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Canada needs a pandemic post-mortem — now, not later



It would be unfair to blame anyone — doctors and nurses, political leaders and health officials, average Canadians — for wanting to never think about COVID-19 again. Even if the pandemic isn’t actually over, the desire to move on is evident in every dropped restriction, every maskless face.

But it would be a mistake to not look back. The enormous and fast-moving event that consumed the last two-and-a-half years of our lives — posing profound challenges to society, public policy and institutions — practically cries out for careful, retrospective examination.

And we can be sure that there will be another virus eventually, another pandemic. It would betray the Canadians who face that threat to avoid learning the lessons of this pandemic.

Given the stakes, it’s surprising that no royal commission or national study has been announced already. But later this fall, the House of Commons will consider at least one proposal — this one from a Liberal backbencher — to launch a review.

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Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, centre, is proposing a deep review of Canada’s pandemic response. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“I can understand that reviews like this can be politicized and every expenditure can be politicized. And that’s really not my goal here,” Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said in an interview this week.

“The goal is, let’s learn the lessons for better and worse in order to inform our efforts going forward, so we are on the absolute best footing going forward to prevent future pandemics and to prepare for future pandemics.”

The bill Erskine-Smith has tabled would compel the health minister to create an advisory committee that would pursue a potentially broad study of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

That committee would review the actions of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the federal department of health. It also would look at the responses of provincial and municipal governments and “analyze the health, economic and social factors relevant to the impact of the pandemic in Canada.”

The many things a review could explore

There’s a lot to investigate here.

COVID-19 has been, first and foremost, a health crisis with deadly consequences. But it also has tested public policy in many ways that were relatively novel (at least at this scale). And while it was tempting at times to say political differences had been put aside during the pandemic, nearly every aspect of the public policy response eventually was second-guessed and criticized by one side or another.

To understand what worked and what failed — and to settle some of those debates — a truly comprehensive review would start with the state of pandemic preparedness in early 2020.

It would then move on to consider all the public health issues that came to the fore in the weeks and months that followed: border controls, contact tracing, masking, public health restrictions on businesses and individuals, data collection, the procurement of personal protective equipment, rapid tests and vaccines, long-term care, federal-provincial coordination and the use of vaccine mandates.

But a proper study would look beyond the public health response to consider the unprecedented fiscal response, largely led by the federal government. The most recent official tally says the Liberal government spent $352 billion on supports and assistance for individuals, businesses and provincial governments.

A proper study also would have to explore how the pandemic intersected with race and wealth to expose and exacerbate inequality.

During last year’s federal election campaign, the Conservatives said they would call “an immediate public inquiry to examine every aspect of the government’s pandemic response.” At the time, they were doubtless eager to enumerate every shortcoming in the Liberals’ handling of the crisis. But the Conservatives have not pressed the issue since.

The Liberals themselves have expressed some interest in the idea of a review. “We are open to an inquiry that is as deep as necessary,” then-health minister Patty Hajdu said in April 2021.

In response to questions this week, the office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos at least confirmed that the federal government still means to pursue some kind of review, eventually.

“To better inform preparations and responses to future health emergencies, we know how important it is to take stock of the lessons learned through this pandemic. Some of this work is already underway through internal reviews by the Public Health Agency of Canada, in addition to external, independent reviews of [the Global Public Health Intelligence Network] and by the auditor general,” Duclos’s office said in a media statement.

“The government has committed to a COVID response review, and more information will be communicated in due time.”

Looking forward and demanding accountability

But Erskine-Smith’s bill envisions more than a backwards-looking exercise.

In addition to striking that advisory committee, the bill would give the health minister two years to draft a pandemic preparedness plan and would compel him to select an official at the Public Health Agency of Canada to serve as a “national pandemic prevention and preparedness coordinator.” The official pandemic plan would have to be tabled in Parliament and then updated at least once every three years.

A first responder with Orange County Fire Rescue makes her way through floodwaters looking for residents in Orlando, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Climate change isn’t just changing the weather — it’s changing the behaviour of disease outbreaks. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/The Associated Press)

Erskine-Smith took his inspiration not just from the pandemic we’ve all lived through but from international reports on climate change and biodiversity — global warming is expected to make pandemics more likely.

“There was a consensus that we need to do more to prevent pandemic risk and to prepare for future pandemics,” he said.

In calling for continued vigilance and regular reports to Parliament, the Liberal MP also took a cue from climate change accountability legislation that was passed into law last year. Ideally, that kind of future reporting might also ensure that the findings of a COVID-19 review don’t merely take up space on a bookshelf — something that has happened to previous commissions, notwithstanding how wise and meticulous its authors were.

An ounce of prevention costs less than reaction

As with climate change, the value of proactive action is obvious.

Erskine-Smith recalled a briefing by World Bank officials several years ago about the risks of antimicrobial resistance and “superbugs.” What those officials stressed, he said, was that the cost of prevention would pale in comparison to the cost of dealing with the impacts.

“That’s, I think for me, the greatest lesson of the challenge that we just lived through … the costs of prevention are a tiny fraction of the costs of a pandemic to society, both in its impact on human lives but also on our economies,” Erskine-Smith said.

“As a matter of human health, as a matter of the strength of our economies, but also just as a matter of the fiscal ability of governments to respond, I think prevention and preparedness are so much more important than a reactive response.”

COVID-19 is still with us and it might be years before Canadians fully reckon with all that the pandemic has wrought. Another pandemic is inevitable — and the need to learn from this one isn’t going away.

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Canada’s immigration backlog has decreased to 2.2 million – Canada Immigration News



Published on December 9th, 2022 at 08:00am EST


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Latest data from IRCC shows reduction in the backlog of applications

New data obtained from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reports that Canada’s immigration backlog has dropped to just over 2.2 million.

In an email to CIC News, IRCC provided updated data, which is current as of December 2.

The inventory across all lines of business has progressed as follows since July 2021:

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Current Inventories

The citizenship inventory stands at 314,630 applicants as of November 30, compared to 331,401 on October 31.

The permanent residence inventory stands at 512,342 people as of December 2, compared to 506,421 as of November 3.

Also on December 2, the temporary residence inventory stood at 1,416, 125 people, compared to 1,537,566 persons as of November 3.

Therefore, there were reductions in two of the three major categories, with the biggest reduction in the temporary residence inventory.

Immigration Category Persons as of December 2, 2022
Permanent Residence 512,342
Temporary Residence 1,416,125
Citizenship 314,630
Grand total 2,243,097

Express Entry and PNP inventories

As of December 2, there are 43,326 applications for Express Entry programs waiting in the queue, an increase of over 3,500 since November 3 data, which stood at 39,589.

Among the total people applying for Express Entry programs, there has been an increase of nearly 5,000 applications for the Canadian Experience Class over the past month.

IRCC resumed holding rounds of invitations for Express Entry candidates from all programs in July this year. Draws were limited to the candidates in the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) between September 21, 2021 and July 6, 2022 due to IRCC struggling to meet its service standard of six months or less for Express Entry applications. The pause in Express Entry invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Canadian Experience Class  candidates enabled IRCC to reduce the Express Entry inventory and the department is back to its six month service standard for those who have received a permanent residence invitation since July 6.

The PNP has an inventory of 62,343 total applications (both base and enhanced combined).

Family class inventory

The inventory for all family class immigration programs has dropped slightly to 127,091 compared to November 3 when it was 128,112.

The Spouses and Partners sponsorship program is among the largest inventories among all lines of business, at 62,106, a minimal increase compared with November 3.

The Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) has an inventory of 53,770 persons compared to 55,653 persons waiting for decisions in November.

Service standards

IRCC’s webpage that tracks the total inventory of applications shows that as of October 31, 1.2 million applications are considered backlog.

Data from September 30 showed that there were 1.5 million applications in backlog, meaning that IRCC cleared over 350,000 applications from the backlog. This comes while the number of applications in inventory has risen for permanent residency.

An application in backlog means it has not been processed within service standards. These standards provide the expected timeline, or goal, for how long it should take to process an application. The service standard is different from the actual amount of time that IRCC takes to process applications. Applications not processed within the service standard for their program are categorized as backlog.

IRCC aims to process 80% of applications across all lines of business within service standards. The service standard varies depending on the type of application. For example, a permanent residence application through an Express Entry program has a standard of six months. It is longer for other economic class lines of business. IRCC states its service standard for spousal and child family class sponsorship is 12 months.

Temporary residence applications have service standards that range between 60-120 days depending on the type of application (work or study) and if it was submitted within Canada or from abroad.

Tackling the backlog

The department reports that between January and October 2022, they produced 4.3 million final decisions for permanent residents, temporary residents and citizenship compared to 2.3 million final decisions in the same period last year.

IRCC aims to have a less than 50% backlog across all lines of business by the end of March 2023. To help meet this goal, the department began the transition towards 100% digital applications for most permanent resident programs on September 23, with accommodations made for those who are unable to apply online.

This transition also includes citizenship applications, which are now 100% online for all applicants over the age of 18. IRCC is aiming to make all citizenship applications digital by the end of this year, including those for minors under 18.

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Canada Premiers to hold virtual news conference on struggling children’s hospitals



Canada’s premiers plan to hold a news conference in Winnipeg today as children’s hospitals struggle to deal with a wave of child illnesses.

Hospitals across the country have been cancelling some surgeries and appointments as they redirect staff amid an increase in pediatric patients.

Admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 at a time when the health-care system is grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

In Ottawa, two teams of Canadian Red Cross personnel are working rotating overnight shifts at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in support of its clinical-care team, while some patients have been redirected to adult health-care facilities.

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A pediatric hospice in Calgary has been temporarily closed as staff are diverted to a children’s hospital.

Members of the Alberta Medical Association have sent a letter to the province’s acting chief medical officer of health calling for stronger public health measures to prevent the spread of the illnesses, including increasing public messaging about the safety of vaccines, encouraging flu and COVID-19 vaccines, and temporarily requiring masks in schools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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As nature talks unfold, here’s what ’30 by 30′ conservation could mean in Canada



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was unequivocal Wednesday when asked if Canada was going to meet its goal to protect one-quarter of all Canadian land and oceans by 2025.

“I am happy to say that we are going to meet our ’25 by 25′ target,” Trudeau said during a small roundtable interview with journalists on the sidelines of the nature talks taking place in Montreal.

That goal, which would already mean protecting 1.2 million more square kilometres of land, is just the interim stop on the way to conserving 30 per cent by 2030 — the marquee target Canada is pushing for during the COP15 biodiversity conference.

But what does the conservation of land or waterways actually mean?

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“When we talk about protecting land and water, we’re talking about looking at a whole package of actions across broader landscapes,” said Carole Saint-Laurent, head of forest and lands at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The group’s definition of “protected area,” which is used by the UN convention on biodiversity, refers to a “clearly defined geographical space” that is managed by laws or regulations with the goal of the long-term protection of nature.

“It can range from areas with very strict protections to areas that are being protected or conserved,” said Saint-Laurent.

“We have to look at that entire suite of protective and restorative action in order to not only save nature, but to do so in a way that is going to help our societies. There is not one magical formula, and context is everything.”

The organization, which keeps its own global “green list” of conserved areas, lists 17 criteria for how areas can fit the definition.

Most of the criteria are centred on how the sites are managed and protected. One allows for resource extraction, hunting, recreation and tourism as long as these are both compatible with and supportive of the conservation goals outlined for the area.

In many cases, industrial activities and resource extraction are not allowed in protected areas. But that’s not always true in Canada, particularly when it involves the rights of Indigenous Peoples on their traditional territory.

In some provincial parks, mining and logging are allowed. In Ontario’s Algonquin Park, for example, logging is permitted in about two-thirds of the park area.

Canada has nearly 10 million square kilometres of terrestrial land, including inland freshwater lakes and rivers, and about 5.8 million square kilometres of marine territory.

As of December 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 per cent of land and almost 14 per cent of marine territory. The government did it through a combination of national and provincial parks and reserves, wildlife areas, migratory bird sanctuaries, national marine conservation areas, marine protected areas and what are referred to as “other effective areas-based conservation measures.”

These can include private lands that have a management plan to protect and conserve habitats, or public or private lands where conservation isn’t the primary focus but still ends up happening.

Canadian Forces Base Shilo, in Manitoba, includes about 211 square kilometres of natural habitats maintained under an environmental protection plan run by the Department of National Defence.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization that raises funds to buy plots of land from private owners with a view to long-term conservation.

Mike Hendren, its Ontario regional vice-president, said that on such lands, management plans can include everything from nature trails to hunting — but always with conservation as the priority.

To hit “25 by 25,” Canada must further protect more than 1.2 million square kilometres of land, or approximately the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan added together. To get to 30 per cent is to add, on top of that, land almost equivalent in size to Alberta.

The federal government would need to protect another 638,000 square kilometres of marine territory and coastlines by 2025, or an area almost three times the size of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By 2030, another area the size of the gulf would need to be added.

Trudeau said that in a country as big and diverse as Canada, hard and fast rules about what can and can’t happen in protected areas don’t make sense.

He said there should be distinctions between areas that can’t have any activity and places where you can mine, log or hunt, as long as it is done with conservation in mind.

“There’s ability to have sort of management plans that are informed by everyone, informed by science, informed by various communities, that say, ‘yes, we’re going to protect this area and that means, no, there’s not going to be unlimited irresponsible mining going to happen,'” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain projects in certain places that could be the right kind of thing, or the right thing to move forward on.”

The draft text of the biodiversity framework being negotiated at COP15 is not yet clear on what kind of land and marine areas would qualify or what conservation of them would specifically mean.

It currently proposes that a substantial portion of the conserved land would need to be “strictly protected” but some areas could respect the right to economic development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

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