Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Questioning those who feel they are Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis

Youtube recommended the following video to me, so I watched.  After watching I posted a public comment, as I felt the video didn't live up to its fairly sensationalist title.

I find it interesting that a traditional media style sensationalist "Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis" headline was used.

What I didn't see was much questioning of conventional wisdom. Sure, laypersons in the media and the general public who haven't spent much time trying to understand either the medical or economic issues may think they have wisdom, but that doesn't make it wisdom. There are even people who are commenting along the lines of "Ya, they were wrong -- thanks for correcting the record" as if this were some sort of political partisan issue. But those of us who have been thinking about these things seem to all be on a fairly similar page.

This pandemic, or one like it, has been predicted for decades. Viruses are a fact of life, and the interaction between globalisation and these types of pathogens are fairly well understood.

Rather than carrying out any type of emergency preparedness, short-term thinking politicians even reduced funding to previously existing emergency preparedness programs. The higher health and economic costs of this pandemic is largely due to these deliberate policy decisions. The fact we can't quickly get the numbers to make better projections of the impact is largely due to these deliberate policy choices. I don't see this as lives-vs-lives (economic vs pathogen), but lives-vs-bad-policy. I expect the costs in terms of lives will be quite high, and only a percentage directly attributed to people catching COVID-19.

I believe Dr. Jay Bhattacharya has incorrectly articulated the issue in an important way, which is the lack of emergency preparedness was pretty much entirely a matter of short-term dollars. It was largely politicians wanting to reduce government spending that reduced the funding towards emergency preparedness, so whether the result is deaths from economic or health harm doesn't make much difference when it was short-term thinking money focused policy decisions that were the primary cause.

What policy decisions are made after this specific pandemic subsides will determine if anything useful was learned, or if deliberate policy decisions will be made that will cost future lives. This pandemic isn't a one-off, and I expect for a variety of reasons that this will become a fairly regular occurrence.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Think globally to help reduce harm from global health issues

In my last post I offered a geopolitical reply to a geopolitical opinion I disagree with. I was told that I was ignoring the facts, even though I wasn't disagreeing with facts, only a political interpretation of current events.

I thought I'd offer some context for my thinking, in case it will help convince others to take a more positive approach to these global health issues.

While I have lived all my life within Ontario, a province of Canada, I consider myself to be a human being who happens to live in a specific geographic region. As much as I can I try to live by "think globally, act locally", and to understand the different context in which other people live when trying to offer any support.

The most critical issues we face as humans are not confined within the political boundaries drawn up by political entities (countries, provinces, etc), so trying to solve them cannot be confined that way.

When looking at disease outbreaks there are many reasons why certain regions are more statistically likely than other regions, but the largest factor is population and the many other issues that come with that such as poverty.

Another Worldometer page, population by region, is informative. If you divide the world into 6 regions, you'll find that almost 60% of the population is in Asia, 17% in Africa, less than 10% in Europe, 8% Latin America and the Carribean, less than 5% North America, and .5% Oceania.

It should come as no surprise that models that predict the source of viruses, such as what we now know as SARS-CoV-2, will predict the higher population areas.

So, if China contains a large portion of the predictions, why not "blame" them?

I consider that to be an example of "think local, act global" where there is a belief that some alleged solution to a problem that would be relatively simple to implement in a sparsely populated region such as Europe or North American can be directly applied to more populous and complex regions such as Asia and Africa.

While North America has a growing problem of "vaccine hesitancy", one of W.H.O's Ten threats to global health in 2019, more populous areas have far more issues to deal with. India doesn't have the funding to provide everyone who wants vaccines with vaccines, with the funding and distribution of medical supplies being an issue. In Africa we have examples of medical sites being blown up given there is ongoing warfare in the region.

China has been doing better on financing, with a huge push in recent decades in becoming a much larger player in the global economy. It is no surprise that their rise economically, which could lead to better health outcomes in the region, is seen as a threat from minority-world economies in Europe and North America. At a time when we need greater transparency and dialog between and within the different regions, some local governments are focused on trying to break existing ties with majority-world countries.

This is why I consider blaming the governments or individual people within the majority world for the start of inevitable outbreaks to be counterproductive, when we should be doing everything we can to support the local governments in the most populous regions in the world. As I said earlier, blaming will only cause governments to keep secrets which is itself a threat to global health. We need information to be more freely flowing, and that requires the help of local governments that must be seen and treated as allies, not opponents.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

"X lied and people died" - how to help reduce harm from this pandemic and future crises

While most people are taking this specific crisis seriously, and coming together as communities and global citizens, there are still people who are wanting to play political games.  While we are all stressed, and not all acting as logically as we could, we need to all do our best to direct our energy towards helpful rather than harmful pursuits.

Everyone needs to recognise that this pandemic isn't human-made, and should be treated as a war against an invasion of this planet. The country that was attacked first was China, and from this every other country had warning that the battle had started. You might expect from having the least warning that China would be doing worse than everyone else, but they aren't. China has taken the fight very seriously, and has reduced war casualties in their region of jurisdiction.  They have also been actively engaged in information sharing with scientists and healthcare workers across the globe.  We need this global information sharing to continue.

There are some people who still want to try to point fingers at their global neighbours, and seek to blame them for deaths from this current pandemic. While scientists have been warning about pandemics for decades, and politicians largely ignored the warnings, blame is most often being deflected away from those who ignored the warnings and made us more vulnerable.

If you want to get an idea of how well different countries are doing in this global fight, and how accurate some of the blame-games are, I suggest the following. Go to the Worldometers Coronavirus website, and do a sort on the "Deaths /1M pop".  The number of deaths and population are two numbers that have more certainty than the other numbers presented.

At the moment the "World" number is 7.8.

I find it important to note that the two most populous countries, India and China, are both below this number. China is currently at 2, with India below 1. With India there is massive community support to fight this battle, and in China there are both community and central government initiatives.  Given that together they represent 1/3 of the world's population, we should globally be doing all we can to support them.

Canada is currently at 6, so close but still below the world number.

Countries which have a high percentage of angry finger-pointing are higher on the deaths/pop scale, suggesting they should be focused on helping resolve serious problems within their own country.

  • USA is currently at 22.
  • UK is currently at 64

These countries are not the worst off, with other financially rich western countries having higher numbers.

Countries whose politicians have been reducing funding to core infrastructure such as public scientific research, education and health have been making us more vulnerable globally.  The richer the countries the greater their contribution to global public research, education and health should be, but far too often the opposite is the case.

I agree that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau took a long time to close the borders with problematic regions, but it wasn't flights from China that I was worried about but people wondering across the Canada/US border. After generations of politicians and partisan media making people into science skeptics, it's the harm caused by those skeptics -- in Canada and elsewhere -- that I am most worried about.

My hope is that the survivors of this specific pandemic will start to take warnings from scientists more seriously. I am saying this specific pandemic as this is not expected to be a one-off event, and pandemics are not the only life threatening crisis that scientists have been warning about. The warnings about the climate crisis have also not been taken adequately seriously by politicians. We need to aggressively build up infrastructure to handle these crises, including making our economic and social infrastructure more robust, and stop pretending that outdated thinking is reasonable.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Should it be easy to find candidates for a leadership election that probably shouldn't happen?

I've read several articles discussing how hard it is to find good candidates for party leadership races. The federal Green Party and Conservative party, as well as some provincial parties, are looking for replacements for people who stepped down or were unreasonably kicked out.

I wonder if it is finally time to discuss whether we should be having these party-run leadership races at all?

In her chapter in Turning Parliament Inside Out, Elisabeth May reminded us that it wasn't until the 1974 federal election that party affiliations appeared on the ballots. The law also indicated that party leaders authorized candidates to have that party affiliation on the riding ballot. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century that Canada broke from the tradition of the leader being decided by elected caucus members as is the case in most Commonwealth countries, and adopting a more US style of having party members elect the leaders.

The changes for the 1974 election happened during Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time as PM.  His time is widely seen as the beginning of the centralization of government power within the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), as well as centralization within the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition (OLO) and other party leaders offices.

I strongly believe these changes have been very unhealthy for Canadian democracy, as the system that Canadians use to govern ourselves is entirely different than the US.

In the United States they have separate ballot questions for the Presidency, members of the House of Representatives, and Senators. They also have ballot questions for many other positions and ballot initiatives.

In Canada, we do not elect the government, our executive branch that is comparable to the US presidency. We rarely have referenda.

What we elect are members of the House of Commons, currently in 338 separate electoral district elections (although we have used multi-member districts in the past). The House of Commons then determines which party leader will become the Prime Minister, and the PM then selects their cabinet and is able to appoint many other positions (including Senators) which are directly elected in the United States.

Treating the position of Prime Minister as if it were remotely similar to the US President, and treating members of the House of Commons as if they were merely participants in the US Electoral College, are extremely dangerous concepts.

The only elected body Canada has is the House of Commons. The job of every parliamentarian who is not in caucus is to hold the government to account.   This is true whether that member has the same party affiliation as the PM, of a different party affiliation.

This is true of other party leadership as well, and caucus members are unable to hold leadership to account if the leaders believe they have a mandate from other than caucus.

The Samara Centre for Democracy reports on many aspects of our parliament. In a recent report they indicated there was a herd behavior in that. "the average MP voted with their party 99.6% of the time. The most rebellious MP in the 42nd Parliament: 96.6%." This doesn't at all sound like parliamentarians holding the government or their party leadership to account.

The centralization of power in leaders offices that comes with being confused whether this is the Canadian or US system of government leads to an unaccountable government as a majority of the house are unable to do their jobs.

The confusion about whether we are electing a Canadian parliament or a Canadian President has also lead the media and other groups to focus reporting on the leaders and the extremely harmful concept of "party popular vote" during general elections. This further makes members of parliament less accountable as they do not get the scrutiny and perceived mandate they require in order to do their jobs as the only elected part of our system of government.

As we do not elect a President in Canada, and members of parliament are critical to the functioning of accountable government, Canadians must abandon this extremely harmful confusion of thinking that we have a similar system to the United States. What we end up with is a series of party leaders that believe they have a mandate to do anything they want, and that the members of parliament have less of a mandate than the party leadership.

I have a few suggestions to return our system of government to being more accountable.

  • Immediately stop entertaining the idea that the general public or party tourists should have a vote in the leadership of political parties.
  • Return to leaders being elected by caucus members.  Some parties need a spokesperson during elections as they don't have a caucus member willing or able to be that spokesperson, but the leader should be decided by caucus.
  • Elections Canada must stop reporting on the harmful and inaccurate concept of "party popular vote". It has never been true that every possible vote for a party nominated candidate is an endorsement of the party or its leader. Hopefully the media and various interest groups will follow suite and stop discussing this concept. Hopefully some of these interest groups will stop promoting harmful electoral reform which seeks to optimize parliamentary seats to "party popular vote".
  • We should amend the law such that it is not the leader of the party that signs nomination papers. An alternative is for officials within the party to confirm riding associations as being party affiliated, and it be the riding association officials who are able to attach any party label to that riding's ballot. Another alternative is to revert to the pre-1974 ballot which did not include party affiliation.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Where will Ontario fall in the secularism vs Conscience Rights debate?

"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” - anonymous judge.

It has always been the case that rights cannot be treated as absolute, and that one right must end where exercising that right infringes upon someone else's rights.

This debate is in full swing in Canada as it relates to the religious rights of employees providing provincial services and the sometimes conflicting rights of the public that receives these services.

On June 16, 2019 Quebec passed Bill n°21 : An Act respecting the laicity of the State (Official Status legislation), which discusses which subset of employees of provincial services must offer that service with their face uncovered, and a further smaller subset that must do so without wearing religious symbols.   The idea is simple:  when employees are within specific positions they have an additional duty of impartiality, and must not only be impartial but be seen by those receiving the service to be impartial.

There have been arguments, including from some federal politicians during the recent federal election, suggesting that this infringes too far upon the religious rights of the employees.

It might have been a response to the critique of Quebec's laicity bill that lead to the tabling of Bill 207: Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act in Alberta.  In this proposal the religious rights of a health care provider or religious health care organization is suggested to be paramount.

In each case there is an obvious conflict between the religious rights of employees and a wide variety of rights of those receiving government services.  In the objections to Bill 207 several policy areas were often raised: abortion, services for sexual "minorities" (LGBTQ), and medically-assisted death.  These issues were being raised as that bill only related to health care providers, but if a bill extended to other provincial service providers the list of conflicting rights would have grown considerably.

When it comes to religious rights, I suspect for most people being forced to carry out a procedure that is offensive to ones religious identity is more severe than being asked to refrain from wearing religious symbols.  While bill 207 has not yet passed, and has thus far been rejected by a committee, I suspect this is only the beginning of the discussion in the province given how high-profile this issue is being made throughout Canada.

One of the main problems I'm having with this debate is that the loudest arguments against Quebec's bill 21 end up being arguments in favor of Alberta's bill 207.  The reverse is also true, where objections to bill 207 should be seen as arguments in favor of bill 21, and yet the conversions are happening in information silos.

Schuklenk pointed to countries such as Sweden, where there is no legal right to conscientious refusal for workers in any profession, including in health care. This is also the case in Finland and Iceland. 
Sweden holds that because no one is forced to enter into a profession and may resign at any time, no one can be prevented from acting on their own moral or religious beliefs.
(Global news: Medical schools should deny applicants who object to provide abortion, assisted death: bioethicist

While the government does not have a monopoly on employment, it does have a monopoly on the provision of government services.  Governments are left with 3 different scenarios, each of which will be seen by someone to infringe upon someone's rights.

  • Have some separation of church and state where specific employees must carry out the provision of government services impartially, expecting them to represent the state over their religious identity and/or expression.  It should not have been surprising that Quebec would take this position, as it can be seen as the general direction initiated during The Quiet Revolution.
  • Protect the religious identity and expression of the employees, even if this is in conflict with the impartiality of services offered by the government.  This is the direction being proposed in Alberta, with some suggesting that conscience rights are already protected in the province.
  • Try to operate in some middle-ground where the state subjectively determines what religious identity/expression rights to respect and which to deny.  This last option is the option taken so far by most governments in Canada, and I do not believe this is a sustainable way to operate.  I am very uncomfortable when the state is effectively being asked to regulate aspects of religion.

I live in Ontario, so am concerned with this province.  Ontario is one of 3 remaining provinces to have a separate school system, the others being Alberta and Saskatchewan.  While it is unfortunate that this is still the case in 2019, as I believe the separate school system infringes on both laicity and religious rights, it might be an indication of the direction that Ontario would lean in this debate.  As with Alberta, Ontario may lean towards protecting religious identity and expression over protecting the rights and interests of those requiring provincial services.

It has been frustrating to watch Ontario's NDP fighting so strongly against Quebec's secularism bill, especially as we currently have a premier who has sided with Alberta and Saskatchewan on a number of other controversial issues.  The last thing we need is for the Ontario government to start looking seriously into protecting the religious conscience rights of providers of provincial services, as I believe far more rights are threatened by that position than is theoretically protected by it.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Conservative party members should stop pointing fingers at Scheer

You can see it all over the media: Conservative caucus members and other party members trying to lay the blame for perceived electoral failures at the feet of Andrew Scheer.  There have been multiple calls for his resignation.

As someone who actively watched and voted in the 2017 leadership race, I can only remind people that Andrew Scheer and the predictable outcome of the recent election was what party members wanted.  Andrew Scheer became leader not because of some slight of hand, which can easily be the case under voting systems not based on ranked ballots, but because this is what the majority of Conservative party members wanted.

The vast majority of Canadians recognize the climate crisis is the most important economic issue of our era, and agree that putting a price on carbon is a critically important tool in the toolbox.  This fiscally conservative tax policy long predates Justin Trudeau becoming an MP, so any attempt to label it as Justin Trudeau's idea only demonstrates a lack of understanding.  Even calling it a "left wing" policy makes no sense, as it is not a so-called "progressive" tax (IE: not focused on ability to pay).

When it was obvious that party insiders were campaigning against the best possible candidates if the Conservatives wanted to form a majority government, I asked:  Will the Conservative Party choose to fail like the US Democrats?

The outcome of that leadership race confirmed that the answer was: Yes, they did choose to fail.

The notion that a party should be allowed to form government when one of their most visible and promoted economic policies is opposed by a majority of citizens makes no sense.  If the Conservatives want to form government, they must change themselves and become more palatable to the rest of Canadians. It wasn't that Justin Trudeau's Liberals won as there were many reasons to be disenfranchised by that leadership, but that the Andrew Scheer Conservatives lost.

I strongly believe that if the party and membership had put down their blinders, and had the rest of the country in mind, we would currently be talking about a strong Conservative majority under Prime Minister Michael Chong or Prime Minister Lisa Raitt.

I put Andrew Scheer as #8 and Maxime Bernier as #9 on my ballot. This was not because I thought either had a credible path to become PM, but because there was actually even worse options to put below them.

I will continue to vote in Conservative party leadership races whenever I see candidates I consider worthy of being Prime Minister.  I wonder if I will ever have someone in my local riding nominated by the Conservative party that is worthy of my vote.  That has yet to happen, and that remains the choice of the party executive and membership.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

2020 Green Party of Canada leadership race

With Elizabeth May stepping down, the Green Party of Canada will start a leadership race starting in the new year and ending in an election at the fall 2020 convention in Prince Edward Island.

While I am currently not a partisan, I plan to re-join the party to participate in the leadership vote, just as I did for the Conservative party leadership to show support for Michael Chong.

I don't know who the leadership candidates will be yet, but given I have history with the Greens I suspect I will have strong preferences.  I haven't received details yet, but I hope they will be using a modern voting system for the leadership that actually allows preferences.

I first learned about the Green Party some short time prior to the 1995 provincial election, directly from the then provincial leader Frank de Jong who also lived in Ottawa at the time.  He understood the international context of the party, and explained to me in numerous personal conversations the principles behind what is now called the Global Greens charter.

  • Participatory Democracy
  • Nonviolence
  • Social justice
  • Sustainability
  • Respect for Diversity
  • Ecological Wisdom
(The 10 key values of the GPO at the time are available on the Wayback engine).

Like Frank, I consider myself "socially progressive, fiscally conservative, and environmentally aware" (See historical leader profile).  Ignoring some odd problems surrounding a free speech issue, we pretty much always got along and I shared many values with Frank.

I offered my technical skills to the party and hosted websites, as well as participated in policy and other conventions.  While I was asked several times, I never put my name on a ballot as I am uni-lingual English and believe this isn't appropriate for a candidate running in Ottawa.  Several of my friends did put their name forward in Ottawa area ridings.

In the 1990's there wasn't a separation between provincial and federal parties, and the Ontario party organizers essentially organized the federal party within Ontario.  When there was federal elections in 1997 and 2000 we participated from Ottawa, but I didn't quite see myself in what I heard from Joan Russow.  She didn't seem to mirror the values I had understood the greens to stand for, but being a partisan at the time I didn't question whether the federal party had to have the same underlying values that made me interested in the Green Party of Ontario within Ottawa.

Then Copyright Happened. 

As technology property rights is very important to me, I discussed this area of policy across party lines and started to meet members of parliament. I came to realize I had as much in common with some of those MPs as I did with some of my fellow Green Party members.  There were MPs in the same parties I had strong disagreements with, and there were strong disagreements within the Green Party.  My experiences from this area of policy made me realize that party affiliation was not an important determination of what policy persons and politicians I could work with and those I could not.

That brings me to today.  When I vote, I vote for the person who can best represent my values.  Provincially that is sometimes a person nominated by the Green Party, and sometimes not.  Federally I have felt that David McGuinty is the most (lower-case) green thinking candidate in the district I moved to in 2003, and I vote for him despite having absolutely no trust in the Liberal Party of Canada (or its various leaders other than St├ęphane Dion).

While the leader is only one person among many, they set the tone and help recruit like-minded candidates.  As much as Elizabeth May has repeated current green party policy that she is only the primary spokesperson of the party, not in control of it (and can't whip votes), she has put a major stamp on the party and what candidates will run.

I don't know how things will change.  Federally I obviously supported Chris Bradshaw as he was a close personal friend before and after his interm leadership roll.  I never got to know Jim Harris I was spending far more time on technology law than party politics during his time.  I was happy to see the organization grow, partly as organizers and supporters of the historical federal Progressive Conservative party went different ways with the merger/takeover of the PC party by the Reform/Alliance party.

I've not had personal conversations with Elizabeth May, and have mixed feelings about the policies she puts forward even if I am far more supportive than I was of Joan Russow.  I expressed some of these concerns in a posting during the election.

That said, I am very grateful for Elizabeth May's ongoing work with the greens and for her constituents in public life.

My hope for the future leader:

  • I want someone with a science background.  While Elizabeth was very strong on climate and environmental issues, I found she (and whoever she was using as advisers) lacked a STEM background whenever other technology or technology law issues came forward.
  • I want someone who understands and believes in the principles behind the Global Greens charter.  While I have a stronger connection to the historical 10 key values of the Ontario party (which included Grassroots Democracy, Decentralization, Community-based Economics, Personal and Global Responsibility, and Gender Equality/Feminism), these are all values that the short-form 6 values of the global greens should be understood to include.
  • I want someone who recognizes the need for parliamentary and democratic reform, but helps articulate and promotes reforms that are consistent with green values and not those which temporarily appear politically expedient. I think Elizabeth's participation in the electoral reform committee was a major missed opportunity.  Joining the NDP with their promotion of the Ghallagher index, which only promotes the centralizing interests of party executives, is inconsistent with green principles.  It is also inconsistent with the parliamentary reforms Elizabeth has personally spoke about for decades.  Expressing some of those personal and global green principles might have enabled rather than blocked electoral reform.
  • I want someone who can articulately and calmly explain what makes the green principles different that those of all other parties, and not to mimic the other parties because they are perceived as being historically successful.

I don't expect the federal leader to be "socially progressive, fiscally conservative, and environmentally aware", but if the federal Greens have a leader closer to the above then they may again attract candidates (and grow a caucus) that can include some of these people.   Diversity is a value and potential strength of the Greens, but only if the executive allows that diversity to exist within the party.