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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