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Can the pandemic teach politicians to take long-term threats seriously? –



The auditor general’s conclusion this week that the Public Health Agency of Canada “was not adequately prepared to respond to a pandemic” is disappointing. It’s also not entirely surprising — being inadequately prepared for a once-in-a-century pandemic is a failure that obviously was not unique to the Public Health Agency, or to Canada.

“The experience of COVID‑19 has provided a lived experience of a global pandemic, the nature of which Canada has not seen in over 100 years,” the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) wrote in its response to the auditor general.

The challenge now isn’t just to ensure our institutions are braced for the next pandemic. It’s also to think about how governments and societies can prepare for all the other once-in-a-century catastrophes that might happen.

“Reports like [the auditor general’s] will be written multiple times in country after country after country,” said Dan Gardner, a fellow at the University of Ottawa and author of Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, in an interview this week.

“This is not unique to Canada. This is our species. This is how we roll.”

All the issues identified by the auditor general are worthy of attention. The system for managing data was inadequate. A risk assessment tool did not properly capture the probability of a future threat. And PHAC had “not contemplated or planned for mandatory quarantine on a nationwide scale.”

The auditor general’s report suggests officials tried to address shortcomings as problems emerged — and it might be hard to quantify exactly how the overall pandemic experience in Canada was affected by any one problem. But the AG is not the first person to say this country was not perfectly ready for COVID-19.

“There were really concerning reports from far away and we started to take measures. But, as we look back, there’s [a] lot of things that we probably would’ve wanted to do sooner in terms of preparing,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton in December.

“I think the next time any leader sees reports of a possible flu-like virus coming out of some corner of the world, make sure we have the right stockpiles of [personal protective equipment] and start ordering more … There was a scramble there that I wouldn’t want to repeat.”

‘No one really cares … until the disaster happens’

As Trudeau noted, Canada was hardly alone in scrambling for PPE as countries realized they didn’t have enough on hand and supply chains were fragile or insufficient. But if governments had properly thought through what might happen in the event of a global pandemic — the likes of which the world has not seen since the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 — they might have seen the problem coming.

“If you speak to anybody who deals with disaster management — which is foreseeing risks, mitigating the risks, dealing with them afterward — they will tell you it is almost a cliche in that field that you are starved for resources and no one really cares about your work until the disaster happens,” Gardner said. “At which point you [are] deluged with money — so much money that you don’t know how to use it.

“Then gradually, as time passes, you slowly evolve back to the previous position in which nobody cares about your work and you’re starved for resources. I call that the complacency-to-panic cycle.”

The probability blind spot

The basic problem, Gardner said, can be traced to human psychology. People tend to struggle with probability and long-term thinking. A global pandemic is an improbable event at any given moment in time; it’s only over the long term that such threats can be expected to manifest themselves.

“In other words, it’s a combination of our two blind spots,” Gardner said.

Gardner put it this way in a piece he wrote last year: if you’re told that there is a one per cent chance of something bad happening this year, you will discount the risk. But if that one per cent chance is constant from one year to the next, the “highly improbable” becomes “inevitable.”

Gardner also points to the “availability heuristic” and the idea that people will judge how common something is by how easily they can recall an example of something similar happening in the past.

People forget things — even the worst things

Anyone who was alive during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for instance, might consider it more likely that terrorists could hijack an airplane. But there are few people left on the planet with any memory of the Spanish Flu.

And vigilance always fades over time. “If something bad happens to us, we suddenly perk up and pay a lot of attention to that bad thing and we are on the lookout for that bad thing,” Gardner said. “If the bad thing doesn’t manifest itself for a while, we gradually forget about the bad thing and go on about our day.”

Firefighters walk through rubble near the base of the destroyed south tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. (Peter Morgan/Reuters)

All that human psychology informs political and institutional attention. “There’s human psychology that is making judgments about risks. The psychology informs public perception of risks. The public perception of risks informs politics. And the politics determines the resources that are available to prepare for risks,” Gardner said.

Government officials are only human. But if we can identify these blind spots, and if we now see the consequences of failing to prepare for possible disasters, our preparations don’t have to be limited to the next killer virus.

“I’m not worried about the next pandemic because I’m really pretty confident that our governments are going to be exquisitely sensitive to that threat. And they’re going to be that way for years to come,” Gardner said.

“The conversation should not be, ‘How do we prepare for the next pandemic’? The conversation should be, ‘How do we next best prepare for the next low-probability, high-consequence event that we’re not thinking about?'”

No political value in preemptive problem-solving

In his new book Value(s), former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney touches on a similar idea. He observes that resilience and preparedness were undervalued before the pandemic — and politicians are rarely rewarded for preemptively solving problems.

The most obvious analogue of another global pandemic is climate change, although that can no longer be considered a “low probability” threat. Dealing with that threat means mitigating the risk — by reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and protecting ourselves against the “once-in-a-century” storms and fires that are already happening.

Another severe solar storm like the one that caused the 1859 Carrington Event could damage communication systems and cripple the global economy. (NASA/Associated Press)

Gardner threw out another suggestion: solar storms and the so-called Carrington Event of 1859, which fried telegraph lines. A similar geomagnetic disturbance now could wreak havoc on the communications technology that runs the modern world.

Preparing for such threats inevitably comes with upfront costs and the aftermath of this pandemic may offer some interesting insights into how much we are willing to do — and for how long. Maintaining a constant and robust supply of PPE and increasing domestic vaccine manufacturing would require resources.

A new definition of national security

The cost of preparation might always be far less than the cost of failing to prepare. But if the next pandemic is years or decades away, how long might it take for future Canadians to cut back or ignore such precautions?

For the sake of sustaining such efforts, Gardner said he wonders whether preparations for the next disaster could be included within a general understanding of national security — something politicians of all stripes are generally willing to fund.

He acknowledged that you could get carried away in trying to imagine all the awful things that could happen. But within reason, thinking about risk and resilience could better prepare governments and societies for whatever might come.

“There are two ways to approach it,” Gardner said. “Number one is, let’s have a conversation about those low-probability, high-consequence events that we’re not talking about — whether there are reasonable, cost-effective ways of mitigating those risks.

“Number two is just generally — how can we make our systems less fragile? How can we build more resilience into the system so that if we are hit with whatever it is that we’re hit by, we can respond to it well?”

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‘Heartbroken’: Politicians express shock at killing of British MP – Al Jazeera English



British Member of Parliament David Amess has died after being stabbed several times during a meeting with his constituents at a church in eastern England. He was 69.

Reports said a man walked into Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, south Essex, on Friday while Amess was holding a surgery with locals and attacked the politician.

Police arrested a man and recovered a knife.

Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock and sadness over the horrific incident.

Here are some of the reactions:

Boris Johnson, UK prime minister

In a tribute to Amess, Johnson said the late MP was killed after “almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom”.

He added: “The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.

“He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable, whether the people who are suffering from endometriosis, passing laws to end cruelty to animals, or doing a huge amount to reduce the fuel poverty suffered by people up and down the country.”

Johnson continued: “David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future. And we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.

“Our thoughts are very much today with his wife, his children and his family.”

Dominic Raab, UK deputy prime minister

“Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP. A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit – including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend.”

Priti Patel, UK interior minister

“I am devastated we have lost Sir David Amess … David served the people of Southend with endless passion, energy and integrity. That he was killed while going about his constituency duties is heartbreaking beyond words. It represents a senseless attack on democracy itself.

“Questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives and I will provide updates in due course.”

Rishi Sunak, UK finance minister

“The worst aspect of violence is its inhumanity. It steals joy from the world and can take from us that which we love the most. Today it took a father, a husband, and a respected colleague. All my thoughts and prayers are with Sir David’s loved ones.”

Liz Truss, UK foreign minister

“Devastated to hear the terrible news about Sir David Amess MP. He was a lovely, lovely man and a superb parliamentarian. My thoughts are with all his family and friends.”

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland

“This is awful beyond words. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with David’s family, friends and colleagues. May he rest in peace.

“Elected representatives from across the political spectrum will be united in sadness and shock today.

“In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no-one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents.”

Nadhim Zahawi, UK education minister

“Rest In Peace Sir David. You were a champion for animal welfare, the less fortunate, and the people of Southend West. You will be missed by many.”

Sajid Javid, UK health minister

“Devastated to learn of Sir David Amess’ murder. A great man, a great friend, and a great MP killed while fulfilling his democratic role. My heart goes out to Julia, his family, and all who loved him. Let us remember him and what he did with his life.”

Kwasi Kwarteng, UK business minister

“Sir David was a thoroughly decent, kind and thoughtful man. An exemplary Member of Parliament who fought for his constituents with devotion. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this deeply tragic time.”

Simon Coveney, Irish foreign minister

“What a shocking and tragic incident. Our thoughts and sincere sympathies are with family, friends and political colleagues of Sir David Amess MP.”

Michael Gove, UK levelling up minister

“David Amess’s passing is heartbreakingly sad. Just terrible, terrible news. He was a good and gentle man, he showed charity and compassion to all, his every word and act were marked by kindness. My heart goes out to his family.”

Joao Vale de Almeida, EU ambassador to the UK

“Very shocked by the news of the death of MP Sir David Amess following a horrific attack. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”

Philip T. Reeker, US charge d’affair to the UK

“I’m deeply saddened to hear about the death of Sir David Amess MP. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and all those who worked with him during his distinguished parliamentary career.”

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

“Sir David Amess dedicated his life to championing causes he believed in, serving constituents and his country for almost forty years as a Member of Parliament. He was a devout Roman Catholic whose deep faith fuelled his sense of justice. We are richer for his life, and we are all the poorer for his untimely death.”

Carrie Johnson, wife of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess. He was hugely kind and good. An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”

Keir Starmer, opposition Labour Party

“This is a dark and shocking day. The whole country will feel it acutely, perhaps the more so because we have, heartbreakingly, been here before.

“Above all else, today I am thinking of David, of the dedicated public servant that he was and of the depth of positive impact he had for the people he represented.”

Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons

“This is an incident that will send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country. In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Brendan Cox, husband of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016

“My thoughts and love are with David’s family. They are all that matter now. This brings everything back. The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”

Theresa May, former Conservative UK prime minister

“Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Sir David Amess. A decent man and respected parliamentarian, killed in his own community while carrying out his public duties. A tragic day for our democracy.”

Gordon Brown, former Labour UK prime minister

“Saddened and shocked to hear about the death of Sir David Amess. My condolences to his family and friends.”

David Cameron, former Conservative UK prime minister

“This is the most devastating, horrific & tragic news. David Amess was a kind & thoroughly decent man – & he was the most committed MP you could ever hope to meet. Words cannot adequately express the horror of what has happened today. Right now, my heart goes out to David’s family.”

Tony Blair, former Labour UK prime minister

“David and I came into Parliament together in 1983. Though on opposite political sides I always found him a courteous, decent and thoroughly likeable colleague who was respected across the House. This is a terrible and sad day for our democracy.”

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Jonathan Soloman walking away from politics – TimminsToday



Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon is retiring from politics with mixed emotions and feeling good about his tenure.

Solomon is resigning effective today, Oct. 15.

With over a year still left in his term, Solomon, 59, said he is leaving the office to focus on his health and spend more time with his family in his home community of Kashechewan.

After reflecting on his career and speaking with his family, Solomon said he decided to walk away from politics.

“My diabetes really spiked up. So, I thought about my well-being first and foremost. My family wants me to be well and I want to be well,” he said. “I’ve been in politics for many, many years and it’s taking a toll on me.”

He will now be working as a health director in Kashechewan. Solomon said the job is non-political, more private and allows him to stay in his home community.

Solomon said the Council of Chiefs will likely hold a by-election to elect a new leader for the remaining term until the next Mushkegowuk Council election in 2023.

To a new grand chief, Solomon advised to have a good vision, work with communities and staff, have good communication and continue supporting the ongoing work at the Mushkegowuk.

“You got to love what you do. Don’t do it for the sake of getting that title,” he said. “Lead from the heart.”

Solomon has been leading the organization, which represents seven First Nation communities in the James Bay and Hudson Bay, for the past six years. Before that, he was chief of Kashechewan for six years.

He got into politics at the age of 19 when he was elected to council. He first became Kashechewan chief when he was 27.

He also worked as director of education and served as Mushkegowuk deputy chief.

“Although I was a politician, I’m more of a human. I had a heart, I had compassion. I loved what I did,” he said.

During his tenure, Mushkegowuk Council signed a revenue sharing agreement with the Ontario government.

Most recently, the organization signed a memorandum of understanding with Parks Canada regarding a proposed National Marine Conservation Area in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay.

As a chief, Solomon said he championed and lobbied to launch the inquiry into the suicide crisis in the First Nation communities.

Mushkegowuk Council established a People’s Inquiry in 2013. The communities raised their own funding to conduct the inquiry, hold public hearings and choose commissioners. The final report with recommendations was released in 2016.

Re-establishing the Mushkegowuk youth department was also one of his priorities as the grand chief.

“I lobbied so hard to get the funding,” Solomon recalled.

When the funding was approved, it was an emotional moment.

“I still remember that day like it was yesterday,” he said.

He said he also lobbied to establish the Mushkegowuk health department.

When he was first elected as the grand chief, his first priority was to get the organization “back on feet.” Solomon said he was surrounded by dedicated hardworking people who had the same vision for Mushkegowuk as he did.

“They’re the ones doing most of the work, the technical work. You got to have the right people surround you and to support you, and vice versa,” he said.

Solomon questioned why a sitting grand chief can’t have a satellite office and work from their home community.

He is from Kashechewan, while Mushkegowuk Council’s head office is in Moose Factory.

Spending six years between two communities, away from his family was quite challenging for him, Solomon said adding if he had an office in Kashechewan, he’d finish his term.

“I missed the part where my children were growing up. I was too busy. I missed a lot of parts. The next thing I knew they were starting their own families,” he said. “I want to be there for my grandchildren, I want to see their birthdays, special days. I want to be part of their lives, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

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PM Trudeau to unveil new cabinet, vows gender balance despite losses



Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday he would reshuffle his cabinet on Oct. 26 and ensure there was a  gender balance , even though he lost female ministers in an election last month.

Trudeau was re-elected to a third term in office on Sept. 20 but only won a minority of seats, which means he needs to cooperate with opposition legislators to govern.

“The new  cabinet will remain gender balanced,” said a statement from Trudeau’s office. Since taking power in late 2015, Trudeau – an avowed feminist – has named cabinets with an even split of male and female ministers.

But in the run-up to the election, one high-profile woman cabinet minister quit and another three lost their seats.

His office also said the new Parliament would be recalled on Nov 22.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by John Stonestreet)

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