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Pandemic decision-making requires politics and science work 'hand in glove:' expert – CBC.ca

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When it comes to effective decision-making at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert says it’s more complicated than simply following the science.

“If we look at countries around the world that have very successfully dealt with the pandemic, it was when politicians and scientific advice were working hand in glove,” said Heidi Tworek, associate professor in international history and public policy at the University of British Columbia.

“In places like Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Senegal, we didn’t see that politicians completely disappeared. They were actually really crucial in helping people to understand why they were doing what they were doing, what was the meaning of the guidelines that they were following,” she told The Current‘s Matt Galloway. 

“So I think there’s lots of ways in which politicians can be very, very fruitfully involved. But the balance there is what is crucial.”

From U.S. president-elect Joe Biden to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, many political leaders have promised to take cues from the science and medical communities to guide their people to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. But government policy and scientific evidence are not always in lockstep, and those decisions are not always easy to make.

Like any new disease, the science around COVID-19 is constantly evolving, said Tworek, and not all scientists are going to agree on the best course of action.

“And so there have to be decisions made depending on what those disagreements are,” she said.

Striking a balance

Stephen Meek, a former U.K. civil servant, said there is always an inevitable degree of tension between what doctors advise in a health crisis, and what politicians decide to do.

That’s why it’s important that politicians have access to the best evidence and advice possible, he said.

“But fundamentally, what politics is and what politicians have to do, is try to strike the right balance on the base of that evidence,” explained Meek, who is also director of the Institute for Policy and Engagement at the University of Nottingham. 

“And that may mean not doing exactly what the pure medical advice on dealing with the pandemic would say.”

He added that political leaders will more easily maintain public trust if they can clearly articulate the medical evidence that experts have provided, and the reasonings behind their policy decisions — whether it follows medical advice to the letter, or not.

Meek cited the different pandemic responses in England and Scotland as an example of this in action.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has earned public support for being forthright about how she makes political decisions on the COVID-19 health crisis, says Stephen Meek of the University of Nottingham. (Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images)

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had long said he was making pandemic-related decisions based on science, he has since split from that course, which has earned him criticism.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has garnered much stronger public support, said Meek.

“[Sturgeon] has fronted up every day and talked about how she’s taking decisions on the basis of evidence, rather than as we’ve had with Boris Johnson sometimes saying, ‘I’m doing what the scientists say,’ [and] sometimes saying other stuff,” he said.

Dr. Jim Talbot agrees that maintaining public trust is key in fighting this health crisis. 

The only currency you have in public health is trust.– Dr. Jim Talbot, former chief medical officer of health

But that also means giving medical officers of health the ability to speak candidly to the public on health issues, he said.

“In Flint, Mich., where the civil authorities decided they didn’t want to warn people about the lead in the drinking water … people were very angry — rightfully so — that they could have done something to prevent the risk to their kids and to babies if they’d known,” said Talbot , a former chief medical officer for Alberta and Nunavut.

“But they weren’t informed.”

Talbot said that public trust is key for authorities to be able to make decisions and get things done.

“The only currency you have in public health is trust,” he said. “And if you squander that trust, you have nothing. It doesn’t matter your position or funding or anything else. Trust is our only currency.”


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Lindsay Rempel and Alex Zabjek.

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Wake Up! Trump's Politics of Division and Hate Are Already Here – TheTyee.ca

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If Charlottesville was the coming out party for America’s fascists and racists, storming the Capitol was their prom. People who have always festered on the fringes of U.S. society were invited to take centre stage during the terrible tenure of Donald Trump.

Why? Because Trump saw political profit in mobilizing a zombie army of the ignorant to intimidate perceived foes and advance his interests.

Now they are unleashed as Americans remain bitterly divided even on the obvious outcome of a free and fair election, and it’s uncertain if wounded democratic institutions will recover.

Canadian’s smug disapproval of our southern neighbour seems an unofficial national pastime.

However, we have seen several examples of similar cynical tactics carried out by politicians within our own country. Are we really that much better?

The kangaroo court convened by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to target environmental groups is a case in point. Empowered with $3.5 million in public money and legal authority vested by the provincial government, the “Public Inquiry into Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns” has become the latest laughing stock effort by the Kenney government to confirm its political prejudices and rile up the United Conservative Party base.

Kenney has been an enthusiastic supporter of the discredited conspiracy theory that organized opposition to the relentless climate-killing expansion of Alberta bitumen extraction is largely due to secretive funding from American industrial actors, rather than a grassroots movement of normal humans who want a viable planet for their children.

The Alberta government continues to flog this dead horse with increasingly embarrassing results. It came to light last week that the inquiry had paid $100,000 for several dubious submissions described by the CBC as “junk climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda.”

Law professor Martin Olszynski of the University of Calgary sounded the alarm on the obvious bias of this material, citing one taxpayer-funded submission alleging that a “transnational progressive movement had infiltrated governments, the United Nations and large corporations in order to impose material poverty on developed nations.”

The so-called war room is another Kenney government effort to impose its worldview on the public using the powers and money of the state. With initial annual funding of $30 million, the Canadian Energy Centre struggled to even come up with an original logo. One year after launch, this overhyped PR boondoggle has only two per cent of the Twitter followers of I’ve Pet That Dog.

It is easy to dismiss such political theatre as harmless hometown hokum but, as we are witnessing in the U.S., the truth matters. Albertans are being encouraged by their government to believe that critics of continued dependence on a waning fossil fuel sector are somehow foreign-funded traitors labouring to take away their livelihoods.

The rage stoked by this false narrative is real, with potentially deadly consequences. We’ve seen Yellow Vest protestors demand that even more public money be thrown at building pipelines, even though Alberta just squandered $1.5 billion on the highly predictable Keystone XL cancellation. The same angry cohort regularly calls for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be tried for treason, and is increasingly aligned with well-known hate groups like the Proud Boys and the Sons of Odin.

We can tut-tut over the storming of the U.S. Capitol, but last summer a Canadian Forces reservist armed with four loaded guns and familiar vague grievances crashed his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall after saying Trudeau should be arrested.

Alberta is not the only province whose leadership exploits intolerance for political gain. Last week Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet welcomed Canada’s new Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra with a dog whistle smear about Alghabra’s role 15 years ago as head of the Canadian Arab Federation. The Bloc leader publicly sniffed that “questions arise” but he “refuses to accuse” the minister of anything specific.

This was not a gaffe. Blanchet is an intelligent and accomplished politician who apparently calculated that there were enough Quebec bigots within his voting base to make this appalling slur worthwhile. The Bloc leader’s comments are part of a pattern of overt racism in Quebec.

The province’s Bill 21, passed in 2019 with overwhelming public support, makes it illegal for public employees to wear religious symbols such as hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes. This law declares that Quebec is a “lay state” and ostensibly applies to Christian symbols as well, but strangely the 10-storey tall illuminated crucifix remains standing atop Montreal’s Mount Royal.

Politically unthinkable anywhere else in Canada, Bill 21 has unsurprisingly resulted in increased incidents of racism in Quebec and other parts of the country as bigots become emboldened by discriminatory public policy. Last fall, an Indigenous woman was mocked and insulted by staff as she lay dying of COVID-19 in her Joliette hospital bed.

Just two years before the passage of Bill 21, a white nationalist shooter massacred six people at prayer and injured 19 more in a Quebec City mosque. A first responder to the gruesome scene later took her own life and is regarded as the seventh victim of this hateful act.

The obvious danger of further stoking extremism in the province was apparently judged less important than pandering to those who dislike seeing diversity during their daily lives.

The 2019 federal election offered another depressing warning of the real threat of racism and extremism. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh ran an electrifying campaign on very little money that resonated across the country — except in Quebec, where his party won only one of the 16 seats they had held. The Montreal Gazette was one of the few media outlets to ask: “Is Quebec ready for a brown guy in a turban?” The resounding answer from Quebec voters was no.

Not even feigning subtlety, the Bloc’s Blanchet used the final moments of a leaders’ debate where Singh had done well to urge Quebec voters to support candidates “qui vous ressemblent” — who look like you. (That sentiment was certainly reflected in the uniformly white, francophone old stock nature of the victorious Bloc caucus.)

Legitimizing intolerance can be politically profitable, at least in the short term. But as we see on dismal display in America, such cynical ploys eventually exact an awful cost to a free and open society.

We should not smugly pretend that Canada is immune. History teaches that division is how democracies die.

For the sake of our nation, Canadian voters need to demand an end to divisive leadership and ruthlessly punish any politician that indulges in such dangerous intolerance at the ballot box.  [Tyee]

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Grindstone Theatre's political satire videos gaining popularity online – CTV Edmonton

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EDMONTON —
A theatre in Edmonton is getting a lot of attention online for its politics – or, rather, its lampooning of politicians.

The Grindstone Theatre is getting tens of thousands of views of its parody videos poking fun at the press conferences being held by Premier Jason Kenney.

The videos are written by Derek Johnson who says recent political events such as MLAs travelling over the holidays inspired him to make the videos

“It’s been interesting to kind of just see a couple things unravel, so we have to jump on what’s hot right now,” said Johnson.

The videos posted on the Grindstone Theatre’s YouTube page and TikTok account have over 100,000 views.

“It’s starting to take off a little bit,” says Johnson.

Donovan Workun, who plays Kenney in the videos, says the time is ripe for political satire.

“When people get outraged or people are really happy that’s when it’s the easiest to lampoon some things.”

Workun says it was tough to do an impression of Kenney at first.

“I think the key to the Jason Kenney impersonation is not knowing what you’re going to say until you’re actually saying it.”

Johnson says having politicians keep talking is all he needs to keep writing scripts for the comedy videos.

“Sometimes there’s a couple of people who say things and you’re like, I don’t think you know what you’re saying but we’re definitely going to be pulling on that.”

The videos keep pulling in so many viewers that they intend to keep making more and Workun says he hopes they catch the attention of the premier.

“I would love to hear from him. I would love to do Jason Kenney for Jason Kenney,” said Workun.

But Johnson says Kenney might not be the only politician getting satirized in their videos.

“Everyone is fair game, you might say.”

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Historic U.S. inauguration of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris

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Almost nine months after it closed its doors permanently, Saint John’s Cherry Brook Zoo still has six inhabitants waiting to go to their new homes. All that remains of the once-bustling zoo are two lions, two tigers and two snakes. All six have found new homes, but the hold-up is with the four big cats, explains zookeeper Erin Brown, who has been overseeing the relocation of the zoo’s animals. Because they’re going to the United States, there’s a complicated permit process that often takes six to 12 months, explained Brown. Essentially, the zoo has to prove that the big cats were legally obtained, and that their transfer follows all of the guidelines laid out under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Brown said all of the permits required on the Canadian side of the border have been obtained. The hold-up is in the U.S. She said the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest south of the border may also have contributed to the delay. “It could be making policies move a little more slowly,” she said. When the zoo announced it would close for good last May, there were 80 animals — from 35 different species — living at the zoo, and all had to find new homes, said executive director Martha McDevitt. She said staff spent a lot of time checking out prospective new homes to make sure the animals would be safe and well cared for. “It was a big task,” said McDevitt. The zoo had a number of farm-type animals, like miniature donkeys, goats and pigs that went to hobby farms, mostly in New Brunswick. The more exotic animals required a bit more work and they’re now spread out at facilities from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. “The big cats were the hardest to find homes for,” Brown said. The first step was to notify Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, an accreditation and advocacy group better known as CAZA. But there weren’t any facilities in Canada willing or able to take the big cats. Brown said they eventually started reaching out to sanctuaries, although that wasn’t her first choice for the felines. That’s when they heard from Popcorn Park in New Jersey, which is part zoo, part sanctuary. The facility has agreed to take the lions and has lined up a new home for the tigers, since it already has a number of tigers. So, until the proper permits are ready to go, the four big cats will remain in Saint John. For McDevitt, they’re the hardest animals to say goodbye to. “You can’t help but create these special bonds with these animals, especially specific ones,” she said outside the tiger enclosure Tuesday morning. “For me personally, it’s the big cats, the tigers. When I was a little… child, I wanted to be a tiger when I grew up. “That’s impossible, I found out. So being able to work with them has been an absolute dream come true.” McDevitt has been with the zoo since 2016 and the lions arrived shortly after she did. The tigers have been at the Cherry Brook Zoo since the summer of 2017. All four were hand-raised at an Ontario zoo before it closed in 2016. “So seeing them leave — and especially them going across the border — is really hard because I may not ever see them again. So that’s been hard,” said McDevitt. And because they were hand-raised, Brown said the big cats actually like people. “They love interacting with visitors,” she said. It was a factor zoo staff considered when they looked at facilities willing to take them. “We had several facilities that offered space as a sanctuary situation, but we chose Popcorn Park because they’re going to be in a zoo situation. A lot of these sanctuaries are really more suited to cats that don’t like people.” She said cats that come from abusive or neglectful situations prefer to live a quiet life with as little human interaction as possible. “But our cats love human interaction. They love seeing visitors. So choosing Popcorn Park was on purpose so that they could have that interaction with visitors.” Once all the permits are in place, Popcorn Park will send its own relocation team to fetch the felines. They’ll have specialized equipment and people, including a veterinarian. They have specialized cages with wheels that will be rolled right up to the door of their enclosure, and with a little food inside the crate as an added incentive, they cats should go in and be ready to be loaded into a specialized trailer for the ride to New Jersey. In the meantime, thanks to monthly donors who continue to contribute to the zoo — and the occasional one-time donation — life goes on for the big cats. With fewer animals to tend to, staff members have a bit more time to hand-feed and train the cats. With her bucket of cut-up deer meat, zookeeper Megan Gorey puts the lions, Aslan and Frieda — littermates who were born in 2014 — through a series of behaviours that she doesn’t like to call tricks. The cats sit and lie down, and offer the correct paw on the fence as instructed. They also stand on their hind legs on command — all for a treat, of course. Gorey also demonstrates how she can draw blood and give injections with Luna, a five-year-old tiger who’s been at the zoo since 2017. From the safety of the other side of the fence, Gorey tells Luna to lie down along the fence and as someone else feeds her meat treats, she barely reacts when the needle is used. Long goodbye Brown said she initially worried that a long delay before some of the animals left would be a painful way to say goodbye, but she’s actually grateful for it now. She said each animal was able to get fussed over and given extra attention before they departed for their new homes. And with the four cats being among the last to go, it gave staff extra time with the zoo’s most popular inhabitants — who just happen to be the biggest eaters as well. McDevitt said it costs a couple hundred dollars per cat per month — and that’s even with the donations of roadkill from the Department of Natural Resources. One such donation just happened to arrive Tuesday morning and zookeepers were preparing to hoist entire deer legs up on poles in the cat enclosures to allow them to hunt and earn their meal. Once the big cats leave the Cherry Brook Zoo, the snakes will go as well, said Brown. The snakes will go home with one of the zookeepers, but as long as the zoo remains open for the lions and tigers, the snakes will stay as well.

Source: – Yahoo News Canada

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