Wednesday, August 12, 2020

My telecommunications focused brief to INDU for Canadian response to COVID-19 pandemic

On May 15th the Canadian INDU parliamentary committee published my brief to their study on the Canadian Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  They published a PDF version.  This is a slightly edited (turn footnotes into links) version.


I am submitting this brief as a private citizen with over 30 years experience in the Information and Communications Technology field.

With population growth, aided by climate change, virus and other pathogen outbreaks are expected to be more common. With globalisation and increased global travel, pathogen outbreaks more easily become pandemics.

While pandemics need to be understood as a fact of life, our response to pandemics and the various costs of those responses are policy choices. There are emergency preparedness plans with considerable resources, including preparedness drills, for other types of threats such as war, terrorism or school schootings. This has not yet been the case for pathogen outbreaks or pandemics.

It seems our societies are quite willing to allocate resources to protect ourselves from fellow humans, but not from other threats.

While I believe mandatory social distancing is required to reduce the health impacts of outbreaks and pandemics, the cost of emergency measures to the economy and other aspects of society (including those waiting for surgeries, or afraid to go to hospitals) are largely due to the lack of preparedness. It is the failure to prepare that is costing the economy. The results are expected to be quite extreme, with some experts predicting that the economic impact alone may be comparable to the Great Depression. 

I believe this high cost could have been avoided.


Policy choices

In early April I sent a letter to David McGuinty, my MP in Ottawa South, offering my support for Universal Basic Income (UBE) and infrastructure spending as a longer-term response to this pandemic. I have been concerned that public spending has not been as focused as it could be.

What COVID-19 has made obvious is that Canada lacks infrastructure when it comes to public science and public health, as well as better communications infrastructure. This refers not only to better competition in urban environments, but also provision of equitable services to rural residents. This would be based upon a divested public utility model for the last mile, and a fully competitive model for other services.

As this is a submission to INDU, I will focus on communications infrastructure.

Complete the digital transition

During this pandemic communications infrastructure was declared an essential service. Being able to replace physical communication with Internet-based communication is critical to the physical (“social”) distancing request. Many have learnt how poor their Internet connections are when there are multiple people in the house competing for use of what telcos have convinced us is “scarce” Internet bandwidth.

Teleconference systems (such as webex, zoom, JITSI, gotomeeting, etc.) are providing what appear to be essential services, and require properly engineered and regulated networks. Previously, this level of services was limited to analog-era telephone lines. But, there is no longer any clear separation between communications infrastructure which is essential, and less essential services which run "over the top" (OTT) of that infrastructure.

During the analog-era, communications infrastructure using analog technologies needed to be purpose built. Into our homes we had wires for two-way voice communication (telephone), and another set of wires for one-way audio-video communication (Cable television, AKA: a Broadcast Distribution Undertaking or BDU), with similar purpose-specific allocations of wireless spectrum.

With digital technology the OSI layered approach upon which nearly all digital communications technology is modeled allows for structural separation such that the underlying layers of the network can be treated as a utility like every other connection into our home or offices, and the services that run over-the-top can be regulated appropriate to each specific service. It is that underlying utility which is the essential service, not every OTT service.


Using a layered model for road transportation as analogy

In 1994 the federal government formed the Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC). Discussing roads and highways is an appropriate analogy to communications technology as it exposes the layers and complexity of the network, even though road transportation is simpler and less flexible than digital communications networks.

A simplification of layers built on road infrastructure might be:


  • Road infrastructure. This is comparable to the physical network layers.
  • Vehicles run "Over The Top" of those roads. This is comparable to physical devices connected to the communications network. Not all vehicles on actual highways are treated equally: Ambulances are given priority, while trucks pay a higher tax due to the increased wear they cause on the infrastructure. Yet, anyone may operate a delivery service.
  • Drivers control the vehicles. This would be comparable to software authors, where software is the instructions that drive digital devices. (Note: It is software that differentiates between TCP/IP and other networking protocols. ISP's are businesses that run their own devices and provide transport of packets encapsulated within TCP/IP.)
  • Passengers and parcels which would be placed in/on the vehicles for transport. This is comparable to the applications which use the network (two way or one-way audio/video/text/etc communication)


With transportation the roads are a mixture of municipal, provincial and federal management. Private roads including driveways connect to publicly managed infrastructure, but we don't allow specific (OTT) companies (say, Canadian Tire) to own and claim the right to control traffic over core infrastructure. For instance, if Canadian Tire Trucks were to claim priority over the 400 series of highways, at the expense of HomeDepot trucks, we could consider that a market failure. If such a thing were to occur because of an alliance between the 407ETR and Canadian Tire, then it would trigger the competition tribunal to investigate. Such a conflict of interest would be obvious. While publicly owned vehicles exist, private (corporate and individual) vehicle ownership far exceeds public. Individual citizens are allowed (in many ways actively encouraged) to personally own and drive vehicles.

If we use this road transportation analogy to go through various policy discussions the failures becomes more obvious. (See: Hiding OSI layers leading to policy failures: Net Neutrality, Encrypted Media )


Understanding what is Over The Top

When I use the term "over the top" (OTT) I mean it in a technological sense, not as used by the lobbyists from the analog-era incumbents. Services which operate above OSI layer 2 (or some talk of layer 2.5 as technology has advanced) are considered OTT no matter which entity is providing those services.

It is important to understand that there is actually no “other” way anymore. The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that consisted of SS7 and T1 lines, and switched by devices from companies like Nortel, is gone. All voice communications within the backbone of the voice network is based upon packet switching, rather than circuit switching.

This means that telephone service offered by Bell Canada and BDU services offered by Rogers are OTT services. They run over-the-top of Bell and Rogers’ commodity networks, using the same fibers, and often the same (IP) switching equipment as public Internet traffic. (That doesn’t mean they are connected to the Internet). Unfortunately policy makers have further privileged the analog-era incumbents by claiming that BDU services offered by Bell Canada or telephone service offered by Rogers aren't OTT, even though they are just as much OTT as when those services are provided by any other company. In particular, the last mile voice connections offered by cable companies like Rogers use VoIP technology, and all LTE voice (since “4G”) are VoIP connections, usually IPv6 links. These LTE links use private/privileged Bearer Channels unavailable to MVNOs to offer glitch-free communications.

We must adopt structural separation to ensure that appropriate public priorities are the focus of any of the underlying utility infrastructure. We also need to disallow the continued privileging of specific OTT brands who were given advantage during the analog era. They must no longer be allowed to use money (including a considerable amount of public money, often via the “rural broadband” initiatives) intended to enhance the utility infrastructure to instead subsidize their OTT services. We also must regulate each individual OTT service appropriate to the service, not allowing vertically integrated companies to circumvent this regulation.

(Note: Using the technological meanings of OTT, Bell's FiveTV is a "new media retransmitter" as excluded by section 31 to be granted the copyright exceptions granted to BDU's. This was added by Bill C-11 passed in 2002 specifically to disallow competing OTT services to be established in Canada. We would have had a Canadian Neftlix-like service before the US service emerged had the federal government not blocked this innovation.

As many people have learned during the lock-down, their VPN connections that ought to be “across” town, are often travelling thousands of kilometers to Toronto and back, because the incumbent providers are thinking like BDUs rather than utility companies.


Never cross-subsidize a non-essential service from an essential service

Prior to the pandemic the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, as well as other policy makers, were contemplating a cross-subsidy where fees intended to pay for core communications infrastructure would be subsidizing the creation of entertainment content. This is clearly a cross-subsidy of a non-essential service from an essential service.

Policy must be focused on providing subsidies to essential services, not extracting funding from essential services or increasing the costs of essential services.


Rural broadband

Rural areas will have been harder hit by the response to the pandemic because of poor communications infrastructure. With digital-era structural separation it would be the rural municipalities and communities themselves that set policy priorities for their communications utilities. While both provincial and federal governments should be providing assistance as they do with other infrastructure projects such as transportation, the ownership should remain in the hands of the municipalities as happens with transportation.

The importance of rural broadband has been discussed by this committee fairly regularly, so I likely do not need to repeat the importance.

Report 11 from the 2018 study specifically included on page 19 the advantage of the 6 communications infrastructure being planned by the appropriate level of government as part of transportation infrastructure, so that transportation infrastructure isn't dug-up to install communications infrastructure.

We should consider revoking the right-of-way privilege to communications incumbents via the existing CRTC regulations on fiber construction companies, as it is only the appropriate levels of government that should own the infrastructure under the ground, and on utility poles on public and private property. If a private sector entity wishes to lay cabling, they should have to negotiate with the land owners and pay appropriate ongoing rental fees for the use of the land. The incumbents seem to enjoy a privileged level of access to municipal permit processes, and in cases where another company has laid fiber, have in some cases managed to delay, or take over builds.

Report 18 from the 2019 study of M-208 specifically highlighted the importance of communications infrastructure during a crisis, as we are learning first-hand less than a year later.

While there have been successes such as CTAL , bringing together municipalities in the (Note: Près de 800 personnes découvrent la fibre optique avec CTAL, Mai 17, 2018) Antoine-Labelle regional county municipality, this needs to become the default scenario and not an exception. The federal government is promising money to rural broadband projects. These projects (Note: Government will accelerate rural broadband funds, details to come ‘soon,’ says Monsef (By AnjaKaradegilja, MAY. 1, 2020, Hill Times) need to be post-digital-transition projects where the utility layer of the infrastructure are owned by the appropriate level of government, and a properly competitive marketplace of OTT services can exist. Such a thing has existed for some time in Alberta via the Alberta SuperNet system.



  • Digital networking has separation between layers of a network stack in a way that analog communications technology did not. Public policy must take this fundamental difference into account.
  • As an essential service during emergencies, and essential for the modern economy, the lower levels of the network must be treated as a utility managed by the appropriate level of government.
  • Governments managing this utility reduces costs as communications become part of transportation, water, sewar, electrical distribution, and other infrastructure projects. This avoids the need to dig multiple times, but also makes sure that growth occurs in ways that municipalities have planned.
  • Governments managing this utility allows local governments, rather than distantly headquartered private sector companies (with unseen conflicts of interests), to set infrastructure priorities that meet critical public policy needs. This is especially important in rural and remote settings.


Why we shouldn't be attempting to send children to regular school during COVID-19

During the September 11 2001 attacks, 2,977 people died in the United States.  As of the morning of August 12 there have been 162,104 reported deaths from COVID-19 within the United States. Rounding the recent numbers it is similar to there being a S11 level of event every 4 days within the United States. Globally there have been 736,766 reported deaths thus far. These are reported deaths for COVID-19, and I expect we won't know the larger complete total until some time after the crisis is over.

After September 11, 2001 the west said that "the world changed", and many policies were put in place to try to prevent similar future events. While COVID-19 is a much larger crisis, and a global rather than country-specific crisis, we are not yet treating it with an appropriate level of urgency or requirement for future planning.

Several jurisdictions are wanting to send children back to school as if everything is normal.  In Ontario a few pennies per child are being spent for some protective equipment and cleaning. The poor conditions of the generally underfunded schools and small inadequately ventilated classrooms remain.

If citizens and governments were understanding COVID-19 as the crisis it is, the plan would be very different. While we need to provide something for children to do out of their homes during this crisis to allow their parents to return to work, that something isn't regular school. The infrastructure to provide a safe environment for those children and their families isn't available via the regular school system: there isn't enough teachers to act as supervisors, and there isn't the space in the classrooms to have appropriately small groups. Anything that children share with each other at school is brought home to their families, putting additional lives at unnecessary risk.

What is needed is to find additional space elsewhere, and to hire an adequate number of supervisors.  There are many appropriate adults that could be hired (university students and otherwise) that are without jobs, but to keep with the theme of safety there should be proper vetting ahead of time.  The same with organizing the spaces, given we need heated and properly ventilated spaces for the upcoming winter months.

Doing things right requires planning.  Instead at least the Ontario government has decided not to do any planning at all, and pretend that sending children back to their regular classroom qualifies as a plan.

Education is needed during this crisis, but the regular curriculum is not what is important.

We need to educate children, who will hopefully share with their parents, about situational awareness .  There are things which are important to take into consideration in decision making during a crisis, even one that is lasting for many months, that are not currently the focus.

We need to help with anxiety and other mental health.  Part of this relates to situational awareness where there is a need to focus on the important things, but to also disregard things which are not important.  Examples would be concern over teacher preparation, school curriculum, marks, or graduations.  Being concerned about these things increases stress for no value, and increases health risks by distracting from situational awareness.

While regular teaching staff should be included as child supervisors, regular school curriculum should not be a focus. I recognize this will be uncomfortable for regular teaching staff, especially at the high school level, but we need to remain aware of the crisis we are in and prioritize.

We need to help with the cognitive dissonance people have about COVID-19. With S11 there were visuals that were on a constant loop on television to remind people of the crisis, but these visuals don't exist with COVID-19.  I started this article with some numbers. Even when repeating the numbers comparing COVID-19 to the much smaller events of S11 that most people still emotionally believe that S11 was a larger crisis.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Canada needs a ‘Great Council,’ similar to Upper House, made up of Indigenous peoples who would review all federal, provincial laws

On Page 8 of the July 27, 2020 issue of The Hill Times, a letter I submitted was published.

Re: “Forty-nine days of racism in the news,” (The Hill Times, July 13, by Rose LeMay). Racism isn’t merely a matter of an individual person having a conscious dislike of another individual or a group. To quote Dr. Robin Diangelo, racism is “a default system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of colour. This system is historic, taken for granted, deeply embedded, and it works to the benefit of whites.”

While most people will focus on the present, I would like to suggest we fix a historical injustice. Under Canada’s British Westminster parliamentary system, we never adopted an equivalent of their House of Lords, or their Upper House. The House of Lords developed from the “Great Council” that advised the king. When Europeans came to Turtle Island there were already people here with their own traditions and governance. When a new government was formed it should, at a minimum, have included some of that governance in the Upper House through an Indigenous council similar to the “Great Council.” The membership of this Indigenous council would be decided by Indigenous people, with non-Indigenous persons disallowed influence. Instead, we have seen hundreds of years of oppression of those who preceded the Europeans. The racist “Indian Act” still exists rather than an Indigenous council capable of sending back to the federal or provincial Lower Houses any laws which require a sober second (including non-racist) thought.

I am a European descendant born in Canada.


My hope is that Canadians will eventually take the time to learn the history of this region of the world, including the history from before Europeans discovered this land and started to eradicate the ideas and people they found here.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Truth, reconciliation, and Canadian systemic racism

Prior to and during the pandemic, the issue of systemic racism has been extremely visible in Canada and elsewhere.  I felt it was time for me to continue my learning to become antiracist.

For context and further reading, this month I've read the following:

White Fragility provides context for people where discussions of racism are new. I provided a review earlier, discussing the problem with the focus on individuals vs systems, and "racist = bad / not racist = good" simplistic binary thinking. I was born into a racist society, so even though I grew up oblivious to the concept of race, I absorbed racist ideas around me.  The only way for me to have been anti racist would have been for me to have been race aware and reject the racist ideas around me.

In The Skin We're In, Desmond Cole used the events of 2017 to discuss racism in Canada.  This is important for Canadians who like to believe that racism is a problem elsewhere, often pointing at the United States and believing we are so much better.  Canadians' aren't as loud and proud as our southern neighbours, but my reading suggests we should stop trying to be so smug.

Stamped was a huge eye opening history lesson, from Aristotle all the way to present day.  If you only take one thing from this amazing book, it is introduced on page 2 (prologue).

In 2016, the United States is celebrating its 240th birthday. But even before Thomas Jefferson and the other founders declared independence, Americans were engaging in a polarizing debate over racial disparities, over why they exist and persist, and over why White Americans as a group were prospering more than Black Americans as a group. Historically, there have been three sides to this heated argument. A group we can call segregationists has blamed Black people themselves for the racial disparities. A group we can call antiracists has pointed to racial discrimination. A group we can call assimilationists has tried to argue for both, saying that Black people and racial discrimination were to blame for racial disparities. During the ongoing debate over police killings, these three sides to the argument have been on full display. Segregationists have been blaming the recklessly criminal behavior of the Black people who were killed by police officers. Michael Brown was a monstrous, threatening thief; therefore Darren Wilson had reason to fear him and to kill him. Antiracists have been blaming the recklessly racist behavior of the police. The life of this dark-skinned eighteen-year-old did not matter to Darren Wilson. Assimilationists have tried to have it both ways. Both Wilson and Brown acted like irresponsible criminals.

By watching interviews I learned that part of  Ibram X. Kendi's goal is to remove the concept of "non-racist" from our vocabulary.  Given the societies we live in are racist, we have two types of racist ideas (segregationist and assimilationist), and we have antiracist ideas.

It isn't possible for an individual to be "not racist" in a racist society, they must become antiracist.  For the vast majority of my life I was "not racist", meaning I didn't ever deliberately attack someone from a different race due to the racist ideas I had absorbed around me.  This really had no meaning as I  still held some racist ideas.

The 21 things book is an expansion by the author of a blog posting in 2015 with the same name.
I believe it is critical for all Canadians to read about the Indian Act.  At various points in our history the Indian Act enforces segregationist and/or assimilationist ideas, but its purpose was to one way or another wipe out any differences that existed from the Christian European Colonists.  While residential schools were the most visible act of cultural genocide, this was only one part of a much larger scheme on the part of the colonialists.
That history was very visible in the reactions to the 2020 Canadian pipeline and railway protests, and how so many Canadians of European descent were claiming that the "elected" councils approved the pipeline, while it was only the "hereditary" chiefs that were opposed.
Lets try a thought experiment.  The mere discussion of Sharia (Islamic) law in Canada causes an uproar.  This is not even a discussion of applying Sharia law to non-muslims, but allowing Muslims to harness Sharia laws as part of the governance within their own communities.
Christian European laws and traditions are as different from North American Indigenous laws and traditions as Sharia law is from Christian European laws and traditions.  One of the parts of the cultural genocide embedded in the Indian Act is to impose Chrisitian European laws and traditions onto Indigenous persons, outlawing in most ways their traditional governance.  The Indian Act created an "elected" bureaucracy to administer the Indian Act, and those are the so-called "elected" band councils.   I am putting the word "elected" in quotations as Indigenous persons aren't any more interested in participating in this foreign system any more than the average Canadian of European descent would vote for a Sharia law council.
If Canada is to move towards any attempt at truth or reconciliation we need to stop thinking that "elected" Indian Act bureaucrats are legitimate spokespersons for Indigenous people. These bureaucrats are accountable to the Canadian government via the Indian Act, and are not representatives of Indigenous people.
Those of a "Liberal" persuasion in Canada should avoid thinking it was only "Conservatives" that were pushing against truth and reconciliation with their desire to inflate the relevance of the Indian Act bureaucrats in order to push their pipeline project through.  We only need to look to the aggressive assimilationist policies of  Pierre Elliott Trudeau (PM at the time) and Jean Chrétien (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development at the time) to recognize this attitude crosses party lines.
After generations of the "voluntary" assimilation policies of the Indian Act not being successful in wiping out Indigenous culture, Trudeau's government came up with their Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian policy (The White Paper, 1969).  The core idea was to end the voluntary assimilation policies through a final assimilation which would end any concept of Indian status.

When forced to withdraw the White Paper in 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is said to have stated, "We'll keep them in the ghetto as long as they want." (21 things, p.92)

Prime Minister Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian Residential Schools system, and Justin Trudeau has apologised to some who were missing from the earlier apology.

It seemed obvious from the discussion at the beginning of this year that there has been no movement on removing the most offensive aspects of the Indian Act, or reducing Canadian racist attitudes towards Indigenous people.  Governments of European descent and politicians seem to find it easy to give speeches that sound good, but when it comes to conflicts around extracting resources or so-called "public works" projects any actual truth, reconciliation, or antiracism disappears.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My reading of "White Fragility"

I just finished reading White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo.

My reading this isn't very novel, as many people have.  The book is aimed at people who are identified (by others, even if not by themselves) as "white".  While I recognize that race is a social construct, it is a social construct I was ignorant of growing up.  I have had the opportunity in recent decades to become more aware of race, and thus aware of my own participation in this society.

I want to talk more about the concepts in the book, but there are a few issues that hold me back.

  • I worry that any discussion will be seen as if it were "virtue signalling", given how popular the book has become in certain circles.
  • Since the book uses different definitions of some terminology than how others use it, I feel like anything I say won't make sense to anyone who hasn't read the book or is otherwise aware of the language in this subject area.

Ms. Diangelo discusses racism not in terms of a conscious act by an individual, but as a system.  Some people try to discuss around the term "systemic racism", but that also causes the same confusion as this isn't about social structures filled with racist individuals, but about social structures and institutions which are themselves racist in their design (separate from any specific individuals that exist within that system).

In my profession I act as a systems and network administrator, and software author. I'm excited to move out of the "racist = bad / not racist = good" simplistic binary thinking, and to look at systems and networks rather than at individuals.  While racist individuals exist and can elicit a lot of emotion, I have always believed actual change requires focusing on systems.

Much of the technological systems and networks I manage are invisible to others, offering me sometimes undue influence over communications.  This is the nature of systems, and I have always worked in my profession to try to make technological systems as transparent as possible so people can have informed policy and other conversations about them.  (I spent 10 years talking to policy makers about "Copyright" for that purpose).  I have always considered opaque systems to be potentially dangerous weak-points (in the home, in workplaces, in society).

I have a hard time understanding anyone who, once made aware of the system components that make up our society, would not recognize it as racist.  This is not the same as suggesting that any specific human is individually racists, but that we have built social structures that are racist and these systemic bugs should be fixed.

I have come across many of the components of these systems discussed in this book in other contexts.  The counterproductive focus on individualism, and belief in the concept of objectivity can be seen in how people discuss politics and the media.  The more politicians and media communicators (social or less democratized) claim they are being objective, the more they are trying to keep opaque the biases which all humans have.

The only way to navigate biases is to expose them and not falsely claim to be objective, and the only way to understand and fix bugs in systems is to be aware they exist and not pretend we exist as individuals outside those systems.

While reading the book I was reminded of earlier conversations with other descendants of northern Europeans (indigenous in Europe, colonists and/or immigrants in other parts of the world such as Canada) about where COVID-19 infected first.  I also believe how these descendants have interpreted the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is also quite dependent on racial and political biases.

I am aware of a variety of critiques of the arguments made in the book, but have thus far not been persuaded by them.  I grew up oblivious to race, went through a phase where I considered myself non-racist when race became visible, and only later became antiracist.  Given this progression I consider this an opportunity for lifelong learning, so will remain open to hearing persuasive arguments.

I strongly recommend this book to everyone to read, no matter where you live or what socially constructed race you were born into.  Even if we later disagree in a conversation, we will at least be able to have that discussion using some shared terminology.

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.