He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.
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.”
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.
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?”
Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say
When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.
“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.
“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”
Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”
Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.
“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.
He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”
Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.
Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.
Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.
“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.
She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”
What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.
“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”
Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.
Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.
“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.
For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.
“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.
Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.
At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”
Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.
One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.
“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.
“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”
Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.
“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.
After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.
“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.
“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.
McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.
The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.
In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.
“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”
Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”
McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”
“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”
Source:- NBC News
Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics
(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.
Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.
“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”
In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.
The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.
The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.
The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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