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HARDING: Covid is quickly turning out to be the new Y2K

We don’t need a new normal, but a renewed one – and it can’t come soon enough.

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Give Premier Moe credit – he got the ball rolling. On April 23, he became the first premier to announce a plan – with dates – to re-open a province. Phase 2 of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan starts May 19, with dates for phases 3, 4, and 5 still pending. Let them come as soon as possible. Covid-19 is another Y2K: a problem whose actual threat was dwarfed by the panic it inspired.

Y2K was its own virus, a “millennial bug” that was would make computers malfunction and bring on the apocalypse. Robert Samanson both documented and triggered these fears with a Vanity Fair article in January of 1999. In the introduction, he asked, “Will the millennium arrive in darkness and chaos as billions of lines of computer code containing two-digit year dates shut down hospitals, banks, police and fire departments, airlines, utilities, the Pentagon, and the White House? The nightmare scenarios are only too possible.”

The warnings look more ridiculous in hindsight. Nuclear ballistic missiles might fire by themselves at the very moment that bank vaults, sewer valves, and prison gates also open. Meanwhile, elevators, firetruck ladders, and control switches for trains would not work. Next stop: pandemonium.

“The whole financial system of the United States will come to a halt. It not only could happen, it will happen, if we don’t fix it right,” said the I.R.S. commissioner, Charles Rossotti, of the looming Y2K.

Not to be outdone, US Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre said, “This is going to have implications in the world and in American society we can’t even begin to comprehend.”

The problem is when “experts” warn of unimaginable consequences, people fill in the blanks with their own imagination. The media stokes the fears with endless coverage, the perfect standby topic on slow news days.

These days, the media has nothing to talk about but Covid because the lockdown has killed most other things that would normally take place.

It’s been hard to find measured voice of reason, calm, or reassurance during the pandemic. At least under Y2K, experts who thought it wasn’t a big deal got some airtime and were less subject to emotional criticism.

Covid is entirely different. Anyone that doesn’t agree with the China-friendly World Health Organization is outright censored by Facebook and YouTube.

Sweden protected the vulnerable and let life go on for everyone else. Personal experience has told me that expressing appreciation for this approach inspires shock, anger, and accusations of poor character.

As an historic event, the “millenium bug” turned out to be 1 part reality and 1999 parts panic. At worst, a few bus ticket printers in Australia didn’t work for a day. And yes, the date appeared wrong in a few places in the world. It was a one-day inconvenience, not an apocalypse.

Did preparation prevent the problem? Probably not. The world only spent $300 billion of the USD $2.6 trillion supposedly required to head off the Y2K disaster—which suggests 90 per cent of the predicted mayhem should have happened anyway. Yet, South Korea, which made little preparation for Y2K, was no worse off than the United States, which spent $134 billion.

Covid has also proven to be an exaggerated threat, inflamed by pandemic projections that proved patently false. As of May 18, Saskatchewan has 142 active cases, 444 recoveries, and just 6 deaths. These are small numbers for a population of nearly 1.2 million. 

Prevention measures are only part of why these numbers are low. Consider that Sweden’s Covid-19 death count is roughly ten times that of neighbouring Norway, which had strict lockdown measures. Had Saskatchewan taken the Swedish approach, 60 might have died instead of 6. Still Sweden’s Covid-related death rate is comparable to most European countries in total lockdown. 

If Saskatchewan had an extended lockdown for every issue that could potentially save 54 lives, the lockdown would never end. Children would never be in school, restaurants would never open, and many small businesses could never offer services. Besides, this lockdown might lead to 54 deaths in itself. Suicides due to financial loss or deaths due to reduced health care services under Covid-19 are but two ways this could happen.

On May 19, Saskatchewanians will for the first time in two months, buy clothes, shoes, flowers, sporting goods, vaping supplies, boats, books, jewelry, toys, music, electronics, pawned goods, hair cuts, massages, and get acupuncture.

Sometime later, Saskatchewanians will be able to go to bars and restaurants, gyms, sporting events, and churches. That time should be as soon as possible both in this province and most other places. Let’s face it: this pandemic was one-part reality and nine parts fear. We don’t need a new normal, but a renewed one – and it can’t come soon enough.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is the former Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is the former Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Opinion

NAVARRO-GÉNIE: The Lockdown failed our most vulnerable

In the long-term, a variety of small-scale alternatives that uphold the dignity of residents as a high priority is the best way to atone for the current failures.

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The COVID-19 lockdown sought to protect the healthcare system and the most vulnerable. Health authorities quite early identified that the elderly and those with chronic conditions were most vulnerable. 

Many leaders reminded us that among those most at risk were members of the Greatest Generation, the Canadian men and women who defeated the Nazi scourge. They sacrificed much to keep us from tyranny, and this was our turn to protect them, we were told. 

The virus is far from extinguished and there could still be subsequent waves, so final assessments of the COVID-19 lockdown will have to wait. But now that the infection has partially slowed down and restrictions are beginning to loosen, let’s acknowledge with honesty that we failed the most vulnerable so we can begin to find effective solutions. 

Quebec officials won’t stop boasting they have a lower fatality rate than some Western countries, as if comparing with Belgium (which has the worst death record among Western countries) is better than comparing Quebec with Ontario or BC. Political spin seeking to distract from the disaster in care centers for the elderly will solve nothing. The disaster has been roughly spread out in Canada, but is most prevalent in Central-Eastern Canada. 

The numbers show how dreadful things are. About 4 out of 5 Canadian COVID-19 victims (double that of the United States) lived in a long-term facility. From the 5 million Canadians over age 65, about 400,000 live in long-term facilities. Current Canadian figures (May 28) show a national death rate of less than 0.02 per cent. But it increases 75 times to roughly 1.5 percent when looking at deaths among seniors. And for more precision, when we isolate the number of seniors living in care centres, the death rate jumps up 12 times to 17.5 per cent (almost the general death rate in Belgium). In some centres, every resident was infected and about 1 in 5 were fatally infected. 

A death rate for the vulnerable that is 875 times greater than the general population’s is appalling. The terrible conditions plaguing some centres are only indirectly connected to the failure to protect the vulnerable. But it is the industrial warehousing model itself that must be questioned. 

The atrocious infection/death rates demonstrate the high risk among concentrated populations, but the risk precedes and does not originate with the mismanagement and abuses now documented in the Canadian Forces reports for Ontario and Quebec. To find appropriate solutions, the question of abuses needs to be separated from the inherent risk in centralization and concentration. 

We need more than platitudes to solve this complex issue. The prime minister’s proposed solution is to throw money at it, and there is talk of imposing federal standards. Alberta and Saskatchewan must resist Ottawa’s desire to yet again to encroach on provincial jurisdiction. Undoubtedly, people in these facilities need better pay and better work conditions, but Albertans would deceive themselves in accepting federal money as a solution. 

However, the heart of it is that elderly people choose – and some have no other option but – to live in near-industrial human warehouses. The options to place care facilities under federal regulation, installing better protocols, better ventilation, with more and better paid staff will not fully mitigate the massive risk of warehousing people in large numbers. As long these care factories exist, disaster will follow when infectious pathogens enter them.

Nor will tighter constraints inside such centres to prevent high death rates during pandemics improve the quality of life for residents. On the contrary, they will erode it. 

And whatever the potential solutions, governments should not take over. That would create greater problems because bureaucracy is the poorest guardian of human dignity. Besides, the public is now wiser and many would rather succumb to a virus than be subjected to isolating oppression, robbed of all indignity during one’s last days.

That leaves us with a crucial opportunity to phase out the warehousing as the demand for long-term care spaces triples over the next couple of decades. Would-be users should demand better alternatives and push the market to offer better and more varied choices. Public policy can provide incentives (not subsidies) for small-scale alternatives, away from industrial models. Sweden and Denmark offer viable and adaptable examples, variants of which were piloted in Alberta in the mid-90s.

In the shortest term, there needs to be safer solutions in the event of a COVID-19 second wave. But long-term, a variety of small-scale alternatives that uphold the dignity of residents as a high priority is the best way to atone for the current failures. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a Columnist for the Western Standard, President of the Haultain Research Institute, and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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Opinion

LETTER: Western Standard is wrong to call vandals “bigots”

You are just like the lamestream news: Go for the Headline not the substance.

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RE: Bigots deface French signs in historic Calgary neighbourhood

Editors note: The following Letter to the Editor has been published as it was received and has not been edited for spelling or grammar

No, I do not condone this childish behavior.

Why the term “Bigots”? When in our own country the very same fench people that we are appeasing have LAWS in their OWN Province that forbade English even being on any of thier signs. Nobody calls them bigots, or anything else for that matter. Yet you fail to mention that for balance in your article against the Bigots terminology.No, I do not condoe this vandelism, it is stupid and just looking for attention, Makes me wonder if a Franco-phone or someone, anyone else, got bored  and decided to ignight a contoversy. I do not know and NEITHER DO YOU.  You went with Bigot not just in the article but as the first word of your Headline. So much for balance reporting eh!?Of cours we ALBERTANS are “committed to ensuring the French language and culture flourish in Alberta. That is reduntant for your article as we have right in our own beautiful city an excellent French Immersion school funded by Alberta Taxpayers. 

I thought as a Conservative news site I would see more Conservatism, Nope you are just like the lamestream news: Go for the Headline not the substance. 

Plus I read your quick Bio before sending this email and am disappointed that you are/were part of the “mainstram media” for decades.  You may think you are a free thinker, but your paychecks tell a different story. I quite reading the Calgary Sun when I realized that they were getting their orders of what to write in Calgary from Toronto. 

Ray Jeffrey

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Opinion

ROYER: Alberta & Saskatchewan have got enemies, but more friends than we might think

3-in-10 Quebecers views their province as getting a raw deal in confederation.

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Albertans are seeking solutions to the mounting difficulties. Policies of the federal government hurt our economy and we seem to have few friends. However, Alberta is viewed more positively in most of Canada than the media portrays. That positive view of the province may mean that it can lead the country to a much needed change of direction.

Alberta champions change like nowhere else. It comes together, throws out the old and builds something new.  Homegrown solutions from new parties such as the United Farmers of Alberta, the Social Credit, the Progressives, the CCF and Reform all had roots in the province. 

Political reform – unconstrained by old partisanship – is part of Alberta’s DNA and much of the country is poised to listen

Saskatchewan, BC, Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces all chose Alberta as the province most friendly to their own in a recent Angus Reid survey (Fractured Federation, Jan 2019). Manitoba ranked Alberta close behind Saskatchewan. 

Alberta was seen by respondents in each of these provinces plus Manitoba as the province – other than their own – that contributes the most and benefits the least in confederation. 

Rather than Alberta, it is Quebec that is seen in English Canada as the outlier.  None of those provinces thought Quebec to be close or friendly toward it. Ontario was the highest where only 1-in-10 respondents see Quebec as a friend. In Alberta, that response was an astonishing 1-in-100.  

In fact, significant majorities in all English provinces but BC, view Quebec as unfriendly toward their province. BC was just under a majority with 4-in-10 seeing Quebec as hostile. 

Only 3-in-100 in the nine English provinces saw Quebec getting a raw deal. Significant majorities in those provinces thought that Quebec receives the most advantage from confederation.  

Quebec on the other hand, sees things a bit differently. To Quebec, Alberta is deemed the antagonist. A majority of Quebecers see Alberta as being unfriendly to it. No other province is considered anywhere near as unfriendly. And they do not see that Alberta is over-contributing. 

3-in-10 Quebecers views their province as getting a raw deal in confederation. No other is close. 

The country is of two very distinct perspectives. Nine provinces view Quebec as unfriendly, isolated and receiving disproportionate benefits from confederation, while Alberta is friendly and gets a raw deal. Quebec however views Alberta as an adversary and itself as getting the worst deal. The media and the national government generally assume the perspective of Quebec. Why?

There are two simple reasons; votes from Quebec are thought to largely determine electoral success and the national political structure leans in its direction. Both of these can and should change.

The nine other provinces are not divided. They don’t see Alberta as the antagonist. They see the excess contribution that Alberta makes. They see an isolated, unfriendly Quebec receiving undue preference and benefit. 

The chance to champion broad and positive political change is in Alberta’s court. There is more sympathy waiting in the country than the media and the political elite would lead us to believe. 

Alberta can propose a renewed country where all people are treated fairly; all voices are heard equally. We can offer a strong, unified country with one economy, free and open internal borders and a Canada first policy. We can propose a cohesive nation with wealth and power enough to stand up to China, and an increasingly xenophobic United States. 

It is possible to build a prosperous, united and independent Canada. If that isn’t acceptable, then Alberta needs to go its own way with whatever friends share its vision.

Randy Royer is a Columnist for the Western Standard, a Calgary businessman, and the author of ‘Alberta Doesn’t Fit.’

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