How Are We “All in This Together”?

April 2, 2020

By Jim Harding

Epidemiology, the study of the distribution of any disease, can be a great moral teacher. Epidemiology might even be called a moral science. It is not “science” and technology in the service of warfare, human domination or corporate expansion. It involves collective action based on the best available science and technology to reduce collective harms.

Compassion, gratitude and mindfulness all come into better focus as we recognize our fundamental interdependence during this pandemic. Solidarity and kindness can better bind us together.

The dominant economic culture nurtures a pervasive “us and them”. Self and Other get pitted against each other in the pursuit of egotistic or “tribal” self-interest. We are encouraged to live parochially within our particular social space within the stratified world. This helps distance us from the suffering of others, whether from inequality, discrimination, pollution or isolation, both near and afar.

Now, we constantly hear people say that “we are all in this together”.

The homeless in our community have had some access to charitable programs, which faced scarcity of resources. But they were never guaranteed safe, warm places to sleep and eat. Sleep, along with diet, enhances our immune system. Public officials are now realizing that street living doesn’t allow physical distancing and that the homeless could become Covid-19 “spreaders”. Some places are setting up beds and meals for homeless people in empty, heated auditoriums.

What did we mean when we said the homeless were “in our community”? What did “our” mean? Homeless persons had serious unmet needs before this pandemic. Does there have to be self-interest for us to take concrete acts of compassion? Will the insights, compassion and caring persist after this unprecedented crisis?

We are on a steep learning curve about our interdependence. Health and care workers on the frontline face major burdens, including health risks, so the rest of us can reap the benefits. Yet, in spite of ongoing international warnings about a pandemic, as little as two months before the Wuhan outbreak, we didn’t ensure that these essential workers had protective equipment to lessen their burdens.

We can no longer take any aspect of the supply chain for necessary goods and services for granted. If we are going to be able to “stay home” to reduce the spread of Covid-19, then we need grocery, pharmacy, truckdrivers, farm and other workers to provide essential services. Our sense of gratitude for each other is thankfully growing. Perhaps, through this, we can learn about the dignity of labour, including of the low-paid, perhaps new immigrant, cleaner who disinfects public spaces. And commit to a living wage across Canada.

When we say “we are all in this together”, we need to remember that it is the frontline workers, not the independently wealthy, or the retired middle class that are keeping things going. There is a “caste” of workers that will keep the supply chain going for the rest of us, at greater personal risk. Their burdens and our benefits are locked together in our pursuit of justice in this health crisis.

Social Justice as The Guiding Light

Strengthening our feelings of gratitude matters. But social and economic justice policy has to also step up. Income security is needed if people are going to be able to self-isolate to help flatten the curve. Federal emergency benefits initially were only a 10% wage subsidy for laid off workers in small businesses. In the EU the subsidy ranged from 60-90%, while in the U.S., the “land of the free”, without universal healthcare, there is no such comprehensive program. Thankfully the Canadian subsidy was quickly raised to 75% and government soon realized it needed to include non-profits.

But what about the business that is too small to benefit? Or businesses, such as in hospitality, that are extremely labour-intensive, with a very slim economic margin? And, what about unemployed who are not even eligible for this wage subsidy? What about extremely high bank interest rates on credit cards, which will be some people’s only short-term financial resource?

Polling shows that one-third of Canadians are worried about not being able to pay their rent. Utilities can’t be paid without an income. So that people can stay at home, and stop the spread of this virus, we have to confront how difficult it is for some of us to keep a roof over our head. Much more not-for-profit housing is needed everywhere.

Food, mental health, addiction, childcare and senior support programs that depended on regular infrastructures, that have shut down, will have to be created anew. Much innovative care-giving is going on behind-the-scenes.

Meanwhile some construction and pipeline projects carry on without any chance of physical distancing or the opportunity for workers to stay at home with wage subsidies. Why is this happening, when these are not essential services and these activities will also place others at risk? Indigenous communities will be at greater risk if resource “Man Camps” aren’t quickly shut down.

Protecting future work in the mainstream economy is in the public interest. But we have to be discerning; subsidies for low-carbon energy technologies, for sure, but not for uneconomic tar sands corporations or the greatly over-built airplane industry. Now is the time to phase out the massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Decision-makers need to carefully think through the desired outcomes, while we change from “business as usual” during this crisis. Economic aid should be speeding up the conversion to a green economy. This can reduce emissions, the loss of biodiversity, and the future threat of pandemics.

An Ideological Correction Is Underway

The 2020 deficit could be from 140 to 180 billion, which will greatly raise the federal debt. However, economic bailouts should not be going to corporations with millions in stranded financial assets. If anything, taxing the profit-taking and stashed wealth should be central to the economic recovery strategy.

It is remarkable how quickly the most adamant supporters of the “corporate free market” joined the call for massive government intervention. Many vulnerable recipients of the subsidies likely supported the Conservative Party’s ideology of “smaller government” and “lower taxes” in the 2019 election. Now they want the government to be there to save them, at almost any cost, from the faltering economy. Hopefully, recipients of subsidies will remember that “we are still all in this together” if their businesses again become lucrative. Hopefully, through this period of social generosity, small business owners and workers will better realize that their interests are not served by corporate free market ideology.

We are having to learn solidarity the hard way. That “we are all in this together” can be a plea for some people to realize that their behaviour can put others at risk. Early WHO messaging stressed that most people, and particularly younger age groups, wouldn’t face serious Covid-19 symptoms. However, some opportunistically took this information about low risk as an excuse to carry on with their gregarious activities. And community spread of this virus escalated. Dentists went to a mammoth convention, doctors went to a curling bonspiel, snowmobilers went to a large rally and banquet, and worshippers attended religious gatherings or funerals. New Orleans just shot itself in the foot, with a skyrocketing of Covid-19 cases after it refused to cancel the Mardi Gras. Yes, we are all connected; some vulnerable people in our communities will die because of community celebrations.

The virus does not discriminate, but the way it spreads, and the harm that results, does. However, younger age groups are also at risk; those under 50 make up 12% of Canada’s hospitalized. Older men infected with the virus are at more risk of dying than older women. However many “medical preconditions” that greatly increase the chances of elderly dying involve socio-economic disadvantage.

This Will Be Destabilizing

It is unsettling to accept that this pandemic is truly happening and that it is moving closer to our community and homes. The sense that our home is a retreat from the frenzied world is coming undone. We can no longer psychologically distance ourselves, when we see news of thousands dying in Italy or Spain or, now, in New York. The seemingly uncontrolled outbreak in laissez-faire United States, headed by a dysfunctional Madman, can be personally threatening. Our American neighbours face an unprecedented historical challenge with their Presidential election coming during this pandemic.

It is destabilizing to accept our personal risks and to have to change our everyday behavior to lower the risks in our community. It takes a lot of energy and commitment to survive a pandemic. Some will encounter severe anxiety and perhaps depression. However, much more precariousness was already a way of life for millions of people abroad before this pandemic. And the pandemic will make it much worse for them than for us. So, how “are we all going to be in this together” in our fractured world?

We need to admit and face our own fears and concerns for our loved ones. Some jurisdictions are no longer considering anyone over 60 for a ventilator. I am coming 79, with an asthma condition. If I get this virus and serious symptoms during a surge, I may have to try to survive at home. The recurring coughs of my spouse, or of one of our sons, over the phone, seem louder than they did before this outbreak.

This collective and personal “reset” goes against the grain of most norms and expectations in our mobile society. Upcoming generations have become ever more self-serving with the expansion of the global marketplace. More choices seem available in international travel and on the internet. The return to more first-hand communication and mutual support may prove to be uplifting.

Self-referential living remains widespread. Some “snow birds” even started trips abroad after Covid-19 was already spreading from China. Yet, when trapped abroad, many expected a quick government rescue. Time taken to return those from infected cruise ships probably slowed down instigating a proactive, mandatory and enforceable self-isolation of all snow birds scurrying through infected airports to get home.

Rethinking Freedom and Authority

This pandemic fundamentally challenges us all to rethink clichés about freedom and authority. The “libertarian” couple that says “no bureaucrat is going to tell us that we can’t travel when we want, where we want”, might be among the first to demand quick government assistance to get home. They might also be among those who put themself above the rest by shopping on the way home from the airport.

Our inherited views of “left” and “right” are also up for grabs. Partisan polarizations have not served us very well as we learn to face unfolding climate and global health disasters. We have become confused about the difference between freedom from and freedom to; it is one thing to be free from oppression, it is quite another to live in a society that provides us with the freedom to do things that enhance our quality of life. Our individual freedom to go to a doctor under Medicare, regardless of income and wealth, depends on the exercise of authority by democratically-elected officials.

The growth in identity politics has added to our confusion. Rights can’t exist without responsibilities. We can’t expect to have our rights respected if we don’t take responsibility to protect the rights of others. We are literally “all in this together” when it comes to the human rights that need to be strengthened across the diversity of humanity.

But we have become mixed up about human solidarity from all the neo-liberal, anti-government propaganda about how privatization, deregulation and free trade will inherently serve all of us. We have all been bombarded by these messages since the late 1970s. Corporate globalization can’t and won’t serve the fundamental public interest, as this pandemic so vividly shows. The ultra-nationalistic and anti-intellectual backlash to unfettered, bottom-line globalization, is, however, not a cure. This just creates an even more rigid “we and they”, which makes everyone more vulnerable when a pandemic like this emerges. Our solidarity must go from local to global; that is what this pandemic so convincingly shows. Yes “we really are all in this world together”.

After this global health crisis subsides there will need to be a major reset to review dependence on particular supply chains, to enhance local food security, and to make our societies and communities more resilient. We are already setting in motion a Guaranteed Annual Income. A supply chain that was truly built to serve human needs around the planet would look a lot different than the one we now have. It would be far less wasteful and less carbon-intensive. The reduction in global emissions and pollution, the return of air and water quality, and habitat health that we are now witnessing, with the brakes put on economic growth, must continue to be pursued. Our solidarity has to encompass taking care of our common ecological home, the planet.

The UN Secretary General is calling for billions to ensure this pandemic doesn’t fester, anywhere, and thereby create a deadly second wave. He calls this “enlightened self-interest”. Perhaps this foresight could also come from deepening compassion, gratitude and mindfulness and from a great outpouring of human solidarity. The pendulum has to swing towards more, not less, multi-lateral cooperation, not just to avert further pandemics, which could surely come from our long-term ecological disregard. Let us all recommit to seriously address the common threat from the climate crisis, while we so clearly see that “we truly are all in this together”.

Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. He is a founding member of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (go to: QVEA.CA). Since the 1970s he has taught, and authored multiple articles and chapters, about environmental health.

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Could Libertarian and Neo-Liberal Ideology Implode from this Pandemic?

April 7, 2020

By Jim Harding

This pandemic fundamentally challenges us to rethink norms and clichés about freedom and authority; about the individual, the community and the “state”.

The “libertarian” couple that says “no bureaucrat is going to tell us that we can’t travel when we want, where we want”, might be among the first to demand quick government assistance to get home. They might also be among those who put themselves above the rest by shopping on the way home from the airport.

As this pandemic unfolds, we are having to relearn solidarity the hard way; from the bottom up. The phrase “we are all in this together” has spread as quickly as the virus. This reflects growing compassion, gratitude and solidarity. It is also a plea for those not adhering to public health orders, to realize their behaviour puts others at risk. It empowers the concerned public and elected officials to apply more social and legal pressure to bring “pandemic deviancy” in check.

Inherited partisan political views, of both “left” and “right”, have not prepared us very well to face this global health crisis and the unfolding climate crisis. There is widespread confusion about the difference between “freedom from” and “freedom to.” It is one thing to be free from political oppression, it is quite another to live in a society that facilitates the freedom to participate, organize and access goods and services that enhance our quality of life.

The Roots of the Libertarian Fallacy

The libertarian view that the individual must relentlessly fight against interference from the government has mushroomed since the 1970s. That government intrusion in our lives must be fervently resisted, gained credence from still popular writers such as U.S. Hungarian refugee, Ayn Rand. By 2009, the combined annual sales of her four novels exceeded one million. Her famous book, Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957 during the Cold War, has sold more than 7 million copies.

The contemporary libertarian view, especially in the U.S., is greatly rooted in opposition to communism. It encouraged the reframing of “freedom from” authoritarian governments to mean “freedom from” government authority. The constitutional pursuit of “liberty” in the name of achieving “happiness” was easily slanted this way. The Republican Tea-Party broadened the support. Bernie Sander’s call for a universal single-payer Medicare system, along Canadian or European lines, was met with libertarian attacks that this would make America, socialist. “No one is going to take away my choice and force me into a government insurance system”, even if this can be shown to extend healthcare to everyone and reduce overall costs.

We heard the same arguments about protecting “personal freedoms” 50 years ago, when Medicare was established in Saskatchewan. A lot of U.S. pharmaceutical and medical industry money was pumped into our province to keep doctors and patients free from government intervention. Thankfully most doctors today want more not less public healthcare.

This libertarian view easily fed into the spread of neo-liberalism. Perpetual global economic growth for profit was the new end-game. The freedom to accumulate grew along with the big-box stores. Mass advertising stimulated demand; wants were transformed into perceived needs. China was willing to produce most anything that Walmart could successfully sell.

Initially there was no attention paid to the resulting indebtedness of individuals or their lack of freedom from the gouging banks. With their simplistic formulas for fiscal austerity, neo-liberal politicians offloaded debt from the government onto families. We were left free to pursue private childcare, if we could find and afford it, but were not free from the scarcity, the high costs and the damaging family anxiety.

The growing private, for-profit market of consumer choices steadily undercut communitarian norms. It accelerated the growth of narcissistic behaviour. The growth in identity politics has added to our confusion.

The libertarian view of “rights” has been much more influential than we want to admit. Rights can’t exist without responsibilities. We can’t expect to have our rights respected if we don’t take responsibility to protect the rights of others. We are literally “all in this together” when it comes to the human rights that need to be strengthened across the diversity of humanity. This pandemic creates a very new context for the politics of difference and the politics of resentment.

In our confusing ideological environment, it has been vital to distinguish human rights struggles against norms and practices that have oppressed people, from the libertarian belief that there is an inherent right to practice whatever one wants, even if this is linked to the oppression of others. Social conservative patriarchal morality has furthered this thinking. The right to bear arms, regardless of the social harm that this brings to the community, is an extreme example. Even rebelling against compulsory use of seat belts, or against regulations that would stop us from dumping toxic wastes on our own or public lands, can be framed as defending one’s individualistic “freedom from” an intrusive government.

I once worked with a woman who was a staunch anti-nuclear activist but refused to use seat belts. I know people who support organic food production who are staunch opponents of any gun control. Their underlying social and emotional reality seems to be that they feel isolated, powerless and even abandoned in the face of a growing number of external threats. Trauma, isolation and socio-political fragmentation have gone hand-in-hand, which doesn’t encourage finding collective solutions.

The libertarian can be an apologist for structural inequality of opportunity and condition. There is no recognition that our individual freedom to go to a doctor under Medicare, regardless of income and wealth, and to be free from the deadly outcomes of an undiagnosed disease, depends upon the exercise of the political authority that ensures the delivery of healthcare.

We still are trying to find our way through the impact of the internet on our views of freedom and authority. Initially the proliferation of platforms by private corporations was widely seen as enhancing most everyone’s freedom to communicate, network, research or start a business. There was little awareness or concern that we were not free from the corporate business model; to collect, mine and market data extracted from us. I often heard friends and acquaintances that regularly used Facebook for self-referential or self-gratifying purposes, say they didn’t care about the collective impact, as long as they were free to do what they pleased. It was always “my freedom”, with no apparent social conscience at all.

Yet when there were indications that there was government surveillance of citizens, which breached privacy, there was an uproar. During his presidential campaign, Trump purchased the most sophisticated corporate internet data to target political messages that stressed being free from corrupt political practices in “the swamp”. Disinformation was perpetrated under the populist cover of pursuing the American Dream, while Trump was accusing the media of spreading “fake news”. A similar thing happened with Brexit. There must be regulation of the information industry, and governments and politicians alike must be held accountable to the rule of law.

Widespread Confusion from Neo-Liberalism

But this will not happen easily. We became even more confused about freedom and authority because of all the anti-government propaganda about how privatization, deregulation and free trade will “trickle down” to serve us all. We have been bombarded by positive messages about these three pillars of neo-liberalism, since the late 1970s, when global corporate expansion ramped up. The stature of the self-made “entrepreneur”, who becomes a multi-millionaire, steadily rose as that of the “public servant” continued to fall. Commercialized celebrity culture spread into every nook and cranny. Unions that stood in the way of privatization of the public service sector for profit, were attacked as “entitled” elites. The “citizen” got renamed a “consumer” by government officials that believed that public services must now meet the “bottom line”. Environmentalists who opposed deregulation were continually labelled as “anti-development” or even “anti-worker”. “Property rights” got touted more than “civil rights”. The term “public interest” was used less and less, while public spaces shrank. The neo-liberal ideology has been so pervasive, squeezing out space for other ideas, that it almost became totalitarian. Neo-liberal theorists claimed that the “end of history” had arrived, but Covid-19 has put an abrupt end to this nonsense.

Some of the nonsense pervaded both the mainstream left and right. When I presented at the Broadbent Institute/Mount Royal University 2017 conference on “Social democracy and the Left in Canada”, I documented how pervasive the shift towards corporate resource globalization has been in my province since the 1970s (download pdf at: crowsnestecology.wordpress.com). This trend line was true no matter whether the Liberal, NDP, Conservative or Sask Party was in power.

The Blakeney NDP used public capital to create huge joint-venture resource corporations, in potash, oil and uranium, which later became privatized. This was premised on a faulty fiscal strategy of obtaining more commodity resource revenues to expand health and other services. In the “bust” in the commodity market, services were degraded and even privatized. The Romanow NDP accepted the neo-liberal idea that government debt-reduction and corporate wealth creation, mostly through ever-increasing exports, had to trump programs pursuing distributive justice. Trickle down was going to be our salvation. The prison population of mostly Indigenous people continued to climb.

The trend towards privatization and deregulation has been so pervasive over recent decades, that many elected officials sincerely believe they are serving a greater public good by doing everything they can to facilitate corporate economic growth. This includes weakening vital environmental and health regulatory practices. Neo-liberal politicians regularly undermine transparency, accountability, and due process in decision-making because these are seen to be impediments to business interests.

The Renewal of Social Solidarity

Our governments are now having to put on a different face. Truth-telling and public transparency are required because social co-operation and trust in government is crucial for effective action during this pandemic. Wanting to protect “the economy” certainly slowed responses to the public health threat. The early messaging was that we all must sacrifice (stay at home unless doing essential service) so the economy could “bounce back” to normal as quickly as possible. But this is not how things will likely play out, especially if this pandemic comes in waves and lasts 18 to 24 months, as some are predicting. Under these conditions some fundamental social reorganization will have to occur.

Early messaging from the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that most of us, and particularly younger people, wouldn’t face serious Covid-19 symptoms. Predictably, some took this as “good news” that they could be free from public health requirements and be free to carry on with their gregarious activities. Up until then most of the viral spread had come from returning travellers. With continuing social gatherings, community spread escalated.

This pandemic is challenging our views of solidarity. It has been a hard pill for some to swallow, but we now know that along with huge soccer events, and a massive far-right political rally, International Women’s Day celebrations in Spain led to a spread of the virus. So did the Mardi Gras. While we are not free to impulsively go out, as we please, and be a community vector for this virus; we are free to sing or bang out our solidarity with front-line health workers, from our windows and balconies. Individual restraint in the common interest is not something that comes easily to people living in the more advantaged countries.

Corporate globalization can’t and won’t serve the fundamental public interest, as this pandemic so vividly shows. The positive role of a well-resourced and publicly connected government has again become self-evident. It is remarkable how quickly the most adamant supporters of the “corporate free market” joined the call for massive government intervention. Many vulnerable recipients of the small business wage subsidies likely supported the Conservative Party’s ideology of “smaller government” and “lower taxes” in the 2019 election. Now they want the government to be there to save them, at almost any cost, from the faltering economy.

Meanwhile the government is still considering bailouts for huge corporations with millions in stranded assets. This would be a good time to phase out the billions in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Hopefully, through this period of social generosity, small business owners and workers, alike, will better realize that their interests are not served by corporate free market ideology.

The ultra-nationalistic and anti-intellectual backlash to unfettered, bottom-line globalization, has not provided a path forward. This just creates an even more rigid “we and they”, which makes everyone more vulnerable when a pandemic like this emerges. Vibrant democratic national or federal governments are needed to protect people from both the pandemic and economic collapse. But, chauvinistic, national self-interest will not get us through this pandemic or show us how to better organize globally to face future challenges as a species. The UN Secretary General is calling for billions to ensure this pandemic doesn’t fester, anywhere, and thereby create a deadly second or third wave. He calls this “enlightened self-interest”. Our solidarity must go from local to global; that is what this pandemic so convincingly shows.

The Need for Multinational Solidarity

There are huge lessons coming about socio-political organization. And we have to park our ideological stereotypes to learn from the evidence. A BBC documentary on the Wuhan lockdown indicated that early on the Chinese government closed down public transit because it would be a huge vector for the virus. The city then marshalled 50,000 volunteers to provide transportation for healthcare workers and patients. This volunteerism in a communist country may seem counter-intuitive, but it suggests that the relationships between individuals, families, community and government in China’s historical and cultural context is more complex and nuanced.

There is much to learn about how the quick action of authorities, along with applied science, flattened the curve in several Asian countries. Also, so far, we don’t see Germany with nearly as large a death rate as other European countries. This may prove to be because Germany had standardized state-based testing authority and capacity in place, with federal authority able to coordinate. It seems that Germany has been able to isolate and treat patients earlier, with more ICU capacity, and to instigate contact tracing to nip the spread in the bud.

This contrasts sharply with the U.S. where the central authority, the Centre for Disease Control, was gutted by Trump, and there was deep confusion about states taking on testing, and how an overall strategy could be coordinated. And, of course, all this muddle occurred without universal healthcare. Collective preparedness, not laissez-faire corporate individualism, ensures that more people will remain free from the ravages of this virus and will be free to live and breathe after the pandemic is over.

In Canada we were not prepared with standardized, quick turn-around, province-based testing capacity that could then be federally coordinated. But we have moved in this direction. Nor did we heed the lessons from the 2003 SARS pandemic, and maintain an inventory of protective equipment. We are still scurrying to catch up.

Modelling scenarios only becomes capable of predicting outcomes and informing planning when good data is in place. This process is possible if decentralized testing capacity and authority is matched with national or federal integration and oversight. Rather than us being protected from this pandemic by being free from government authority, our freedom to continue to eat, to have electricity and heat, and to access healthcare if we need it, is solidly based on socio-economic infrastructures being quickly reorganized by authority that flows both ways.

Academic and scientific freedom from authoritarian or largely ignorant politicians, facilitates the freedom to execute a rational pandemic strategy. International cooperation accelerates creating a vaccine. Local capacity to do testing and contact tracing is going to be essential to enable any easing of social isolation that won’t, in turn, threaten the virus returning to the wider province or country. Responsible, informed authority will enhance human freedom and security.

After this global health crisis subsides there will need to be a major reset to review dependence on particular supply chains, to enhance local food security, and to make our societies and communities more resilient. We should implement an equitable Guaranteed Annual Income, which is long overdue as the capacity of the changing work world to distribute income continues to falter.

A supply chain that was truly built to serve human needs around the planet would look a lot different than the one we now have. It would shift the nature of our freedoms and the priorities of our elected authorities. It would be far less wasteful and less carbon-intensive. The reduction in global emissions and pollution, the return of air and water quality and habitat health that we are now witnessing, with the brakes put on neo-liberal economic growth, must continue to be pursued.

Future pandemics are not only possible but probable with a return of “business as usual”. People may think they will again be free to live a high-carbon life that sends toxic wastes into the oceans and atmosphere. But the creatures that are our ecological neighbours will not then be free from our harmful intrusions, and we will not be free from devastating climate changes, along with new pandemics.

Our solidarity, what we consider our truly important freedoms and the purposes that we want elected authorities to pursue, has to encompass taking care of our common home, the planet. Let this sink in, deeply, while our minds are so firmly focused on the need for solidarity, to get out from under Covid-19.

Activist-author Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. He is a founding director of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (go to: QVEA.CA). Since the 1970s he has taught university courses, led community workshops and published articles, chapters and books pertaining to environmental health.

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Flattening the Covid-19 Curve Will Require Much More Stringent Monitoring and Testing

March 23, 2020

By Jim Harding

Officials across Canada are stressing that “we must flatten the curve” to avoid a healthcare crisis. Saskatchewan declared a State of Emergency after known COVID-19 cases doubled to 16, in one day. We went from 1 to 26 cases in a week. A few days later we were at 66. Across Canada known cases doubled to over 1,000 in just 3 days and are now over 2,000 in another 3 days. If this trend continues, we would find ourselves like Italy. With 1/25th the population, Italy has passed China for having the most deaths from this pandemic.

Flattening the curve will take more than asking Canadians to voluntarily self-isolate, especially if they travelled abroad. Asked about people just arriving home who feel all right going out in the community, Premier Scott Moe reacted, “This cannot be happening”.

We have been cavalier about the threat from travelling. Concerns about the economy slowed health emergency measures. All initial cases across Canada were travellers from outbreak countries. Only then did community spread occur. Canada was vigilant about returning Canadians from infected cruise ships, flying them to military bases for quarantine. But we have been lax about air travel and cross-border travel with the U.S.

Trump’s regime has been very slow to expand testing and maximize harm reduction. The U.S. is becoming an outbreak country.

China initially suppressed medical whistleblowers. But it then took actions across society in a coordinated way. South Korea, Japan, and Singapore have used mass testing to reduce the infection speed. Now that China is reporting no new cases, it prepares for a second wave from returning citizens, requiring negative tests before boarding domestic flights home.

Chinese nationals live all over the world; Italy has one of the highest Chinese populations in Europe.

Here, with snowbirds about to descend, after the federal advisory to immediately return home, people are simply being told to self-isolate for 14 days. Such self-regulation is very clumsy and could backfire. Some returnees have reported that this advisory didn’t even occur.

Canadians with symptoms will no longer be able to board flights home. But this virus spreads long before symptoms appear, which can be up to 2 weeks. Infected people won’t know they are infecting. Targeted information explaining why there must be mandatory self-isolation after travelling, with no shopping and visiting on the way home, simply must occur. So must tracking, testing if symptoms appear, and containment.

WHO is calling for more testing, everywhere.

Thorough testing is needed to protect front-line health and care workers.

Thirty-five deaths are linked to the Life Care Centre outbreak in Kirkland, Washington. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) found 57 patients were infected and 25% had already died. The care staff “fueled” this outbreak. “They need the money. They don’t have sick leave. They don’t recognize their symptoms”, the CDC said. Many earn minimum wage and work in other care homes or retail. Staff lacked protective equipment. Staff were not systematically tested to contain the spread.

Health and care workers should not face economic pressure to work; conversely, those who don’t test positive should know it is safe for them and others to continue work. The federal aid package will help, but testing is still required. After China locked down, the spread grew within families. They used facilities for infected people not requiring hospital care, so they didn’t spread the virus. Treatment areas were completely isolated and monitored. Testing was required to make these adaptions.

We need to quickly learn from elsewhere. The town of Vo reported Italy’s first death. It became Covid-free. All 3,300 residents were tested. Asymptomatic people played a “decisive role” in viral spread. The regional Governor said, “We found 66 positives, who were isolated for 14 days, and after that 6 of them were still positive. And that is how we ended it.” While contagions are constantly evolving, stringent testing clearly helps flatten the curve.

Calling for physical distancing, and for returning travellers to voluntarily self-isolate, while limiting testing to those with symptoms and risk factors, is not likely to “break the chain of transmission”. It is good that 200 Saskatchewan doctors called for changing commercial practices to prevent infectious social interaction. Doctors who attended a curling bonspiel where the virus spread should be taking their colleagues’ advice.

In Saskatchewan the first 20 Covid-19 cases were located from about 2,000 tests. Testing symptomatic travellers and then tracing their contacts was a vital beginning. To get in front of this we have to do much more. Physical distancing is a must. Systematically testing for worker and patient protection, and more stringent screening, isolation and follow up of travelers, returning in the thousands as spring arrives, needs immediate attention.

Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. He is a founding director of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA.CA). He was a research director for Sask Health’s Alcoholism Commission and Prairie Justice Research at the University of Regina.

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We Won’t Learn Much From this Coronavirus Pandemic Unless We Think Outside the Box

By Jim Harding

The COVID-19 pandemic challenges us to think outside the box. With economic globalization, geo-political strife and the climate emergency at play, it was a matter of when, not if, this would happen.

Just six months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank co-convened the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, created in 2017 after the Ebola crisis. Their 2019 report, A World at Risk says, “We have allowed a cycle of panic and neglect when it comes to pandemics: we ramp up efforts when there is a serious threat, then quickly forget them when the threat subsides.” Not long after, the coronavirus jumped to humans, probably in an open wild meat market in Wuhan, China.

The mortality rate is much higher than influenza; 10 times, perhaps more. It is more contagious and could infect from 30 to 70% of a population. Thankfully, this virus doesn’t hit children too hard and 80% of people infected have few or manageable symptoms. This, however, can include mild pneumonia. 20%, however, have a more serious illness and it is the elderly with preconditions that are at most risk of dying. One or two percent of millions of infected people, dying, could become catastrophic.

Our universal healthcare enables a coordinated response, in sharp contrast to the chaos across the border, where Trump’s alternative reality is colliding with medical science. Early on Trump abolished the Pandemic Response Team in the White House. His administration botched preparing for mass testing. Our single-payer system ensures that everyone has a right to access testing and treatment, i.e. but only if these remain available. This is going to be a huge stress test for healthcare and governance.

And for the global economy. The price of oil and stocks have been free-falling, as before the 2008 crash. Our monetary and fiscal toolkits have structural limits. The attempt to protect the economy has clearly slowed precautionary and containment strategies.

Prior to community outbreaks in other countries, infections had spread from global travel, with cruise ships acting like petri dishes. There were 39 million international flights in 2019, up from 24 million in 2004. Billions of us moved around. Meanwhile, in our fractured world, millions of refugees are desperate for a better life. What would occur if this virus got into UN humanitarian camps?

We have had our heads in the sand. Between 2011 and 2018 the WHO tracked 1,483 epidemics. And WHO already identifies climate change as “a major cause of emerging infectious diseases.” Global heating, including shorter winters, will spread infections from insects and fungus, while anti-microbial resistance is on the upswing.

Animal viruses are spreading. There was HIV in the 1980s, originally from chimpanzees; SARS in 2003 from civet cats; H1N1 or Swine flu in 2009 from pigs; MERS in 2012 from camels; Ebola in 2016 from fruit bats. And now Covid-19, perhaps from an endangered species, the pangolin, or a bat.

As wilderness and biodiversity is drastically affected by global heating and human incursion, and, if global travel continues expanding, pandemics seem bound to grow. We, of course, hope for a vaccine. However, if we return to the global status quo, we’ll go back into the cycle of neglect and then panic.

Corporate-driven economic globalization has made us all more interdependent, with energy-intensive supply chains and exotic tourist destinations that traverse the planet. Local economies, regional food security and traditional industries have taken huge hits. There is ultra-nationalistic, populist blowback, reflected in Trump, Brexit and, yes, Wexit. But, from this, we mostly get scapegoating, rather than insight. We urgently need integrative, not dualistic or polarized approaches.

We are more dependent on international institutions that nurture peace, security and climate action. Public healthcare is a must; so is sick leave. A living wage and guaranteed annual income could stabilize economies. More regional self-reliance makes sense. The only obvious upside of this pandemic will be an expected drop in global carbon emissions, which simply must happen by 2030. Perhaps global tourism will start to decline.

There will be a cultural dimension to this transformation. Perhaps we can learn something from China, other than that it is not a good idea to have open wild meat markets?

Philosopher, Lao Tzu (350 B.C.E.) was a critic of Confucius, who promoted patriarchal, human-centric ethics to address the contemporary crisis of self and society. Confucius was not very concerned about the status of the natural world. Lao Tzu advised, “Stop leaving and you will arrive. Stop searching and you will see. Stop running away and you will be found.”

We may already be learning some of this, a less self-centred lifestyle, while becoming more compassionate for the dislocated, homeless and quarantined, everywhere, as we regroup to protect each other, while riding the wave of this virulent virus.

Activist-author Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and a founding director of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA). He has several books, including Social Policy and Social Justice, Canada’s Deadly Secret and After Iraq.

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Promoting “Small” Nuclear Reactors Is Just Another Diversion From Saskatchewan’s High Carbon Emissions

by Jim Harding

Premier Moe has announced he will work with Ontario and New Brunswick to bring small nuclear reactors into their energy mix. They claim this is “to mitigate the effects of climate change”. This is not only wishful thinking but very flawed and hypocritical. The premiers fiddle away, while the UN conference in Madrid confronts a planet already starting to burn.

There is no demand or market for these “small” reactors; it is the industry and those who directly benefit that are promoting them. To become a viable industry these “modular” reactors would have to be mass produced and then transported elsewhere. Otherwise they would be uncompetative. And there would have to be some agreement on design, whereas at present, there are over 100 designs circulating.

Meanwhile the role of nuclear power is shrinking globally and there is no secure capital for such a high-risk industry. So, once again, the industry is trying to get government financial and ideological backing. Unfortunately, there will always be naïve politicians who want to appear forward thinking, and opportunistic academics who will gladly take from the public purse.

These small reactors will never be cost-effective. They would be far less cost-effective than larger reactors that have the advantage of economies of scale, but face long-licensing periods, have continually overshot construction timelines and had massive cost overruns.

Proponents will cloud these problems by exploiting the climate emergency with more greenwashing. The fatal flaw of nuclear reactors, whether large or small, is, however, that they couldn’t contribute to carbon reduction for decades, and we must reduce emissions before 2030. Meanwhile there are much cheaper and faster ways to produce electricity that can quickly reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by replacing coal plants and electrifying transportation. The mainstream International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that offshore wind turbines could produce eleven times the electricity that the world presently uses globally each year. Yes 11 times!

Wind and solar energy are both growing globally. Meanwhile, while promoting these “small” reactors, Ontario’s Ford Government has scrapped all investments in renewables, while putting billions into refurbish old reactors. And the Sask Party is deliberately undermining the solar industry. It should be supporting the growing number of small solar businesses, as one way to lower carbon and create green jobs. Instead, it recently undercut the Net-Metering Program.

SaskPower should also be creating Feed-In Tariffs. With advances in battery and other renewable storage it should be promoting Microgrids, which would reduce transmission costs and create a more reliable, resilient, decentralized electrical system. This will be needed as we face more extreme weather. And, the fastest and cheapest way to reduce GHGs remains investments in energy efficiency.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, since the Sask Party has a terrible track record on climate. It invested nearly two billion dollars in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to try to save coal plants. It never met its targets and the carbon is used to extract more oil, which in turn just adds more carbon to the atmosphere. If the government had directly invested this money in renewables it could have shut down a polluting coal plant. Investing in small nuclear reactors would just be another financial boondoggle that postpones serious climate action.

Small reactors are another distraction from Saskatchewan having the highest levels of GHGs on the planet (nearly 70 metric tonnes per capita). While the rest of Canada has been lowering emissions, those here, along with Alberta, with its high-carbon tar sands, have continued to rise. Saskatchewan and Alberta’s emissions are now almost equal to all the rest of Canada. Shame on us!

Meanwhile, the Sask Party vehemently opposes carbon pricing, one way to lower carbon. The Sask Party has done little concretely to show it truly cares about the climate emergency and promoting these small nuclear reactors is just another ill-informed diversion. Premier Moe is squandering precious time, when we must act now to prevent irreversible climate change from undermining our grandchildren’s future.

Other motives are probably at play. These small reactors can be a back-door for bringing nuclear wastes to Saskatchewan. They will not require more uranium mining, which is already in economic trouble here, since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. They would initially use enriched uranium which presents its own proliferation risks, and could end up using unused uranium in spent fuel and/or reprocessed spent fuel from existing reactors, such as the CANDU reactors in Ontario and New Brunswick. The nuclear industry clearly has a “radioactive waste problem”, which it doesn’t know how to solve, and so it would love to have the government offer us up as guinea pigs. Other Canadians may rightly be asking what is going on here that we are seemingly so gullible.

Finally, these reactors are not really small. This is just another marketing strategy (“small is beautiful”) to try to make nuclear power more palatable. It is most notable that they are referred to as SMR’s or Small Modular Reactors, with the “nuclear” taken out. These proposed “small” reactors would likely be around 300 Megawatts, not much below those that Grant Devine and Brad Wall promoted. And the smaller they get the more cost-ineffective they would become.

Premier Moe has no mandate to risk public money on this high-risk industry, when there are cheaper, and faster ways to reduce our extremely high carbon. After his election in 2007, Sask Party Premier Wall launched his pro-industry Uranium Development Partnership, to try to steamroll us to build nuclear power plants and take nuclear wastes from abroad. Public consultations showed deep and broad opposition. So why is Premier Moe such a nuclear promoter? No means “no”, Moe!

This will become a major issue in the 2020 provincial election. Concerned citizens should raise this matter with their MLAs, with the NDP Opposition and in their networks. We don’t want Saskatchewan to become a sucker province regarding this sham. Nor should the Sask Party government be left off the hook for its atrocious record of growing emissions and ignoring the climate emergency. Saskatchewan people will have to stand up once again and protect our province from the nuclear charlatans.

Dr. Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and a founding director of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA.CA).

Contact at: 306-332-4492 or

djharding@sasktel.net

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The West Should Confront Its High Emissions & Stop Blaming Trudeau for Everything

By Jim Harding

An overwhelming majority of us Westerners do not support the post-election hype about separation. It is fairly easy, with the emotional contagion of social media, to amass simplistic support for Wexit. But it would be going from the frying pan of the crash in the international oil market, into a political firestorm, if the two major oil-exporting provinces seriously embarked on secession.

And, once again, colonial mentality has raised its ugly head, ignoring that Indigenous peoples signed treaties with Canada before Saskatchewan and Alberta existed.

It is irresponsible for Premiers Moe and Kenney to exploit this sentiment. Threatening separation does nothing to address the reasons for the fearful and angry populism or find a positive way forward. It is also cheap politics to blame Trudeau for almost everything.

Kenney successfully used this blame game to unite the right to replace Notley’s NDP, and it looks like Moe may use this in Saskatchewan’s 2020 election. Kenney blamed Trudeau for Alberta making deep cuts to services and is now stoking “independence”.

Even if this seems like “smart politics”, it is not smart.

The oil price crash has roots long before Trudeau was even an MP. Western provinces adamantly supported NAFTA, which guaranteed access to the huge U.S. energy market. Due to shale oil, the U.S. is now the world’s largest oil producer and a major exporter; 8th worldwide after a 300% increase since 2014. Holding most political cards, Harper couldn’t salvage Alberta as a perpetual Petro State.

Western Premiers now try to blame the downturn on the lack of pipelines, ignoring that in spite of widespread opposition, Keystone XL and Line-3, from Alberta through Saskatchewan to the U.S., are approved. Keystone will go to Gulf Coast refineries that could handle Alberta’s diluted bitumen (dilbit), but there may increasingly be lower-cost supplies available to meet demand. Meanwhile, will Kenney want to blame Trudeau for the recent oil spill in the new North Dakota Keystone pipeline, which further slowed the flow of Alberta’s oil?

Divestment in Alberta’s tar sands continues. Petro-Canada divested in 2016, before the crash; Shell got out in 2017; Europe’s largest bank, HSBC, did so in 2018; and Norway’s Pension Fund recently divested, saying the tar sands were as climate damaging as coal plants. Kinder-Morgan is divesting since selling its pipeline to the feds. This trend was in place before Encana moved south.

The tar-sands are competing with lower-cost, lower-carbon, more accessible crude oil. It is wishful thinking that an expanded global market can rebound Alberta’s oil industry. Even with the crash, and all the blaming, Canada remains the world’s 4th largest exporter. And the vast majority goes straight south.

Endless pipelines, with huge carbon footprints, going in all directions to find the few refineries that may want to refine Alberta’s energy-intensive dilbit is not only a pipedream but a climate nightmare. The original Trans-Mountain is presently pumping 300,000 barrels a day from Alberta, which goes to Washington for refining and not to a higher-priced offshore market. Anyway, Burnaby’s Terminal can’t handle the largest tankers that are now moving oil. A 4,600 km Energy East pipeline pumping Alberta dilbit to the East Coast, would never compete with the much more cheaply refined Middle East oil. And in spite of what Scheer claims, China is not going to shut down its coal plants by importing Canada’s fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) just released a report that worldwide, low-cost, off-shore wind can produce eleven times the electricity that we presently use globally. Europe presently leads the way but China is positioned for a 25-fold increase.

Making the overly oil-dependent West “great again” at any climate cost is unacceptable. In spite of its support for carbon pricing, Alberta’s Notley Government ended up setting a tar sands emissions cap of 100 Mt per year. Otherwise the tar sands were even less attractive to big investors. Emissions are underreported, but the official figure of 70 Mt a year, should be a wake-up call. This is almost as much as from all Saskatchewan (76 Mt).

The elephant always in the room is the steadily growing emissions in the West, which hatched Wexit. In 2005, Alberta and Saskatchewan emitted 299 million or mega-tonnes (Mt), which was 132 less than the rest of Canada, which then emitted 431 Mt. By 2017, with only 15% of the population, emissions from the angry oil provinces were up to 351 Mt, almost as much as the rest of Canada (365 Mt), where emissions have been steadily falling. While the climate emergency ramps up and the Paris target is approaching, we are going in different directions.

The anti-carbon tax, pro-pipeline populism encouraged by the Conservatives had the desired political effect. The federal parties concerned about climate likely didn’t want to highlight the West’s growing emissions and be seen as “poking” these provinces. Realizing there was no guarantee that nervous investors would back TMX, the feds took over this stalled project. Ironically, with a minority Liberal government and the Conservative sweep in the West, we still have an angry call for separation.

Western populism has sometimes challenged Canada to progress. Co-operative populism helped get us Medicare and the Reform Party challenged government to be more transparent and accountable. But not in this instance!

The vast majority of us in the West who oppose separation, now need to seriously confront our provincial leaders’ unwillingness to quickly transition to a much lower carbon economy. With steadily growing emissions, directly tied to fossil fuels, those of us in Saskatchewan and Alberta now have the highest per capita carbon footprint on the planet. Shame on us!

Moe and Kenney are hiding behind huge oil subsidies when they attack Trudeau. A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report puts global subsidies near 5 trillion dollars a year. Canada’s are around 60 billion. The IMF notes that efficient carbon pricing, accounting for real supply costs, including environmental, would reduce global emissions by over one-quarter. And reduce premature deaths from toxic air pollution by nearly 50%. Meanwhile, after a majority of Canadians voted for parties supporting carbon pricing, Premier Moe had the audacity to call on the federal government to cancel the carbon tax. Really?!

The demonization of carbon pricing and call for more pipelines, or else we will separate, is a cover for the failure of these provinces, including under the NDP, to take the climate crisis seriously. Wanting to hang on to the fantasy of an endless oil-revenue boom, some of my neighbours who personally benefitted from boom times, and perhaps carried a large debt into the bust, understandably feel alienated. There were many more people who were already socio-economically alienated, who did not benefit from the boom.

Certainly, we need to ensure there is a just transition for fossil-fuel workers to a low-carbon world. But many in the West, perhaps already a silent majority, want us to start taking responsibility for our massive emissions and join with the rest of Canada to quickly do something about this.

Author and activist Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley

P.O. Box 2566, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK

 

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There Will Be No Calm Before the Storm During this Election

By Jim Harding

There is no calm before the storm with this federal election. It is more of a “mess before the storm”, and the storm will be a real storm, as climate blowback from global warming gains momentum. Seasons are already blurring: our Manitoba neighbors are recovering from an abnormally early blizzard, with crumbling snow-bearing trees still carrying summer foliage, downing power lines everywhere.

Our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system has buried the climate crisis as a major concern of Canadians. How quickly our attention-deficit society forgets what Greta recently said at the United Nations. Climate has become another “issue” to tag on to the party’s main narrative; “moving forward, affordability, the authentic leader”. Jagmeet Singh’s short list of issues includes “climate action”, along with reduced fees for cell phones and a dental plan. He attacks Trudeau’s support for the TMX, while hedging on the millions of tonnes of emissions that will go into the atmosphere from B.C.’s LNG project.

The climate emergency has implications for everything that matters to us.

Singh’s likability ratings have nevertheless helped move the NDP back to its traditional third party standing, leaving Elizabeth May and the Greens, who peaked earlier on, targeting fewer seats, where their message on the climate emergency may still break through. We don’t yet know if Singh’s aspirational and “have your cake and eat it, too” campaign will bring a breakthrough of multicultural, social democratic politics, or just further reinforce ethnic bloc voting, which is never good for democracy. As CBC journalist Eric Grenier pointed out in 2017 articles, the financial and new-member support that got Singh elected as NDP leader largely came from the Greater Ontario area with large Sikh communities. Divisive identity politics of all sorts is rampant everywhere.

The two major parties have been locked in a polling tie, but Trudeau is clearly damaged from broken promises, policy contradictions (owning a pipeline) and ethical challenges. Scheer’s unending personal attacks on Trudeau, his own white lies, and his deserved reputation as an “absentee MP”, don’t bode well for him, either, even if he happens to form a minority government. Who will back him to enact his first promise, to abolish carbon pricing?

We all want to be hopeful. But idealistic, “have your cake and eat it, too” hope, is not the answer to the politics of fear and resentment. It remains to be seen whether Jagmeet Singh ends up as Trudeau 2.0, who only 4 years ago was Mr. Positivity, too. If NDP support grows further during this last week of the campaign, it could work for the Scheer Conservatives, who love the split of the progressive vote. We don’t yet know what Singh’s candidness about a coalition with the Liberals will do to the final vote. What a dilemma for those who want to protect the future.

This is a very messy election, indeed.

The rise of the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative’s lock on federal ridings in the fossil fuel dependent economies on the prairies, leaves us all in an electoral vice. (This is somewhat reminiscent of the way the pull of Alberta and Quebec politics took us into NAFTA.) Jason Kenney plays the national unity card over getting more pipelines, hopefully distracting us from the steady rise in greenhouse gas emissions in his province. By 2017, the emissions from Alberta and its fossil-fuel sister province, Saskatchewan, were nearly as high as all emissions from the rest of Canada (351 to 365 million tonnes, respectfully). And with only 15% of Canadians.

Meanwhile, all federal leaders are side-stepping the debate about secularism raised by Quebec’s Bill 21. And this is not simply a matter of Charter Rights versus religious discrimination. The Quebec law clearly went too far, but the reasonableness of disallowing face-covering clothing, in public sector jobs, will continue to be ignored because of the touchiness of national and/or personal identity politics in our time. Let’s get real: do any of us want bus drivers or police with their faces covered?

The big losers of the evasive politics will be Greta and her generation, for the adults are left facing a fragmented, no-win, set of choices. The growing list of vote-buying promises may look like a tempting distraction from the gathering storm of climate change, but denial always backfires. The final distribution of seats in our flawed electoral system will leave us where we were when the campaign started, still facing the human mess before the global storm. A minority Liberal government, propped up by other parties demanding a serious Climate Plan, may temporarily save us from ourselves. But we have to get our collective act together, not “soon” but sooner than that.

Author and activist Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley

P.O. Box 2566, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK

 

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Watershed Wakeup

Jim has recently completed a publication about the threats of climate change and water use especially as they concern the Qu’appelle Valley watershed.

Follow this link to download the PDF  Watershed Wakeup

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Moving Beyond: Neo-liberalism in Saskatchewan

cover_front

You can download the full pdf of the book here: Neoliberalism_in_Saskatchewan.

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WE NEED SOME HONEST REFLECTION IN THE SK LEADERSHIP RACES

BY Jim Harding

Both major parties are in the grips of a leadership race. There is a lot to discuss: our accumulating net debt, dependence on non-renewables, the gathering storm of climate change and more.

The Sask Party however, seems more concerned with rebranding, perhaps to distance itself from retiring Premier Wall. This could be an opportunity for the NDP to propose some bold, forward-thinking policies. But they, too, seem caught in their own baggage, apparently afraid to reflect on the role of past NDP governments in getting us into our present fix.

So, there’s no serious debate over our record-high carbon or radioactive footprint. Or about carbon pricing. No debate over the Line 3 pipeline from the tar sands, going through our vulnerable prairies. No debate over our dependence on NAFTA, with a “roll the dice” president in the White House. No debate about the health of our watersheds and water, on which all of life depends.

The silence is deafening. It is also counter-productive. A sustainable future is not going to come out of political party bubbles.

How did Saskatchewan end up in this political purgatory?

Did Wall perhaps step down so abruptly because he didn’t want to face the electorate again? Any way you cut it, the Sask Party failed to erase the debt, lower taxes and save for a rainy-day fund. Meanwhile the boom brought an end to rural and northern public transportation.

Perhaps Wall now realizes how vulnerable our economy has become, being so dependent on fossil fuels and the U.S. market. He feverishly promoted continental trade, travelling across the border often to promote our oil. But Trump’s ultra-nationalist, protectionism may not bode well for Wall’s legacy.

Wall was quite successful in his ideological mission. Since he took power the value of exports more than doubled from $16 billion in 2006 to $35 billion in the peak year, 2014. But most telling, half of these record-breaking 2014 exports involved non-renewables, mostly oil, at $13 billion and potash at $5 billion. And two-thirds, or $23 billion of the $35 billion in exports, went straight across the border under NAFTA.

Corporate Rip-Off

But what did this continentalist resource boom bring? What did it leave us?

While exports were doubling, Public Accounts show that the net debt grew from $3 billion in 2009 to more than $12 billion projected for 2018. While the value of exports and profits more than doubled, non-renewable resource revenues remained flat, at around $2 billion a year. And though resource exports remained at $27 billion in 2016, the non-renewable revenue to the province went down to $1.4 billion. This was lower than when resource exports were around half as valuable ($16 billion in 2006) under the previous NDP government.

You do the math on the corporate rip-off.

Even with the “good years”, the Sask Party failed to create a Futures Fund. Why might that be? While the value of resource exports more than doubled, corporate taxes, like non-renewable resource revenues, remained flat, at around $1 billion. And when the Sask Party finally confessed to its debt and introduced austerity after being reelected, it announced it would further lower corporate taxes. So, after this unprecedented resource export boom, we get debt, austerity and increases in the sales tax.

Environmental Rogue province

Wall’s legacy is becoming clear. Our provincial economy is much more dependent on non-renewables, particularly the fossil fuels that fuel the climate crisis. Cost-ineffective carbon capture and ignorant opposition to a price on carbon pollution have made Saskatchewan Canada’s environmental rogue province. The Sask Party failed to diversify the energy sector with job-creating renewables. It favoured toxic agribusiness over sustainable agriculture. Its’ policies squandered environmental health, undercut biodiversity, and further contaminated our watersheds.

This matters a lot, especially to our grandchildren. So where is the discussion? Where is the leadership?

The NDP, perhaps, hopes to regain support from growing disillusionment with the Sask Party. But political opportunism carries big risks. This won’t help the NDP prepare to inherit a multi-billion dollar net debt. This also happened when the Romanow NDP replaced the debt-ridden Grant Devine government. And what did we get then? Cuts to balance the budget and more of the resource economy status quo, which helped us get to where we are.

This time the NDP would inherit a precarious high-carbon economy and dependence on revenue from toxic non-renewables. How would they transition to a sustainable economy? This requires some serious, candid public debate.

It is necessary to understand what the Sask Party has left us. It is also necessary to critically scrutinize past NDP governments that helped lay the ground for Wall’s rise and fall.

Leadership requires honest reflection. Both the Sask Party and the NDP could use a big dose of truth-telling. We need for some truth and reconciliation with the overall electorate. Time is running out for this in the leadership races.

Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. He is active with the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association. His newest small book, Moving Beyond Neo-Liberalism in Saskatchewan, will be published in January 2018.

 

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