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The Housing Crisis and the BC Government

The new housing policy proposed by British Columbia Premier David Eby a few weeks ago was pushed through the BC legislature in a couple of days with very little debate or scrutiny. (Where were the opposition Liberals?) Two aspects at least deserved deeper consideration.

First, the legislation forces condo and townhouse stratas (home owners associations) to allow rentals. How will this increase the housing supply? What this change will do is invite speculators into these complexes, driving up the prices. Essentially, it will mean there will be more renters and fewer owners. How is it good social policy to turn owners into renters?

Stratas are not just neighbourhoods. They are communities, with shared rights and obligations. Adding absentee landlords and temporary residents into the mix makes it more difficult for them to function. Too often landlords won’t spend money on upkeep because it cuts into their profits, and renters won’t spend money or effort on upkeep because it is not their place. Landlords and renters will also not sit on strata councils, attend meetings, or volunteer to participate in work days. In the long run, Eby’s policy could turn communities into slums.

Second, Eby’s plan removes restrictions on secondary suites. This means that empty basements can be rented out. But it also presupposes that houses are built with extra room. Many single-family dwellings are only suitable for single families. In the long run, this policy change will encourage the practice of tearing down 2,000-square-foot houses and replacing them with 4,000-square-foot houses, to allow room for a “mortgage helper” suite. This increases the number of rental units in the short run, but in the long run it prices more people out of home ownership. That family living in a secondary suit will have to stay there permanently. They might eventually be able to afford to buy a 2,000-square-foot house but not a 4,000-square-foot house.

The federal and provincial governments also seem to think that the solution to the housing crisis is for governments to build new housing themselves. This allows them to appear to be taking action. But there is no way that the federal and provincial governments, already carrying massive debt, can build all the housing that is needed. Social housing in large cities such as Vancouver has cost as much as a million dollars a unit (for a single occupancy bachelor suite). For the estimated 2,000 homeless currently in Vancouver, the cost would be $2 billion. Providing housing to even 5 percent of the population would require taxing an even larger percent of the population into bankruptcy.

Eby’s government also favours rent control, which lowers rents in the short run, but in the long run it limits developers’ profits. The result is means that developers will stop building rental units and the government will have to pay to build more social housing to make up for the shortage of rental units.

This whole approach begs the question of what housing crisis the BC government is trying to solve. The policy seems aimed at helping the permanently unemployed—the homeless, mentally ill, addicted, and disabled.

There is no question that these groups need help. But they are not the only Canadians facing a housing crisis. Federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has targeted another group, the “working poor”—and indeed the working lower middle class—the people who are living in their parents’ basements because they cannot afford to pay the mortgage on even a modest home.

The Eby policy is intended to help renters, while Poilievre’s focus is on increasing home ownership. Indeed, the focus on renters can actually decrease home ownership.

This raises the question of what the ideal society looks like. The Old Testament upheld the ideal of an egalitarian society where everyone would “sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree” (every family would have their own small plot of land) and no one would “make them afraid” (Micah 4:4 NIV). This is the same ideal upheld by the old Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Stewart’s character George Bailey ran a “building and loan” (essentially a credit union) which provided mortgages to the working class, the people “who do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.” This allowed them to get out of paying rent to the unscrupulous landlord and banker Henry Potter. Bailey’s theory was that owning a home gave working people a stake in society and made them “better citizens.” The movie shows how the lack of the savings and loan (and diminished rates of home ownership) would lead to a host of social ills.

Now, the movie was made in 1951, at the beginning of a period of postwar prosperity and suburban sprawl. The experts tell us that owning a single-family house (the goal in the 1950s) is no longer possible for most Canadians. That may be so, but that does not mean that home ownership is impossible.

Government’s current focus on solving the homeless crisis can lead to policies that help the homeless but make it harder for the working poor to own a home. The high taxes going to social housing make home ownership less likely for the working poor and the middle class.   

This leads to the question of what kind of housing should be made available. George Bailey’s goal was quite modest—“a couple of decent rooms and a bath.”

The ideal is for as large a percentage of the population as possible being able to own their own home. This gives people a larger stake in society and provides some security for them, both now and later as they age. It removes them from the control of wealthy landlords and governments. Pursuing this goal will require a change of attitude on the part of all levels of government. Instead of governments levying ever more taxes to build ever more social housing, governments should make it possible (create the conditions) for the free market to supply the needed housing.

Many people will never be able to afford a million-dollar house, but cheaper options exist. For instance, municipalities can protect trailer parks from “development.” They can also encourage the protection and construction of smaller and cheaper apartments, townhouses, and houses. Developers want to build more expensive buildings with sculpted roofs, vaulted ceilings, and marble countertops—because they can sell them for more money and make more profit. Municipalities encourage the erection of expensive buildings because it increases the tax base. But when modest homes are demolished to build more expensive buildings, the result is that home ownership becomes impossible for an ever increasing percentage of the population and governments will have to build more social housing to deal with a growing homeless population. There is something wrong when many Canadians cannot afford to buy a million-dollar home but governments are building million-dollar-a-unit social housing for the permanently unemployed in the middle of Canada’s largest cities. Governments might respond that in a free society the homeless have a right to live where they want—but that is a right denied to the working poor and much of the middle class. I know that I could never afford to own my own dwelling, even a condo, in Vancouver or Toronto.

Years ago, I knew a family who lived in a tiny house, in reality a two-room shack. It was vastly inadequate housing. But that home was filled with love. And they owned it. It provided a stable foundation on which to build a life. The children went on to have successful lives.

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Irresponsible

The government is encouraging citizens to get flu shots this fall. The government says it would be irresponsible of us if we didn’t take this action to protect ourselves and our community.

So, we phoned out local pharmacy to book the flu shots. The pharmacy said that we couldn’t book the shots directly with them. We had to go through the government phone line.

So, we phoned the government number. We got a recorded message saying that we could book flu shots online on the government website.

So, we went to the government website. It said that we should book flu shots through our local pharmacy and referred us to the pharmacy website.

So, we went to the pharmacy website, and it said to phone the pharmacy to book flu shots.

After we had been around that loop a few times, we phoned our doctor’s office in the next town 30 kilometres away. We were told that our doctor was not giving flu shots but that the pharmacy attached to his office was. So, we finally booked the shots for the next week. We assumed that it was worth it to travel the extra distance in order to be responsible and get vaccinated.

The government is telling us to reduce our carbon footprint. It says that it would be irresponsible of us if we did not make every effort to avoid unnecessary trips.

*****

This was not my only encounter with the government telling me not to be irresponsible. The government is also encouraging us to walk or use rapid transit. The government said that it would be irresponsible of us to keep using our car. There are buses in our small city which travel every half-hour or so, I think. The other day we needed to run some errands, but we did not take the bus. Instead, we tried to combine several trips into one. First, we went to a dollar store to buy some items for a birthday party. To be fair, it was within walking distance, but it was also on the way to our next stop.

Then we drove a few kilometres south to the recycling depot. Every week, we carefully separate our garbage into three cans: compostables, recyclables, and garbage. However, the government tells us that certain items (beverage containers, styrofoam, plastic bags, electronics, batteries, and metal) cannot be placed in the recyclable bin. It would be irresponsible to throw them into the garbage, so, to save the environment, we have to drive them to the recycling depot.

Then we drove a few kilometres west to the public library. The government encourages us to read, and it would be irresponsible to buy our own books instead of sharing books with other people (since it is bad for the environment to use so much paper).

Then we drove a few kilometres north to the thrift store to donate some clothes and other household items since it would be irresponsible to throw them in the garbage.

Then we drove a few kilometres east to the grocery store, completing the circle, because we need to eat.

Then we drove a few kilometres to pick up the grandkids after school since the government says it would be irresponsible to not send them to school and it would also be irresponsible to abandon them there.

While we were out, we drove on to a pharmacy to pick up some items we couldn’t find in the grocery store.

While we were in the mall, we bought some items from a bakery that we couldn’t find in the grocery store.

Then we drove a few kilometres to a produce store to buy some bulk apples that were not available in the grocery store.

Then we drove home because it would be irresponsible to sleep in our car or on the streets.

We could have run all of those errands by bus, but, with bus transfers and waits between buses, it would have required considerable walking and would have taken a day or two. There would also have been the problem of manhandling several big bags of popcans, clothes, recyclables, and groceries on and off buses.

Our modern lives are not set up for green living, and there are no easy fixes. It is hard to be responsible these days. And yet, the government keeps telling us that, for all of the world’s problems, we are responsible. There is one thing for sure: the government is not responsible.

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Kicking the Working Poor to the CERB

“Your debt is due and payable on receipt of this notice.”

This year, 2022, thousands of Canadians have received a “Statement of Accounts” from the Canadian government (Canada Revenue Agency) demanding that they pay up to $2,000.

The statement contains very little information about why the money is owing, just that it relates to “Employment Insurance” and “Employment and Social Development Canada.”

What happened is this. When the Canadian government created the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in 2020 at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, the government was eager to “get money into the pockets of Canadians as quickly as possible” (or, more crudely, “shovel money out the door as quickly as possible”). Those who applied for CERB before June 14, 2020 received an advance payment of $2,000 (equivalent to four weeks of benefits) within a few days of applying. The plan was that these recipients would then receive reduced CERB payments in June, July, and August to claw back the advance. The problem was that if recipients did not collect CERB payments for at least 20 weeks, they would have received more than the $500 a week the plan was intended to give and so they would have to pay some of it back later.

For those who have to pay back money, that “later” is apparently this year. The federal government has been quietly demanding the money be paid back, by sending a “statement of accounts” to those who owe the money. There has been no national press conference with the Prime Minister earnestly making the announcement on the front steps of 24 Sussex Drive, just a “backgrounder” posted on a government website.

There was also a news release from Carla Qualtrough,  Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. The statement said that the government would “work with Canadians to establish flexible repayment schedules if needed” and that “no penalties or interest will be charged.” The statement also affirmed that “Canadians will not be put into financial hardship” by having to repay the money and that the government would “continue to have Canadians’ backs.” That assurance sounds hollow since the government is now insisting that Canadians must pay the money back and is threatening to confiscate tax return money and take other steps—all at a time when Canadians are struggling with rapidly increasing prices for food, shelter, and other necessities. How could these repayment demands not cause financial hardship?

The news release also stated ominously that the government “has zero tolerance for fraud.” This phrase shifts the blame for the problem from the government to citizens, suggesting that recipients of the money did something wrong. It is also a little late for the government to be talking tough since, in its eagerness to shovel money out the door, the government was not checking very carefully (if at all) who the money was going to. Some prison inmates apparently applied.

These quiet announcements on government websites were not widely publicized, and there is no reference to these explanations in the “Statement of Accounts.” There is also no explanatory letter saying why citizens owe the money, just a demand for payment. And the statements offer no advice on how to get further information, whether there is an appeal process, or how to access it. There is a full page of instructions on the back, mostly about how to pay and even a note about how to lodge a complaint if your financial institution has breached your privacy. One note says, “Please notify us immediately of any change of address, telephone number or for payment related inquiries by contacting the number indicated on this statement.” But there is no information on how to inquire about why the money is owed or how to dispute the amount.

Part of the problem is that the demands for payment come from the Canada Revenue Agency, but it has no information on why the money is owing. It is just a debt collector. That information has to come from Employment and Social Development Canada. But the demand for payment letter does not say that, nor does it say how to contact Employment and Social Development Canada.

Attempts to contact the government to find out why the money is owed are far from simple or straightforward. One has to go to the Service Canada website, fill in a form, and hope a government employee will call back. This could be difficult if the recipient is now working during government office hours. I know of one citizen who was finally able to receive a phone call after multiple attempts over the course of six months. People who want information can also take a day off work and go to a Service Canada office (some are now open after the Covid shutdown), but citizens are only supposed to go to a Service Canada office for help if they have an appointment. To get an appointment, they again have to go through the website.

If citizens want to contest the issue, they have to first find out why the government says they owe the money, and then try to find records of exactly what weeks they worked and what weeks they received CERB in the summer of 2020, two years ago. How many Canadians have detailed records going that far back?

And checking is necessary. The government does make mistakes. The government apparently demanded that one man pay back the $2000 even though he never received any money—he started an application but never completed it because he got called back to work.

The great problem with all of this is that it was not made clear—certainly not to the people receiving the money—that they would have to pay it back. After all, it was called CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), not CERL (Canada Emergency Response Loan). Perhaps the government should have called it CRUEL (Canada Relief Underhanded Emergency Loan).

One man caught in this trap complained, “If I knew I would have to pay it back, I would never have applied for the money. I will never accept government money again,”

This seems especially cruel because the recipients never knew they would have to pay the money back. They should have been informed of this in the summer of 2020 when they applied for it. Instead, two years later, when the money has long been spent and Canadians are struggling with rapidly rising food prices, the government is demanding the money back.

Who does this hit the hardest? Obviously the working poor, the people the Trudeau government keeps saying it is there to help. The very rich never needed CERB in the first place. Some members of the middle class will also have to repay the money, but they at least might have some resources to be able to pay do so. Those who are now receiving these demand letters didn’t do anything wrong, they applied for CERB in good faith, and they paid income tax on it. But now they are the ones who are suffering the consequences.

The repayment demands particularly hit those responsible Canadians who returned to work as soon as they could instead of remaining on CERB indefinitely.

To sum up, this whole fiasco is appallingly incompetent and counter-productive social policy. When Justin Trudeau assured Canadians, “We have your back,” how were they to know that he was there to stab them in it?

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Where Are We Going, and How Are We Going to Get There?

On September 1, I was a guest on CHP Talks, discussing my article “The Future with Zero-Emission Electric Vehicles,” published in the Winter / Spring 2022 edition of C2C Journal. You can watch the interview on Brighteon or Bitchute or listen to the audio version on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.

Some readers might be interested to see how I have aged (like a fine whine) and remember that I have a face for radio and a voice for print.

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Where Are All the Workers?

Canada lost 31,000 jobs last month. Well, not exactly. What the government statistics announced a couple of weeks ago really mean is that there were 31,000 fewer Canadians with jobs in July than in June. There were lots more “jobs” than that, but many of them are not filled.

Despite fewer people working, the unemployment rate in Canada dropped to a record low of 4.9%. Does that mean that only 4.9% of Canadian adults don’t have jobs? Not exactly. Canadians who are too old or too young are not included. Nor are those too sick or incapacitated in some way. Nor those in school. What the statistic actually measures is those who are without work and have looked for work in the past four weeks; are on temporary layoff and expect to return to work; or are waiting for a new job to begin within four weeks. If you have been unemployed for a long time or have become too discouraged to keep trying, you are not considered unemployed. If you don’t want to work, you are not considered unemployed. If you don’t have a phone so you can participate in government surveys, you are not considered unemployed. The unemployment rate is a useful tool but not necessarily completely accurate.

A historically low unemployment rate does not necessarily mean everything is fine in the Canadian economy. Go to almost any store, restaurant, factory, or other business in Canada, and you are likely to see a “We’re hiring” or “Help wanted” sign. In fact, the government estimates that there are about a million unfilled jobs in Canada, and, with the current record low unemployment rate, those jobs are likely to remain unfilled. Canada needs another million workers.   

We need more workers, and the situation is getting worse. There are fewer people working than there were a month ago.

So where did all the workers go? What happened to them?

Good questions. I can only speculate. But, since this is an opinion piece, a blog, I am free to speculate.

Covid. Undoubtedly, some potential workers have been incapacitated long-term by Covid. Not many but some.

Vaccines. People who have not been vaccinated against Covid have been laid off or fired by governments or businesses. The numbers are not huge, about two or three percent of the workforce in many cases, but the numbers are not negligible either.

Sickness. In the past, many workers went to work when they were sick with a cold or the flu. They toughed it out. Or they would stay home for a day or two and then go back to work once the worst of the illness was past. Not anymore. If you have the sniffles, your employer does not want you to go to work, just in case you have Covid or in case customers might suspect you have Covid. So, instead of “toughing it out” or “powering through” or only missing a day or two of work, employees are off work for a week or two. In fact, health care agencies, government agencies such as BC Ferries, and other businesses are now sometimes reporting absentee rates as high as ten percent. This is partly facilitated by new government regulations that require employers to give employees five to ten paid sick days a year. But the sickness rates are much higher than that. If ten percent of employees are off sick at one time, this means that the average worker is off sick ten percent of the time. That amounts to about five weeks a year (out of the 50 work weeks in a year). From the employer’s point of view, that means that the employer has to increase the workforce by about ten percent just to get the same work done.

Age. Canadians are living longer and healthier than in years past. Recognizing this, the Harper government tried to increase the standard retirement age from 65 to 67, with options for retiring earlier or later. Justin Trudeau’s government reversed this. There are a lot of healthy 65-75-year-olds who are healthy enough to be working at least part-time but who are not allowed or are not encouraged to work. There are also a lot of 60-year-olds who have taken early retirement. Overall, there are a lot more seniors requiring services from a lot fewer younger workers.

Youth. Here I am relying on my own limited observations. When I go into a fast food restaurant or other establishment, I used to see teenagers behind the counter. Now I often see twenty-somethings or middle-aged people or even older people. Why? Have governments raised minimum wage laws to the point that these jobs are more attractive to older people? Are parents afraid to let their teenage children work for fear they will get Covid? Do parents take pride in providing their children with so much spending money that they don’t need to take part-time jobs? Have children been so brainwashed by schools telling them to “follow their dreams” and “believe that they can be anything they want to be” that they consider such jobs beneath them? Older children used to earn money mowing lawns or shovelling snow, but now that work is done by professional landscaping companies. Older children and even college students used to work in the fields picking berries and vegetables and fruit. Now this work is done by migrants, who find it increasingly difficult to come to Canada due to Covid requirements. The result is not just that teenagers have been removed from the workforce, but that teenagers have been deprived of opportunities to learn how to work at a job.

The Homeless. There are increasing numbers of homeless people now camping in parks and on sidewalks or living in assisted housing and homeless shelters. Many are mentally ill or addicted to drugs, and many are from broken homes or dysfunctional families. Many have been physically or sexually abused. Some have run away from home simply because they did not want to follow rules. Very few of the homeless are working or even able to work. Not only do they not work but they require an increasing number of health care workers, social workers, and police officers to care for them. We are paying an enormous economic cost for the breakdown of the family and the social fabric.

Crime. There are a number of people who have chosen to make money in other ways, such as theft, fraud, and dealing drugs, instead of filling regular jobs. Some of them get rich, some don’t, but none contribute to society.

Immigrants. Generally, immigrants who have come to North America have worked harder than those born here. Canada used to select immigrants based on their job skills and an assessment of whether those skills are needed here. This is not likely as true of the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants who are coming into Canada now, while the legal immigrants are kept out by red tape. And once here, many of these immigrants are not allowed to work in their areas of skill because they can’t get the approval of Canadian accrediting agencies.

Government. Canadian employment has risen greatly in recent years because of the disproportionate increase in the number of government workers. I am not talking about doctors and nurses and schoolteachers. I am talking about the public relations people and the bureaucrats who are hired to write and enforce the rules that now regulate every aspect of our lives. Every bureaucrat pushing paper is one less worker healing bodies, feeding bellies, and making products. There are fewer workers in the private sector and paying taxes to pay increasing numbers of government workers. This cannot continue indefinitely.

Lotteries and Media. Government-run lotteries constantly advertise the idea that the good life is to get rich without working for it, retire early, relax, and enjoy everything that money can buy. The media, from commercials to TV shows, reinforce the message.

Government Policies. The Covid pandemic has increased the tendency of governments in Canada to assure Canadians, “Don’t worry. We have your back. We’ll take care of you.” Government is a great teacher. Throughout history, when they have needed something, people have usually looked for ways to make or build it themselves or looked for a way to earn money in order to buy it. As governments have relentlessly driven home the message that governments will take care of us, we have gradually bought into what they have been telling us. We expect to be taken care of without doing anything to help ourselves. It is no wonder that our work ethic has withered.

Today, a lot of Canadians work in order to earn money. But too many of us no longer value being productive for its own sake, contributing, making a difference, leaving the world a better place than we found it. “Let the government take care of you” is an appeal to selfishness. “Work” is the opposite.

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Journalistic Integrity

About thirty years ago, I attended a Mennonite Central Committee board meeting in southern Ontario. Mennonite Central Committee is a highly regarded social service agency owned and operated by various Mennonite church denominations. I was there to report on the meetings as an editor with the Mennonite Brethren Herald.

I don’t recall the agenda, but at least one of the items on it must have been of interest to a wider audience because one of the big Toronto newspapers, perhaps the Globe and Mail, had sent a reporter to cover part of the meeting.

The meeting was held in a small church in rural Ontario, and at lunchtime there were no restaurants or grocery stores nearby where the reporter could buy food. The church invited the reporter to have lunch with the other attendees in the church basement. Mennonites are known for being hospitable people. The reporter refused to accept a free meal from an agency that she was supposed to be reporting on. The church then offered to sell her a lunch for $3.50, the price that I and the delegates had paid as part of our registration fees. Again, she refused.

I deeply respected that journalist for being willing to go without lunch in order to safeguard her journalistic independence and integrity. I still do.

How things have changed.

Today, Canadian newspapers have accepted a $600 million-a-year subsidy from the Canadian government—a subsidy established by the Liberal government and opposed by the opposition Conservative Party—while still claiming that they can offer unbiased reporting on Canadian politics.

Canadian journalists used to mock Pravda (“Truth”), the state-funded “news agency” of the former Soviet Union. Today, Canadian journalists have become Pravda, and they don’t even realize it.

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Why Vaccine Mandates No Longer Make Sense—to Me

Disclaimer #1: I have been triple vaccinated against Covid. I wore a mask when mandated and followed other Covid restrictions. I have never tested positive for Covid, although it is certainly possible that I have had a mild dose.

Disclaimer #2: I wrote most of this blog two or three months ago but refrained from posting it mainly because I didn’t want to have to deal with all the negative comments it would generate.

Disclaimer #3: Although I have training in how to conduct and evaluate research, I am not a scientist or a medical doctor.

So, as a non-professional, how do I dare to offer an opinion on Covid restrictions? Shouldn’t I leave that to the professionals?

I am convinced by the statistical data that the Covid vaccines greatly reduce the rate of becoming seriously ill, being hospitalized, and dying of Covid. So, I think that those who refuse to be vaccinated are wrong.

However, I also believe that they have a right to be wrong.  The reality is that we non-professionals are required to make medical decisions all the time. Do I feel sick enough to go to the doctor or the emergency room? Should I have that risky operation, weighing all the possible benefits and risks that the surgeon has outlined? Should I bother to have a flu shot this year? What medication should I take for my cold? Should I take the Oxycontin or morphine the doctor prescribed after my operation? Our modern governments insist that “A woman has sole rights over her own body,” when it comes to abortion. Why should that absolute control cease when it comes to Covid vaccines? Governments generally do not require people to disclose whether they have other communicable diseases such as AIDS or require people to be vaccinated against the flu or other communicable diseases. So, why does the right to medical privacy and medical autonomy cease when it comes to Covid? (Some governments have ruled that hospital workers wear masks if they are not vaccinated against flu, a mandate that was met with considerable resistance.)

So, let us consider vaccine passports and vaccine restrictions.

Vaccine passports were introduced to allow the economy to open up somewhat during the pandemic. It meant that if I had been vaccinated, I could go to a restaurant secure in the knowledge that everyone else in the restaurant had also been vaccinated and could not pass Covid on to me—except for the cooks and servers, who did not have to be vaccinated.

Vaccine mandates seems to have been based on the assumption that the vaccines offered immunity or at least very strong protection against Covid. The flaw in that argument is that if the vaccines offered even very strong protection, why should I worry about going to a restaurant and being around unvaccinated people? They couldn’t infect me anyway.

But maybe vaccine passports were intended to prevent unvaccinated people from gathering in any public place and passing Covid to each other? If so, that was never made clear.

Vaccine passports seemed to work well during the Delta variant surge. It was a more lethal strain of the disease but not so easily transmitted. Delta was said to be “a disease of the unvaccinated.” This wasn’t strictly true, but it is true that unvaccinated people were much more likely to get infected, become very sick, be hospitalized, and die.

This changed with the Omicron variant, which was much more easily transmitted and was much less lethal. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people contracted omicron, in large numbers. (This was what some health experts said would happen, as Covid followed the path of some other diseases that have tended to become more transmissible and less lethal over time.)

A useful test case was NHL hockey players. They were almost 100% vaccinated (all but one player, I think), and yet the vast majority of them contracted Covid. Every member of the Vancouver Canucks has had Covid, some of them twice. We know this because, in order to be allowed to play, players had to be tested every day. As a result, many of them tested positive while only having minor symptoms or no symptoms at all.

If we extrapolate that to the general population, we can assume that a majority of Canadians have had Covid at some time, perhaps as a mild cold or even without developing symptoms, over the past two years. (Governments are now admitting that a third to half of Canadians have had Covid at some point, but the numbers could be higher.) In fact, Omicron became so widespread that governments have essentially given up on testing the general population and counting cases. Since over 90% of us have been vaccinated and many of us have had the disease, we probably have about as much immunity as we are going to get.

And vaccine mandates, isolating unvaccinated people from everyone else, are not going to stop the spread of omicron. It is too transmissible. Canadian government rules preventing the unvaccinated from travelling across borders and requiring travellers to be tested no longer make much sense since the disease is so prevalent in our own population already. It is far too late to try to keep Covid out of the country. It is ludicrous that 20,000 unmasked fans can gather to cheer on the Toronto Maple Leafs but the team itself cannot fly across the border without being tested. It is ludicrous that thousands of citizens can gather for a political rally, but the government insists it is too dangerous for 300-odd MPs to gather in Parliament. It still makes some sense to require care home workers to be vaccinated (since it could reduce the rate of transmission or the seriousness of transition), but it does not make sense to require civil servants working in an office cubicle or from home to also be vaccinated. (I have a suspicion that the federal government’s insistence on maintaining restrictions long after provincial governments have eased up on theirs might have something to with the federal government not being willing to admit that the trucker protest might have been right. The government does not want to appear to be caving in to pressure.)

Furthermore, the vaccines seem to wear off and lose their effectiveness after a few months. This may partly be because they were not normal vaccines anyway. Normal vaccines inject a dead virus into the body, triggering the body to produce antibodies to combat it. Covid vaccines don’t work that way, and I have yet to see a clear explanation of what they are and how they work in terms that a lay person can understand. (Governments telling us to trust them on this is not enough when they are often less trustworthy in other areas.)

We non-professionals seem to have grasped this, as the rate of people getting booster shots and children being vaccinated seems to have plateaued. From their own experiences and observations, many people have concluded that while Covid is a significant threat, the vaccination protection they have already received is about as good as they are going to get. They have recognized that while children do get Covid, most do not get very sick. The old and vulnerable, on the other hand, are still dying of Covid even thought they have been vaccinated, just as the old and vulnerable die of flu every year even if they have been vaccinated. Governments also seem to have recognized this reality as they have ceased to strongly push for more people to be vaccinated or to get booster shots.

The reality is that the Covid vaccines do not provide immunity or even exceptionally strong protection against Covid. They provide strong protection perhaps. While health authorities have insisted that they are “safe and effective,” the reality is that they are relatively safe and generally effective.

It is helpful to understand that, although this was not always made clear by government and public health authorities, all of the vaccines, lockdowns, handwashing, mask wearing, and vaccine restrictions were never intended to stop or prevent the spread of Covid. That was impossible. They were intended only to slow the spread of the disease to keep it from overwhelming the health care system. That was a very real danger and could have resulted in very large death rates. (There were places in the world that at times ran out of ventilators and hospital beds.)

After all of the lockdowns, restrictions, and vaccine mandates, government and public health authorities are now telling us that we will “have to learn to live with Covid.” This means that the old and vulnerable will continue to die of Covid, just as they continue to die of flu and other communicable diseases every year. It also means that there will likely be lockdowns of seniors’ homes and some other places, just as there are occasional lockdowns due to outbreaks of flu, SARS, etc. Annual Covid booster shots may become as routine as annual flu shots; they, after all, provide some protection. And I suspect people will continue to have recurring bouts of Covid, just as people in tropical countries have recurring bouts of diseases such as malaria—it will be seen as serious but inevitable. There is also the possibility that a new Covid variant will arise, creating a need for further lockdowns.

The evidence suggests that masks, hand washing, quarantines, and lockdowns are still effective—against Covid and against other diseases—at least to some extent. In fact, these measures have been used in various settings and in specific situations for many years, just not for entire populations. As the rules on lockdowns and masks have eased, Covid cases have risen—along with cases of colds, flu, and other diseases. The government-imposed restrictions over the past couple of years protected us against more than Covid. But the reality is that the restrictions cannot be continued forever. Humans are social beings, and it is not good for us, physically as well as mentally, to remain isolated indefinitely. Nor can our economy remain shut down or restricted forever. There comes a point when the restrictions cause more problems than they prevent—and I think we have reached that point.

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How good are Bruce Boudreau’s Vancouver Canucks?

The Vancouver Canucks have just finished the 2021-2022 season 5 points out of a playoff position. If they had won just 3 more games in the 82-game season, they could have made the playoffs. Close but no cigar. But head coach Bruce Boudreau and many of the players are saying that they still have a pretty good team and no major changes are needed. It was only a slow start under former coach Travis Green that did them in.

Let’s examine that.

Under Green, the team was 8-15-2; that is, they had 8 wins, 15 losses, and 2 overtime losses (for overtime losses, teams earn a single point, compared to 2 points for a win). The team thus earned 18 of a possible 50 points under Green, for a winning percentage of .360. Extrapolated over a full season, that would have placed them 30th in the 32-team league, ahead of only Montreal and Arizona.

Under Boudreau, the team went 32-15-10, earning 74 of a possible 114 points for a winning percentage of .649. Over a full season, that percentage would have placed them 11th in the league, not good enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference but good enough for second place in the weak Pacific Division. In other words, they would be a good team, good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to be realistic contenders for the Stanley Cup, not quite ready to compete with the big boys.

Another thing to consider is that teams often get a “bump,” an infusion of hope and energy when a coaching change is made. In Vancouver’s case, the team won their first 8 games under Boudreau. Take away this “new coach bump,” and Vancouver was 24-15-10 the rest of the season. That is good for 58 of a possible 98 points and a winning percentage of .592. Over a full season, that would have tied them with the Nashville Predators for 16th place and the last wild card spot, barely squeaking into the playoffs.

So, the coaching change greatly improved the Canucks’ performance, but did it make them a team that should essentially stand pat, keep the same roster for next year? It is important to point out that the coaching change was not the only change made. At the same time as Boudreau was hired, General Manager Jim Benning was fired and replaced by President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford and new General Manager Patrik Allvin. The general manager is in charge of drafting, trading, and signing players. So far, Rutherford and Allvin have made almost no changes to the team. So, this “pretty good” Canucks team is not Rutherford’s and Allvin’s team but the team put together by Benning. (Maybe Benning did not deserve to be fired after all.)

So, what should Rutherford and Allvin do now? The reality in the NHL is that it is easier to turn a bad team into a good team than it is to turn a good team into a great team capable of winning the Stanley Cup. Easier, not easy. What you have to do is trade your older players for draft picks and use the money you save to sign free agents. If you are lucky and make wise drafting and signing and trading choices, in a few years you will have a good team. Even the incompetent Edmonton Oilers management was eventually able to snag Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

It is harder to turn a good team into a championship team. Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, what can Rutherford and Allvin do to turn their pretty good team into a better team? Anything they do—or don’t do—carries risks.

Should they trade 19-goal scorer Conor Garland or 23-goal scorer Brock Boeser and hope to get a 30 or 40-goal scorer back? But what if the players they get back turn out to be 15-goal scorers? Or should they sign Garland and Boeser to long-term contracts and hope they grow into 30 or 40-goal scorers? But what if they don’t? What if they regress to 15-goal scorers?

Should the Canucks trade 5-goal scorer Jason Dickinson and 7-goal scorer Juho Lammiko in the hope they get 10-goal scorers in return? They aren’t going to get 40-goal scorers in return for those guys. But what if the players they get back turn out to be 2-goal scorers? And even if the trade works and they get 10-goal scorers back, would it make much difference? How far would it go toward turning a good team into a great team?

And, of course, goal scoring is only one part of the equation. In evaluating players, the general manager also has to consider playmaking (assists), character, hard work, size and strength, durability, team chemistry, team balance, checking, defensive play, winning faceoffs, and the salary cap.

It is not easy to turn a good team into a great team, but hope springs eternal in hockey fans’ hearts. The Canucks haven’t lost a single game in the 2022-2023 season yet. Which means their winning percentage is 1.000. Or 0.000. Or somewhere in between.

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The Significance of Cockpit Resource Management

Modern passenger airplanes are extremely safe, with overlapping safeguards (including having a pilot and co-pilot). An airplane rarely crashes due to a single problem. Usually, in an airplane crash, one or more mechanical issues are compounded by one or more pilot errors.

“Cockpit resource management” is a training process that was developed after it was discovered that planes were crashing due to flight crews’ failure to properly respond to crises. One of the prime issues was the previous command structure in which the pilot had absolute authority to fly the plane and make decisions. Less experienced co-pilots were reluctant to challenge this authority or even make strong recommendations. When the pilot made a mistake, when the pilot misunderstood a situation, when a pilot failed to see and understand a problem, when a pilot became distracted or too narrowly focused, there was no way to correct the mistake or save the plane.

For example, one crew of three was so focused on a burnt-out landing gear light that none of them noticed that the autopilot had been turned off and the plane was descending into a swamp.

Another crew was so focused on another landing gear problem that the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a neighborhood.

Another highly regarded pilot thought he was still heading toward the airport when he had already passed it. The much younger and less experienced co-pilot timidly suggested the truth. The pilot ignored him and flew the plane into the side of a mountain.

Another pilot insisted that the plane was lined up with the runway and ignored the co-pilot’s warning that they were badly off-course. They crashed.

Another pilot trusted his own faulty speed gauge while ignoring the co-pilot’s accurate gauge and put his plane into a fatal stall.

Cockpit Resource Management is intended to foster a less-authoritarian cockpit culture in which co-pilots are encouraged to question captains (pilots) if they have observed them making mistakes and to even take control of a plane in extreme cases. It encourages respect, teamwork, and cooperation. One key element is communication, both speaking up and listening, making clear objections, and giving clear orders. Another is delegating and dividing responsibilities. For instance, in the first example, disaster could have been averted if one pilot had focused on fixing the light (responding to the crisis) while the other flew the plane. This requires trust, and not just the others trusting the pilot to fly the plane. It also requires the pilot to trust subordinates enough to listen, really listen, to their concerns, and also to trust them to carry out delegated tasks without supervision, thus freeing the pilot to focus on his/her own tasks.

If Cockpit Resource Management is so crucial for air travel, could it also provide useful guidance in other fields?

Could prime ministers, presidents, and other political leaders benefit from learning to listen more to their subordinates (and even constituents)? Would it be better if they were able to delegate tasks more effectively rather than micromanaging? Are their subordinates able and willing to challenge leaders when they are wrong, instead of blindly supporting them and going down in flames along with them?

And what about the church? How many churches and ministry organizations have foundered because strong and autocratic leaders have been unwilling to listen to advice and warnings? Because such leaders have failed to trust their associates and followers? Because their followers have failed to warn them when they began to veer off-course?

Proverbs 11:14 (NIV) says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 15:22 repeats, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

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Trudeau and the Truckers

Justin Trudeau has a dilemma. Like other rulers who believe in the divine right of kings, he thinks he is god. His view of government is simple: he makes the rules and everyone obeys. When people don’t obey, he does not know what to do. So far, he has called the truckers names (which sounds strange from the man who wants to outlaw “hate speech”) and demanded that they stop. He may eventually figure it out.

Trudeau’s options are limited. He can wait the truckers out and try to cut off their support and starve them into submission (a tactic used in siege warfare). The city of Ottawa is taking this route, but not the federal government so far. He could negotiate with the truckers and give them at least some of what they are asking for. Of course, he would lose face if he negotiated with people he has declared to be criminals and no longer citizens. He could do what medieval rulers often did—meet with the truckers, agree to meet their demands, and then, after they have dispersed, arrest them and their families. He could send in the army, but it would not look good for the ruler a democracy to send in the army to attack its own citizens. And it would entrench hatred for him and his government among a significant segment of the population that would last decades.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has declared that the truckers’ goal is to “overthrow the government.” It is an assertion both ludicrous and correct. The truckers have no plans to mount an insurrection. Otherwise, they would have brought guns instead of bouncy castles and barbecues. Despite appearances, they are not the January 6 American mob. However, it is true that they hope the public pressure they are mounting will lead to someone voting Justin Trudeau out of office (the opposition parties or perhaps the Liberal Party itself). And it is true that they are deliberately defying the government.

What has happened in this case, and what he finds so surprising and uncomfortable, is that Justin Trudeau seems to have come up against the limits of government power. He does not understand the lesson of Prohibition (the failed attempt a century ago to outlaw alcohol). Most commentators say that the lesson of Prohibition is that “You can’t legislate morality.” Nonsense. All laws are an attempt to legislate morality, to forbid actions that harm other people or society as a whole. What Prohibition demonstrated is that you can’t enforce a law if a significant minority are determined to disobey it. The problem is not just the truckers in Ottawa. If this situation continues, more and more people in the rest of the country will feel freer to also disobey Covid regulations and possibly other laws. It is a serious danger.

For Trudeau, the problem is partly of his own making.

In the first place, Trudeau himself has shown a propensity to ignore laws when they are inconvenient to him. Early on in the pandemic, he broke Covid lockdown regulations to participate in a Black Lives Matter protest. Then he called an unnecessary election in the midst of the pandemic. As prime minister, he has been found guilty of ethics violations three times. He has declared that court decisions were wrong. Most notoriously, he interfered in the judicial system to derail the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, an act that would likely have landed an ordinary citizen in jail. People learn by example. By bringing the law into disrepute, Trudeau has weakened the rule of law. Considering Trudeau’s cavalier attitude to the law, he is in no position to criticize the truckers.

Second, the Trudeau government has a penchant for imposing arbitrary, burdensome, and sometimes illogical and unfair regulations. Allowing truckers to avoid vaccine requirements for most of the pandemic and then changing the rules in the waning stages of the pandemic is just the latest example. Remember the rule that returning travellers had to quarantine in only a few very extensive hotels? Then there is the government’s decision that every Canadian must drive an electric vehicle, even if this means that some Canadians will be priced out of vehicle ownership. Eventually, resentment over such arbitrary impositions reaches a breaking point.

Third, for most of its time in power, the Trudeau government has been tolerating, excusing, condoning, and sometimes encouraging a variety of protests (often by environmental and First Nations activists and sometimes by unions) that have blocked roads, rail lines, and work sites, defaced and dismantled monuments, burned churches, etc. The Conservative Party had proposed making the blocking of transportation routes illegal, but the Liberals opposed the idea. Trudeau’s attacks on the truckers for using tactics that he has endorsed when used by other groups rings hollow.

The truckers’ protest is not a threat to democracy, at least in the short run although it might be in the long run, but it certainly poses a threat to the Trudeau government, simply by demonstrating its inconsistencies and its weakness.