Safe, Secure and Affordable Housing is a Health Issue: Why Canada Needs a National Housing Strategy Now

May 11, 2016 11:55 am
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“Social factors, like housing, income and wealth, educational background and race are more powerful determinants of health outcomes than our behaviours, genes or even the healthcare system.”

When you’re feeling unwell, whether from a minor cold or a devastating terminal illness, the feeling of home, the desire for a safe and comfortable place to rest and recuperate, is a universal one. But what if your home itself is a source of stress and illness? Worse yet, what if you don’t have a home at all? As family doctors, we see and know just how powerful the effect of proper housing can be on the health of our patients.

On the front lines of healthcare, family doctors have that rare opportunity to stand back and see a person as a whole, in the context of their lives and their social situations. As practitioners of evidence-based medicine, we also seek out the most effective interventions to improve the conditions of our patients; and the evidence is clear. Social factors, like housing, income and wealth, educational background and race are more powerful determinants of health outcomes than our behaviours, genes or even the healthcare system.

And yet, experts in health are often trained to focus on the provision of health care services, often sending patients back into the social and economic conditions that made them sick. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of individuals experiencing homelessness or living in unsafe, precarious housing.

We treat chronic back pain and send people back to sleep on concrete streets. We treat insomnia and send people back to chaotic shelters where they cannot sleep. We treat asthma and send people back into moldy homes where they labour to breathe. We send patients back to the very places that create their disease.
As healthcare providers, we know the actual prescription needed is safe, secure and affordable housing. We are not alone.

Canada’s former chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler Jones, agrees that inadequate housing can have several negative repercussions on health ranging from “respiratory disease and asthma due to molds and poor ventilation, to mental health impacts associated with overcrowding.

Unfortunately, this issue is not a small one. An overwhelming 1.5 million households in Canada are living in precarious housing that is inadequate, unsuitable and unaffordable. In other words, 1.5 million families live in housing that requires major repairs, does not have enough bedrooms for their needs and pay more than 30 percent of their household income for this unfit housing.

This is not a sustainable situation and it endangers the health of our communities. The 1.5 million in precarious housing does not even count the over 235,000 people a year experiencing homelessness in Canada – those living in shelters, sleeping outside or surfing friends’ couches.

The recent Federal Budget offered $2.3 billion for affordable housing – a step in the right direction. We know some of the funds will be allocated to deal with homelessness, First Nations housing and seniors. While these are positive steps forward, there is yet to be a timeline announced for promised consultations on the allocation of these funds. The federal government’s solution to our housing crisis cannot be about writing cheques and walking away.

When consultations are eventually launched, as health providers who see the impact of these policy decisions on the ground, we have our own suggestions. First and foremost, housing must be viewed as a health and social justice issue. Safe, secure and affordable housing is crucial to maintaining and improving health and well-being.

Secondly, these conversations must include not just the health sector, community partners and think tanks, but most importantly, those with lived experience of homelessness and precarious housing.

Finally, our approach to the housing crisis cannot be one-off policy changes but should be part of a coordinated national housing strategy. This is the very approach recommended by the United Nations Economic and Social Council just this past March. They raised red flags over our insufficient funding for housing, our shortage of social housing units and increased evictions related to rental arrears.

Tackling these problems in a coordinated national housing strategy — not just with short-term spending promises, but with meaningful long-term partnerships — isn’t just good social policy, it’s good health policy too.

It’s time to move from crisis to action, from precarity to security and towards improving housing and health for everyone in Canada.

Article written by Danyaal Raza and Ritika Goel.

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Danyaal Raza is an advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca and Upstream, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ritika Goel is a family physician with the Inner City Health Associates working with people experiencing homelessness, as well as a Lecturer at the University of Toronto. 

 

Letter to the Editor: Paul Champagne on the Attawapiskat Crisis

April 26, 2016 10:46 am
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This letter to the editor from Baynes Lake resident Paul Champagne outlines a strategy for improving conditions in Attawapiskat, a Northern Ontario First Nation suffering under a recent suicide crisis that has put it in the national media spotlight. You can read the full letter, sent on April 23, below:

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It’s Not Just the Law That’s an Ass Mr. Dickens

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Charles Dickens at his writing desk. 

The 19th century novelist and author Charles Dickens, who is famous for such great books as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, once wrote that the ‘Law is an Ass’.  Dickens had a valid reason for saying this because in the 19th century there were no patent laws in the United States to protect established authors from having cheaper versions of their books pirated and sold to the public.  Not a single penny in royalties went to the authors.  During one of his famous visits to the United States Dickens gave a number of speeches denouncing the absence of patent laws. In his novel American Notes he expressed his condemnation and outrage at America for failing to protect its most creative authors and writers.

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An early copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

If Dickens were living today he could easily have included the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for the manner in which they operate.  Here is a Department that appears to be accountable to no one.  It doesn’t matter what they do or how incompetently they carry it out, no one is held responsible.  It’s shocking that there is no independent and impartial oversight body that the public can complain to when they have received shoddy treatment from the CBSA.  This department is a law onto itself and it’s high time the government of Canada changed this situation.  The Correctional Service of Canada comes under scrutiny by the Correctional Investigator and even our national police service, the RCMP, is subject to oversight by the Civilian Redress and Complaints Commission.  So why isn’t there an oversight body in place to hold the people who work for the CBSA accountable for outrageous behaviour?

Since I do not travel outside of the country I fortunately have not had the pleasure of being greeted by some power hungry CBSA officers upon my return to Canada.  However, I have been told some horror stories by a number of people that should make any Canadian sit up and take notice.  Even sitting at home minding your own business, you are not safe from their antics.  About four weeks ago, I ordered a book from a Bookstore in England.  The book featured the work of Charles Dickens.  The book had been advertised as a large folio sized publication consisting of six divisions or sections.  Each of the numbered divisions or sections contained three plates by the famous 19th century artist Frederick Barnard.

Normally a book sent from the United Kingdom to Ottawa arrives in four or five days but with a courier like FedEx it’s usually three days at most.  I received notification via voicemail from FedEx that my book had arrived and that there was $18.30 owing in GST and other charges.  I informed FedEx that I would pay for the book upon delivery.  You can imagine my shock when FedEx called the following day and informed me that the book could not be released because it had been seized by the CBSA.  I was totally shocked as I didn’t realize that Charles Dickens was on a watch list and that he had been classified as a terrorist or subversive agent by the CBSA.  FedEx informed me that in order to have my book delivered that I would have to fill out various forms and provide them proof of purchase and payment for the book.  I did this immediately and sent it off to FedEx.  Thinking everything was in hand I patiently waited for delivery of my book.

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Many Canadians run into trouble at the border, but as Davies experienced, sometimes you don’t even need to leave your living room.

The next day FedEx called and informed me that CBSA still refused to release my book.   When I inquired why, she told me that the CBSA officer refused to clear it because there were ‘six’ books in the package.  She told me that before they would release my book that I would have to go the CBSA office at the airport and fill out the same forms I sent her and account for the prices of each book.

I couldn’t believe what she was telling me. The book which I bought is listed on the internet and sold through a variety of bookstores. They describe the book as having six divisions or sections.  For a customs officer who obviously knows nothing about books to hold back delivery of my book on Charles Dickens is nothing less than mind-boggling.  A person might be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t get any crazier than this…but unfortunately it does.

Exasperated, I contacted the President’s Office for The Canada Border Services Agency looking for an explanation.  My case, or should I say the case of CBSA versus Charles Dickens, was referred to a liaison person.  I thought great, somebody in charge will recognize the lunacy of this situation.  However that was not to be the case.  Instead, after waiting four hours and hearing nothing, I called the CBSA representative back a second time.  The only thing he did was refer me to a supervisor for CBSA at the Airport.

The supervisor claimed he was there to help get the matter resolved.  However once he got into the issue that there are ‘six books’ in the box and not one I confess I reached my tolerance limit and hung up the phone on him.  As for the person I was dealing with in the President’s Office, that conversation was a real eye opener.   What he told me is that customs officers are accountable to no one.  He went so far as to say that no one can tell a customs officer how to do their job.  This should be enough for every person in this country to demand that the federal government set up an oversight body to hold CBSA staff accountable.  If the President of the Canada Border Services Agency cannot manage her staff and hold them accountable when they make idiotic decisions, then we have a very serious problem in this country.

RelatedNew Government Should Start by Making the RCMP More Accountable

Like most Canadians I am aware that the CBSA has a statutory responsibility under the law to examine parcels to ensure that people are not importing illegal goods such as guns, drugs, bomb-making paraphernalia and unauthorized goods into the country.  However, once a Canadian citizen provides sufficient proof to justify the importation of those goods into Canada that should be the end of the story. The fact my book is not being delivered because some CBSA officer doesn’t have the mental capacity to figure out that there is only one book with six separate sections is scary.  Charles Dickens was right when he said the law is an ass, and if he were living today I have no doubt he would also have included the Canada Border Services Agency.

By the time you read this I still won’t have my book, and Charles Dickens will still remain under watch and in custody at the Ottawa International Airport.

Written by Darryl T Davies. Davies is an Instructor in criminology and criminal justice with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University. 

OLM Argued the Case Against Mike Duffy was Groundless Back in May

April 21, 2016 3:31 pm
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Update: Today all 31 charges were dismissed against Sen. Mike Duffy. Below you can find an article Ottawa Life Magazine publisher Dan Donovan wrote last May, arguing that Duffy was being unfairly targeted by the media. Today, the judge confirmed this suspicion.

21st Century Lynching and Shakespearean Tragedy Take Centre Stage

The Mike Duffy trial is a public showcase for all the secrets and lies that are the realpolitik of the capital. Duffy has already been tried and convicted in the public eye. For theatre, he was first drawn and quartered by Canada’s national media in what can only be described as a 21st century lynching. I worked for many years on Parliament Hill as a speechwriter, legislative assistant and political staffer. The place has its own rules and more importantly, its own governing conventions. The Parliamentary press can be a self-involved and pretty sanctimonious bunch. Duffy’s trial at the Ottawa Courthouse is having the dual effect of bringing out the real story about his expenses while exposing the shallowness and callousness of the Parliamentary press and the elitism of the “pundit class” at Canada’s major broadcasters.

The national media narrative is that Senator Duffy pilfered taxpayers dollars and broke spending rules and got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. In fact, it goes further and suggests that he took the whole cookie jar…whatever that is. Even though these journalists work in the parliamentary precinct and have access to the players and procedures or conventions that govern the Senate, few, if any of them took the time to investigate or explain the conventions of the Senate related to spending. The trial is exposing much of this and shedding some new light on Senator Duffy. He, like all senators seems to have run his affairs as a senator using the vagary of Senate rules and conventions. The issue about his residency and related expenses is key. He has been consistent that he expensed these within the rules. Ironically, the Senate still refuses to release to the public several audits which show how other senators dealt with housing expenses.

The release of this information could greatly help bring clarity to the Duffy affair. If the convention was that it was ok to claim part of housing expenses in various ways and all senators did this, than Duffy has done nothing to break the rules. Duffy’s problem was that he was both popular and ambitious, which can be a deadly combo in Ottawa. He is a former award-winning and respected journalist who, for years, was one of the most popular political broadcasters in Canada. MPs from all parties and their staff would seek him out and share information or give him stories that they wouldn’t give to others. He had a great reputation, was always gracious and never betrayed anyone’s trust. People genuinely liked and trusted “Mike.” He loved Parliament and he knew “the game.”

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The evidence to date seems to indicate his Senate expense claims were not for personal enrichment but were used to pay people for tasks he was involved with as a senator. The duplicity of the press regarding their outrage and the amount of time they have spent over the expense receipts for his makeup is laughable. This, coming from the very same people that use makeup in their jobs on a daily basis, understanding that makeup is as important to a broadcast journalist as a stick is to a hockey player. It would have been far more responsible for at least one journalist covering the Duffy case to get the RCMP to explain why he was charged with bribery. Bribery requires a “bribee” and a “briber.” According to the RCMP investigator, Duffy is apparently the person accepting a bribe…yet no one was charged with giving him one.

Duffy maintains he never accepted any bribe and it appears his lawyer is making that case for him. Proportionality and fairness in broadcasting must be put back into play regarding Senator Duffy. Regardless of what you think of Mike Duffy, his rise to prominence and fall from grace are like a Shakespearian tragedy. The Shakespearian comedy in this is watching broadcasters, especially those at the CBC (who are paid with taxpayers’ money), sanctimoniously rail away at Duffy for betraying the public trust when they themselves have accepted large personal payments from private corporations to give speeches and attend conferences. Talk about a hand in the cookie jar.

The Puzzle of Physician-Hastened Death

April 19, 2016 9:43 am
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Physician-hastened death is a puzzle, and one that, despite its complexity, we as a society have been tasked to assemble. Some of its pieces are so different from one another, and it is hard to imagine how they might fit into a cohesive whole. And yet, by June 6th – the deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada – time will have run out, and whatever the state of assembly may be, it will depict our response to suffering and end-of-life decision making for generations to come.

As drafters of legislation slog their way through the mind-numbing variety of pieces and possible configurations, here are a few strategies that puzzle mavens have long counted on.

First, get a sense of what the puzzle might look like. With respect to physician-hastened death, one option looks like the Benelux countries, which allow euthanasia or assisted suicide in response to suffering, independent of life expectancy and in some jurisdictions, independent of age.

Another option resembles Quebec or Oregon, where eligibility is confined to end-of-life circumstances for competent adults only. This uniquely Canadian option depicts a balance between carefully regulated physician-hastened death, and our constitutional obligations to protect vulnerable persons from harm.

Next, locate the frame within which the rest of the puzzle is assembled. Regarding physician-hastened death, a critical framing question is: ‘Do we consider this a part of medicine?’ The response to this query fundamentally determines the placement of many subsequent pieces.

If physician-hastened death is part of the continuum of medicine, then we must treat it as such. Like any other new treatment or clinical innovation, it demands careful evaluation and methodological rigor, including fixed eligibility criteria, detailed data collection, objective monitoring of outcomes and tracking of adverse effects; the ability to analyze cumulative data, with incremental ramping up entirely based on preceding trial outcomes.

We would insist on no less stringency for a new cold remedy or wart ointment, let alone physician-hastened death.

Others insist that physician-hastened death is not part of medicine. While chairing the External Panel for the Federal Government on Legislative Options for Carter v. Canada, I heard many clinicians, including those involved in these practices, describe it as ‘a social intervention.’ One American physician referred to his role in assisted suicide as ‘an act of love.’

If not a medical act per se, then drafters of legislation must embed it within a broad legal and social policy framework, while being mindful of equity, justice, transparency and the social determinants of health. Within this context, eligible patients who wish to have their lives ended could continue to avail themselves of whatever social supports and medicine have to offer, while at the same time pursuing a regulated Criminal Code exemption to permit a hastened death.

Finally, puzzle connoisseurs will arrange similar pieces, based on color, texture or other distinguishing features. Regarding physician-hastened death, the pieces divide into three thematically distinctive groups. The first group I would label ‘evaluating and responding to suffering.’ These pieces are very familiar to healthcare professionals across multiple disciplines, and ones they are entirely comfortable dealing with: determining the source and nature of a patient’s suffering, coming up with treatment options and attempting therapeutic measures to mitigate the patient’s distress.

The next group of pieces I would label ‘decision making.’ These are perhaps the trickiest ones to place. If physician-hastened death is framed as a medical act, then decision-making pieces must comply with standards governing all clinical innovations, particularly pre-approval, to be sure that protocol requirements have been fulfilled before administering a hastened-death.

If physician-hastened death is not framed as a medical act, then decision making pieces of the puzzle will have legal markings, giving shape to a process that determines eligibility, screens for undue influence and verifies informed consent.

Related: Advanced Directives for Assisted-Dying a Dangerous Step

The final group of pieces I would label as ‘carrying out the hastened death.’ While the court will have made this legal, it does not de facto make it medical. The External Panel was told there are no doctors on the premises when organizations such as Dignitas or Exit help patients die and that non-medical personnel are very proficient in carrying out this task.

While physicians may choose to include hastened death within their scope of practice, it is not a forgone conclusion that this will or necessarily should remain within their exclusive domain.

In the days ahead, Parliamentarians will be debating legislation governing the practice of physician-hastened death. Putting this puzzle together will take wisdom and courage. Here is hoping the picture that emerges is coherent and just, as each piece falls into place.

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Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov is a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba. He was chairman of the federal government’s external panel for options to Carter v. Canada and is an adviser to the Vulnerable Persons Standard.

Letter to the Editor from the Philippine Ambassador to Canada

April 14, 2016 1:00 pm
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This letter to the editor from the Philippine Ambassador Petronila P. Garcia is a response to the article “Correcting Misconceptions & Upholding Justice in the South China Sea” from our February/March 2016 print issue. You can find that article here. The letter is included below in full.

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It’s Time for the Federal Government to Enforce the Canada Health Act

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Extra-billing, user fees for health services on the rise across the country.

Extra-billing in Ontario, private MRIs in Saskatchewan and user fees in Quebec: violations of the Canada Health Act are on the rise across the country. Canadian doctors are concerned about the impact of this trend not only on their patients, but on our public health care system as well.

Health Canada is required to publish a report every year in order to detail how provincial and territorial health care insurance plans have (or have not) satisfied the conditions for payment under the Canada Health Act. Provinces that are not in compliance are to be penalized with a reduced Canada Health Transfer (CHT) payment.

This year’s report showed that in 2014-15, the only province that received such a penalty was British Columbia. Their CHT payment was docked $241,637, about half of the amount in extra billing a 2012 audit found to have been committed by Dr. Brian Day’s Cambie clinic in just one month. It’s notable that British Columbia, the only province docked funds, is also the only province currently seeking to enforce the act by cracking down on Cambie’s activities.

Physicians and clinics have quietly been charging extra fees for health services for many years, yet calls for the federal government to enforce the Act have been ignored. Coming down hard on extra-billing may not sound as exciting as announcing new funding for specialized medical services, but it is the job of the provincial and federal health ministers to protect the Canada Health Act and guarantee equitable access to Canadian health care.

In Ontario alone, the frequency of such charges has grown at an alarming rate and escaped the notice of provincial and federal auditors and health ministers. The Ontario Health Coalition published a report in 2014 listing dozens of instances where independent health facilities (e.g. eye surgery, colonoscopy, diagnostic and executive health clinics) charged extra fees for medical consultations, examinations, diagnostic testing and other manners of “upgraded services.” These fees are for services that are covered by the health system. This is otherwise known as extra-billing, a practice that is against federal and provincial law.

Despite these contraventions, previous Canada Health Act reports show that Ontario has never been penalized.

This year’s report has the potential to be more than a quiet committee discussion with no subsequent action. It can be the springboard for Health Minister Philpott to assert her government’s commitment to defending medicare, Canada’s most treasured social program.

Where better to start than reminding Saskatchewan and Quebec’s premiers that their recent actions violate the Canada Health Act?

In November 2015, the Saskatchewan government voted to introduce pay-per-use MRI services, allowing those who are able to pay to jump the queue and receive priority treatment. Premier Brad Wall argued that implementing a parallel diagnostic system would alleviate wait times, ignoring the evidence to the contrary from Alberta’s foray into private MRIs a decade ago. As Wall himself noted in 2009, these clinics violate the principle of accessibility in the Act. By speaking out, Minister Philpott can help to stem the tide of privatization in Saskatchewan’s health care system.

That same month, the Quebec National Assembly approved Bill 20. This omnibus bill enables physicians to charge extra fees to their patients for services already insured under public medicare, with no clearly established limits. The fact is many physicians in the province had been charging extra fees to patients for a long time. The government included provisions for extra billing as an amendment in response to pressure from the Quebec College of Physicians. Instead of coming down against extra-billing as was hoped, Minister Barrette worked to normalize the practice instead.

Related: What Should be Covered by our Publicly Funded Healthcare System?

Breaches of the Act have never been addressed in Quebec, despite the admission of physicians instituting user fees and extra billing and calls to stop this practice from Quebec organizations such as Médecins Québécois pour le Régime Public and Fédération des Médecins Omnipraticiens du Québec.

User fees, access charges, extra billing all come down to the same thing – inequitable access to Canadian health care.

Charging patients at the point of care for medically necessary services strikes at the heart of the principle that access to health care should be based on need rather than ability to pay. It undermines equity, increases system costs and reduces public commitment to universal coverage.

The Trudeau government promised real change. As an acclaimed physician and Canada’s Minister of Health, Minister Philpott has an opportunity to take a new approach to defending Canadian health care by sending a strong statement to the provinces that they must adhere to the Canada Health Act.

It is time for Minister Philpott to show there is a doctor in the House and take action to ensure medicare will be there for all Canadians in their time of need.

Meili_Ryan_high resRyan Meili is a Family Physician in Saskatchewan and Vice-Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare and a policy expert for the Evidence Network.

Opinion: Canada Needs Business, Not Busybodies

April 8, 2016 10:49 am
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If you are a federal politician looking for an escape hatch from Bombardier’s controversial request for a billion dollar federal bail-out, one of the company’s vice-presidents recently provided it. Rob Dewar said federal help would be “…an extra bonus that would be helpful but is very clearly not required.”  No helped needed, so case closed, right? Wrong. Prime Minister Trudeau still wants to help.

Why? With the company reportedly pushing to move jobs from Toronto to Mexico, the federal budget deficit more than twice what was promised and thousands of unemployed energy sector workers getting no bailout, what does the Prime Minister gain from giving a billion dollars to a company that doesn’t need it?

To find the answer, visit the wood shop.

Last month, a popular lumber retailer in Manotick, Ontario, called The Wood Source, opened a new show room and warehouse, but only after filling out 1500 pages of government forms over six years and paying $600,000 in fees and other administrative costs—enough money to employ 10 people for a year. The company had to hire an arborist to write a separate report on each little poplar tree that would be cleared, including its size and species—this on few acres of otherwise useless brush. The government charged the business a fee for the loss of parkland—even though the land had never been a park.

You would think it was a pulp mill, not a lumber mill, as fully half the cost of the building was paperwork.

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Forty years earlier, The Wood Source built a similar workshop and the government required a one-page drawing stamped by an engineer and a one-page application. Done. Approved. Ready for construction. The building is still in use today over four decades later.

Now, not only is the company besieged with government paperwork, its electricity bill has tripled to over $100,000 a year, mostly to pay for government subsidies for wind turbines and solar panels, which produce only a minute fraction of Ontario’s energy.

The company’s part-owner, Tim Priddle, complained of these costs to a local provincial Liberal minister, who said, “I will put you in touch with some people in my office who can help you with various grant programs that may be available.” Why not just cut the red tape and energy costs and let the company keep its own money?

The same can be asked in the case of Bombardier. In November the federal government blocked the expansion of the Toronto Island Airport, which would have enabled Bombardier’s C-Series planes to land there. That effectively killed $2 billion worth of the company’s sales to Porter Airlines, at the same time as the Quebec and federal governments consider $2 billion in Bombardier bailouts. That is not just wrong. It is strange. The Liberals claim the reason they have plunged us into deficit is to fund infrastructure. This project IS infrastructure, which a City of Toronto Report says would boost economic growth by $124 million and it would allow more business people to fly in and out of the business district, relieving car traffic between Pearson Airport and downtown.

Moreover, Liberal governments are raising taxes because they need revenue, yet the airport expansion would generate $55 million in revenue without a tax increase, according to a report by Urban Strategies prepared for the City of Toronto.

Similarly, the government has added new steps to the approval of pipeline projects that will delay the Energy East project by additional months. The pipeline will carry western crude to eastern Canada, and help end the insanity of New Brunswick refineries buying oil from Saudi Arabia at a premium, while Albertans sell it to the Americans at a discount. Each day the pipeline is delayed costs the Canadian economy $38 million, according to former Encana CEO, Gwyn Morgan. He added that a single week of those losses cancels out the entire $250 million that Prime Minister Trudeau offered in stabilization money to help Alberta’s struggling economy. Here again is the irony: the government harms the Alberta economy with pipeline delays and then offers a subsidy to make up for it.

Elsewhere, they cut Tax Free Savings Account limits from $10,000 to $5500, and then announce they will force people to pay more to the government-controlled Canada Pension Plan.

They block growth and then subsidize growth. They raise taxes on savings and force people to save more. They weigh down a small business and then offer the same business a subsidy.

President Reagan used to say that when Liberals see an object that moves, they tax it. If it keeps moving, they regulate it. When it finally stops moving, they subsidize it. But why doesn’t the Liberal politician just stay out of the way in the first place? Because that would make him so much less important. He would have no role. It would be like airbrushing him out of the selfie.

The Liberal politician is the ultimate economic busybody—always turning up uninvited, always trying to be the centre of attention, always in the way and always causing more problems than he solves.

Our economy needs business – not busybodies – for Canadians to achieve their full potential.

Article By Pierre Poilievre.

Ottawa Life Magazine accepts opinion editorials from all federal political parties. 

Uber and the Accessibility Question

April 7, 2016 2:11 pm
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A user organizing a ride through UberAssist. Photo by Eric Murphy.  

Ottawa’s plan to legalize Uber has locals who use accessible taxis concerned that the service they’ve fought for and relied on for years may be drawn-back, or even cease to exist.

“In Ottawa I can call West-Way taxi, or Capital Taxi or Blueline, say ‘I need a wheelchair accessible vehicle to pick me up at my house,’ and I get it,” says Peter McGrath, a lawyer for the federal government who uses a power wheelchair.

This service is essential for anyone like McGrath who needs to stay seated in their wheelchair while travelling. They cannot use Uber’s new Assist service because it does not require vehicles to have ramps, and Para Transpo is a poor alternative because riders have to schedule their trips well in advance.

If poor business forces the taxis to scale back, McGrath is afraid he’ll be left without a ride.

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Peter McGrath is a lawyer for the federal government and a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

“What will the city do to ensure that accessible vehicles are available 24 hours a day?” he asks.

Coun. Diane Deans, who led the planning committee that oversaw the proposed taxi regulation changes, says that Ottawa’s accessible taxis aren’t going anywhere.

“I can’t imagine the taxi business ever going out of business,” says Deans. “They have $9 million in accessibility service alone. They have all of the phone-call arranged taxi service in the city.”

Furthermore, Deans’ committee has recommended that if Uber is legalized, the ride-hailing company should have to either dedicate at least 15 per cent of its driving time in Ottawa to accessible vehicles, or pay 30 cents from every Uber ride into a fund for accessible services. Technically, the city currently isn’t able to force Uber to pay that 30 cent surcharge, but Deans says that they are pursuing the provincial authority that will let them do just that.

“That money would go into a pool and we would work with the Accessibility Advisory Committee to determine how best to use those funds,” Deans says.

Peter McGrath doesn’t share Deans’ confidence in Ottawa’s taxi service or the new fund.

“If Uber crowds out all the cab service, and why wouldn’t they, how are the cabs going to compete?” he asks.

McGrath doesn’t believe the cab companies can survive off of the $9 million accessibility service or the business that would come from phone calls and people who pay in cash. He is also concerned that the 30 cent surcharge on Uber rides would be largely directed to Para Transpo. McGrath argues that because you have to book it in advance, Para Transpo is woefully inadequate. He’s not alone in that thinking.

“I use Para Transpo…but it’s kind of my last resort,” says 21-year-old Sarah Mercer, who uses a manual wheelchair. “If something comes up, I can’t just call Para Transpo and have them pick me up.”

Mercer’s experience with accessible cabs hasn’t been perfect either. She’s called them and been left waiting for half an hour or a full hour, and sometimes they never arrive. One night, after waiting for roughly two hours for an accessible taxi, she used Uber instead.

“I’ve never really had a problem with [Uber] showing up on time,” Mercer says.

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Some fear that the taxi companies may be edged out of the market, leaving a gap in accessible service. Photo by Eric Murphy.

Since Mercer uses a manual wheelchair, she can have an Uber driver help fold up her chair and store it in the car. However, people who must stay seated in an electric wheelchair, like McGrath, don’t have that option. Neither traditional Uber drivers nor those in the UberAssist service that launched in Ottawa on March 23 have the ramps or space that he needs.

Uber does have a power chair accessible service called UberWAV that’s available in a number of cities, including Toronto, but even if it were to come to Ottawa, McGrath is skeptical about the reliability of UBER’s model.

“The problem is that Uber is just an app…they don’t own their own fleet of vehicles,” he says. “I can request a wheelchair accessible van. What they can’t guarantee is that a wheelchair accessible van will be available.”

Users in other cities have faced that problem. In a 2015 article from Wired, a group of protesters weren’t able to summon an UberWAV vehicle while standing right in front of the company’s Manhattan headquarters.

“I’m not sitting here trying to cause a problem,” McGrath says. “If UberWAV can guarantee that they will provide more accessible trips than what’s currently available in the city of Ottawa now, sure, I’m happy to have it.”

Advanced Directives for Assisted-Dying a Dangerous Step

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The moment we are born, our lives take flight; and the longer we are airborne, the greater the chance of encountering turbulence along the way. While every flight is destined to land, some landings are harder to contemplate than others.

The parliamentary committee tasked with advising the federal government on how to roll out physician-hastened death must have struggled with the prospect of dying with dementia. Their advice to lawmakers was anyone with a condition likely to cause a loss of competence should be able to complete an advance directive any time after their diagnosis, directing that they should be euthanized.

This recommendation goes well beyond anything the Supreme Court of Canada intended.

The court stipulated physician-hastened death must only be considered for competent adults, in the circumstances of their current condition. The idea that Canada would make it lawful for people to consider a future version of themselves unacceptable and sign off on an order to have their lives ended was not something the court contemplated.

After all, in any assisted-dying regime, a competent patient is free to change their mind or express their ambivalence by withdrawing a request or postponing an assisted death. To permit an assisted death to proceed on the basis of an advance directive effectively denies this protection to persons who are no longer capable of making or expressing health-care decisions.

That is a risky proposition.

Research shows people are not very good at predicting what they would want and what they might need and feel in circumstances they have not yet confronted. The farther removed those circumstances are from today’s reality, the more difficult it is to imagine the response.

So why did the Canadian committee go as far as it did?

Fear is seldom a reliable guide to good social policy. But like most of us, parliamentary committee members must have found the prospect of turning into an altered version of their former selves terrifying. They likely did not appreciate that dementia is a progressive terminal illness; the seventh-leading cause of death in Canada. They probably did not appreciate the suffering they imagined was due to lack of adequate or appropriate end-of-life care these patients receive — despite ample evidence that the symptom burden can be comparable to cancer.

Patients with dementia are less likely to be referred for palliative care, have family caregiver involvement in decision-making or receive palliative medication, including pain medication.

Dutch legislators included a euthanasia advance-directive provision for patients anticipating a cognitive decline. While their rationale likely mirrored the Canadian parliamentary committee, the idea has turned out to be completely untenable. Despite requests occasionally being made, they are rarely adhered to.

Related: We Must Speak for Those who Can’t.

Related: Assisted Suicide for Those with a Mental Illness is a Risky Proposition.

In the vast majority of instances, physicians find it “inconceivable” to comply with the requests, given the patient with dementia has become a psychologically different person than the one who made the original request. Physicians are no longer able to determine the patient’s current wishes, feel the patient is not suffering or believe that they no longer want to die. While family members were supportive of not including life-prolonging treatment, they asked that the euthanasia advance directive not be followed because of uncertainty about the person’s current wishes, not being ready for the person to die or not sensing that the person is suffering.

As for planning a good death with dementia, end-of-life discussions need to start sooner rather than later. Patients must have the opportunity to express their wishes and preferences for care. Their pain and symptoms need to be well-managed. Advanced-care planning can ensure unwanted treatments, which may prolong the length of life without sustaining or improving the quality of life, are not imposed. Such planning can also reduce the likelihood of unnecessary hospitalizations and increase the chances of dying where people choose.

There is good data to demonstrate that compassion, a gentle touch, respect, and patience can benefit even those patients with moderate to severe dementia. Granted, this approach is not the quick and efficient landing the parliamentary committee members may have had in mind. But for now, it is the very best we can do.

Chochinov_Harvey_high resDr. Harvey Max Chochinov is a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca. He holds the only Canada research chair in palliative care. He led an external panel, appointed by the federal government, looking at legislative options to Carter v. Canada. He is an adviser to the Vulnerable Persons Standard (vps-npv.ca).

Feds Kill Idea to Erect Cape Breton’s Never Forgotten National Memorial, Sloppily

April 1, 2016 9:15 am
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It was April 2009 and he was on a pilgrimage close to his birth place in Italy. Because he left for Canada when he was only four, he really didn’t remember very much about the area at all. Perhaps the cemetery off to the right was there back in 1950 when his parents left to settle in Canada, but he didn’t recognize it now, some 60 years later. Its layout was so immaculate that he decided to pay a short visit. Approaching the gate entrance, the sign announced it was a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. On entry, he respectfully approached the first headstone which read, “Pte Ted Truskoski, 17, Canada.”

Seventeen! He thought perhaps such a young age for a soldier was highly unusual – until he walked along row after row of Canadians killed in the Battle of Ortona, which was fought over the Christmas period in 1943. He realized that many soldiers, too many, including a 16-year-old from PEI, were high school age. It was only a year later that he was told that Ted had actually lied about his age and that he too was only 16 when killed.

Tony Trigiani realized that many of the Canadians who had travelled over 7,000 kilometres from their homes to purge a brutal enemy had been incredibly young. He made a silent pledge that he would find a way to honour their sacrifice and the sacrifice of all Canadians who crossed the oceans to help others recapture their freedom.

His research revealed that over 114,000 Canadians are buried in 2,500 Commonwealth Cemeteries around the world. This figure does not include the thousands lost or buried at sea. They will rest there forever, but perhaps, he thought, we could welcome their souls home and provide a quiet place in Canada where relatives and friends could remember, away from the hustle and bustle of urban areas where so many cenotaphs are located.

Later in 2009 he discussed the idea with a number of veterans he had supported financially during the fundraising campaign for the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy. Unbeknownst to him, one of the well known D-Day veterans, Bruce Melanson contacted Veteran’s Affairs in Charlottetown, alerting them to Tony’s idea for the monument. In April 2010 they contacted Tony and a senior official with Parks Canada joined the discussions, expressing interest and support for the concept.

A subsequent feasibility study, funded by Tony, concluded that there would be country-wide support for such a memorial. I was contacted for my opinion and was so impressed with the concept that I came on board as an ambassador for the project and was pleased that retired Colonel Alain Pellerin, a good friend for many years, agreed to join Tony’s team as a fellow ambassador.

The next step was to find a site. Considering the great majority of our fallen were buried in Europe it was decided that Canada’s East Coast would be the closest and best location, particularly Nova Scotia where the majority of troops dispatched to two World Wars embarked. Parks Canada suggested a number of sites in Cape Breton and Tony visited each one of them, including his eventual favourite, Lakie’s Head in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

At a 2011 meeting with Parks Canada in Halifax, Tony expressed his desire to erect the memorial at Lakie’s Head. Parks Canada felt the site would be too small and recommended he return to Cape Breton and visit Green Cove, also in the National Park. Admiring its beauty from the tiny adjacent parking lot, in Tony’s words the site “spoke to me,” and he imagined a statue with open arms facing the sea, line of sight to the Vimy Memorial in France, welcoming lost Canadian soldiers home.

A month later Tony made a more detailed presentation at Veteran’s Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown, which was attended by an even more senior representative from Parks Canada who flew in from Ottawa strictly for the meeting. The presentation included a design for the monument based on Canada Bereft, the mourning figure on the magnificent Vimy Memorial in France. The family of Walter Seymour Allward, the original statue’s sculptor, gave their permission and plans were made to merely elevate the figure’s head and raise her arms, signifying a welcoming home gesture.

In February of 2012, Tony met with the Minister of Veteran’s Affairs in Ottawa. The Minister of the Environment joined the discussions as a keen supporter.

In July of 2013 we were advised by the Minister of the Environment that Parks Canada was authorized to negotiate with the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation regarding building the memorial in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

All costs for the construction and maintenance of the Memorial would be private funds.  Parks Canada granted the Foundation $100,000 to partially pay for a business plan including tourism forecasts and a website.

We naively assumed we were on a roll. A recent Vice Chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Sir Alistair Irwin, graciously joined our Foundation as Co-Chair. He would subsequently hand a copy of our foundation booklet to Prince Charles.

During the following months a large number of well-known and respected Canadians joined the project as patrons. Margaret McCain, Brian Burke, Rex Murphy, Jean Charest, Frank McKenna, Paul Manson, Mila Mulroney, Roy McMurtry, Hugh Segal, Ian Tyson, Peter Stoffer and numerous other Canadians offered their support.

Dr. Donald Julien, the Executive Director of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, joined us as a patron ensuring the interests of the Confederacy would be an important part of the planning process.

During this process, a highly respected former Minister of the Environment told me to prepare for glacial project progress as Parks Canada was the most byzantine organization he had ever encountered. We discovered the hard way that he grossly understated his warning.

In order to proceed with the project, Parks Canada required a Basic Impact Analysis be conducted at the site to address any environmental issues. Consultation with the local community was also a prerequisite and something the foundation continued to push Parks Canada to arrange.  The foundation’s requests for public meetings started early in 2013, yet these were delayed by Parks Canada until October 7, 2014.  These requirements were completed with encouraging results. Although there were outspoken critics at the Town Hall deliberations, they were a distinct minority and were sometimes even drowned out by the “yea” side’s standing-ovations.

In July of 2014 we were shocked when Parks Canada advised us to pay for and undertake a Detailed Impact Analysis, a much more comprehensive undertaking with a price tag well over $200,000.

During the entire time between 2013 and 2016 we weren’t able to start fundraising without a completed DIA. It would have been inappropriate to solicit and accept private funds when we didn’t have a Licence of Occupation (“Building Permit”) which could only be issued on completion of the DIA process. Meanwhile our critics, in a well coordinated campaign to halt the project, started gaining momentum. To our dismay, even editorials from influential news organizations joined the band wagon, repeating false-truths and giving them inappropriate and unearned credibility.

We were accused of planning construction within the Park’s Restricted Zone when we were clearly outside that zone. We were allegedly covering a unique (definition: “being the only one of its kind”) rock formation when in fact the monument only partially covered 0.4 of a hectare, a miniscule portion of a 26,000 hectare suite. The creation of a parking lot for 300 cars was routinely quoted when the plans called for a mere 60. A “towering monstrosity” was a favourite criticism when the actual height, at 20 meters in the current plan, pales in comparison to the Statue of Liberty at 45 meters and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil at 38 meters and is only a bit higher than the fiddle replica greeting the tour boats as they dock at Sydney harbour. Not satisfied with just “towering,” an “ugly” monstrosity entered the debate. This in spite of the fact that the monument’s image was based on the design of Canada Bereft that won a competition with 160 entries in 1920, and is now an essential part of the Vimy Memorial in France. For heaven’s sake, even the government financially supported Vimy Foundation, which I have outspokenly supported along with six other charities assisting soldiers over the years, turned their back on us even though our objectives coincided to honour our fallen. Out of nowhere, because they were aware of our intentions years earlier, trademarking “Mother Canada” got their knickers in a knot and they joined the cue of critics. What a shame, missing an opportunity for some synergy in honouring our fallen.

In the area affectionally referred to as North of Smokey, and where the monument would stand, local resident Lisa MacLeod started a Facebook page in support of the memorial that grew to thousands of followers. This led to petitions totalling over 1,100 signatures which local MP Mark Eyking presented to the House of Commons on January 28, 2016 in a less than inspiring manner.

Perhaps the lowest blow of all was the accusation that Tony, the ‘devious Toronto businessman,’ would be flogging cheap trinkets in a gift shop and placing sponsor’s signage on the monument site itself. Some even claimed he had trademarked Mother Canada’s image in his own self-interest. These vindictive comments never mentioned that the approval to build required that millions of dollars be provided for the monument’s long-term maintenance, and that trademarking would avoid “cheap trinkets” on the market. The plans also clearly directed that there would be absolutely no sponsor’s or anyone else’s signage on the monument site itself.

Four years and thousands of dollars after commencing the process to complete the final DIA to the satisfaction of Parks Canada, it was finally submitted on February 4, 2016.

The following day, Tony was advised on an early morning phone call that Parks Canada was withdrawing its support for the project and the monument would not be permitted to be built in the Park. The follow up e-mail from Parks Canada on behalf of the Minister of the Environment follows:

NEVER FORGOTTEN NATIONAL MEMORIAL
MEDIA STATEMENT

Parks Canada has reviewed the entire Never Forgotten National Memorial initiative as well as the key elements and timelines within the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that guides this complex proposal.

Based on that review, Parks Canada has concluded that there are too many key elements that remain outstanding for the project to be achieved by the planned date of July 1, 2017, including the availability of funds to the Foundation, agreement on the structuring of the funding for construction and maintenance, and a definitive final design plan.

After careful consideration, Parks Canada has decided to withdraw from the MOU and the project. Parks Canada will no longer be working towards the realization of the memorial in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. As a result, the project will not be moving forward on Parks Canada land.

Parks Canada appreciates the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation’s vision in honouring Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and wishes the Foundation success in its on-going pursuits.

Daniel Watson
Chief Executive Officer
Parks Canada Agency

I never imagined how many misleading and inaccurate comments could be crammed into one media release. A number of the issues raised in that release had been well addressed numerous times including a detailed letter sent the previous month including the funding issues and the modified timeline for the completion of the memorial. To elaborate, the following provides some illuminating facts.

1. Parks Canada media release– the Foundation did not have availability of funds.

Fact – Parks Canada had been told numerous times that there were large donors waiting to contribute funds but were waiting on Parks Canada to approve the DIA and issue a license of occupation.  What major donor was going to contribute funds to a project that was still not approved?  Major donors included a large national retailer and well known philanthropists in Canada.  Parks Canada were told on a number of occasions about these “donors in waiting” but continued to play delay games.

2. Parks Canada media release– No agreement on structuring of funding.

Fact – Parks Canada dramatically increased the maintenance endowment funding amounts for the Foundation to raise, without any reasoning, explanation or any details of what they would do for the millions in funding that they were asking the Foundation to hand over to them.  Parks was insisting that they would only keep the Memorial open during the park season and never told the Foundation if they would do anything more than empty out the garbage cans.

3. Parks Canada media release – No Definitive Design Plan

Fact– A definitive design plan can only be produced once Parks Canada makes a determination on the final DIA.  Parks Canada had not made a decision. The Foundation spent thousands of dollars on making numerous changes to the plans every time Parks demanded, including a submission of requested changes to the DIA that were sent the day before the announcement.

All of us, including a large number of Cape Bretoners, are gutted with the termination of the government’s support for the project. We are, however, embarrassed and angry regarding the disrespectful way a unique, yes unique, Canadian patriot was treated in the final days of the Never Forgotten National Memorial. Mr. Tony Trigiani, with the purest of reasons and an unmatched dedication to this country’s soldiers, having sacrificed his health and expended over a million dollars of his own money to underwrite a process made more expensive and time consuming each and every time Parks Canada inflicted another bureaucratic requirement, deserved so very much more than an early morning phone call from a bureaucrat displaying a shocking lack of insight regarding the project and a follow up e-mail perpetuating the myths appearing above.

Once the previous government approved the project in 2013, with the exception of Peter MacKay, we received little or any support from ministers. In truth, they were speed bumps throughout the process. But to their credit they had the decency to grant us an audience or respond to our letters.

At the very least, the current Minister of the Environment should have invited Tony to her office to communicate her decision face to face, thank him for his patriotism and express regrets regarding the glacial decision-making process within her Parks Canada. It is hoped that good manners alone will dictate such an invitation. After all, it is 2016.

Lewis MacKenzie resizedArticle by Major General (Ret’d) Lewis MacKenzie.

Budget Day 2016

March 24, 2016 3:48 pm
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Ever wish you were a journalist working on Parliament Hill? In the slideshow below, celebrated photographer Jean-Marc Carisse captures the excitement of Budget Day 2016.

Assisted Suicide for Those With Mental Illness is a Risky Proposition

March 15, 2016 12:48 pm
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Who but those who have experienced it can appreciate the soul crushing anguish of mental illness? Afflictions of the mind can be paralyzing and fundamentally change the way we perceive ourselves (I am worthless), anticipate the future (my prospects are hopeless), and experience the world (life is unfair and unforgiving). The combination of self-loathing, hopelessness and despair can tragically lead to suicide.

Parliament’s Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Death, nevertheless, urged the federal government not to exclude individuals with psychiatric conditions from being considered eligible. Their reasoning comes down to this: mental suffering is no less profound than physical suffering, so denying individuals with mental illness access to physician hastened death would be discriminatory and a violation of their Charter rights.

People with mental illness are no strangers to discrimination. Two-thirds suffer in silence for fear of rejection and mistreatment. Only one in five children who need mental health services receive them, either because of concerns they will be stigmatized or supports are simply not available. Doors are constantly being closed on the mentally ill, denying them of stable employment, social opportunities, secure food and housing; and sometimes fundamental protections under our criminal justice system. They are marginalized, victimized and vilified.

Mental illness is one of the best predictors, more so than poverty, of inequitable access to healthcare in Canada. People with severe mental illness die about 25 years earlier than adults in the general population.

Making a fairness argument for the availability of physician-hastened death for a group of people treated so unfairly seems a cruel irony. In Oregon, having a psychiatric condition does not preclude eligibility for physician-assisted suicide. However, that condition must not impair the patient’s capacity to give consent and must, as in every other eligible case, occur alongside a medical condition with a prognosis of less than six months. Experts I met involved in Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, in place 17 years now, could not fathom the idea of providing assisted suicide purely on the basis of non-terminal psychiatric disorders.

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, psychological suffering stemming from either a physical or mental condition is considered a valid legal basis for physician-hastened death. They account for a small but growing minority of death-hastening cases. Last month, a critically important study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry by American psychiatrist, Scott Kim.

Kim and his team reviewed 66 case summaries, published online by the Dutch regional euthanasia review committee between 2011-14, of people who had received either euthanasia or assisted suicide for psychiatric reasons. The majority were women, with issues including depression, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and substance abuse; some also had various forms of cognitive impairment (e.g. intellectual disability, early dementia) and autism. Most had personality disorders and were described as socially isolated and lonely. In one quarter of instances, despite differences of opinion between physicians, death hastening proceeded. In about one third of cases initially refused, most were carried out by new physicians willing to comply.

The parliamentary committee position seems premised on the recognition that physical suffering and mental suffering can be equally devastating. That does not mean, however, they can be approached the same. The nature of mental illness often leads people to see themselves as worthless, to believe that their situation is hopeless; and to perceive — often reflected through society’s judgemental gaze — that their lives have little value. But this context should help us see that a death hastening response is fraught with hazard; and runs counter to a recovery oriented practice advocated by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Like all Canadians, people with mental illness have rights that are protected under the constitution. And like all Canadians, these rights need to be balanced against the interests of a free and just society, wherein vulnerable persons must be protected. The most effective protections healthcare providers offer patients are built on the foundation of a caring and committed therapeutic relationship.

For patients whose illness tends towards self-destruction, and for patients whose suffering is rooted in social conditions like loneliness, a physician-assisted death option will crack that relational foundation. Current evidence shows that vulnerable persons will fall through that crack.

The committee, in its wisdom, expressed confidence that physicians would be able to figure this out. Hopefully, as lawmakers draft legislation in the days ahead, deeper wisdom will prevail.

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Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov is a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca. He holds the only Canada research chair in palliative care. He led an external panel, appointed by the federal government, looking at legislative options to Carter v. Canada.

When Labels Aren’t Just for Soup Cans & Rolodexes Just Aren’t Enough

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Jeb Bush

South Carolina is an American state whose reputation for political trench warfare precedes itself. Inside a crowded North Charleston auditorium as he stumped for his brother, Jeb, in South Carolina, former president George W. Bush reminded his audience that, while “There seems to be a lot of name calling going on but, I want to remind you what our good dad told me one time: labels are for soup cans.” However, when the polls closed, the results indicted that, contrary to former president George W. Bush’s words, labels weren’t just for soup cans.

As the 2016 Republican South Carolina primary ended, Jeb Bush had a less than stellar finish. In fact, he came in fourth place with approximately 7.8% of the vote. Donald Trump, the larger than life businessman and media personality, won the South Carolina primary by receiving a robust 32.5% of the vote. The two junior U.S. senators in the Republican race, Marco Rubio (from Florida) and Ted Cruz (from Texas) trailed Trump by 10% but had a photo finish between themselves for the race’s second and third place positions with Rubio ultimately winning 22.5% of the vote and Cruz winning 22.3%. In sum, even the former president’s eleventh hour return from the political abyss to campaign for his brother proved to be no more than an exercise in futility.

Republican Presidential Frontrunner Donald TrumpBy the end of that fateful evening, Jeb Bush threw in the proverbial presidential election campaign towel: he suspended his campaign. And thus the possibility of a third Bush moving into the White House in 2016 was no more. The ultimate establishment Republican presidential candidate lost to an opponent who — because of his inflammatory comments, boisterous behaviour and sparse policy details — is shaping up to be the ultimate Republican anti-establishment candidate.

As such, Trump wasted no time proving that labels weren’t just for soup cans in South Carolina. His long-standing labeling of Jeb as “low energy” proved itself to be a surprisingly effective tactical trope on the road to South Carolina. Effective indeed, especially since, as many cynical media critics aptly noted, Trump incorporated a triumphant escalator ride from the lobby of Trump Tower into the building’s atrium and food court, the site of his presidential announcement which occurred more than half a year in advance of South Carolina’s primary.

By the time that the Bush campaign realized that the Trump campaign wasn’t merely a political sideshow that could easily be dismissed as little more than the flavor of the week, it was too late. The Bush campaign created numerous electoral scenarios, but none predicted the visceral and systemic anti-establishment momentum that Trump’s campaign reflects. Even worse, Jeb Bush and his campaign failed to alter their strategies once it became clear that Donald Trump was morphing into a conservative populist juggernaut — albeit one whose rhetoric has largely been interpreted as initiating a state of civil war within the Republican party, stoking fears that his divisive campaigning could torpedo the prospects of the GOP winning the White House not just this November, but also for the foreseeable future.

Mary Matalin, a well-known senior Republican political insider, once said that “the maximum goal in professional politics is ‘No surprises.’” As was implied earlier, that mantra cannot be applied to the 2016 Republican primary race — both up to and then beyond South Carolina. But you would be hard-pressed to find tangible evidence that the Bush campaign playbook took note. In fact, the Bush campaign playbook appeared to be set in stone and, accordingly, was anything but agile. Therefore, when surprises on the campaign trail occurred, the Bush campaign was unable to counter its opponents’ messaging and lacked an action plan to get its own candidate’s message out to voters. Consequently, the Bush campaign broke what Matalin called “Cardinal rule 101 of politics: Never let the other side define you.”

MYRTLE BEACH, SC - FEBRUARY 11: Shadows are reflected on an American Flag as people line up to speak with Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich at a restaurant in South Carolina following his second place showing in the New Hampshire primary on February 11, 2016 in Myrtle Beach South Carolina. Kasich, who is running as a moderate, is expected to face a difficult environment in South Carolina where conservative voters traditionally outnumber moderates. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

To make matters worse for Jeb Bush, money didn’t talk. The Bush campaign ran the epitome of what many call an “insider” campaign fundraising strategy. Simply put, an insider campaign fundraising strategy can be classified as as a form of Rolodex fundraising in which fundraising is reliant upon connections and contacts and wherein the donations raised are raised in large increments. Front and center here are the so-called Super PACs which, in a nutshell, are recently developed fundraising committees that are legally entitled to raise and then spend unlimited sums of money accumulated from individuals, corporations, associations and unions to publicly promote (or dispute) political office seekers and incumbent officeholders. The catch is that these Super PACs can neither coordinate with the candidates they are advocating for or against, nor can they donate their funds to said candidates.

But for Jeb Bush’s campaign and the Jeb Bush friendly Super PACs, there was another catch: the approximately $150 million dollars they raised was largely in vain. Much of that money was spent on crafting and then disseminating political advertisements which simply fizzled. The labeling of Jeb Bush as “low energy” coupled with the fact that Jeb Bush’s campaign largely failed to alter its campaign tactics to effectively address the insurgent Trump campaign and the fundamental anti-establishment sentiment in this presidential election cycle ensured that, even before the South Carolina Republican primary signaled the death knell of the Bush campaign, the writing was already on the wall. In essence, the lesson learned from the failed 2016 Jeb Bush presidential campaign is this: when running for president, labels aren’t just for soup cans and Rolodexes just aren’t enough.

Young Women Lead the Way for Change

March 14, 2016 10:48 am
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On February 5th, one of the most iconic figures of the feminist movement, Gloria Steinem, insinuated that the young women who supported U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders did so because they were ‘following the boys.’ This statement sparked a backlash and outraged many, especially young feminists. For many of them, Steinem is an inspiration; but this statement undermined their agency and their ability to think critically – no matter which candidate they prefer.

What this comment highlights is that contemporary feminisms value the intersectional analysis of oppressions. Young feminists will not vote for a woman just for the sake of her being a woman. They care about much more than gender and it is time for us to listen to them. They see feminist issues as inseparable from, and deeply intertwined with, racism, colonialism, classism, LGBTQ issues, poverty, ableism and all forms of oppression.

In fact, young women are at the frontlines of some of the most significant social movements of our time. From Idle No More, to Black Lives Matter, to the movements for reproductive justice and refugee rights, they are speaking out against all forms of social injustice and are taking centre stage. One can only recall the iconic image of Amanda Polchies in Elsipogtog holding a feather in the face of a line of riot police, in defence of her land. Or Widia Larivière and Melissa Mollen-Dupuis spearheading Idle No More Quebec.

Here at Girls Action Foundation, we just celebrated our 20th anniversary. For the last two decades we have worked nationally towards girls’ and young women’s empowerment. As an organization that keeps its ‘ear to the ground’ and is responsive to the needs of a network of over 300 grassroots organizations across the country, we can say with confidence that girls and young women still care to identify as feminists.  More importantly, we have learned in our work that we cannot empower young women without speaking of the multiple and interconnected realities they face.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote this year, and celebrate the women advocates who have come before us, let’s also celebrate the future of feminism today, led by young women. Let’s not assume young people know less, have experienced less, struggled less – instead let’s listen to them and find a way to leverage the strengths of all experiences and perspectives.

Let’s also use this milestone, as well as the broadening of feminism as understood and led by young women, to encourage the creation of more intergenerational spaces, where women of all generations can all learn from one another and work together.

Finally, let’s remember that this year the Canadian International Women’s Day theme is about women and girls’ empowerment. What better way to mark this day than celebrating young women’s power as change-makers!

Saman Ahsan 2Saman Ahsan is Executive Director of the Girls Action Foundation, a national charity helping to create the next generation of strong Canadian women, based in Montreal. 

 

 

 

 

 

Myriam photoMyriam Zaidi is the Girls Action Foundation Communications and National Network Coordinator. She is responsible for liaising with a network of more than 300 organizations that work with girls and young women across the country.

It’s Time for the Federal Government to Take a Leadership Role on Rising Obesity Rates

March 9, 2016 2:53 pm
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Ban advertising of unhealthy foods to kids, tax sugary drinks, revamp food guide, prohibit use of trans fats, among Senate report recommendations. 

Almost two thirds of adults in Canada are overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada – a dramatic increase that has taken place over the last thirty plus years.  Unfortunately the increase in obesity rates has also affected our children.  Around 13 per cent of Canadian children between the ages of five and 17 are obese while 20 per cent are considered overweight.  These are dangerously high numbers.

Put another way, the number of obese adults has doubled and the number of obese children in Canada has tripled since 1980.

It’s cold comfort to find that Canada is not alone. All industrialized countries have much the same pattern of increasing obesity rates.  However, Canada is among those countries leading the pack, with some of the highest obesity rates among OECD countries, ranking fifth among 40 countries.

What are the consequences?

During the same time frame, we’ve witnessed an increase in the rates of several chronic conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.  Even though Canadians live longer than in previous generations, these conditions are resulting in more unhealthy years at the end of life, and put an increased demand on our publicly funded health care system.  Evidence says these conditions are responsible for between 48,000 and 66,000 deaths in Canada each year.

In addition to lives lost and quality of life reduced, obesity also has economic consequences.  An increased burden of ill health on overweight and obese Canadians results in a lower rate of employment, higher absenteeism rates and decreased on-the-job productivity.

So what’s the way forward?

This week, the Senate Committee for Social Affairs, Science and Technology, released its report, Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada and put forward 21 concrete recommendations, informed by expert testimony from a wide range of disciplines.

Bottom line: It’s time for the federal government to take aggressive measures to help Canadians achieve and maintain healthy weights.

In exploring ways for Canada to move forward, the report notes that we can learn lessons from Canada’s anti-smoking strategy.  For starters, the anti-smoking strategy relied upon several different policies and approaches implemented by all levels of government.  The anti-smoking strategy also had to convey the body of scientific evidence on negative health consequences to all Canadians.  And those working on the anti-smoking strategy understood they not only had to change minds, but behaviour too — and that this change in behaviour would take time.  It was also necessary for the federal government to provide the leadership for a pan-Canadian approach.

With this model in mind, the Senate report calls on the federal government to create a “health in all policies” approach and implement a National Campaign to Combat Obesity with concrete goals, timelines and progress reports, and in partnership with the provinces and territories.

Specifically, the report recommends a number of pragmatic measures that could be implemented right away, including strict controls on the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages to children.  It’s also time for a new tax on sugar-sweetened as well as artificially-sweetened beverages – and a prohibition on the use of partially hydrogenated oils to minimize trans fat content in food.

The report also emphasizes the need to find ways to increase the affordability of healthy foods, including removing or reducing taxes on them and considering food subsidies. To address escalating obesity rates in our northern and aboriginal populations in particular, the report calls on the government to implement the recommendations made by the Auditor General to the Nutrition North campaign.

Experts also told the Senate Committee that the Canada Food Guide is woefully out of date and out of step with the most recent research, and so we recommend that the Minister of Health immediately undertake a complete revision of Canada’s food guide in order that it better reflect the current state of scientific evidence.

The report calls for strict limits on the use of permitted health claims and nutrient content claims on food packaging – so Canadians can make informed, evidence-based decisions. For the same reason, the report calls on the Minister to require nutrition labelling on menus in restaurants.

Perhaps most surprising in the report is the OECD assessment which found the cost of implementing a comprehensive package of measures to counter obesity in Canada would cost us only $33 per capita.  A reasonable cost for helping Canadians stay healthy.

There are many policy levers all levels of government can implement to help Canadians make healthier lifestyle and nutrition choices – these are just a few.  Now it’s time the federal government helped coordinate the plan to make it all happen.
KKO Offical Photo 2012 High Res.official photo 2012

Article By Senator Kelvin Ogilvie and Senator Art Eggleton

Kelvin K. Ogilvie and Art Eggleton are respectively the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

K&A: Our Perspective on Budget 2016

March 7, 2016 12:30 pm
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Kathleen Wynne (right) announced the new Ontario budget late February. Photo by Jason Hargrove under Creative Commons license.

As our client base continues to grow so too does their demand for objective insight into events like Budgets. This analysis of Ontario’s Budget 2016 and post discussion strives to provide an objective perspective on Budget 2016 complete with post Budget impact and chatter — with no partisan spin!

“We cannot simply trust that those fair economic winds will stay with us”  (Hon. Charles Sousa, Budget Address 2016, Queen’s Park)

Playing the Long Game

There was a time when government Budgets were big events. Lots of people in the gallery at the Legislature, lots of media attention before and after, the cool factor of being in a Budget lock-up to get “first-hand” analysis from government types who were “au fait” on the Budget and its process and, days and days of analysis and other contrived events to sell the document was usually the order of the day.

In the years since Kathleen Wynne was appointed Premier and subsequently elected as government, she and her solid majority government have, for all intents and purposes, subscribed to a low key Budget management program. That means, sticking to their mantra that they “have a mandate to spend and manage the public’s money” – the best they know how. It’s their modus operandi, in effect, to make events like their annual Budget Bills appear like low-key affairs. In fact, Budget non-events appear en vogue for all governments across Canada.

Budgets, too, are all about winners and losers.

Budget 2016 is no exception. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Post Secondary students are big winners – viewers in the gallery could actually see the blood rush from Opposition Leader Patrick Brown’s face when the Minister of Finance announced that tuition would be free for low income families
  • Ontario citizens looking to save more for retirement – the government announced ORPP offering Ontarians an opportunity to save for their retirements with added kicker coming from the Ontario government,
  • Women and minority groups- with a pledge for monies to flow for aboriginal women’s issues and to create anti-racism strategies
  • Drivers – the government announced that it would axe the $30 Drive Clean tariff
  • Gamers and those who are looking to see OLG modernization and horse racing stabilize
  • Energy, environment and transit activists who have pushed and prodded for programs and plans to manage green house gas emissions (GHGs) and climate change
  • Hospitals – who get a boost in capital spending after getting nothing for years

From our vantage point some of the losers include:

  • Seniors with relatively good retirement nest eggs will pay more for their prescription medications
  • Commuters – about to get the proverbial “crap” beaten out of them on an increase in gasoline tax to almost 5 cents and the establishment of toll lanes on some of the 400 series highways
  • Home owners – will pay more – all in an effort to reduce GHGs and perhaps change behaviours toward less use of natural gas to heat their homes

The Budget Aftermath

We fully expected that the non-event would play out in the days after the Budget speech, but little did the Premier expect that her free tuition announcement and the subsequent accolades in public would get overshadowed by the fact that media seemed to demand more explanation as to Ontario’s massive debt. Ontario’s debt is larger than California’s, a state that has twice Ontario’s population. This fact seemingly turned a non-event Budget into a narrative that translates into a majority of Ontarians being unsupportive of it and by extension Ontario’s Liberal Government.

In fact, in the short week after the Budget and apparently as a result of further analysis by media and the public, polling suggests that almost two thirds of Ontarians do not support the Budget and, as a government, Premier Wynne’s Liberal Government are 17 points behind the almost invisible Conservative Patrick Brown, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Budget Highlights

  • A plan for reducing Green House Gas emissions and climate control. The plan, governed by the Climate Change Mitigation and Low Carbon Economy Act, will be linked to the existing cap-and-trade systems in place in the province of Quebec and State of California under their recently ratified Western Climate Initiative. The Wynne government anticipates that its cap-and-trade scheme will cover a broad range of industries, which account for nearly 82 per cent of the province’s total GHG emissions. The scheme is expected to generate proceeds in excess of $1.8 billion through the sale of carbon allowances and is intended to do most of the heavy lifting necessary to enable the Ontario government to meet its greenhouse gas reduction obligations of 37% below 1990 levels by 2030.
  • Other infrastructure spending including transit funding and improvements for communities outside the GTA and an increase to other key infrastructure for the province will continue as a priority.
  • The Ontario Retirement Pension Plan – Ontarians will begin to participate in the scheme starting in 2017.
  • Another populist move – how about wine in grocery stores! Big win! Soured a bit by an announced increase in tax per bottle of beer and wine.
  • A $3.00 increase in tax on a carton of cigarettes.
  • A 4.2-cent increase in the price of gasoline.
  • Aboriginals, minorities, students wishing to attend university and hospitals were all mentioned in the context of spending promises in the Budget. To wit, $100 million would go to programs for indigenous women and to combat racism; post secondary education will be FREE for student from families whose average annual income is under $50,000 –grants will be available; hospitals will get a boost in capital spending to the tune of about $350 million in this fiscal year.
  • The province’s lottery and gaming corporation will continue to drive policy in the area of charity bingo adding more games and products – which is a boost to the industry. In turn, OLG will shore up its offering in Internet based gaming –boosting its presence to stave off grey market competition. At the same time, the OLG will integrate horse racing into its modernization strategy and funding will continue under the Premier’s promised transfer payment program, which will be extended for two more years. Beyond this land-based gaming contracts with private sector companies will continue.

What’s missing?

In our view, the government may come up short on its legacy. Let’s face it, the Budget is a non-event and the Opposition knows it – fighting it would only end in a tie. And in politics, like baseball a tie always goes to the runner! But the Premier and her Government appear so eager to establish a legacy for themselves through announcements in this Budget and it just appears elusive.

Case in point – the big announcement of Ontario’s Cap and Trade scheme is not something she can look to as a legacy for herself and her government. In fact, the Premier’s pronouncements about the province’s climate change solution are someone else’s legacy – namely California’s and Quebec’s – Ontario has merely signed on to it. Moreover, on this particular issue, what really appears to miss the mark is specifics about its Cap and Trade plan altogether. Some observers are tacit and muted in their concerns about the plan, quietly hoping they will get clarification as to where revenues from the “plan” would flow. Other observers cite mistrust of the program’s (moreover the Government’s) intent suggesting that the government may merely pass on the costs to the Ontario economy outright – meaning we all pay! If that’s the case, then, as some have questioned, why sign on to a Cap and Trade scheme? Or why support it at all? In fact, some have mused, the government would do better to engage all Ontarians in a climate change culture through the implementation of a carbon tax similar to British Columbia BC. The point is, that Ontarians themselves appear not to have a clear understanding of the Cap and Trade scheme and that knowledge delta might be a major contributor to the poor level of support enjoyed by the government for its Budget and ultimately the Government itself. But let’s save that discussion for the pundits and pollsters.

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In the new budget, attending post-secondary schools like Carleton University (pictured), would be free with those who have a household income below $50,000. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the context of legacies, the Premier appears to be on a razor’s edge. She belongs to a Party that has held power in the province uninterrupted since 2003. She’s played a role in the legacy of the McGuinty Government from 2011 to 2013 – and it’s a good legacy too. One that has been earned by the closing of coal fired plants throughout the province; expansive investments in education; integration in healthcare leading to better outcomes for patients about which the province can rightfully brag and; sustained spending in roads and other infrastructure. But let’s face it too, this legacy may not be all good – there are many Ontarians who believe the gas plant, e-health, Ornge and other energy and gaming scandals still follow this current lot at Queen’s Park. While perhaps trying to distance herself from the McGuinty record by making the case that hers is a new government from 2012 onward, the distinction appears to be lost on Ontarians and that’s where support for the Wynne Liberal government appears to be on the wane.

Look, who’s kidding who? Astute political observers suggest that every government faces a mid-term drop in popular support. This time, though, we believe with the government now thirteen-years-old institutionalization may be taking hold and that’s a challenge. Couple this with the fact that Premier Wynne seems to be without the benefit of a tangible and appealing legacy, the government may be on a short leash going forward.

Couple this with the fact that the Opposition appears to be playing the long game – not blowing their gunpowder on the Budget when the public appears to be activist on it more. The best example we can highlight is the recent about face the Premier did on her Government’s Budget announcement that some seniors would pay more for prescriptions. Perhaps she listened to the public on the matter or perhaps was shown a media clip of a senior citizen in 1985 attacking then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney about his Budget item of de-indexing pensions. It turned quickly for him and so it appears the same for Premier Wynne in 2016.

The government’s energy strategy, too, seems to be its Achilles heel and we’ve commented on this time and again. It’s their toughest challenge and one that the public will not forgive them as electricity prices continue to rise.

Moreover, we believe the government just can’t mute the issue of the debt. The public has been condition for too long to think that deficits are bad – and this Government has done a great job reducing its deficit targets, in contrast though, it can’t seem to hide from the massive debt the province faces and that’s where the Opposition appear waiting to pounce – in the long term and well in advance of the 2018 election.

In the meantime, we continue to monitor the aftermath and the ensuing debate at Queen’s Park on the Budget and other issues in the days and weeks ahead and, as always, we’ll keep you apprised.

For more information on the Budget, please refer here.

For more information on K&A and how we can help you, please refer to our website. You can also find us on LinkedIn under Kealey & Associates and on Twitter using our tag @dmfk51

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