Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a few important public-health messages we’ve heard again and again.
Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. More recently, wear a mask. And perhaps above all else: stay home if you’re sick.
This has made the surge in COVID-19 cases in Edmonton so exasperating for health officials, after they determined 11 per cent of people with active infections had gone to work or attended social gatherings while symptomatic. Some people, it seems clear, are not getting the message.
To respond to that, health officials are looking to retool their education efforts. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, says her department has been holding focus groups to figure out why some people aren’t following restrictions and what might convince them to change their behaviour.
She recognizes that in some cases, there is a limit to how effective public-health info can be.
“Unfortunately, for some people, the answer is that they would follow restrictions if they were personally impacted,” Dr. Hinshaw told a news conference this week.
“So while I think that it’s really critical that all of us take measures so we are not personally impacted, for some people, unfortunately, they are more strongly motivated when it hits closer to home.”
Dr. Hinshaw wants people to know that the time is now. A dramatic increase in cases means more people will be affected by COVID-19 or know someone who is.
Still, Dr. Hinshaw is not recommending new mandatory restrictions that would impose limits on daily life – and penalties for going astray – to curb the spread. Instead, she announced a series of voluntary guidelines this week that are largely focused on limiting the size of social gatherings and keeping cohorts small.
She says they are voluntary because the health care system is not yet overwhelmed and there are still empty hospital beds if there is an increase in severe cases.
Public-health experts argue that approach is a mistake.
Kate Mulligan, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, tells reporter Carrie Tait that voluntary measures are confusing and means governments are unwilling or unable to enforce the guidelines.
Heidi Tworek, a professor of history and public policy at the University of British Columbia, says the goal should be to have clear messaging; any guidance, whether mandatory or not, that is different from city to city can add to the confusion.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has made it clear that new restrictions, particularly on businesses, are a last resort.
That’s party because, as Dr. Hinshaw has also said, the Premier argues the province cannot “enforce our way” out of the pandemic.
But he said he’s also concerned about the negative effects of such restrictions – on the economy, on people’s mental and physical health. He again pleaded with people to take the pandemic seriously and answer the call to demonstrate “personal responsibility”.
“I know we’re all tired of this – God knows I am – but we can’t just wish it away. It’s real. We’ve got a spike in cases right now,” Mr. Kenney told reporters yesterday.
“And I’m just calling on Albertans to be Albertans, to do what they do best, which is a responsible use of freedom, rather than expecting government to come in and tell everybody how to live their lives.”
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.
There are now just two weeks left in the B.C. election campaign, but there are significant developments yet to come. On Tuesday, the leaders will meet digitally for their first debate together. While the NDP dropped its complete election platform this past week, the Liberals are expected to do so in the coming week. Meanwhile, the Greens have been releasing platform planks on climate action, as well as their promises to aid communities and the tourism sector in economic recovery. Here are some of the election stories we’ve covered this week:
Daycare: The BC Liberals are promising daycare at $10 a day for low-income families and rates that would increase from that price based on income. The NDP has already promised to expand its $10-per-day plan, which it first campaigned on in 2017.
Battleground Surrey: Both parties used big-ticket promises to entice Surrey voters their way this week. The NDP pledged to support Mayor Doug McCallum’s vision of a full SkyTrain line to Langley, although federal help will also be needed. The Liberals promised they would match an NDP promise to build a second hospital in the area. Surrey has nine seats. The NDP won six of them in 2017, taking three of them from the Liberals.
Around the West:
SASKATCHEWAN ELECTION: The leaders of Saskatchewan’s two main parties promised help for seniors and for those struggling with mental health and addictions as they campaigned Thursday for the Oct 26 election. NDP Leader Ryan Meili, who was joined in Saskatoon by a mother who lost her son to an overdose, promised $10-million to improve access to mental-health care and to fight the province’s opioid and crystal-meth problem.
Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe spent part of Thursday in North Battleford, where he announced his party would give seniors a financial break if it is re-elected. Moe promised to reduce the cost of ambulance calls for seniors to $135 from $275, and to increase a monthly benefit for those with low incomes by $90 a month over the next four years. The current maximum amount under the Seniors Income Benefit is $270 a month.
On Friday, both parties released their platforms. Mr. Moe promised millions in new tax credits and rebates if his group wins. This while eliminating the $2.1-billion provincial deficit by 2024-25. Mr. Meili pledged spending increases for health care and schools, while taking more time to dig the province out of the red.
ORDERED BACK TO WORK: British Columbia’s public service will be returning to the office as the provincial government rolls back options to work from home that have been in place since March, even as the Provincial Health Officer calls for vigilance in the workplace because of rising COVID infections in recent weeks. A new pandemic directive, dated Oct. 8, to the province’s 35,000 civil servants says most employees will now have to return to the workplace at least part time. The directive was issued in the middle of a provincial election campaign when the government is in caretaker mode, meaning the action is being executed by senior bureaucrats at a time when political decision-making has been suspended. The government says the change is needed for the sake of performance.
MANITOBA STABBING: The Supreme Court of Canada won’t review the eight-year sentence handed to a man who stabbed a teenager at a church. Maksym Kravchenko assaulted the girl in a washroom after a Sunday service at the Pembina Valley Baptist Church in Winkler, Man., in 2017. The girl’s family said the stabbing punctured the 15-year-old’s kidney, an artery, diaphragm and intestinal area, though she has since recovered.
ALBERTA’S RECOVERY: Low oil prices and the lasting effects of COVID-19 will likely keep Alberta’s economy from bouncing back to prepandemic levels for three years, according to a new forecast from ATB Financial. The Crown-owned bank released an economic forecast on Thursday that projects a 7.1-per-cent drop in GDP this year, followed by a sluggish recovery as unemployment numbers remain above 10 per cent. ATB describes the next few years as a “marathon” that will be slowed by continued effects of the pandemic, including the potential for new disruptions from a second wave and crude prices that are expected to remain below $50 a barrel into 2022.
TAKEOUT TURKEY: Many Vancouver restaurants are thanking their plucky feathered friends this weekend. Sales of turkey dinners to-go have been flying out of kitchens for a milestone holiday stuffed with new meaning as the beleaguered hospitality industry prepares for an uncertain winter by pivoting hard back to takeout and myriad innovations.
ALBERTA’S PLASTIC PROBLEMS: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is warning that the federal government’s decision to designate plastic as a toxic substance will chase away tens of billions of dollars in investment as his province looks for ways to diversify its struggling economy. Alberta announced plans this week to significantly expand its plastic and petrochemical industry, a long-standing goal of the province. But he said he is hearing from companies that might be interested in setting up production in Alberta that they are “very concerned about the implications of what just came from Ottawa. They find the notion of categorizing plastics as a toxin is unscientific.” Mr. Kenney added that the federal government’s clean-fuel standard could further hamper the planned expansion by adding to the cost of the natural gas that is needed to make plastics. The federal government announced on Thursday that it would ban six categories of single-use plastic items, including straws, cutlery and grocery bags, by the end of next year as part of a plan to eliminate plastic waste by 2030.
MANITOBA THRONE SPEECH: The Progressive Conservative government laid out its plans for the next 12 months in a Throne Speech at the legislature Wednesday. The document, which makes promises in broad strokes and is traditionally short on specifics, says social assistance will be changed to “instill greater self-reliance and personal growth” in people. Education reform, which was shelved when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, is to proceed in the new year. The government has hinted that changes could reduce the number of school divisions. It also introduced a cut to a major property tax and new penalties for protesters who block transportation routes.
SURREY’S SUPERMAN MAKEOVER: Superman’s hometown will soon pop up in a Surrey, B.C., neighbourhood, as construction begins on a permanent set for a new TV series featuring the Man of Steel. A Warner Bros. Entertainment subsidiary is building a full-sized central Smallville on the fairgrounds in Cloverdale for the series, which begins production in November. The $1.5-million project, which includes a newspaper office, train station and post office – all detailed enough to allow filming indoors – will cover three hectares on the grounds of the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition, about 50 kilometres southeast of Vancouver. The show is Superman & Lois, starring Tyler Hoechlin as Clark Kent/Superman and Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane.
CANADA’S KITCHEN: The Globe has rounded up some of the best rising culinary talent from each province, including chef Aman Dosanj from B.C. who shares her wild venison kebab recipe; Alberta chef Kunal Sawhney, who shares his pan-roasted duck breast with sea buckthorn and parsnip recipe; Jeremy Senaris, a chef from Manitoba, who shares his recipe for bison tataki with chanterelle mushrooms and chef Scott Dicks from Saskatchewan, who shares his recipe for Farm 140 pork loin with rhubarb jus and new potatoes.
Gary Mason on politicizing COVID-19: “There is no question that the pandemic has created a need for some stimulus relief. But trying to take political advantage of that demand is simply wrong. The bills being racked up now are going to have to be paid at some point – by somebody.”
Kelly Cryderman on Alberta’s plastic aspirations: “For those who clamour for Alberta to take some steps to diversify its economy away from the bread-and-butter industry of getting oil and gas out of the ground and piped away, this was a key week. There were announcements on a major push for the development of a hydrogen sector, and using old wells for geothermal energy. But perhaps most surprising was the unveiling of a plan to establish Alberta as a hub for plastic recycling in western North America by the end of the decade. It’s an intriguing ambition for the province’s United Conservative Party, a government more closely associated with its mantra focused on oil and gas, and pipelines.”