For several decades now the budget process, both at the federal and provincial levels, has evolved to become as much a narrative exercise as it is a financial one. Governments seek to outline a broad story arc for their planned actions, tying together what can appear to be disparate initiatives under core thematic buckets.
Election budgets are even more focused on narrative than usual.
The Ontario Progressive Conservative Budget, tabled right before the provincial election, and again this past week, was no exception. It focused on five core pillars, which formed the basis of the PC election pitch. Given the sizeable victory on June 2nd, voters seem to have connected with these themes.
I have worked on five federal budgets and four provincial ones. For full disclosure, I served as vice-chair of Ontario’s finance committee during this most recent budget. Throughout all of these, I have seen and been part of crafting these budget “stories.”
Most of the media coverage about this budget will focus on that narrative. Is the government living up to the promise it contains? How important was it in helping the PCs secure victory? Does it adequately address the challenges of today?
This isn’t a piece like that.
This is a story about the small initiatives often buried within budgets than can have big impact. These are often the success stories of MPs or staff, who work tirelessly throughout the year to bring a small idea from conception to implementation.
On page 128 of this most recent Ontario budget, one such item can be found.
An example of a children’s health investment is $97 million over three years to improve the experiences and lifelong outcomes for more than 1,100 children and youth with complex special needs at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and McMaster Children’s Hospital. Funding will support a pilot project for an integrated model to provide key health and social services, including hospital-based assessments, access to interdisciplinary clinical teams, medical care and behaviour therapy.
It was a small paragraph in an otherwise dense book: $97 million in a $190 billion plan. And it didn’t quite fit into the broader narrative pieces of highways, hospitals, and economic growth.
But for the people involved in getting those two sentences included, it was a win worthy of a big celebration.
I was fortunate to be one of those people.
I have written elsewhere of my experience growing up with a younger brother with special needs. It was the driving force for my motivation to enter politics and continues to hold an important place in my heart.
For many parents across the province whose children are diagnosed with special needs they are shocked to learn that clinical therapies for their children are often not fully funded. Unlike other medical issues, special needs treatments are often funded through a web of social services and health-care envelopes that can be challenging to navigate and access. Moreover, services often lack cohesion for the patient and family.
Far too often, these challenges lead to crises, with desperate families showing up in hospital emergency rooms. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the stress on these families. A Queens University study has detailed and quantified these growing challenges.
My own family lived through this experience.
When my brother entered his teen years, he struggled with severe behavioural issues and epilepsy. My parents and I spent weeks on end trying to help him cope with either terrible tantrums or seizures. Both problems necessitated regular trips to CHEO for meetings with psychiatrists and neurologists.
I was just 14 at the time, and while I didn’t have the wisdom of age, I think I brought a certain childhood clarity to these appointments.
I remember one meeting vividly. We were sitting at the hospital with the psychiatrist who was recommending a change to my brother’s medications. It was easily the tenth such meeting we’d had over the course of several weeks.
“Before we finalize this change,” the doctor said, “you’ll have to meet with the neurologist to make sure this won’t impact his seizure activity. If it will, you can schedule another meeting with me to discuss.”
I stared at the doctor and then at my parents.
“But the neurologist is just three floors above us. Why in the world can’t we just get everyone in here for a meeting at once?” I asked.
It seemed like the obvious question. Most importantly, it was what was in my brother’s best interest.
But of course, it just “wasn’t how things worked”.
Our story is no different from the thousands of others unfolding across Ontario. While we are fortunate here to have a number of highly qualified and effective clinicians covering a range of fields, we lack a coordinated approach that will put the patient first.
And so, just over a year ago, a group of us including stakeholders, staff, and government officials asked ourselves a question: how can we do better?
The problem was as complex as the children who needed the support. But in developing a solution, the stakeholders started from a simple premise: kids with these challenges should get wrap-around and seamless clinical support. In other words, a child with down-syndrome and bipolar disorder, or autism and epilepsy, should be able to benefit from a team of clinicians and allied health professionals working in concert to tackle their challenges. Perhaps it might be a psychiatrist, a behavioral therapist, and an occupational therapist. Or, as was the case for my brother, perhaps a psychiatrist and neurologist.
Thankfully, the three stakeholders involved had the clinical human resources and experience necessary to fill that gap. But how could we harness it? How could we identify the kids that needed it? And, most critically, how would we fund it?
CHEO in Ottawa, Holland Bloorview Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, and McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton set about answering the first two questions. We on the government side set about answering the third.
Any initiative that would require new money, like this one, typically has to make its way through the budget cycle—a process that starts with determining what ministry would house the initiative and ultimately fund it.
From the start, there was a strong consensus that funding should be drawn from both the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) and the Ministry of Health. While children with special needs receive much of their government support through MCCSS, it was clear that these children were struggling with health challenges as well. A jointly funded pilot would be a fantastic way to continue breaking down ministerial siloes—a common challenge faced by all governments.
Moreover, this program would break ground in another important way. Many programs for children with special needs are “diagnosis specific” (i.e. you need a specific diagnosis to access supports). This program would be different by putting the child and not the diagnosis at the centre. Preliminary criteria for eligibility would focus on children with “multiple, medical, neurodevelopmental and mental health comorbidities relating to psychiatric or developmental disorders.”
Through the use of their own entry points (e.g. emergency room visits, existing clinical services, community partnerships, etc), the stakeholders felt confident that they could develop “catch points,” where the children could be identified early and pulled into support. A comprehensive needs assessment would then determine a child’s eligibility. And, with the additional resources proposed, they would be able to better ensure coordination and collaboration between clinical partners in providing wrap-around services. It would draw on a model of care that has shown promise in an array of child development settings.
By pitching this as a pilot program, we were able to propose the concept as a test case that could be measured and evaluated to determine impact. With strained fiscal capacity, governments across the globe are increasingly turning to evaluative methods, including borrowing the corporate world’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), to determine the efficacy of dollars spent. The stakeholder partners would be responsible for working with government to determine evaluative parameters.
With a solid plan developed and a case to be made, our team set about working to have this pilot funded in the budget. It’s a competitive process, given the plethora of good ideas and worthy causes up for consideration. But we made our case, citing the above points, and, during the budget’s first tabling before the election, we were elated to see our hard work pay off.
Trapped within those two sentences in the budget were an array of exciting developments: the breaking down of government siloes through joint funding; a move towards a gold standard wrap-around model of care; a desire to treat the patient not the diagnosis; and an initiative that bet its success on proving its competency through evaluative metrics.
Not too shabby.
After the announcement, CHEO CEO Alex Munter said, “the children and families that will benefit most from this investment live with unimaginable struggles, often having to fight for access to care and to avoid falling through the cracks. Sometimes they end up making frequent visits to the emergency department or even being admitted to hospital because of lack of services. Every child and youth deserves to lead their best life with healthier outcomes and simpler journeys.”
He could have easily been describing my family’s journey with my brother.
Not much will be written about this initiative in the papers or talked about in the media. And undoubtedly there may be some who read this piece and think I’m just “patting myself on the back”.
But this is a story that needs telling.
Beyond being exciting for the many families it will benefit, there is a broad point worth making.
The vast majority of stories these days about politics and government focus on negatives. The latest scandal. The longest delays. The largest funding mishaps.
And all of these are important. We need these stories to hold our governments accountable about the use of our scarce taxpayer dollars and the efficacy of our institutions.
But we also need to hear the good. Without the positives, it becomes easier and easier to view our political system as unresponsive, incompetent, or alien to us.
This story is a reminder of the good that is taking place every day in governments across the country. A tale of the government ecosystem at work: stakeholders, staff, civil servants, and politicians coming together to tackle a problem and try a solution. It may or may not succeed, time will tell. I’m betting on the former. Regardless, it will serve to bring hope to families that need it. These challenges aren’t simple, and we need to be willing to try solutions.
And so, when a new budget comes out, take some time to move past the narrative and reflect on the passion, drive, and commitment that goes into those documents and initiatives. And, most importantly, take some time to celebrate the small victories included within. You’ll find countless examples of them.
They are the stories of our democracy in action. And that’s worth celebrating.
Pandemic protesters try making leap to politics in Manitoba's civic, school board races – CBC.ca
Fierce opposition to COVID-19 measures is reverberating through Manitoba’s upcoming municipal and school board elections.
It’s believed at least a dozen people on ballots in October are vocal critics of pandemic-era restrictions, some of whom gained widespread notoriety for their dissent.
Dick Eastland said running for a school board seat wasn’t something he seriously considered before the pandemic. He said discussions with others who rallied against the restrictions and vaccine mandates changed his mind.
“We have been talking about this a lot privately from person-to-person and trying to inspire each other, to show some strength,” he said.
“For a lot of people, they’re getting completely out of their comfort zone.”
This includes Eastland, whose own kids are out of school.
“There’s no reason for me to do this, except that I strongly believe that a lot of people felt helpless when it came to masking their children or vaccinating them.”
Eastland, who is looking to represent Ward 1 in the Pembina Trails School Division in Winnipeg, argues the current trustees are too willing to go along with the crowd rather than thinking for themselves. He wouldn’t be afraid to chart his own path, he said.
“My reputation isn’t at stake here,” Eastland said. “Me battling for families that are maybe getting run over by the machine, so to speak, that’s who I’m here for.”
Karl Krebs, who failed to turn Winkler, Man., into a sanctuary city immune from pandemic restrictions, actively encouraged like-minded people to run for office.
He told a restaurant full of his supporters in August that if enough of their people run, “this will be a memorable moment in the history book of Manitoba,” an online video shows.
He’s one of two people seeking to become mayor of the Winkler. Krebs will face Henry Siemens, a longtime councillor.
In an interview on Friday, Krebs said he hopes his own decision to seek office, and subsequent appeals to others, had the desired effect.
“We’re all in this to bring about change that will bring us back to where we were,” Krebs said. “Nobody is looking for a different community other than the one that we had two years ago, and that’s what’s been affected. We’ve seen the effects of mandates on businesses. We’ve seen the effects of promoting medical choices that people are not comfortable making.”
Krebs said one person he encouraged to run is his “good friend” Don Bouchard, who’s challenging councillor Jim Funk to serve as reeve of the RM of Hanover.
Bouchard attended rallies with convoy protest supporters where he’s done ministry and performed baptisms.
He said what’s broken in society is this tendency to believe there’s only one opinion, and other perspectives are wrong.
“People are allowed to be angry. They’re allowed to think differently. And if I’m offended, I have the problem.”
‘If I do get elected … things could happen’
Angela Anderson Johnson, who is among nine nominees vying for a single seat in Ward 5 of the Winnipeg School Division board, said she’s been branded online as an opponent of COVID measures and she’s been bombarded with critical comments since her name was listed on the ballot.
She said those remarks have empowered her.
“I can go to all the rallies and listen to them … but it’s not doing anything, right? Nothing’s changing. So I think if I do get elected to be a school trustee, I think things could happen.”
Todd McDougall is one of the five people convicted this summer for repeatedly violating COVID-19 public health orders.
He’s been part of discussions with friends and other supporters about seeking elected office, he said.
McDougall knows he’s garnered a reputation for his views on COVID-19, but said he doesn’t want voters in Ward 2 of the Pembina Trails School Division to “pigeonhole” him as a one-issue candidate. Three of the four hopefuls in that race will be elected.
He wants discussions with voters to be about “what’s happening in education right now,” McDougall said.
He hopes people afford that same opportunity to all candidates that may be portrayed as having fringe views.
Like him, Patrick Allard, who was also charged in court for flouting pandemic rules, wants more transparency on school board decisions and more opportunities for parents to have their say.
Allard is one of three people vying to become a trustee in Ward 8 in the Winnipeg School Division.
He’s happily encouraged people to run for office on social media, he said, but denies targeting a certain group of anti-mandate protesters with his messaging. If you’re frustrated with those in public office, you should get involved, he said.
“I was always told when I was young, ‘If you don’t like the laws, run for office and change them.'”
Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said the path from protests to politics is well-travelled, no matter which end of the political spectrum they occupy.
“I think many people [who protested COVID measures] “got a taste of how enjoyable it was to be part of the media spotlight and to be in groups talking about issues of importance to them,” Adams said.
“It’s not surprising that these individuals would come forward and be part of a local campaign,” Adams said.
He added some of these candidates may not seriously think they can win. Meanwhile, those individuals hoping to gain power may have a better shot at school board elections, since they don’t generally garner much attention and any incumbents do not have much name recognition.
Election day is on Oct. 26.
Politics Podcast: Is Social Media Turning Us Into Political Extremists? – FiveThirtyEight
What effect is social media having on our politics and society more broadly? According to critics, we’re living through an unregulated era of social media that will one day look as outdated as tobacco did in its pre-regulation era.
In his new book, “The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World” New York Times reporter Max Fisher explores how social media impacts the psychology of its users and changes how people think, behave and communicate.
In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Galen Druke talks to Fisher about his book and why he believes this is leading to social and political crises in the U.S. and around the world.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
Equilibrium/Sustainability — Oil’s diversity push crashes into abortion politics – The Hill
Texas’s restrictive position on abortion is thwarting attempts by the state’s oil industry to draw younger and more diverse talent.
“It has always been difficult to attract women into oil and gas,” Sherry Richard, a human resources professional with 40 years in the oil industry, told Reuters.
“When you create an environment that is unfriendly to women, it just makes it harder,” Richards added.
More than half of women between the ages of 18 and 44 said they would not apply for jobs in a state that banned abortion, Reuters reported, citing a PerryUndem poll.
Divisive state politics around abortion and religion in public schools caused attorney Hayley Hollands to leave the state for Colorado with her husband — a former oil worker, she told Reuters.
“It is kind of the first time I’ve reckoned with the idea that I don’t think I’m going to live in my home state ever again,” Hollands said.
Oil companies themselves have attempted to split the difference — quietly offering employees support to travel for health care without specifically mentioning abortion, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, they continue to donate largely to conservative candidates, employees complained.
“Companies say they value employee’s rights and yet finance politicians who violate my rights and wellbeing,” one engineer at oilfield service firm Halliburton told Reuters.
Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.
Today we’ll start in Puerto Rico, where residents are in danger of serious shortages. Then we’ll see why President Biden may be considering ousting the World Bank chief. Plus: A look at how aerosol pollution is worsening the effects of climate change.
“This is hypocrisy,” she added.
Puerto Ricans fear shortages as stores close
Businesses in Puerto Rico are shutting their doors as power outages caused by Hurricane Fiona persist across the island, The Associated Press reported.
Meeting basic needs: These closures have triggered fears about the availability of fuel and other necessities, according to the AP.
- About 62 percent of 1.47 million customers still do not have power more than four days after the storm occurred.
- Hand-written signs indicating closures are increasingly popping up on storefronts, eliciting frustration.
“There are a lot of people with a lot of needs,” one retiree told the AP. “If there is no diesel, we’re going to be very much in harm’s way.”
Some of those needs are life-or-death: Luis De Jesús Ramos, who has throat cancer and a tracheostomy, relies on electricity for survival, NBC News reported.
- De Jesús Ramos needs a blender for liquid meals, a refrigerator, an adjustable bed for safe sleeping and various medical supplies.
- “He really needs these things. It’s an emergency,” his daughter told NBC.
Health depends on electricity: After hearing about De Jesús Ramos’s condition, a team from Direct Relief Puerto Rico — an NGO that donates medical supplies — brought a generator to his home, according to NBC.
“Without electricity, there is no health,” Ivonne Rodríguez-Wiewall, executive adviser of Direct Relief Puerto Rico, told NBC.
Federal funding efforts: As Puerto Rico’s residents were still coping with the fallout from Fiona, President Biden on Thursday said that the federal government is “laser-focused” on the situation, our colleague Brett Samuels reported for The Hill.
The day before, he had signed an expedited major disaster declaration, to authorize federal funding for debris removal, rescue efforts and power and water restoration.
Biden pledges to stand by Puerto Rico: “To the people of Puerto Rico who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years later, they should know: We are with you,” Biden said.
“We’re not going to walk away,” the president added.
Biden considers removing head of World Bank
The Biden administration is considering ousting World Bank President David Malpass — a Trump appointee whose wavering this week on climate change angered many in the financial and environmental communities alike, Axios reported.
What did he say? Asked at New York’s climate week if he accepted the scientific consensus on climate change, Malpass hedged, according to CNN.
- “I don’t even know – I’m not a scientist and that is not a question,” Malpass said.
- He later told CNN “I’m not a denier” and circulated a note to staff blaming climate change on particular fossil fuels.
Leaving out oil and gas: Malpass added in his note that “coal, diesel and heavy fuel oil in both advanced economies and developing countries is creating another wave of the climate crisis,” Reuters reported.
Why it matters: Malpass’s message was poorly received due to an ongoing debate “about how all the capital sitting in the bank can be deployed more quickly and assertively,” Rachel Kyte of Tuft University’s Fletcher School told The New York Times.
- Kyte added that this is particularly urgent “given the situation the world is in.”
- She noted that Malpass’s original statement had come in the context of a subject that is “an open wound.”
Aerosols may worsen the effects of climate change
Aerosol pollution is exacerbating the impact of climate change — with dramatically different effects depending on where these contaminants are emitted, a new study in Science Advances has found.
What are aerosols? They’re tiny solid particles and liquid droplets emitted by industrial factories, power plants and tailpipes, the study authors explained.
- Aerosols contribute to smog, and unlike carbon dioxide, they hang close to their emission source.
- Some examples of aerosols include fine particulate matter — common in dust or wildfire ash — as well as sulfates, nitrates and sea salts.
Different contaminants, different behaviors: Although carbon dioxide and aerosols are often emitted simultaneously during fuel combustion, these substances behave differently in the Earth’s atmosphere, according to co-lead author Geeta Persad.
- “Carbon dioxide has the same impact on climate no matter who emits it,” Persad, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.
- Astay concentrated near where they’re emitted — meaning that their effects on the climate system is location-dependent, Persad added.
Dramatic social costs: Depending on where they are emitted, aerosols can worsen the social costs of carbon — a measure for the economic toll greenhouse gasses take on society — by as much as 66 percent, according to the study.
Aerosols vs. carbon: The scientists drew their conclusions by probing the influence of aerosols in eight regions of the world: Brazil, China, East Africa, Western Europe, India, Indonesia, United States and South Africa.
- They ran simulations with identical aerosol emissions in each region — mapping the effects on temperature, precipitation and surface air quality.
- Then they connected this data with known links between climate and infant mortality, crop productivity and domestic economies.
- Lastly, they calculated the societal costs of aerosol-driven effects and those of co-emitted CO2, as well as their combined effects.
What did they find? The scientists observed that emissions from some regions generate climate and air quality effects that range from two to more than 10 times as strong as others.
Yet despite these discrepancies, they stressed that aerosol emissions are always bad for the emitter and the planet.
Thinking beyond carbon dioxide: “The harmful effects of our emissions are generally underestimated,” co-lead author Jennifer Burney, a chair of global climate policy and research at the University of California San Diego, said in a statement.
“CO2 is making the planet warmer, but it also gets emitted with a bunch of other compounds that impact people and plants directly and cause climate changes in their own right,” Burney added.
A global push for carbon capture
A flurry of new carbon capture and storage proposals are arising around the world, as part of a global attempt to counter the impacts of fossil fuel dependence.
- The specific reasons for these projects are as diverse as their locations, which range from Appalachia to China
- They are being built in an attempt to slow global warming, produce new fuels, prolong the lifespan of fossil fuel assets or create credits to sell on international exchanges.
Carbon capture refers to a broad set of processes by which the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is trapped for long-term storage or reuse in other industrial processes.
Drawing down: The U.S. government is scouting possible sites for a test facility that would aim to cut the cost of pulling down carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
- The facility would be located on a Department of Energy campus in either Morgantown, W.Va., or Pittsburgh.
- It would seek to drop the cost of capturing a ton of carbon dioxide below $100 — down from its current range of $400 to $1,000.
Worldwide focus: “It is technically feasible to suck CO2 out of the air. The issue is cost, and the issue is scale,” National Energy Technology Laboratory director Brian Anderson told the Gazette.
The laboratory wants to create methodologies for direct air capture that could be transferable to facilities around the world.
- Direct air capture specifically involves pulling carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere.
- That’s distinct from carbon capture in general, which also includes siphoning the greenhouse gas from smokestacks.
“We want to be able to simulate conditions that go from Antarctica to equatorial Africa,” Anderson said.
OIL COMPANIES BUYING IN
With direct air capture still an expensive frontier technology, the principal drivers behind carbon capture are the firms that are a major source of current carbon emissions: oil companies.
Recycling Waste: Sinopec, China’s state-owned oil company, spun off a specialized subsidiary on Friday to invest in carbon capture technology, Reuters reported.
- The company aims to capture and store 3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2025 — two-thirds of which it plans to reuse.
- China aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, which has driven companies like Sinopec to make big investments in carbon capture.
Making more oil: To pay for developing that technology, China is focusing in part on current usages for carbon dioxide, many of which do little to slow climate change.
- Sinopec didn’t specify how its captured carbon dioxide would be used.
- But the company currently plans to inject over 10 million tons of carbon dioxide into oilfields over the next decade — enabling it to produce an additional 3 million tons of oil, Reuters reported.
Last week, California outlawed this form of oil extraction, as we reported.
Looking south: Across the South China Sea, Indonesia’s state-owned energy company — Pertamina — plans to begin testing methods to permanently store carbon dioxide underground by the end of the year, Reuters reported.
- If conditions are right, the greenhouse gas can be locked down as stone, as we previously reported.
- The initiative is part of Pertamina’s attempt to cut its emissions by 30 percent by 2030 — a goal the company aims to achieve in part by capturing emissions from smokestacks and injecting them underground.
British bonanza: On the other side of the world, 19 companies applied for the U.K.’s first ever round of licenses to develop carbon capture and storage sites, according to Reuters.
Britain aims to store up to 30 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, Reuters reported.
- Such sites would be in caverns beneath the porous seafloor of the North Sea, between Britain and Norway.
- British Petroleum, Norway’s state energy firm Equinor and Italy’s Eni all applied.
- One firm, London-based Neptune Energy, aims to store more carbon than it emits by 2030.
Revisiting issues we’ve covered over the past week.
Thirty whales survive mass beaching crisis in Tasmania
- We reported on the tragic mass beaching in Tasmania of 230 pilot whales. Rescuers successfully saved just 32 — two of which died after running aground again, The Associated Press reported. The hundreds of remaining corpses will be “basically longlined or tied together, ready for disposal at sea,” an incident commander Brendon Clark said told the AP.
North Carolinians angry about proposed expansion of PFAS-producing plant
- Scientists detected high levels of toxic “forever chemicals” — also known as PFAS — in school uniforms we covered earlier this week. Some North Carolinians expressed outrage on Friday about the proposed expansion of a Chemours factory that has leached PFAS into the nearby Cape Fear River, North Carolina Public Radio reported.
Malfunctioning water tank may have caused NYC arsenic crisis
Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you Monday.
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