Alberta is newly facing a very old health crisis.
Justin Giovannetti reported this week that Alberta health officials have declared the province is in the midst of an outbreak of syphilis, the sexually transmitted infection that famously afflicted such historical figures as Ivan the Terrible and Al Capone, but appeared close to eradication only a few decades ago.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said on Tuesday that syphilis rates in the province have reached levels not seen since 1948. The 1,536 cases reported in 2018 were a tenfold increase over the 161 reported in 2014, with the rate of increase only getting worse.
Syphilis rates have been increasing across Canada for the past decade, but Alberta’s numbers indicating skyrocketing infections in 2018 could be a sign of the problem developing in other provinces, experts warn. In Manitoba, for instance, syphilis cases hit a record high in 2018. Thin public reporting on syphilis, with a number of provinces not reporting new data since 2016, has made it difficult to get a sense of the national scope of the problem.
Also this month, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported cases of syphilis are up by 70 per cent since 2010, with some countries seeing more new cases of syphilis than of HIV.
Canadian experts are unclear as to why syphilis is thriving. It is possible people already caught amid the opioid crisis are at higher risk of unsafe sex. Smartphone apps that facilitate anonymous hookups could be partly to blame. So could a less vigilant approach to condom use as a result of dissipating concern about HIV.
And it’s not just syphilis: Rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia are also increasing across Canada, said Alex McKay at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada.
While an effective treatment for syphilis exists, there’s a need to increase screening, especially among expectant mothers, he added. One of the problems with detecting syphilis is that it requires a blood test, which is not always offered when health facilities are screening for sexually transmitted infections.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
Surrey: Mayor Doug McCallum has had a bad week. A third councillor quit his team over his handling of the city’s plans to replace the RCMP with a municipal force by 2021. Jack Hundial spent 25 years as a Mountie, with 14 of them in Surrey, the province’s second-most populous city, before entering politics as a member of Mr. McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition.
But despite Mr. Hundial’s policing experience, he said Mr. McCallum has met with him only once, for 30 minutes. Mr. Hundial, like the other two departing councillors, criticized Mr. McCallum’s approach to the transition as one that has been rushed and without appropriate public consultation.
The switch to a municipal force was one of two key promises Mr. McCallum made during last fall’s election campaign. The second was to replace plans for light-rail expansion with the more expensive SkyTrain.
On Friday, the region’s transit authority issued a report estimating it would cost twice what Mr. McCallum said it would to build a Skytrain between Surrey and Langley. Mr. McCallum said he would push for it anyway and said he’ll be looking for support from some of his fellow mayors in the region to get the extra financing from the provincial and federal governments.
That might be a hard sell for some of them, who were not happy when Mr. McCallum cancelled the original light-rail plan that had been part of a lengthy, region-wide consensus aimed at a 10-year transit plan.
UCP: Alberta’s election commissioner has levied $70,000 in fines against a candidate who ran against Jason Kenney to take over leadership of Alberta’s United Conservatives. Jeff Callaway was fined for violating fundraising rules and making false statements about his finances after the 2017 campaign. The latest fine brings a total of nearly $170,000 of penalties levied against nearly a dozen contributors who made or accepted prohibited donations to Mr. Callaway’s long-shot bid.
Mr. Callaway, a Calgary-based investment adviser and former president of the now defunct Wildrose Party, has been accused of running a “kamikaze” campaign in which he attacked former Wildrose leader Brian Jean before pulling out of the race and throwing his support behind Mr. Kenney. Mr. Callaway has denied working to benefit Mr. Kenney.
The RCMP is also investigating whether fraudulent e-mails were used to cast ballots in the leadership race, which was eventually won by Mr. Kenney. He was elected as Alberta’s Premier in April. Five members of Mr. Kenney’s cabinet, including Alberta’s justice minister, have been questioned about the e-mails.
Repatriation: Arts reporter Marsha Lederman has a gripping tale of the odyssey of a Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask, which was seized by an Indian agent during an infamous raid on a potlatch in 1921. The mask was improperly sold and spent time in New York and Paris before a Canadian dealer brought it home to be repatriated in Alert Bay.
Rent: A new report shows renting is out of reach in most of Canada’s larger cities for those earning minimum wage. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found such a worker could afford the average one-bedroom rental rate in 9 per cent of 795 neighbourhoods, and 3 per cent for two-bedroom units.
As Matt Lundy reports, in British Columbia, the minimum wage was $12.65 as of last October. But to comfortably afford a two-bedroom rental in the Vancouver area at an average price of $1,842 a month, a full-time worker would need to earn $35.43 an hour, the report said. For an average one-bedroom unit, the wage would need to be $26.72 an hour.
Forest Fires: Environment reporter Jeff Lewis writes that although Canada has never spent more to combat wildfires, efforts to understand and adapt to the fast-evolving hazards have faltered, hampered by the attrition of key researchers and acute funding constraints.
As a result, the country lacks a comprehensive framework for assessing risks. There is no national system that maps where cities, towns and infrastructure are in relation to vegetation, what the fuel loads are and what sort of fire behaviour they might generate. Meanwhile, a combination of climate change, pest infestations, urban development and decades of fire suppression has increased the threat and cost of extreme events, especially in drought-prone Western Canada, researchers say.
Polluted River: The Elbow River, which carves through the middle of Calgary and provides residents with a popular summer spot for swimming and rafting, has been under a public-health advisory for three years because of elevated levels of fecal bacteria. Most residents are unaware of the warning or if they are, they use the river anyway. Municipal officials can’t figure out why the contamination persists.
Gary Mason on a high-speed rail line between Vancouver and Seattle and Portland: “This project can’t be a priority for British Columbia – there are simply too many other transportation needs in Metro Vancouver that deserve attention. It would be like buying a Ferrari, while the roof of your house is falling apart and there are cracks in your home’s foundation. It would not be the responsible thing to do.”
Trevor Tombe on Alberta’s decision to unilaterally open more of its government purchases to bidders from other provinces: “If a large province such as Alberta unilaterally moves, and shows opening its market can succeed, then others might follow. It’s certainly worth a try. Canada’s internal trade costs are real and they shrink our economy. To tackle this problem, we don’t need provinces angling for leverage; we need leadership.”
Alexandra Gill on a new Nigerian-fusion restaurant in Vancouver’s West End. “The food – mostly modern twists on traditional Nigerian staples – is terrific. It’s extremely tasty and artfully plated with extensive in-house preparations. ... But the dreary vibe of this dark, basement hole-in-the-wall is the absolute pits.”
Dan Clapson on the Fallentimber meadery: “The mead-based drinks they created were lower in alcohol, carbonated and much less sweet than any traditional meads in the province. In 2015, they debuted their hopped-mead honey and caramelized honey infused with a blend of cascade and chinook hops.”