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An offer Alberta couldn’t refuse



This column is an opinion from Max Fawcett, a freelance writer and the former editor of Alberta Oil magazine.



When Jason Kenney tabled the report from his “fair deal panel” last month, it effectively opened a new front in his own long-running conflict with the federal Liberal government.

But the latest results from a long-running survey on Canadian attitudes from the Environics Institute suggests he might want to reconsider this particular fight.

After all, the proportion of Albertans who feel so mistreated by the rest of Canada that they support independence dropped from 56 per cent to 43 per cent — and that’s from a survey that was conducted before COVID-19 hit.

Kenney’s government has yet to really thank Ottawa for its numerous interventions. Those include spending $1.7 billion to help Alberta address its growing orphan well problem and a series of loan guarantee programs for the oil and gas industry as well as national programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

Even so, it’s hard to imagine that Albertans will be totally blind to the contributions that Ottawa is making right now — and that they’d somehow be more enthusiastic about the idea of separating from Canada as a result.

But if Justin Trudeau wants to bring western alienation to heel once and for all, he should do something even more radical: actually address the concerns of western Canadians.


Ottawa has made numerous contributions to Alberta lately, including spending $1.7 billion to help the province address its growing orphan well problem. (Orphan Well Association)


No, that doesn’t mean changing the equalization formula, if only because there is no possible change that would make Alberta a beneficiary of the program.

Despite a downturn in oil and gas prices that has been going on for almost six years now, Albertans still earn far more than other Canadians. According to Statistics Canada, the median household income in Alberta was $72,700 in 2018 — more than $10,000 higher than the national figure.

If those incomes do eventually drop down below the national median, the minutiae of the equalization formula will be the least of Alberta’s concerns.

But it does mean acknowledging that Albertans have been massive net contributors to confederation this century, and doing something to recognize that investment.

Yes, the federal government bought and is building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but that’s as much about protecting its financial interests as it is about advancing Alberta’s.

And while Ottawa has expressed a willingness to reconsider the terms of its fiscal stabilization program, which effectively acts as an insurance policy for provinces that experience major decreases in their revenues, the figures being discussed amount to a rounding error on Alberta’s historical contributions.

That’s why the federal government should make Alberta’s political leaders an offer they almost certainly couldn’t refuse.

A program to acknowledge Alberta’s contributions

It should acknowledge those historical outflows, and offer to create a program that would prevent them from happening in the future.

Above a certain threshold — say, $4,000 per capita — any surplus contributions by a province’s taxpayers would be rebated to them by the federal government, on an equal basis to everyone over the age of 18.

For example, Alberta taxpayers kicked in $22.4 billion more than they received back in federal program spending in 2015. Using that $4,000 per capita threshold, that would leave $5.8 billion to distribute to the approximately three million adults in Alberta — or a cheque for nearly $2,000.

This would have a few obvious advantages.

First, it would more closely bind Albertans to the federal government, and remind them of their relationship with Ottawa and the benefits that come from it.

Second, it would help reduce income inequality within the province, as those who paid more in federal taxes would receive proportionately less back in rebates. For a federal government that’s clearly interested in fighting poverty and growing the middle class, this would be an obvious win.

And third, it’s a program that might never actually send much money back to Albertans, given that the days of $100 per barrel oil (and, just as importantly, $5 per mcf natural gas) are pretty clearly behind us.


Hundreds of people rallied in Edmonton last year in support of the western provinces separating from Canada. By creating a program that would ensure that Albertans are repaid in kind for their contributions to confederation, the federal government could take the wind out of the sails of western alienation, says Max Fawcett. (Gabriel Brown/CBC)


As such, it might ultimately end up as a bluff that never gets called — but one that could still defuse tensions and shore up support for federalism in the regions where it’s most often under attack.

By acknowledging the historical contributions that Albertans have made to confederation, and creating a program that would ensure that they’re repaid in kind in the future, the federal government could permanently take the wind out of the sails of western alienation.

It would be a fitting legacy for a prime minister whose father both defeated one separatist movement while in office and potentially laid the groundwork for another.

Ironically, the biggest hurdle here might be the prime minister’s own partisan interests in Alberta.

Wexit vote split could help Trudeau more

While sending voters cheques with a Canadian flag on them could theoretically help the Liberals win back a few seats in Alberta, allowing the Wexit party to split the federal conservative vote would help far more.

Even a modest splitting of that vote would put a handful of seats in Edmonton and Calgary in play, and possibly position the Liberals to improve on their record four-seat showing in 2015.

Jason Kenney isn’t necessarily safe from any Wexit-related blowback, either.

As University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley noted on a recent episode of the West of Centre podcast, “Calling a ‘strategic referendum’ can have unintended consequences. We’ve seen that most recently in the UK a few years ago, when [then prime minister David] Cameron thought he knew what the outcome of the Brexit referendum would be. So they’re playing a very dangerous game.”

That’s a game the federal Liberals may well be tempted to let play out, given the possible upside.

Then again, they may look at the disastrous outcome of Brexit and decide that the risk isn’t worth any partisan reward.

If that’s the case, they should move forward with a promise to return any excess contributions to confederation that Albertans might make in the future.

Yes, that could theoretically cost the federal treasury billions of dollars. But losing Alberta would surely cost much, much more.


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How the spread of coronavirus variants could completely change the pandemic in Canada –



This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

More contagious strains of the coronavirus have rapidly spread to more than 50 countries around the world, raising concerns that they may already be silently driving spikes in cases in Canada that threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system. 

Variants recently identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil are transmitting much more easily than the original strain, with the first estimated to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible.

But while early research shows the variants don’t necessarily lead to an increase in severe illness, health experts are growing more concerned about the effect the more transmissible variants could have on our already strained hospitals.

“We’re already at a breaking point,” said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. 

“It’s happening at a time when the system’s already stressed to the point of potentially being overwhelmed.”

Paramedics transport a patient to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, the day that Ontario entered a state of emergency. Health experts are growing increasingly concerned about the effect the more transmissible variants could have on our already strained hospitals. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Eric Topol, a U.S. physician, scientist and clinical trials expert who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the spread of the new variants globally. 

“If a strain is more infectious, substantially more, that means more deaths, more hospitalizations, more ‘long COVID,'” he told CBC News. 

“We keep hearing it doesn’t cause worse illness. Well, it doesn’t have to — it just causes more people to have that same illness.”

Topol said the variant first found in the U.K., also known as B117, exhibits changes in the spike protein — a key component of how the coronavirus binds to human cells. He said that those changes are likely behind its higher transmission, with the altered spike protein potentially allowing the coronavirus to infect cells more easily.

“A virus that was substantially more fit to infect more people was the last thing we needed right now, and we’ve got it and it’s not going away,” he said.

“The only thing we can do is slow its spread.” 

How bad is the situation with variants in Canada?

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday officials “continue to monitor” the spread of the variants in Canada, with at least 25 known cases to date.

Ontario has already identified 14 cases of B117, three of which have no known link to international travel. That prompted concerns from officials it could already be driving spread more than detected in hard-hit regions of the province. 

“If that’s confirmed, we have evidence then of community transmission and that is a very serious concern that the vaccine will not be able to address quickly enough,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said this week. “It’s very likely that we have more that we’re not aware of.” 

Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said if B117 continues to spread in Ontario the rate of new cases could rise to “scary,” “almost near-vertical” levels. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time we prove that there is community transmission definitively, it’s already spread like wildfire,” said Hota. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Brown added the variant could already be driving “a very dramatic growth in cases” in certain parts of the province, similar to the way it did in the United Kingdom despite strict public health restrictions. 

WATCH | Ontario issues stay-at-home order amid dire COVID-19 projections:

Ontario’s latest modelling data has painted a dire picture and prompted a provincewide stay-at-home order. But in many long-term care homes and ICUs, it may already be too late. 2:57

“What we’re detecting is likely only the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. “We absolutely cannot discount the possibility that it is here and it’s already having some kind of influence on the spread.”

British Columbia identified its first case of the variant first found in South Africa on Thursday, in addition to four previously discovered cases of B117.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday officials are investigating how the latest case became infected with the variant, due to the fact that they also had no known link to travel. 

“It is, of course, concerning we don’t know where this arose,” she said, signalling the variants could be spreading more widely in the community.

Five cases of B117 have also been confirmed in Alberta, along with one case of the variant first discovered in South Africa, but officials say all of those cases are travel-related.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said during a press conference Thursday that the mutation of the coronavirus is “normal” and that the “emergence of variants is not unusual or unexpected.” 

WATCH | WHO says new U.K. studies confirm variant of COVID-19 more transmissible:

The World Health Organization says a third round of U.K. studies related to a variant of the coronavirus in Britain confirms it is more transmissible and also that infected people have a higher viral load than with the original virus. 1:59

He added that while Canada initially stopped all flights from the UK over fears the variant could spread here, that ban was lifted last week in favour of mandating all travellers into the country present a negative COVID-19 test.

On Friday, scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released modelling data that warned by March, B117 could become the dominant strain in the United States.

Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair of emerging viruses, said he’s concerned Canada may be unprepared for cases of the variant increasing “underneath the surface.”

“We can’t judge when there’s going to be that sudden rise,” he said. 

“You get a sense of the storm that could be coming and you’re watching that tsunami warning getting louder and louder — we need to be ready for this.” 

A person wearing a face mask walking in Vancouver on Wednesday. B.C. has identified four cases of the variant B117 first found in the United Kingdom, and one of the variant identified in South Africa. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Kindrachuk says the fact B117 took over as a main circulating strain in Ireland, England and Denmark in just a matter of weeks is “gravely concerning” for Canada because of the risk it could spread more widely here.

“The increases in cases we’re seeing right now are already concerning, but that’s not due to the variants,” he said. “So what happens when the variants start to take hold in different regions?” 

Saskatchewan is the only province that currently says all of its COVID-19 testing will detect the B117 variant, while other provinces said that they only send positive test samples for further scrutiny if the context warrants.

“We’re not necessarily picking up on the cases of the known variants,” said Hota. “There may be other variants that are evolving as well under our noses.” 

“The bottom line is, you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where by the time you have that information, it’s already your dominant strain.”

While efforts are underway to find a quicker way to test for variants, the current “deep sequencing” required is both expensive and time consuming — taking days to over a week to get results, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont.

What can be done to prevent the spread of variants? 

While many of the public health guidelines recommended to stop the spread of the coronavirus are thought to be effective against the variants, experts say we should be doubling down on them and avoiding risky situations. 

“Think of it this way, we don’t need to do more of the same — we need to do better of the same,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC told CBC News. “It’s all about limiting risk.”

Physical distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds are all effective, but Frieden says people should also reduce their time spent indoors with those they don’t live with, wear better quality masks such as N95s or surgical masks and have as few in-person interactions with others as possible.  

WATCH | What scientists know about the new coronavirus variant (Jan. 8):

The B1-17 coronavirus variant, first discovered in the U.K., is now in at least 40 countries, including Canada. It has 23 mutations, including one that attaches to healthy cells like a key going into a lock. 1:56

Frieden said that means, if possible, spending a few minutes in the grocery store to pick up essential items, or ordering online, as opposed to going in for an extended period to shop. 

“In the past, with the earlier strain it was harder to get infected with it — you might have been in the same room, you might have been the same distance, and you would have evaded it,” said Topol. “But now, this has a more aggressive ability to infect.” 

Former CDC head Dr. Tom Frieden says people should spend only a few minutes in the grocery store to pick up essential items, or order online, as opposed to going in for an extended period to shop. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Frieden said at a population level, countries like Canada should focus on vaccinating as many people as they can as quickly as possible — especially older age groups and long-term care residents.

“Vaccines are enormously important. They’re the single most powerful tool that we have,” he said, “but a vaccination program is going to take a long time to go out.” 

“The more we don’t take precautions, the more we can see explosive exponential spread.”

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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Canada records over 6,800 new COVID-19 cases as officials announce vaccine delay – Global News



Canada added over 6,800 new cases of the novel coronavirus Friday as federal officials revealed that vaccine shipments to the country would be delayed for four weeks over production issues.

In a press conference Friday, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that only half of Pfizer-BioNTech’s promised COVID-19 vaccine doses would arrive in the next month.

Read more:
‘Temporary delay’ chops Canada’s deliveries of Pfizer vaccine in half for four weeks

The delay, which would impact production for a “short period” according to her, would be made up by the end of March and was due to the company scaling up its manufacturing capacity for European countries.

“This expansion work means that Pfizer is temporarily reducing deliveries to all countries receiving vaccine manufactured at its European facility — and that includes Canada,” said Anand, who reassured that the setback would not impact Canada’s long-term vaccination plan.

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How will I know it’s my turn to get the vaccine? Your COVID-19 questions answered

How will I know it’s my turn to get the vaccine? Your COVID-19 questions answered

Several provincial leaders including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have since raised concern over the delay, as a second shot of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be administered within 21 days of the first for it to achieve maximum efficacy.

News of the delay also comes amid new federal COVID-19 modelling that showed the country was on track to surpass 10,000 new cases of the virus a day by February if Canadians kept maintaining the “current number of people we contact each day.”

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Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who presented the modelling at a media conference, said that the rise in new infections was largely due to Canadians gathering during the holidays.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

According to her, current measures would have to be “further intensified” in order to curb the virus’ spread.

According to the modelling, virus cases could potentially surge past 30,000 a day if Canadians increased their current contacts each day by February.

“If we ease measures too soon the epidemic will resurge even more strongly,” said Tam.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada’s deliveries of Pfizer vaccine hit by ‘temporary delay,’ Anand says'

Coronavirus: Canada’s deliveries of Pfizer vaccine hit by ‘temporary delay,’ Anand says

Coronavirus: Canada’s deliveries of Pfizer vaccine hit by ‘temporary delay,’ Anand says

As of Friday evening, cases of COVID-19 in Canada floated at just under the 700,000 mark, though a total of 601,000 people have since recovered. Deaths linked to COVID-19 now stand at 17,729 after another 192 fatalities were reported.

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To date, more than 20,238,921 tests have been administered and at least 765,100 doses of the vaccine have been distributed across Canada.

Ontario reported the highest number of infections Friday with another 2,998 cases as well as 100 deaths, though 46 of those deaths were reported to have occurred earlier in the pandemic.

Read more:
Canada on track for 10K COVID-19 cases a day, measures must be ‘further intensified’: feds

Quebec added another 1,918 cases Friday as well as another 62 deaths. More than 8,900 deaths have now been recorded in the province, which is the hardest hit in Canada.

Health officials in B.C. announced another 500 lab-confirmed cases Friday as well, pushing the province’s official caseload to 59,583. Another 534 cases are considered “epi-linked,” which are cases that displayed symptoms and were in close contacts of confirmed cases but were never tested.

Nine of those epi-linked cases were included Friday’s count.

Another nine people were reported to have died from the virus there, with the province’s current death toll standing at 1,047.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Hajdu says Health Canada would need to approve change in Pfizer manufacturing site'

Coronavirus: Hajdu says Health Canada would need to approve change in Pfizer manufacturing site

Coronavirus: Hajdu says Health Canada would need to approve change in Pfizer manufacturing site

Alberta added another 785 cases Friday, pushing its total caseload to 115,370. The province’s death toll from the virus also stands at 1,402 after 21 more deaths were announced.

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Saskatchewan reported another 386 cases and four more deaths, while Manitoba recorded 191 infections and five more fatalities.

Several provinces in Atlantic Canada also reported new cases of the virus Friday.

New Brunswick added another 25 cases, Nova Scotia two more and Newfoundland and Labrador another infection. P.E.I. did not report any new cases Friday.

In Canada’s North, only the Northwest Territories reported one case of the virus.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Trudeau comments on strengthening COVID-19 travel measures'

Coronavirus: Trudeau comments on strengthening COVID-19 travel measures

Coronavirus: Trudeau comments on strengthening COVID-19 travel measures

The country’s increase in cases also comes amid another grim milestone as over two million people worldwide were reported to have succumbed to the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.

To date, more than 93,751,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with the U.S., India and Brazil continuing to lead in both infections and deaths.

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With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore and Katie Dangerfield.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canada's coming month of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipments will be reduced by half – CTV News



Over the next month Canada will be experiencing a “temporary” delay in Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments due to the pharmaceutical giant’s expansion plans at its European manufacturing facility, with the shortage resulting in an average of 50 per cent of coming doses delayed each week.

While shipments will continue in the coming weeks, the amount of doses in them will be lessened, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of doses.

“Pfizer has confirmed that Canada’s deliveries will be impacted for the next four weeks. We will see an average reduction over this timeframe of 50 per cent of expected deliveries. There will minimal impact next week… The most profound impact will be in the week of January 25,” said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout. 

This setback to Canada’s short-term COVID-19 vaccine delivery schedule means the number of doses going to each province and territory will have to be readjusted. Fortin said that the allocations will begin to scale back up in the first two weeks of February, before returning to the size of doses originally anticipated. 

Canada was planning on receiving between 124,800 and 366,600 Pfizer doses every week between now and the end of February, as part of the plan to have six million doses total from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of March when Phase 1 ends.

The delivery for the week of Jan. 25, which Fortin said is likely to see the largest reduction, was set to be 208,650 doses. If that’s reduced by half, Canada will receive 104,325 Pfizer doses that week, which is fewer than the forecasted allocation received this week.

“In my conversation this morning with Pfizer, it was very clear that we’re are still correct in our planning assumption to receive approximately four million doses of Pfizer by March 31,” Fortin said,

Fortin said that knew the company would at some point need to scale-up their manufacturing to ramp-up its mass production, but the news of the looming construction project was brought to the federal government’s attention in the last 24 hours, according to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos.  

Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced the delay on Friday, saying all nations who are receiving vaccines from this Pfizer facility will be receiving fewer doses.

“It is a temporary reduction, it’s not a stoppage… We will make up those doses,” Anand said.

Addressing the setback during his Rideau Cottage address on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that shipments have largely been ahead of schedule so far, but that “with an undertaking this historic, it’s only to be expected that there will be a few bumps along the way.”

Norway, which is also receiving Pfizer doses from its Europe facilities has announced that “for some time ahead” their deliveries will be reduced. In the coming week their shipment will be reduced by approximately 18 per cent.

“The reduction is due to a reorganisation at Pfizer in connection with an upgrade of production capacity… It is not yet clear how long it will take before Pfizer is up to maximum production capacity again,” said the statement published by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. 

The government sought to ensure that all countries who will be impacted, will be “equitably treated” in terms of delivery reductions, according to Anand. Fortin confirmed later Friday that this will be the case, with all seeing deliveries reduced by 50 per cent on average.

Anand said that while Canada is expecting to be able to catch up, the delay is “unfortunate.”

“However such delays and issues are to be expected when global supply chains are stretched well beyond their limits,” Anand said.

By end of the day Friday, the federal government will have distributed a total of 929,000 doses of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines, around 84 per cent of which have been administered.


The plan is to receive “more than” one million doses of approved vaccines every week, on average, starting in April with Phase 2. 

Trudeau said that while this issue is out of Canada’s hands, the country “must still get ready for the ramp-up,” in Phase 2. 

Fortin said the delays “will not change our second quarter goals,” though he could not guarantee future delays. He said he understands and feels the “disappointment,” but “we need to move forward.”

He committed to keep all key stakeholders, and Canadians appraised of any future delivery schedule changes. 

The ongoing initial vaccination stage has seen Canada pushing to properly allocate and prioritize key groups like residents and staff in long-term care homes as well as front-line health-care workers. 

In this first stage of the vaccine campaign, Canada has seen both doses sitting in freezers as well as provinces saying they are running short, while those on the front line have sought to sort out who should and shouldn’t be receiving shots at this time.

“It was with precisely these types of issues in mind that Canada pursued the aggressive procurement strategy that we did,” Anand said. “This approach of ensuring diversity and volume months ago is what now gives us flexibility and margins to remain on track in difficult times.” 

Asked whether Canada will be looking to revisit their decision to not procure additional Moderna doses to make up the shortage over the next few weeks, Fortin said the amount scheduled to arrive from that company will stay the same.

As previously reported, the additional 16 million Moderna doses that the federal government left on the table in talks with that company would not be arriving until late 2021. 

As for whether Canada looked into being able to receive Pfizer shipments from the  United States facility, Fortin said that the federal government looked into it, but for now Canada’s line of doses will continue to come exclusively from the European facility.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu added that because as part of the regulatory approval granted to Pfizer, Health Canada approves the manufacturing sites as well as the vaccine itself.

“So, should we procure from even the same company a different site, then there would need to be review of the manufacturing data,” she said. 

Several federal officials sought to reassure Canadians Friday that the country remains on track to vaccinate everyone who wants to be, by the end of September.   

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