Halloween in Alberta

In its Halloween message the Kenney government said today is a day filled with costumes, pumpkin carving, scary movies, and tasty treats. They encouraged everyone to follow the advice of our health officials so we can all enjoy the spookiest time of the year.

Sounds nice but the rest of the government’s Halloween messages were not so benign.  

The government returned to work this week. Its conduct was more than spooky as it refused to accept accountability for its ill-conceived policies and went beyond its usual mélange of obfuscation, misdirection, and trickery.*  

Here are some highlights.

The scary ‘best summer ever’     

Notley’s Opposition grilled Jason Kenney on his “best summer ever” plan which saw covid cases skyrocket, surgeries cancelled, and ICUs burst at the seams. She said from Aug 9 to Sept 3 Mr Kenney and every single one of his ministers disappeared (she called it the David Copperfield cabinet) and called upon the premier and his ministers to explain themselves.  

Kenney responded with the usual bafflegab, every jurisdiction suffered from covid, the government did not hide the modeling on the delta variant, and he and his ministers continued to carry out their duties while he was on vacation.

Then two ex-UCP MLAs joined the fray.    

Drew Barnes asked why the premier blocked MLAs from representing their constituents by refusing to give them an opportunity to ask questions of the CMOH or support the NDP’s call for an all-party committee to investigate the government’s handling of covid. Kenney’s ministers had no answers, they stonewalled as usual.

But when Todd Loewen asked whether the justice minister, the finance minister, and the environment minister continued to support the premier given his failed policy decisions it got interesting.

All three cabinet ministers professed undying allegiance to their boss, however the environment minister, Jason Nixon, went one step further. He attacked Loewen for standing by “while thousands of Albertans die.”

This was a stupid thing to say because it reinforced Notley’s point that ministerial inaction during Kenney’s absence caused covid numbers to skyrocket and someone should be held to account. Perhaps Nixon understood that something bad happened as a result of Kenney’s absence but his attempt to evade responsibility by pinning it on an ousted UCP MLA was ludicrous.  

Halloween Message: if you want to deny accountability call someone else a monster.       

Eek! – The Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

The Opposition asked energy minister Savage to explain why the government’s War Room was still standing given the harsh criticism it received from Steve Allan. Savage deflected with the classic ‘Eek! Look over there!” tactic saying the gazillions of dollars that flowed into anti-Alberta energy campaigns might be directed to attacks on carbon capture, hydrogen, or critical and rare earth minerals in the future. She tossed around the name of climate activist Tzeporah Berman in case Albertans were looking for someone to blame for this future injustice. (None of Savage’s allegations are supported by the Allan Report).  

Halloween Message: if you have no evidence to support your scary narrative, make something up.    

Trickery and sleight of hand – equalization referendum 

Sixty-two percent of those who voted on the referendum question (should the principle of equalization be removed from the Constitution) voted yes, but this 62% was less than a third of eligible voters. Nevertheless Kenney said the referendum provided a strong mandate to demand Ottawa treat Albertans fairly.

Leaving aside the obvious point that 62% of 33% is not a clear mandate, the UCP government wound up the rhetoric in the Legislature.  

“Here we go,” MLA Miranda Rosin said. Sure, Alberta could not unilaterally change the Constitution, but it would take decisive action.  

What’s the government going to do?

According to Rosin and Nicholas Milliken, Alberta won’t settle for being treated as a second-class citizen. It won’t allow other provinces to run surpluses and “shut down” our industries. It will continue the fight, demand a fair deal, and condemn Trudeau’s appointment of Steven Guilbeault as environment minister because “we deserve respect.”

In other words it will do exactly what it has been doing all along, stamp its feet and play the victim.    

Halloween Message: If you don’t get anywhere yelling at Ottawa, call a referendum to trick Albertans into believing you’re doing more than yelling at Ottawa.     

Bottom line

The government’s Halloween message encouraged Albertans to enjoy the spookiest time of the year. Unfortunately, since the UCP were elected we’ve had to suffer through the spookiest and most treacherous era in our political history.

It’s time to turn off the lights and send those clowns home.

*Alberta Hansard, Oct 25, p 5643, Oct 27, p 5739, Oct 28, p 5815 and 5819

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government, Vacation | Tagged , , , , , , | 45 Comments

The Allan Report: Foreign Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

First, we had Steve Allan’s Report on the (not so public) public inquiry’s findings with respect to the role of foreign funding into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.

Then we had the Kenney government’s press release which said the Allan Report confirmed “hundreds of millions of foreign dollars were used to block [Alberta’s] oil and gas development, affecting the lives and livelihoods of Albertans.” Not true.   

Finally we had the press conference with Energy minister Savage who declared Albertans had a right to be upset and she was mad. Good, let’s have a tantrum.       

Steven Allan

The whole thing was like watching Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in a Pink Panther movie, one stupid misstep after another.

The Findings

It took Mr Allan two years and $3.5 M to determine that:

  • Some environmental nonprofit/charitable organizations (ENGOs) participated in anti-Alberta energy campaigns (AAEC) and
  • Between 2003 and 2019 some of these ENGOs may have received foreign funding in the amount of $54M (that’s an annual average of $3.4 M, or slightly less than the cost of this public inquiry and roughly one-tenth the annual cost of the War Room).    

Mr Allan concluded foreign funding for AAEC was “significant.”

Really? Charitable giving in 2020 was $169B. Of that 2% or $3.38B went to environmental causes. Mr Allan, a forensic accountant, and his million-dollar team from Deloittes tracked $3.4M/year to foreign funding. That’s hardly “significant.”   

Mr Allan also found that:  

  • Participation in AAEC is not illegal or improper, and such conduct is not to be impugned. Indeed, it’s an exercise of one’s freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and AAEC are lawful and protected in our democracy.     
  • AAEC may have played a role but were not the sole cause of cancellations or delays of some oil and gas developments because much of the reduced investment was due to natural market forces and the economic loss was impossible to quantify.   

At this point Mr Allan could have declared mission accomplished and moved on. Instead he continued for hundreds of pages and found:    

  • ENGOs work together “in concert” and are like “an industry unto themselves.” This sounded ominous until Mr Allan said ENGOs are wise to work collaboratively and to seek to be financially sustainable.
  • Land conservations polices arising out of Agenda 21 (a 1992 UN environmental summit treaty to which Canada is a signatory) were designed to protect forests and marine life, however ENGOs used them to “block” oil and gas developments. Could it be that “blocking” development in conservation areas protects forests and marine life?      
  • Initiatives like the Great Bear Rainforest, the Tanker Ban, the Mackenzie Valley 5-year Action Plan and the Boreal Forest Plan “ring-fenced” Alberta. This is not entirely true given that these initiatives impact the west, north-west, and north-east and have no impact on oil and gas developments to the east and south of Alberta.
  • The Wetlands Restoration Program (Ducks Unlimited) did not stop development. Coincidentally Premier Kenney’s former principal secretary became the CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada this summer.
  • $103M in foreign funding went to First Nations but Mr Allan did not investigate this funding “due to the complex nature of First Nation issues.”
  • Foreign funding was directed to litigation and political activism. Mr Allan did not provide any examples involving Canadian ENGOs.  

And then Mr Allan really slipped his moorings.

The Clouseau bits  

Mr Allan’s report is replete with innuendo, speculation, and non sequitur.

For example, he says extremism is dangerous, Canadian society is becoming polarized, and trust in institutions is at an all-time low. True, but what does this have to do with the subject of this public inquiry?  

Then there’s Mr Allan’s exposition about the Strategy. Apparently, the Strategy evolved from a focus on the oil sands to a global drive to wean the planet off fossil fuels. It sneaked up on governments and the industry and caught them off guard. This allowed the Strategy to “grow and develop.” By the time you’re finished reading this section you’d swear Mr Allan was talking about the Borg.  

The Allan report is padded with reprinted news stories, lengthy book excerpts from environmentalists and pop-star statisticians, screen shots from Twitter, Facebook and various websites, and anecdotal reports of Al Gore TED talks. None of which could be considered probative.  

It sinks to a new level of whacky when Mr Allan describes a report (complete with illustrations) explaining that NGOs can be characterized as sea creatures. They’re sharks, orcas, sea lions and dolphins. Greenpeace is a shark; Pembina is a dolphin. What this has to do with the foreign funding of AAEC is anybody’s guess.

The best Clouseau moment comes when Mr Allan shoots Premier Kenney in the foot with a scathing attack on the War Room which he said lacks credibility, is almost universally criticized, and may be damaged beyond repair. On that we can agree.  

Recommendations

Mr Allan set out six recommendations. One calls for greater transparency and accountability for ENGOs and would involve rewriting parts of the Canadian and US tax acts to “level the playing field” so industry and the government could keep up. The others are simply a rehash of recommendations that have appeared elsewhere.

And two years and $3.5 million later we’re left wondering is that all there is?  

Because if this was the best Mr Allan and the team at Deloittes could come up with we’d have been better served by Inspector Clouseau. At least he’s funny.

Posted in Climate Change, Crime and Justice, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 45 Comments

Minister Toews and the AUPE: A Shift in the Balance of Power

“Strikes are only one measure of unrest.” Todd Vachon, an assistant professor and director of labor education at Rutgers University.

Did you catch it, that shift in the balance of power?

Last Wednesday Finance Minister Travis Toews issued a statement announcing the government and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) had received the mediator’s recommendation to settle the ongoing contract negotiations. Mr Toews said the government was looking forward to the results of the AUPE’s ratification vote.

That was it. A three sentence announcement. Unusually terse, even for Mr Toews.

The less said the better

What Mr Toews didn’t say was the mediator rejected the government’s proposal calling for a 4% salary rollback and significant reductions in overtime pay and other benefits (it’s all part of Kenney’s plan to cut the public service by $1 billion by 2023-24 from 2019 levels).

Finance Ministe Toews saying as little as possible

The Kenney government argued the wage/benefit reductions were warranted because:

  • Alberta spends more per capita on the public service than the other Canadian provinces (as per Kenney’s lopsided MacKinnon Report)  
  • Alberta’s economy was hit hard by covid and the oil price collapse (a decent covid mitigation plan and a sincere effort to diversify the economy could have helped, no?)  
  • Unemployment is the highest it’s been since the 1980s (see second bullet)
  • Albertans in the private sector lost their jobs or took pay cuts and public service employees must share the pain (perhaps they’d be prepared to share the pain if they were allowed to share the gain; oh wait, government employees don’t get bonuses and stock options),
  • Alberta’s government is seeing decreased revenues, increased expenses, higher than anticipated debt and record high deficits (see second bullet).

The mediator disagreed and recommended a one-year salary freeze followed by a 1.25% increase effective Jan 1, 2023, with additional increases to come down the road.  .  

This was not the first time a mediator or an arbitrator rejected the government’s arguments for wage cuts.

A quick review of the AUPE website for 2021 shows wage rollbacks proposed by ATB, eight Alberta colleges, Alberta Pension Services, and other institutions were tossed out in favour of modest wage hikes.

One would think the Kenney government, perennially antagonistic to the unions, would wave the MacKinnon Report like a flag and charge into battle. Instead it folded. Why?

Perhaps it’s because the premier’s popularity is at such a nadir that he can’t risk triggering a strike or lockout.

Or perhaps Albertans (including the thousands who work for the government) finally realized that even the biggest bully backs down when their victims fight back.  

Or perhaps covid, like WW1 and WW2, has changed things forever.

Economist and policy advisor Robert Reich says the pandemic was the last straw for many workers who’ve quit for good or are refusing to return to work until their wages and/or working conditions improve. This created a shortage of replacement workers which has given union and non-union workers real leverage.    

The Kenney government made a dog’s breakfast out of contract renegotiations before the pandemic took hold; now almost two years into the pandemic government workers are burned out and frustrated…and the Kenney government offered them even lower pay and fewer benefits. The mediator was clear, this isn’t good enough.  

The balance of power has shifted to the unions and if Kenney pushes them too far, they’ll walk. But here’s the interesting thing, the level of unrest in Kenney’s Alberta is so high that if the unions walk many Albertans will be right there with them on the picket lines.  

No wonder Mr Toews decided to say as little as possible.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Employment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 42 Comments

Happy Thanksgiving…?

I was composing a short Happy Thanksgiving blog when a UCP government press release appeared in my inbox.  

Today is World Mental Health Day and Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Mike Ellis, said “Right now it might seem like a lot of things are out of our control, and this may be contributing to feelings of stress and anxiety.”

Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe
You’d rather look at a turkey than Mike Ellis, right?

Well, duh. Things seem like they’re out of control because they are out of control and this lack of control is definitely contributing to our stress and anxiety, especially if we work in or require healthcare thanks to this pathetic, ideologically driven government.

Ellis says it’s appropriate that World Mental Health Day falls on Thanksgiving weekend “because the act of practising gratitude can be a helpful tool to improve mental wellness.”  

I have no idea what practising gratitude over the Thanksgiving turkey would entail, but here’s a suggestion, the government could practice what it preaches and show its gratitude to the overworked and understaffed healthcare professionals who are desperately trying to keep us alive.

It could (1) listen when they beg for a firebreak and other tools (especially in schools) to stop the spread of the virus, (2) implement and enforce a real vaccine passport system (no more exemptions for those who’ve tested negative over the last 72 hours), and (3) support the healthcare system with additional resources and funding now so it doesn’t collapse before we’re through the worst of this.

Oh, and a little bonus to nurses like the ones being offered by Quebec and BC wouldn’t hurt, because at this point in our covid experience platitudes and links to mental health resources in press releases simply don’t cut it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Celebrations, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , | 34 Comments

Jason Kenney the Anecdotal Policy Maker   

“Anecdotal” (anəkˈdōdl) adjective: an account not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

And the gong show continues.

On Sept 30, we learned Jason Kenney puts more weight on random anecdotal stories than the expert opinions of healthcare professionals.   

At last Thursday’s press conference Kenney announced he’d asked the federal government to provide Alberta with the Janssen (J&J) vaccine because “a growing number of Albertans [who’d rejected the Pfizer, Moderna and AZ vaccines] are willing to receive it.”

When asked to explain how he came to this conclusion Kenney said he’d received anecdotal reports from some rural MLAs and local leaders to that effect.

One wonders who these rural Albertans are and how they and their nameless MLAs came to have more sway of Kenney than a flotilla of medical experts, the Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association who’ve been begging for a short, controlled lockdown (firebreak) of schools and non-essential services to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing completely.

Other than an announcement that the 25,000 people employed in the public service will have to show proof of vaccination or a negative covid test or go on to unpaid leave there was nothing new.

Dr Yiu said (again) that the hospitals are under “unprecedented pressure,” ICUs are under “immense strain” and healthcare workers and their families are suffering incredible mental and physical strain.

But no there will be no firebreak lockdowns to relieve the pressure on our healthcare system.

Why not?

Wait, wait, and wait some more

Because Kenney wants to wait and see whether the previously imposed measures are working and besides the case numbers appear to be plateauing.

Um, the previously imposed measures were an easily forgeable vaxx passport, the proof of vaccine/negative covid test for AHS workers (and now public servants) and the reinstatement of various confusing restrictions.

Given that the majority of AHS workers and public servants work in urban areas and the majority of unvaccinated Albertans reside in rural areas, how, pray tell, are any of these measures going to reduce the pressure on our hospitals and ICUs?   

And please Mr Kenney, take no comfort in the case numbers “plateauing.” They’re plateauing at more than 1000/day. At this number all elective surgeries have been cancelled, our hospitals and ICUs are at breaking point and the triage protocol is lurking just around the corner.    

Blah, blah, blah

To distract us from the sound of our lives going down the drain, Kenney reiterated that his government would use every tool at its disposal (well, except the firebreak) to keep our hospitals and ICUs from collapsing.

He’ll continue to provide these tools too late and in such a slipshod way—oh you want a QR code reader app along with your QR code card, well you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks—that they’re pretty well useless.

He’ll download these tools onto municipalities, school boards and businesses creating even more chaos and confusion. The head of the Calgary Hospitality Association wasn’t kidding when he said the vaccine passport was a “disaster.”  

Kenney will lead by example as long as you don’t ask him to impose a proof of vaccination/negative covid test policy on his own MLAs. That, he says, would violate a “legal constitutional principle.” Apparently, this career politician was unaware that this so-called obstacle could be overcome by a simple majority vote of the MLAs. Let’s see, all 24 NDP MLAs are vaccinated, so all Kenney needs is to call the vote and get 20 of his own MLAs to support it. Voila, leading by example!   

He’ll reassure us once again that we’re no worse off than other jurisdictions and trot out irrelevant information like Ontario’s record in the first wave (we’re both in the fourth wave and Ontario is doing better than Alberta) and Manitoba’s experience at Christmas (it is now October and Manitoba is doing better than Alberta). He’ll make ominous allusions to Australia which suffered God knows what “negative consequences” after having “the hardest lockdowns in the democratic world” (Alberta has one-sixth of the population of Australia and had twice as many covid deaths, so what’s your point?)  

It doesn’t matter. Kenney is going to wait to see whether the J&J vaccine and the public service proof of vaccine/negative test policy will save the healthcare system from collapse.

But hey, don’t despair, I’ve heard anecdotally that if Kenney breaks our healthcare system he’ll resign.*

*Sorry, I’ve heard nothing anecdotal or otherwise (shakes her head). Pity.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

On Liberty and Alberta’s Covid Crisis

This is for the woman who yelled “Do you feel safer now?” when my daughter stepped off the sidewalk to give the woman and her rambunctious dog room to pass. Do you feel safer now? My daughter stepped off the curb to give the woman and her dog some space. The woman took this as a challenge to her anti-whatever beliefs.

It’s time for the anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-restrictions (“Antis”) to come to terms with their decision to reject life-saving vaccines and defy public health restrictions while at the same time demanding the state save them from the consequences of their ill-informed decisions.*

It’s also time for the Kenney government to rectify the mess it created by pandering to the Antis.  

First let’s recap.  

In Alberta

We have over 20,000 active cases, over 1000 in hospital with 243 in ICU. More than 2,600 Albertans have died.

We’ve doubled our ICU beds from 173 to 350. Non-ICU nurses are being redeployed to ICU, retired nurses and doctors who haven’t set foot in an ICU since medical school are being asked to pitch in. All non-urgent surgery for adults and children (including transplants, tumors, and cancer) have been cancelled. Nurse to patient ratios are out of whack, standards of care have been “relaxed” and the rates of hospitalization, ICU admission and death among unvaccinated Albertans are between 8 to 60 times higher than in the fully vaccinated population.

Jason Copping and Jason Kenney

The only reason AHS hasn’t triggered the triage protocol is the number of ICU deaths is keeping pace with the number of ICU admissions.

The Kenney government put us in this position ostensibly to protect the Antis who believe their right to exercise their freedoms trumps our right to avoid illness and death.  

There is no philosophical basis for this position (more on that below) so one can’t help but think this is Kenney’s heartless way to keep the libertarians and misinformed onboard.   

On Liberty  

This feels unfair and it is.

A quick read of John Stuart Mill’s treatise On Liberty illustrates why.

Mill set out two maxims to address the exercise of individual freedoms within society. The first states the individual is not accountable to society for his actions if his actions concern no one but himself. The second states that individual actions that are “prejudicial to the interests of others” may be subject to social or legal punishment.  

As the political theorist Theresa Man Ling Lee put it: individuals are free to do whatever they want unless and until their actions pose a threat to others. At that point the state can intervene to stop them.  

How does Mill’s treatise play out here?

Maxim #1: The Antis refuse to get vaccinated (okay), but it is unacceptable for them to refuse to comply with public health restrictions and threaten, deride, and assault others who do.    

Maxim #2: The Kenney government failed to intervene to protect Albertans against the Antis who endangered their health by violating Maxim #1. Kenney’s restrictions were too little, too late. Cases spiked. When he finally reintroduced public health restrictions, they were confusing, and included an easy-to-forge vaccine passport that shifted the burden of enforcement from the province to municipalities and business owners.  

Finally he fiddled with the health ministry, swapping Jason Copping for Tyler Shandro. Nothing new came of this.

Copping announced three priorities. Two (increasing baseline hospital capacity permanently and preparing the healthcare system to “more adequately respond to potential future waves of covid”) do nothing to address the immediate problem. The third (educating vaccine hesitant Albertans to get immunized by speaking with experts) is ineffective at boosting vaccine rates when compared to mandatory vaccine passports.

The only effective government intervention—imposing additional firebreak restrictions—isn’t in the cards.  

So we’re back where we started.

Most Albertans are doing the right thing, but a minority are exercising their individual freedoms without taking responsibility for their actions and the Kenney government refuses to intervene.

Some questions  

Given that we’re heading full steam ahead into the crisis, it’s appropriate to ask Kenney and the Antis to defend their positions. John Stuart Mill’s two maxims are helpful here.

First, to the Antis who preach the sanctity of individual choice, will you accept responsibility for your decision, stay home and observe public health restrictions when you go out? No? Then how about this, if you become ill with covid or a loony internet remedy, will you stay away from the hospital—you chose to run the risk of getting covid, you’ll have to tough it out—so the rest of us can access the medical care we need.  

Second, to Health Minister Jason Copping. Surgeries were cancelled across the board to make room in ICU for covid patients, the majority of whom are unvaccinated, will you work with AHS to convert 173 ICU beds back to non-covid ICU beds and start scheduling the surgeries that have been cancelled. That will return AHS to its pre-covid position and still leave 177 surge beds for covid ICU patients who you can triage to your hearts content. While you’re at it, could you pay all nurses a covid bonus, say $15,000, to ensure we’ll have some nurses left to deal with this crisis and its aftermath.

And lastly, to Jason Kenney, will you please for the love of God, focus on the covid crisis and forget, for just one moment, the internecine battles threatening your leadership.

Really, is that too much to ask?

*NOTE: these comments relate only to those who could get vaccinated and comply with restrictions but choose not to do so.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Crime and Justice, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 85 Comments

Kenney’s Awesome Summer and Disastrous Fall

“So, no, I don’t apologize for the decision to relax public health restrictions in the summer.” – Jason Kenney

Let’s recap what’s happened since July 1 when Kenney waxed eloquent about a new day dawning and the future looking brighter because we’d “crushed” covid and were officially open for summer. On that day Alberta had 67 new cases and the 7-day average was 59.

Not bad, but by late July/early August Dr Hinshaw realized Alberta was in trouble. Our data did not track the UK data and the expected “decoupling” of covid cases from hospitalizations failed to materialize.  

So what did Kenney do? He took a 2-week vacation. On Aug 9, the day he disappeared, new cases had risen to 244 and the 7-day average was 302.

Kenney returned on Sept 1 (his 2-week vacation morphed to 23 days). By then cases had spiked to 1315 and the 7-day average was 1082.     

Kenney recognized the danger and acted decisively (sorry, that was sarcasm).

Kenney (reluctantly) reacts

On Sept 3 Kenney introduced the $100 gift card incentive to boost vax rates (it didn’t) and implemented mandatory masking for indoor public spaces and no booze after 10PM to reduce rising case numbers (they didn’t).

On Sept 9 Health Minister Shandro tried a different tack. He unveiled a policy to create more ICU beds by shuffling up to 400 long term care patients to God knows where. Apparently, the thinking was if you can’t increase the vaccination rate, put more people into ICU.   

Then finally on Sept 15 Kenney got serious. He announced more restrictions and his own version of a vaccine passport. Vaccine bookings tripled the very next day. Surprise!

But on that day we also learned all non-urgent surgeries would be cancelled to increase ICU capacity, the healthcare system was in danger of collapse and healthcare professionals were being trained to implement the Critical Care Triage Protocol.

Kenney went from 67 new cases on July 1 to 2020 new cases on Sept 17, 215 of which were in ICU. He had succeeded in pushing our hospitals to the brink and then some.    

So much for a new day dawning and the future looking bright.

Our new reality: critical care triage protocol

So here’s the thing about the triage protocol. According to Dr James Talbot, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health, it’s not just another medical protocol, it’s a “signal you’re no longer in crisis, you’re in meltdown.”  

What does meltdown look like?

The protocol applies province-wide to all critically ill adult and pediatric patients (no other Canadian jurisdiction has a protocol for kids, so this is a first for Alberta).  

It allocates critical resources on the “capacity to benefit” principle (the likelihood of survival) in an effort to save the greatest number of lives possible.

It’s supplemented by the “formal equality” principle that “All individuals have equal moral worth.” This means if there’s no distinction between two patients’ capacity to benefit, they’ll be accepted into ICU on a first come, first served basis and if two patients arrive at the same time one will be randomly selected over the other.

Once in ICU, patients are reassessed daily and those who fail to remain eligible for critical care are transitioned out of ICU. Patients and/or their families do not have a choice or the right to consent to such a decision.

There’s a certain irony here. Those that argue vaccines and vaccine passports violate their individual rights and freedoms will, if they end up in ICU, have no say in whether they live or die; the protocol makes that decision. It seeks an outcome that provides the greatest good for the greatest number, individual rights and freedoms be damned.  

Going into the fall

Kenney’s plan to push the healthcare system to its very limits failed when he overshot the mark. With the triage protocol looming on the horizon, he was forced to reverse his opposition to a vaccine passport system.

He said he had no choice. “The government’s first obligation must be to avoid large numbers of preventable deaths…Morally, ethically and legally, the protection of life must be our paramount concern.”

It’s strange that these moral, ethical and legal considerations were not of paramount concern on July 1, Aug 9, Sept 1, Sept 3, and Sept 9. Morality, ethics and law are not mutable, are they?  

The bigger question is what can we expect from Kenney going into the fall?   

Kenney is under tremendous pressure to appease his base. His caucus is divided. At least one UCP constituency association has formally demanded an early leadership review. Will he lift the restrictions prematurely to prevent a caucus revolt and cause yet another spike in cases and deaths when the covid virus refuses to play politics?

If Kenney can avoid a caucus revolt, will he be able to focus on the business of governing knowing the sharks are circling?

Alberta is in crisis, it cries out for calm steady leadership, instead we’re being whipsawed by an incompetent premier and his power-hungry party.  

No one knows how this will play out, but one thing is certain, Jason Kenney’s fall (in every sense of the word) is going to be brutal.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , | 63 Comments

Another Covid Solution, Another Non-Plan  

Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Jason Kenney hid while Albertan’s lives and livelihoods went up in smoke.

Last Thursday Health minister Shandro and Drs Hinshaw and Yiu unveiled the government’s latest non-plan to get Alberta through the pandemic.

Alberta’s ICUs are at 130% capacity when surge capacity is excluded (87% capacity with the temporary beds are included).   

So the government will spend $36 million (slightly more than the War Room’s annual budget) to boost wages and hire more continuing care staff so we can shuffle 400 people presently in hospital (because there’s no space in continuing care and they can’t go home) into continuing care or back home.  

Shandro, Kenney and Hinshaw

Move ‘em out

Shandro says his decision is guided by a report issued in May 2021. That report set out 42 recommendations to improve the quality of care for residents in continuing care, not one of them suggests using continuing care to offset a crisis in ICU.   

Shandro says he could move 200 of the 400 out within a week or two.

Where’s he going to put them? The Report calls for an immediate halt to new admissions to rooms that already have two residents, and more stringent measures to prevent overcrowding so Shandro certainly can’t triple and quadruple bunk them.

Maybe he’s sending them home. Is two weeks enough time for AHS to hire and train enough aides to care for those who require continuous monitoring and assistance with medications, hygiene, meals, and laundry?

The only way pushing 400 people out of regular hospital beds will alleviate the pressure on ICUs is if those beds are converted to ICU beds. Which leads to the next question, does Shandro have the personnel and the resources to create 200 to 400 more ICU beds?

What’s the plan?

Kenney and Shandro say increasing the vaccination rate will decrease the number of people hospitalized and reduce pressure on our ICUs. However their plan to boost vaccination rates through lotteries, prizes and bribes failed.

Now AHS has to postpone or cancel scheduled elective surgeries, including some pediatric surgeries, cancer surgeries and transplant cases to relieve the pressure on ICUs.

How did it come to this?

Looking back, it’s apparent Kenney had a plan. It was revealed in dribs and drabs by his hapless caucus members.    

In Nov 2020 UCP MLA Jason Luan said (then retracted) that the government intended to push hospitalizations and ICUs “to the limit” before it gradually introduced restrictions.

In July 2021 UCP MLA Nathan Neudorf said (then retracted) that the government expected a rapid rise followed by a rapid decline in case numbers as covid raced through the unvaccinated population, and this would allow the government to avoid further restrictions.

Then last Thursday Shandro said the government knew all along its Open for Summer plan and the removal of public health measures would cause cases to rise, but the government expected the rising case count to “decouple” from hospitalizations. In other words, a lot more people would get sick but fewer would be hospitalized, and we’d avoid further restrictions.

Like so many of Kenney’s bad bets, his plan blew up in his face.

Case counts are rising, but they haven’t “decoupled” from hospitalizations. Consequently our hospitals and ICUs are on the verge of collapse. Hence the need to push 400 people out of hospital to make way for the incoming.

There is another way

Shandro said his government was exploring “all options to ramp up capacity.” Instead of ramping up capacity his government should do more to ramp up the vaccination rate. It should introduce mandatory vaccine passports for non-essential services.  

The reporters, bless their hearts, pushed Shandro on this question: Are mandatory vaccine passports on the table if things get worse?  

Um, well, er, good question, Shandro said.  

He lavished praise on the businesses and sports teams that showed “great leadership” by requiring vaccination passports. Then he blathered about the government working on a QR code or a “printable card” that could be proof of vaccination for anyone who chooses to present it to whomever chooses to require it.

Then he turned the question into a metaphysical exercise. “You’re asking how certain we can be about the future.” What?  

It was like listening to a tarot card reader.

Never mind, we’ve got the picture. Based on what Shandro, Luan and Neudorf said it appears the plan was to push the healthcare system to the max before introducing restrictions (check) and lifting the restrictions as soon as possible (check) in anticipation of the vaccines wiping out covid (fail).  

Reason for failure: Jason Kenney. He confused and alienated so many Albertans with all his talk about covid being a flu, only fatal if you’re old and sick, restrictions violating freedoms, and the pandemic being over on July 1 when he declared Alberta Open for Summer, that too many Albertans refuse to get vaccinated.

And here we are in the middle of a fourth wave.

Albertans are sick and dying. There’s no room for them in the ICU so others who need non-covid care are being pushed out. The majority of Albertans and the business community are begging for mandatory vaccine passports but his own party is fundraising against them. It’s a frigging mess.

Which brings us back to Nero.    

The fiddler

The Great Fire that ravaged Rome destroyed 70% of the city and left half the population homeless. Nero was out of town at his villa. Rumour has it he didn’t fiddle but sang as he watched Rome burn. Many Romans believed he started the fire, this belief was reinforced when he built the Golden Place and pleasure gardens on the scorched land.

Nero was a cruel and ineffectual leader in a time of great crisis.

Need we say more.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Disasters, Politics and Government, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

Kenney’s $100 Solution

At the end of May Jason Kenney unveiled an aggressive reopening plan that would lead to the best Alberta summer ever and on July 1 he lifted all but a handful of Covid-19 restrictions.

Two months later we crashed.

On Sept 3 we had 1401 cases, 515 Albertans were hospitalized, 118 of them were in ICU. Our ICUs are at 95% capacity, elective surgeries have been postponed, our healthcare professionals are burned out and our healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.

Why? Because 30% of eligible Albertans are unvaccinated and the Delta variant is running wild.

Not to worry. Jason Kenney has a plan.

After scouring the globe for solutions (he’s open to “any promising new option”* and left “no stone unturned”) and spending two whole days in cabinet reviewing the recommendations of Dr Hinshaw and AHS and Alberta Health officials, he emerged with what he said was a simple message: “if you’ve been holding out, you just haven’t gotten around to it, it’s now literally worth yourwhile” to do the right thing.

He’s going to pay unvaxxed Albertans 18 years and older $100 for their first or second jab.   

Kenney justified his plan with the argument that if it comes to a choice between (1) a sustained crisis in our hospitals, (2) widespread restrictions, or (3) finding a way to get the attention of vax “latecomers” he’d choose (3).  

But there’s a fourth alternative he didn’t consider. A way to boost the vaccination rate that doesn’t punish those who don’t have to be bribed into doing the right thing. It’s called a vaccine passport, a system that requires proof of vaccination before people can go to restaurants, gyms, cinemas and bars.

Health writer, Andre Picard, says vaccine passport systems are necessary and beneficial because:  

  • They reward those who got vaccinated with more freedom.
  • They induce the unvaccinated to get their shots (BC’s vax appointments tripled and Quebec’s went up 50% after their governments announced their programs).
  • They provide clear rules that benefit businesses and the general public, thereby avoiding further lockdowns.

77% of Albertans support a vaccine passport system.

Four provinces, BC, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba have adopted such programs, but Kenney ignored these Canadian examples, choosing to follow in the footsteps of Colorado. He is going to gamble $20 million in an attempt to raise Alberta’s vaccination rate by 5 percentage points by giving unvaccinated Albertans over the age of 18 a $100 debit card.  

Colorado?

On Aug 23, Colorado announced it would give a $100 Walmart gift card (while supplies last) to any unvaccinated Coloradan aged 12 and up. At the end of two weeks, Colorado boosted its vax rate by 1%. The rate for one shot went from 62.6% to 63.5% and the rate for two shots went from 56.1% to 57.2%.

Kenney’s plan doesn’t include all eligible Albertans, only those 18 and up so it will be harder to reach the target, but the supply of pre-loaded debit cards appears to be limitless.  

However if Colorado is anything to go by, we’ll be lucky to get a 1 percentage point uptick in our vaccination rate. Seems to me the $20 million would be better spent on nurses’ salaries and covid protection for children in schools.  

Money vs morality

The most troubling thing about Kenney’s $100 plan is it’s mercenary.

No one should be paid to “do the right thing,” paid to stop exposing their families, friends and communities to the risk of illness and death and driving our healthcare system into the ground.

This is immoral.

But we are not surprised. We live in Kenney’s Alberta. Our faith in our democratic institutions, our public service systems, even ourselves, is severely strained.   

We are now at the point where we debate how to rid ourselves of the anti-vaxxers requiring medical attention. Should they be pushed out of ICUs when beds become scarce? Should they be treated in field hospitals by unvaccinated medical staff? Should they be forced to pay a premium for healthcare?  

These are ethical questions that challenge the principle of universal healthcare, the medical profession’s duty to provide care and our duty as citizens to see beyond our own selfish needs and support the greater common good.

These questions will not be answered by issuing a $100 government debit card to someone who is otherwise able to get a vaccination against covid-19.  

Instead of kowtowing to the vocal minority, it’s time Kenney acted in the interests of the majority of Albertans who did the right thing to protect themselves, their families and their communities. He must implement a vaccine passport system to move us closer to the post-pandemic normal.

Anything less is immoral.

*All quotes from the Kenney press conference Friday Sept 3.

Posted in Uncategorized | 76 Comments

The Marieval Residential School

This weekend Ms Soapbox was going to write a breezy little blog saying she was taking the summer off. She was going to wish everyone a safe and pleasant summer and ask them to check back here on September 5, 2021, to resume the battle of trying to stay ahead of the Kenney government’s ill-conceived policies.

Then it happened again. 751 unmarked graves containing the remains of Indigenous children and adults, were discovered on the site of the Marieval Residential School at Cowessess.

These will be added to the 215 unmarked graves discovered at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School and thousands more yet to be discovered.

We should have been prepared for the sheer horror of these discoveries, but we were not.   

Marieval Residential School

We ignored and downplayed the stories of the survivors, we refused to acknowledge this part of our history as an act of genocide, and we’ve been complicit with the governments and churches responsible.

We continue to have divisive arguments about statues when we should be joining forces to compel governments and churches to provide the access and funding necessary to locate all the graves so missing and murdered children can be identified and properly honoured.

We need to support Indigenous communities and take meaningful action to eliminate systemic racism, discrimination and injustice. We need to demand the federal and provincial governments act more quickly in implementing the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, including a papal apology here on Canadian soil.

Yes, I’ll be taking the summer off from the Soapbox. But there is much to do, and we need to do it together.

So be safe. Take care of yourselves. And I’ll see you in the fall.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Culture, Politics and Government | Tagged , , | 92 Comments