney’s stickers off their bumpers after the 1988 election. Was there ever any hope at all? Did O’Toole just get some bad advice? Or were we lied to the entire time?

Those of us who consider themselves loyal conservatives, feel a deep sense of personal betrayal.

But maybe we true believers need to open our eyes. The empirical evidence is there for all to see: centre-right parties in Canada and their leaders have not been the disruptors we elect them to be. If one looks to the past or to the present, most Canadian “conservatives” are just Liberals driving the speed limit.

Stephen Harper just finished addressing the rebranded Manning conference as a guest speaker, along with former British Prime Minister David Cameron. With US President Donald Trump safely out of office, both Cameron and Harper — clearly tapped to represent pre-2016 Toryism — exhorted the faithful to repent of nationalist populism, and turn to a conservatism more confirmable with global collaboration.

Some might argue retirement has changed Harper. But looking back at his government, the policy choices made weren’t boldly conservative: micro-targeted tax credits don’t fix our torturous tax code; scrapping the long gun registry didn’t stop nonsensical model and class bans — some of which happened under Harper — and the minor austerity that closed lighthouses and veterans affairs offices saved nothing compared to the colossal expenses of the CBC and equalization.

Our former Right Honorable needed to use those omnibus bills to radically alter Canadian government. He needed to stack the Senate instead of letting the seats go empty to be filled by his enemies later, and he needed to articulate a vision for his movement as well as the country. “Strong, stable, national, Conservative majority government,” looks great on a whiteboard, but it doesn’t mean anything in the real world and its means even less once a party inevitably losses power.

Let us turn now to our most prominent Conservatives leaders: premiers Kenney, Pallister, and Ford. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic is throwing them through an unexpected loop, but outside that, what about their leadership inspires? Did voting for Kenney get Ottawa to listen, or Ford to bring common sense back to the largest provincial government, or Pallister to reform school taxes on rural and agricultural land?

Premier Ford bringing Toronto to heel appeased his base and sent a clear message to urban latte liberals that no “creature of the province” was beyond being taken down a peg. Premier Pallister did fulfill his less-than-intelligent promise to lower the provincial sales tax, while keeping most distributive taxes high. Premier Kenney’s tough rhetoric victory in Alberta inspired all of us in the West in a moment of triumph, only to see most of the NDP’s policies continue with little harassment.

But in policy terms the only thing that Tories seem to know is austerity, which riles up front line civil servants, teachers, or nurses and kills voter support while making useless management teams bigger and richer. Friends and staff of the premiers always receive lucrative, noncompetitive contracts. And in the end, they normally fail to be tough enough to reduce the size of the government payroll in any meaningful way.

On COVID-19, “Conservative” governments have been the harshest, striping away liberties more often than their NDP or Liberal counterparts.

Danny Williams took down the Maple Leaf in Newfoundland to make a point, and Christie Clark played both the “pro-development” as well as “anti-pipeline” camps to gain concessions from Ottawa. Contrast this to our most “conservative” provinces; their citizens have no more liberties than anywhere else, their governments are no more efficient, and their leaders are no better at fulfilling the promises they make.

Which brings us back to O’Toole. If his solution to the questions around climate and revenue is to imitate Justin Trudeau with a policy that makes even less sense, why would anyone vote Conservative? Liberals may as well vote for the real thing, and conservatives have nothing to vote for at all.

Canadian conservatism is in dire straights if the most we can do is ape our opposition — and badly to boot.

Nathan Giede is the BC Political Columnist and Host of Mountain Standard Time for the Western Standard

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Opinion

FILDEBRANDT: There’s a lot more to O’Toole’s climate crusade than his carbon tax

“It’s an unforced error of historic proportions, that will likely cost the Conservative Party a historic loss in the next election.”

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Without consulting his caucus, party members, or the broader Canadian public, Erin O’Toole committed the Conservative Party of Canada to joining the centre and far-left parties in Parliament in their zeal to save the world from apocalyptic climate change. As of April 15, 2021, there isn’t a single party represented in the House of Commons that opposes a carbon tax.

Doubtless, there are many upset Conservative MPs who had things sprung upon them, but on the record, there isn’t a single MP left in Canada that publicly opposes carbon taxes anymore.

Most of the ink spilt over O’Toole’s big flip-flop focus on his plan for a consumer carbon tax that will begin at $20/mt, and increase to $50/mt (for now), and the fact that he lied about it all, after signing a Canadian Taxpayers Federation written pledge with the promise not to do just that.

Lost beneath the headlines however is a hard-line climate crusade plan that, until recently, would have been considered radical even by Liberal standards. The full Conservative climate plan document should be a terrifying read to those who aren’t prepared to see the oil and gas industry ride into the sunset, those who are concerned about increased government spending, or those who don’t like the government micro-managing their personal choices.

Let’s start with this nugget from O’Toole’s plan.

“This will put a price on carbon for consumers without one penny going to the government.”

This just isn’t true. Just below that nugget are a long string of multi-billion dollar spending promises, including:

  • $1 billion for building out electric vehicle manufacturing in Canada.
  • $1 billion for deploying hydrogen technology including hydrogen vehicles.
  • $3 billion for natural climate solutions focused on management of forest, crop and grazing lands and restoration of grasslands, wetlands and forests.
  • $5 billion for carbon capture and storage
  • $1 billion for Small Modular Reactors.

O’Toole promised his carbon tax wouldn’t actually cost Canadian taxpayers anything, but that’s an easy $11 billion in budgeted promises, and many more billions in the more ambitious, unbudgeted promises.

Theoretically, O’Toole may not pay for them out of revenues from his proposed carbon tax; he may just decide to pay for it out of general revenues by increasing government borrowing, which he’s promised will continue long into the future. In the absence of any moderately detailed financial plan presented by O’Toole, the only two plausible options are that this will be paid for by the carbon tax, or by borrowing. Neither should please conservative voters much.

As much as O’Toole insists his proposed carbon tax is not a tax — it is — he’s also proposing other bizarre new taxes that he doesn’t make any bones about calling “taxes.” The plan says the Conservatives will “[study] the potential for introducing new taxes on frequent flyers, non-electric luxury vehicles and second homes to deter activities that hurt the environment.”

21st century conservatism boils down to taxing people who like to fly or own a cottage. How O’Toole will determine which “non-electric luxury vehicles” fall under his new carbon tax regime is anybody’s guess. Would my pickup truck count? Would my wife’s SUV?

Doubtless, the luxury SUVs that Ottawa’s political elites are chauffeured around in won’t be any more expensive for their users.

Key to O’Toole’s tenuous claim that his carbon tax is not a carbon tax, is that instead of paying the tax into the government’s coffers, it will instead be paid into a “Personal Low Carbon Savings Account.” ‘PLCSA’ doesn’t have much of a ring, so let’s just call them “O’Toole Petro Points.” O’Toole himself likens his scheme to an “affinity or rewards program” in the document.

This is the single most bogus idea in the entire plan.

At present, provinces that do not have federally-approved carbon tax regimes in place are directly charged the federal government’s carbon tax. Ottawa — after a modest handlers fee — turns around and rebates some of it back to carbon taxpayers. It’s unfair. It’s re-distributive, but it’s at least simple.

O’Toole’s plan, by contrast, would initiate the largest bureaucratic growth in the administration of government since the introduction of the modern welfare state in the 1960s.

No details whatsoever are provided as to how this will be administered, other than a statement that it will be “managed by a consortium of companies as the INTERAC system is.”

That is, Erin O’Toole will appoint a few friendly bankers to to run the massive new bureaucracy, for a modest handlers fee.

The best that we can guess as to how this would be put into practice is Canadians would have to carry a new card in their wallets, to track the purchases O’Toole deems to be deviant behaviour. Using your MasterCard or VISA to pay for gas would likely lead to you paying the new carbon tax, but left ineligible to earn O’Toole Petro Points.

Alternatively, we may need to save receipts for every single hydro-carbon purchase we make and pay an accountant a modest handling to fill our new carbon tax statements every year.

No mention whatsoever is made of the massive indirect cost of carbon taxes, such as the increased prices of groceries or clothing. Or as Stephen Harper put it when he campaigned against Stehpane Dion’s carbon tax in 2008, a “tax on everything” that “will screw everyone.”

Administration of this program would surely breed untold miles of red tape. If administered by bankers as proposed by O’Toole, it won’t come cheap. The army of accountants taking up new residence in downtown Toronto would need to be paid, and it would almost surely come off the top of the carbon taxes that Canadians pay.

O’Toole’s plan includes a raft of other policies that meddle into private consumer choices and provincial jurisdiction, such as a requirement that “30% of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030”.

O’Toole says that, “Canada’s Conservatives will take this plan to the provinces but, unlike the current government, we will work with them, knowing that by doing so we’ll achieve more.”

Crazy thought here, but what if say, Alberta for instance decided it didn’t want to hop onboard their climate craze? O’Toole says he’s a nice guy, and can convince the provinces to all do his bidding. Trudeau said the same thing in his sunny-ways campaign of 2015. As it turns out, not every province will agree to go along with the latest federal program.

On one key front, O’Toole explicitly promises no change whatsoever from the Trudeau carbon tax, keeping the industrial (AKA: oil and gas industry) carbon tax on track to reach an incredible $170/mt. But it’s all good, so long as the tax is administered by O’Toole.

“We aren’t going to change the rules just for the sake of change. Justin Trudeau has already created far too much regulatory uncertainty, driving investment and jobs away.”

Trudeau is bad. O’Toole is good. Policies are the same.

The good news in all of this is none of it will ever happen. If somehow O’Toole managed to find his way into the Prime Minister’s Office, he would have next to no chance of implementing his carbon tax/Petro Points plan.

He would sit down with the bankers, and they would tell him, “That’s nice, but it’s going to cost a fortune if you want us to do it.” The cost would almost certainly be so prohibitive he would toss it back to the federal bureaucracy, at which point it’s now called a tax, even by O’Toole’s muddled vocabulary. In the end, O’Toole would be faced with the only practical pro-carbon tax option: keep Trudeau’s carbon tax in place.

Alternatively, he could admit the entire thing was a terrible mistake, and revert to his promise to repeal the Trudeau carbon tax. But he probably won’t.

It’s an unforced error of historic proportions that will likely cost the Conservative Party a historic loss in the next election.

Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard

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Opinion

MORGAN: Nenshi’s legacy leaves little to be celebrated

“Despite a decade in power and having the combined forces of the progressive media celebrating him throughout his tenure, Naheed Nenshi never managed to accomplish much that could be considered a positive legacy.” – Cory Morgan

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After roughly a year of playing coy, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi finally announced he will not be running for re-election. I’m sure it was a tough decision for him. If nothing else, Nenshi is a vain man. He did not want to go out looking as if he was running away from his political nemesis, Jeromy Farkas, who is gunning hard for his job. Nenshi also would surely have liked to entrenched a solid legacy of sorts after having served over a decade as Calgary’s mayor.

Nenshi’s fear of potentially losing at the hands of an upstart won out over his desire to try and serve one more term as mayor and leave a lasting positive legacy. As it stands now, there’s little positive of which to speak.

Despite running, and being hailed as, a pro-business candidate for mayor, Nenshi’s term in office was markedly anti-enterprise. Massive year-over-year increases in business taxes led to a business revolt which brought even some of the most progressive of Calgary business owners to the steps of city hall in protest in June of 2019.

Meanwhile, city hall gave a $100 million fund to Calgary Economic Development (CED) and tasked them with using the money to draw new enterprises into the city. While CED has burned through more than $40 million of that money so far, their record of actually drawing new ventures into Calgary has been well short of successful. Calgary has been driving existing businesses into insolvency through tax increases while taking those tax dollars to try and draw in competitors to the remaining businesses.

Nenshi’s disdain for business leaders has gotten him into the legal trouble more than once. Taxpayers were forced to front the legal bill for a period of time while Nenshi was being sued by Calgary home builder Cal Wenzel, after Nenshi called him a “godfather-like figure.”

Nenshi embarrassed the city in a bizarre 2016 recording when he referred to the CEO of Uber as a “dick” and falsely alleged that the city had slipped known sex offenders through the uber screening process for Uber. This almost certainly flowed from Nenshi’s hostility to Uber’s challenge to the taxi monopoly, which has been a strong backer of his

Now Nenshi is now being sued by Calgary businessman Mike Terrigno for defamation. Again, for allegedly insinuating that he is involved with a certain Italian criminal enterprise.

Nenshi took it upon himself to turn Calgary’s downtown into a “world-class center.” The mayor made it no secret he didn’t care for the corporate and Western culture that built Calgary’s core. Millions and millions of tax dollars were poured into the city center, particularly in the East Village where a massive new library and music centre were built along with condo developments that had no parking available. Bike lanes and tracks took up valuable road space while city-controlled parking rates remained some of the highest in North America. The goal was to create a pedestrian hipster’s paradise in downtown Calgary. It was expected that people would come from around the world to walk around and admire Calgary’s hip and artsy, car-less core.

While Nenshi did indeed radically change Calgary’s downtown, few will claim that it was for the better. The atmosphere in Calgary’s core is ghostly as empty office towers stand over parks that have been taken over by addicts and the homeless. High taxes and parking costs drove downtown corporate businesses to outlying developments such as Quarry Park , while businesses on the street level simply went broke for lack of local clientele and accessibility. This trend has been ongoing for years. The pandemic and energy price crash only sped a process that was already underway.

Public art could have been a draw to Calgary’s core, but under Nenshi’s stewardship instead we saw expensive, ugly creations springing up on overpasses and in industrial areas. It became an almost annual tradition for the city to become enraged over some ghastly art project. Nenshi would condemn it and then repeat the cycle with a new eyesore somewhere else. He can’t point to fine art installations as his legacy.

Nor can His Worship be able to point to a unified and productive city council as a legacy of his leadership. While he promoted himself has the great renconciler, we have seen the most vitriolic and dysfunctional city council in living memory under Nenshi’s leadership. Nenshi even hired a psychologist in 2012 to manage a closed-door meeting to try and maintain order among council members.

While Nenshi promised a more transparent government since he became mayor, Calgary’s city council has spent more time hiding behind closed doors for meetings than any major city council in Canada. The meeting room where the council retreats for in-camera meetings has been labeled “the chamber of secrets.” The room has literally been equipped with lazy-boy style recliners so council members can stay comfortable during their extended sessions in hiding.

The Green Line LRT expansion has been in the planning stages for years, and seen its scope cut in half while the price continues to soar. The entire project is now at risk as people question the need to spend billions of dollars to increase transit services to an empty downtown.

Nenshi was outright giddy at the prospect of Calgary hosting the 2026 Olympic games. It was his chance for a lasting legacy. He would be able to cut ribbons for years and hobnob with top athletes from around the world. Tens of millions of dollars were spent in promoting the pursuit of the bid. Mary Moran of Calgary Economic Development was hired to promote the bid to Calgarians. To her credit, then-premier Rachel Notley told Nenshi no provincial money would be dedicated to holding the Olympics unless Calgarians got the chance to vote on the bid in a plebiscite. Calgarians overwhelmingly told Nenshi to put his Olympic dreams away.

More recently, the new arena deal with the Calgary Flames is at risk of falling apart. A hasty agreement for a facility was hammered out behind closed doors where taxpayers would be expected to foot nearly $300 million of the bill for the new arena. Now all work has been paused as the Flames organization has demanded another $70 million from taxpayers along with more land for the project. The cupboard is bare and citizens will be strongly reconsidering just how much they need an arena while we try to recover from the pandemic and the economic devastation wreaked by the lockdowns championed by Nenshi.

Now all that Nenshi can hope for in a legacy is that he hands off the role of mayor to his preferred successor. Jyoti Gondek has proven herself to be a close Nenshi ally during her term on city council, and with her mayoral campaign being managed by Stephen Carter, it’s not hard to see who Nenshi hopes will replace him in next fall’s election. It’s widely speculated Nenshi held back on announcing his intent not to run for re-election as a favor to Gondek. It is a form of running interference as contenders who didn’t want to take on an incumbent mayor stayed out of the field while Gondek worked to establish her campaign.

Despite a decade in power and having the combined forces of the progressive media celebrating him throughout his tenure, Naheed Nenshi never managed to accomplish much that could be considered a positive legacy. Calgarians will have an opportunity to bring in some fresh blood in the mayor’s chair and on council this fall. If they want to see a period of vision, growth and lasting legacies created, they will vote to turn over council.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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