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Opinion  

Only bold, immediate action can keep economy from plunging off pandemic’s cliff

Bold action needed now

It is time for big decisions from governments of all sizes and stripes in Canada.

One week of workplace hemorrhaging from COVID-19 has punched a sinkhole into the economy, with a half-million Canadians into employment insurance. This, next, and the weeks to follow will see monstrous displacement of workers across sectors.

Canada can learn one of two lessons: the ravages of some countries whose economies have sunk and stand to stay so, or the staunching of the wreckage in Denmark, Sweden and Britain to keep people in place with unprecedented wage subsidies in the hope their economies will recover much more swiftly.

The latter course is basic common sense. Why make people idle, detach them from their work, and make any rebound more remote, when they can lend their hands to the hardship but also creatively contribute to a company’s crisper return to form?

For 20 or 25 percentage points atop the employment insurance benefits, this is the price of a still-producing, still-retained workforce.

We don’t need another Great Depression. We need a Great Expression.

We can quarrel on whether the strategy to suppress COVID-19 was the right one. Might we have averted this walk off the cliff had we shut the country down earlier for a couple of weeks, quarantined the most vulnerable beyond that, and dealt with the emerging cases as part of a mitigated health problem that didn’t take the economy down?

It’s too late to be the Monday morning quarterback – we are where we are – but in moving ahead our economy cannot be in permafrost when the thawing can resume. We have to think far enough ahead to be where we need to be when the world opens again for business.

It’s important that these funds not be captured by slow-moving task forces to take weeks and months from transferring into businesses. Other countries enacted their measures in relative light speed. Ours can, too.

It was heartening to see what the John Horgan government was able to do today to apply funds now and later, to defer taxes now and later, and to make clear that it will be listening now and later. But this is a Justin Trudeau matter of national employment consequence; his is the treasury with the extra zero at the end of the budget, so the order of magnitude is his order to give.

We know that many businesses are pressed with staffing levels that will be hurt by sickness in the weeks and months to come. They need the flexibility to operate, to find people to backfill if the numbers we expect of those afflicted come true, and they will often need to step in that morning from home and not that week from recall.

Moreover, the brightest ideas to regenerate our economy are going to come from workplace teams in collaboration. We are a small country with a finite talent pool and can’t afford to sideline experienced, committed workers to the monumental tasks that await businesses that will need to get on their feet quickly.

A displaced workforce will be a distanced workforce when it returns, with its relationships in need of repair. There is no need for that when you examine how little additionally is needed to preserve it.

We have the strongest economy of any of the G7 in entering the COVID-19 crisis. We can emerge as the strongest, too, if we are able to regain that form months, even weeks or days, faster than other jurisdictions.

So, yes, accept that the economy is roughly at a standstill. But give it a standing start when it has to start running again. Keep the country on the payroll.

We want a successful operation that doesn’t unduly hurt the patient. As miserable as this time feels, the time will come when we have to reignite. We won’t regret doing too much as we will too little.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.







This fractured land is in dire need of federal political leadership

In dire need of leadership

We haven’t asked our first ministers to put on the Big Boy Pants for some time. They’ve been able to be children.

Now it is time.

The political squabbling has left the flank open to permit transportation blockades that have divided Canadians, degraded the work of our courts and the rule of law, damaged our economy and set back the important process of reconciliation. Our port is cluttered, our rail lines muted, our supply chains disarrayed, and our store shelves will dwindle and our factories will idle if there is not something significant done.

The long-range importance of reconciliation to make peace as a country, and the magnitude of the current civil disobedience, obliges the prime minister and the premiers to resolve their differences on how to tackle climate change over the next decades to determine how to tackle reconciliation over the next months so the economy can restore itself over the next weeks.

It won’t be easy. There are many quarrels to suppress, many egos to check. But in the absence of agreement among our leaders – Indigenous leaders in tandem – we risk a true setback in our national discourse, a rise in nationalism and an open door to radical activism that has no respect for institutions that indeed must shift but cannot be destroyed as they do.

OK, boomers, recall how Justin Trudeau’s father would call first ministers together – and invite Indigenous leaders, too – to determine how to find a constitutional accord and clarify our rights. These events were often open, televised sessions of clear differences of opinion, but in the end the prime minister synthesized the views, facilitated some sort of broad agreement and rationalized the approaches that would be taken.

Murky and troubled as his process could be nearly four decades ago, it got us some traction as a country on a critical matter of our identity and agency.

Now we require a 21st-century, inclusive version of this.

The younger Trudeau has no small challenge on his hands to engender an understanding of a secure and stable path forward that won’t be routinely undone by civil disobedience of injunctions and laws.

In the current climate, it is far from certain he can muster the mastery that the elder Trudeau could. To date he has placed misguided faith and been played the fool. He has no track record when it comes to articulating rights. But it is evident that something new needs to be tried here. The discord is conspicuous; the discourse is kaput.

Trudeau made the bed with commitments on reconciliation, resources and climate change he could neither explain nor keep. Now he needs to plead with every leader he can on behalf of the country for their help.

He has a slight breathing opportunity due to the ingenuity of Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. to sidestep chaos last week to rescind its application for the $20 billion Frontier oilsands mine. Teck risked becoming a needless poster child. Cabinet likely would have approved the project, despite divisions within it and caucus, and attention would have fixated on Frontier and not the real frontier.

Practically, Teck needed investors and unsurprisingly could not find them in this destabilized context. International agencies predict oil prices will creep past the $100 mark by 2030, so Frontier was feasible. But other countries offer far easier project paths.

Trudeau has to wrestle the resource/reconciliation/climate change conundrum, but it is clear he has insufficient capacity to do so as the national leader. He requires the backing of Indigenous leaders and the premiers; they need to find their common voice and vision, memorize the lines and repeat them in the face of a vocal minority that would seek to upbraid them.

What is clear is that reconciliation needs to move up in the queue to stand alongside Trudeau’s quest to balance development and the environment.

As it stands, though, the country’s leaders are in silos. They are divided and conquered. They have to treat what is happening as nothing short of a national emergency to generate and assert the kind of leadership resolve we have lacked. This is no longer time to stand apart. 

Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and the vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.



David Suzuki on climate change and its effect on British Columbia

BC is boiling over

Island Scallops on Vancouver Island has relied on stable ocean conditions since 1989. But CEO Rob Saunders says those started changing a little over a decade ago. Measurements showed dropping pH levels, indicating increased acidity. “We started to notice our larvae weren't swimming very well; they weren't feeding. They were dying at a tremendous rate,” he says.

In 2013, acidity spiked near Qualicum Beach and wiped out 10 million scallops, forcing the company to rapidly adjust. Heightened acidity is a well-known consequence of C02 dissolving into the ocean to form carbonic acid. “The focus for us now is to try as fast as we can to find something that’s going to succeed in that ocean,” Saunders says. “There’s no question that the atmospheric CO2 is increasing.”

Saunders isn’t alone in noticing accelerating effects of climate disruption. People throughout British Columbia are witnessing profound changes. Salmon runs are down as rivers get warmer, lower or dry up altogether. Wildfires are becoming larger, more intense and frequent, threatening homes, businesses and ways of life. Insect outbreaks once kept in check by longer, colder winters have devastated millions of hectares of forest. People in the Okanagan have been hit with the double whammy of huge wildfires and flooding from rising lake levels. Climate chaos is costing billions.

Ian Mauro, a University of Winnipeg environmental scientist, geographer and filmmaker, explores the climate challenges and opportunities facing B.C. in his latest work Beyond Climate, which I narrate. This award-winning film takes the viewer past the headlines and into the heart of the issues.

From Haida Gwaii to Kelowna, Vancouver and Whistler to Mount Robson, we heard from people whose world is changing around them. Their stories of struggle and their ability to adapt in the face of massive shifts are important, so we’re offering the film for free starting February 20.

Past Haida Nation president Peter Lantin describes how low river levels from a historic drought in the archipelago affected everything from food to culture. “I think at one point it was 36 days without rain. Haida Gwaii is a rainforest, so that has huge impact on us.” 

Whistler Blackcomb environmental planner Arthur Dejong says that, despite the ski resort’s high elevation, it won’t escape climate change effects. “For every degree Celsius increase, the snow line will go up 120 metres. For over a decade and a half now, we have been putting lifts higher, [with] more snow-making, more summer grooming, as part of our adaptation to a future with less snow.”

Processing and transporting fossil fuels also poses risks. Still reeling from a spill of more than 100,000 litres of fuel and other pollutants when tugboat Nathan E. Stewart sank near Bella Bella in 2016, the Heiltsuk wonder how much worse it would be if a tanker loaded with diluted bitumen were to run aground.

Salmon and other fish are being especially hard hit by fossil fuel impacts, affecting commercial and sports fishing industries, food supplies and ways of life for coastal and inland peoples, especially Indigenous communities. Salmon also feed bears, eagles and other animals and fertilize the magnificent coastal rainforests.

Environmental planner Stephen Sheppard connects the dots between pipelines and climate. “We’re moving massive amounts of carbon through this province, all largely invisible to people. These are pipelines to the sky . It’s like taking carbon and sticking it in the air. Sooner or later, somewhere along the way, it gets burned; it goes up there.”

Fortunately, solutions are plentiful. In 2009, Vancouver implemented its Greenest City Action Plan. Compost programs, energy-efficient buildings, district energy, reduced reliance on private automobiles — all are putting the city on track to a greener future. Vancouver has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per person of any major North American city.

B.C. is the proverbial canary in the coalmine for many related issues that will define our place in the world: reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, the clean energy transition (with concurrent continued fossil fuel development and transport), conservation, food production, changing industries and economic priorities.

Listening to people experiencing rapidly increasing climate impacts and to those doing something about the problem is critical to our understanding of how to live better in this province and on this planet. 

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.







Jack Knox: No one voice can speak for the Wet’suwet’en

No one voice can speak

Tuesday morning, a group that included a handful of old white guys who looked, well, kind of like me demonstrated outside the Langford home of Premier John Horgan.

In doing so they invoked the name of the Wet’suwet’en, to which the obvious question is: Which ones?

For despite the best efforts of outsiders who would weaponize the Wet’suwet’en for their own purposes, it has become clear that deep divisions exist within that community. The Wet’suwet’en themselves don’t speak with one voice, so how can anyone else presume to stand on behalf of them all?

This applies to both sides of the tug-of-war, those who drag out Indigenous people to justify the gas line they want to see built, and those who do so in opposition. To be blunt, that’s cherry-picking. That’s selectively using Indigenous people as human shields to advance another agenda: climate change, corporate profit, a general-purpose rage against the machine, whatever. They should make a Heritage Minute: paternalism, a Canadian tradition.

It doesn’t help that the narrative has been over-simplified by those on either side and inflamed by social media indignation. To accept that the 20 elected councils along the gas-project route gave the project all the blessing it needs is to ignore the role of the five hereditary chiefs whose opposition has led to the current wave of cross-Canada protests. Yet to argue that elected councils have no legitimacy because they are a construct of the Indian Act, or that they have no say beyond the border of reserves, is a conveniently dismissive approach that ignores the feelings of those who did the electing.

People seeking a deeper understanding of the divisions could do worse than turning to APTN News, which, not surprisingly, offers nuanced perspectives not found in other media or espoused by those who shout loudest.

Among them are arguments advanced by Wet’suwet’en supporters of the pipeline: “Along with revenue from Impact Benefits Agreements and Provincial Pipeline Agreements, Indigenous businesses will benefit from $620 million in contract work for the project’s right-of-way clearing, medical, security and camp management needs. There is another $400 million in additional contract and employment opportunities for Indigenous and local B.C. communities during pipeline construction.”

The implicit message is that when you have spent 150 years on the outside looking in, and finally have a shot at sharing the kind of prosperity enjoyed by others, it’s frustrating to have that threatened by outsiders who were reared in the kind of comfort you were denied.

The counter-argument is that the hereditary chiefs are charged with responsibility for protecting the land, and that can’t simply be ignored — a position that dovetails nicely with that of those whose primary concern is the environment in general and climate change in particular.

The thing is, what happens when such interests clash? Environmental groups already squirm trying to reconcile opposition to logging with Indigenous involvement in Vancouver Island’s forest industry. Several Indigenous groups have expressed interest in investing in another pipeline project, the Trans Mountain expansion. Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced last week that up to 129 First Nations communities will be consulted in the next few weeks to ensure they have a shot at “meaningful economic participation” in Trans Mountain, which the federal government purchased from the private sector in 2018.

“This next step will be focused on different models of economic participation such as equity-based or revenue-sharing options and will seek to build momentum towards a widely acceptable option for the groups that we’re consulting with,” The Canadian Press quoted Morneau as saying.

“We’ll also explore whether the participating communities are willing to work together, either through an existing entity or a new one.”

The hearts and minds tug-of-war continued Tuesday when included among the provincial budget documents was an eight-page backgrounder titled Building the Foundations of Reconciliation. It was more or less a summary of existing initiatives, but included one key phrase: “Indigenous people have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands, territories and resources.” What wasn’t clear was who will speak on behalf of Indigenous people, or how differences between and within Indigenous bodies get worked out.

That’s a question more important to some than others. Long after the well-meaning, passionate student protesters have moved on with their lives, long after the ideologues have embarked on the next chapter of their class war, long after the gas companies have made their billions and long after the politicians have turned their focus to the next crisis, the Wet’suwet’en will be left to figure out how to live with one another, how to answer the tricky questions.

They don’t need the advice of you, me, or a bunch of non-Wet’suwet’en blocking the premier’s driveway in their name.



Should trans females be allowed to compete in combat sports?

Collision of trans sports

Mixed martial arts fighter Tamikka Brents had never felt anyone or anything like the blows that sent her to the hospital in 2014. Fallon Fox hit Brents so hard that she suffered a broken skull.

Despite the brutal loss, observers didn’t wonder whether Brents should be in the ring. They wondered about Fox, a male-to-female transgender fighter.

“I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night,” Brents said in an interview. “I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right. … I still disagree with Fox fighting. Any other job or career I say have a go at it, but when it comes to a combat sport, I think it just isn’t fair.”

In light of the incident, Ashley McGuire, author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, said, “Twenty years ago, if a man hit a woman so hard that he sent her to the hospital, he’d be in prison. Now he can get paid for it.”

Calling a male-to-female transgender a man is illegal in Canada and banned from social media platforms like Twitter. They must be called a woman because they’ve deemed themselves to be such.

But male-to-female transgenders competing against female-born fighters remains controversial.

Much of the male advantage over females in athletics is due to higher levels of testosterone and related hormones. As SportsScientists.com explains, the benefits include “lean mass, strength and power, reduced fat mass (thus power to weight ratio), stronger bones, larger hearts, increased hemoglobin mass, skeletal structure, and more.”

It’s part of the reason that in both sprints and marathons, the best women run about 11 per cent slower than the best men.

Most sport regulators trying to accommodate trans athletes require them to have maintained lower testosterone levels over the previous 12 months. Is this enough to level the playing field?

Male-to-female athletes who have artificially reduced their testosterone (and even increased their estrogen) notice reduced stamina, more difficulty building muscle and more difficulty eliminating fat.

SportsScientists.com points to the example of Joanna Harper. Harper was once a male distance runner ranked roughly in the 93rd percentile among men. After making the male-to-female transition and with lowered testosterone, Harper competed and ranked in the same percentile versus females. Harper has documented other athletes’ cases where similar results ensued.

This clearly doesn’t solve all the problems, since hormone levels represent just one aspect of thousands of biological differences between males and females. Besides this, the acceptable range of testosterone for a trans-athlete is debatable. The typical ceiling is usually 10 nmol/L. Last year, the International Olympic Committee guidelines recommended a level of half that but has yet to put those guidelines into effect.

Even so, one year of lower testosterone doesn’t eliminate the physiological changes in developmental years. That’s why SportsScientists.com says “the transgender (male-to-female) athlete poses particular concern for sports like boxing, MMA, rugby, AFL, even basketball, netball and handball.”

And if no requirement for lower testosterone is in place, the playing field is indisputably slanted towards a male-to-female transgender.

Most sport regulatory bodies require more than a simple self-declaration by a male-to-female competitor to compete. Canada is one of the few places where this is all that’s required.

Gender may be a matter of mind and emotions, even if that doesn’t match the physical reality. But sport is all about physical reality and who objectively lifts more, runs faster or kicks the ball in the net. Although the difference has to do with anatomy, it’s absolutely essential that inward realities supersede outward realities so transgenderism gains social acceptance.

As soon as biological sex is allowed to take precedence over the inward sense of gender, it reinforces the very status quo that the transgender movement tries to undo: that a biological male is male, and biological female is female.

Lee Harding writes for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

– Troy Media



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