An Entirely New Pandemic (January 31, 2021)

Good Sunday Morning!

And the last day of January. 

This last week was our first back in parliamentary work.

It was a relief when the rules to allow virtual sittings were quickly adopted by unanimous consent first thing Monday morning. (Actually, my “first thing” on Monday was a 5 am meeting of our Global Greens working group to prepare for COP26. It is so cool to meet with Green Party colleagues from over 30 countries. We elected our two co-chairs, Anne Marie Bihirabake from the Burundi Greens and Alice Hubbard from England and Wales GP.  All by zoom across at least a dozen time zones).

Back in Parliament, we had more technical glitches than before the break.  On Tuesday, when Paul Manly was supposed to have the floor (for a great statement against racism) all of us in “zoom-land” could hear him clearly but something was blocking audio to the chamber. The Speaker asked “are there any MPs out there who are not on mute?”  Starting with Minister of Heritage Steven Guilbeault, “I hear Paul here,” voices from across the country were calling out “We hear you fine here from Newfoundland!” “Loud and clear Paul coming into Toronto!” and so on.  They fixed the glitch and the Speaker said “let’s try that again from the beginning as if none of that just happened….”

On Thursday, Paul was up for a speech on the Canada UK trade agreement at 10:30 ET, so 7:30 AM for Paul and me in BC from our own ridings.  I was still getting my zoom links sorted to get “into” parliament when I saw a note from our legislative director that Paul was speaking 15 minutes ahead of time to cover for an MP with “technical difficulties” Turns out Paul and Jenica from her home office in Fredericton could see the MP in question whose technical difficulties turned out to be that he was still getting dressed. Yup, with his camera on.    I wish Canadians could watch when we are acting like normal humans -- before the programmic rage and partisanship turns on.  There is much good will and good humour.

For example, sending notes to each other by text and email, the Liberals on the Transport Committee agreed to give me one of their slots so I could ask some questions on the lay-off of air traffic controllers.  Very nice of them since Green MPs only have the right to observe committees. Until we have 12 Green MPs, we are not allowed to be members of committee. Asking questions is only possible if another MP gives up a spot.  Fortunately, I had gotten through almost all my time before the plumber showed up and rang the doorbell.  For some bizarre reason, in my apartment building, whenever the downstairs doorbell rings my internet cuts out. So frustrating. But compared to having to fly to Ottawa in a pandemic, I am grateful to have even uncertain technology for virtual meetings.

We had emergency debates this week on Biden’s decision to kill the Keystone pipeline (Monday til midnight) and on access to vaccines (Tuesday til midnight). I think in both cases we are focusing on the wrong emergency. 

The Keystone decision does not constitute an emergency. Ignoring the climate crisis and banking on fossil fuel pipelines worsens the real emergency. - Elizabeth May: Cancelling Keystone XL is not a crisis compared to the climate crisis - YouTube  While on vaccines, our access to them is very important, but why are we not pursuing antibody treatments that can be made here? Elizabeth May: What became of the $200 million invested in antibody treatments for COVID-19? - YouTube And why are we pointing fingers at each other across jurisdictional divides, instead of using the Emergencies Act to ensure a coordinated response?

It may be worth a real emergency debate to discuss how our strategies should change if the new variants take hold.

If you did not read Andrew Nikiforuk’s piece in The Tyee this week, you should.

The message is very distressing, so be prepared for scary. I know Andrew Nikiforuk and he is not an alarmist. He would never sensationalize the science. So the arrival and spread of variants from the UK and South Africa is very bad news indeed.

As he writes:

“Now don’t think of these variants as the same old COVID-19. That’s a big mistake.

They actually represent an entirely new pandemic.”

His prescription will be hard news for our political leaders to accept. And it may be hard for our public health experts as well.  We have to switch gears from bending a curve to getting to zero.

B.C’s Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked about whether we needed to change our strategy to get to zero, in what seemed a clear reference to the Nikiforuk article. Her response was that it was hard to imagine it being feasible. Still more and more experts are arguing we should try to get to zero or “near zero.”

We are seeing different approaches in different provinces. The on-going scandal in Long Term Care (LTC) has a great deal to do with provincial government decision-making. It is not the case that all the mistakes are being made at the provincial level, but I am beyond enraged that seniors with COVID in LTC in Ontario, just recently, were not segregated from healthy seniors.

Elizabeth May: Using the Emergencies Act would help address the tragedy in Long Term Care Homes - YouTube

It may be that the only way to get to zero- or near zero - in Canada is to turn to the Emergencies Act.

In the meantime, I will close this morning’s missive with reminders to stay safe. Wear double layers of masks and be sure masks fit properly.  Take extra Vitamin D.  Above all else, remind everyone you know not to relax their vigilance.  Keep distance and be aware the variants are already among us and they are more easily transmissible than the COVID19 that stalked us over the last 11 months.

That light at the end of the tunnel is still there, but I am adjusting my line of sight to a more distant light.

Love and thanks,

Elizabeth

P.S.  Next Sunday, join me and the former leader of the Greens of UK and Wales, Natalie Bennett, and others in a Fair Vote webinar:

Global Assembly on Climate: What Can We Learn for Electoral Reform?

When: Sunday, February 7, 2 PM Eastern, 4 PM Pacific, 8 PM Atlantic

Register here:


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