Bloc MP on year-long undisclosed leave says he has been battling bipolar disorder

Bloc Québécois MP Simon Marcil has received full salary of $182,600, plus expenses. He is due back from undisclosed medical leave Jan. 10.

OTTAWA – Quietly on medical leave from work since last January, Bloc Québécois MP Simon Marcil announced on Tuesday that he has been dealing with mental health issues and was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“Over the last year, I’ve unfortunately had to be absent while facing mental health issues. Week after week, I hoped to be able to return, but against all hopes, my leave unexpectedly extended as my health was slow to improve,” the MP for the Montreal-area riding of Mirabel wrote in French on social media.

“Worse yet, for several months we had no idea what problem I was dealing with exactly, which cast even more uncertainty on the situation. My doctor then concluded the obvious: bipolar disorder.”

His statement came hours

after National Post reported

that Marcil had been on medical leave from his job as an MP since January 31. His absence was never made public by him or his party and was unknown to most, including the mayor of the city he represents in Parliament.

His last statement in committee or in the House of Commons dates back to December 2019, and his last recorded vote was on January 27, 2020.

But experts and members of Marcil’s own party have questioned the Bloc’s decision to keep the absence quiet from Canadians, particularly because of the important and public role of a member of Parliament.

“This is indeed a very weird situation and trying to hide such a long absence is wrong,” Daniel Béland, director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada, wrote on social media Tuesday.

He was agreeing with comments made in the report by Mike Medeiros, a Canadian electoral politics expert now teaching at the University of Amsterdam, who said that the Bloc’s decision was “very strange”.

“He is an MP, he has obligations to his constituents. And part of that obligation is to be direct about what’s happening with your situation. If you disappear for one year, it becomes a problem for representative democracy,” Medeiros said in an interview Monday.

Others, such as NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, are critical of the fact that Marcil — who continues to collect his full salary of $182,600 — was reimbursed by the government for some expenses related to his secondary residence during his absence

For example, the Mirabel MP claimed $14,150 in expenses between January 1 and September 16, 2020, for his secondary residence in a remote village of less than 400 inhabitants one hour north of Ottawa.

Marcil’s riding is roughly one and a half hours away from Parliament.

“Like everyone else, a member of Parliament has the right to be absent for health or family reasons,” Boulerice said in a statement. “However, what is troubling is the fact that he has been claiming reimbursement for his second home for almost a year while he is not working in Parliament.”

“I find it difficult to justify this to voters. I think his political party should have told him that this is inappropriate behaviour,” Boulerice added.

Marcil did not address the issue of his expenses either following questions sent by National Post on Sunday or in his statement on Tuesday. On Facebook, he assured constituents that work had continued at his riding office in his absence.

“Throughout my leave of absence, I can assure you that my constituency office continued to meet the needs of the population, under the supervision of the Bloc Québécois team,” the MP wrote on Facebook.

• Email: cnardi@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Poll: Brian Pallister 'Grinched' for stealing Christmas, Atlantic Canada leaders lauded for bubbles

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister's 35 per cent approval rating is currently the lowest among Canada's premiers, a poll has found.

Brian Pallister, Manitoba’s premier, has been recognized as “the guy who is stealing Christmas,” after telling Manitobans to do “the right thing” and stay apart this Christmas.

Yes, that’s right, he has officially been

Grinched.

According to Maru/Blue Public Opinion’s December 2020 quarterly approval ratings of Canada’s premiers, Pallister’s rating has dropped 19 points since September, one of the largest quarterly drops in the ratings. The drop takes him from 54 per cent approval to 35 per cent.

His blunt remark: “If you don’t think that COVID is real right now, then you’re an idiot,” might’ve helped pushed him over the edge.

This viral moment, though, wasn’t the only thing that led to his drop, said John Wright, the executive vice president of Maru/Blue Public Opinion.

“They haven’t handled [COVID-19] as well as they could have out there,” said the pollster. COVID-19, overall, has really forecasted some doubt on how certain premiers are handling things, Wright said.

Jason Kenney, Alberta’s premier, took second-last place, topping Pallister at the bottom by four points. This is the lowest approval rating Kenney has seen since June 2019, when he was at 55 per cent. According to Maru/Blue, Kenney’s rating has continued to tumble since June this year.

“[Kenney] came in with a united party and was able to secure close to 50 per cent of the vote. To continually be in the basement speaks volumes to a real problem in connecting with the people of Alberta,” Wright said.

Some premiers, on the other hand, saw growth in their quarterly rankings.

Quebec’s François Legault received an early Christmas present as this quarter’s top-ranked premier, with an increase of seven points, taking him to an outstanding 70 per cent.

“It’s a remarkable rise,” Wright said. “Since he has been elected, his ratings have barely flinched.”

At the eastern end of Canada, Atlantic premiers rose in the approval ratings.

Newfoundland and Labrador premier, Andrey Furey, and Nova Scotia premier, Stephen McNeil, have both jumped in popularity this quarter. Both received a 65 per cent approval rating; Furey increased by 15-points since last quarter, and McNeil by 14-points. New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs increased by one per cent, to 56 per cent approval rating.

This increase was no doubt due to their notable handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wright said. “They’ve handled the situation well.”

As for premiers John Horgan (B.C.) and Scott Moe (Sask.), their ratings come only after their provincial elections on Oct. 24, and Oct. 26, respectively. This not being the first time they’ve been premiers, Horgan’s rating decreased by six points to 63 per cent, and Moe’s decreased by five points to 55 per cent.

Ontario premier Doug Ford decreased three points to 53 per cent.

 Quebec Premier François Legault leads his provincial counterparts with a 70 per cent approval rating.

The smaller provinces and territories, like Prince Edward Island, Nunavut, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, don’t have big enough sample sizes to be polled.

This final approval rating of the year marks the “end of a phase,” Wright said. With the vaccine rolling out, this next quarter is crucial for premiers since it will measure the vaccination phase.

What they do now and for the next few months might lead to very different ratings come the next quarter in 2021.

These approval ratings are the results of 5,281 randomly selected Canadian adults who are members of Maru/Blue’s Maru Voice Canada Online panel. Each participant was asked to provide their approval rating for the premier of their province.

The results were weighted by education, age, gender and region to match the population according to the latest Census data. This ensures that the results represent the entire adult population of Canada.

This survey is measured using the Bayesian Credibility Interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/- 1.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

'I don’t even know what Simon Marcil looks like': Bloc MP has been on undisclosed leave since January

Bloc Québécois MP Simon Marcil has received full salary of $182,600, plus expenses. He is due back from undisclosed medical leave Jan. 10.

OTTAWA – It’s been a year since Bloc Québécois MP Simon Marcil spoke in Parliament, sat on a committee, or even voted. He has been on medical leave from work, an absence that should have been disclosed to voters, political experts say.

Marcil has not uttered a single word in either the House of Commons or a parliamentary committee since December 9, 2019.

His last recorded vote was back on January 27, 2020. During the same period, Marcil — who was first elected in the Greater Montreal Area riding of Mirabel in 2015 — has also not sponsored a single bill or motion to Parliament.

Marcil, who still receives his full MP salary of $182,600 as well as expenses, has been on medical leave from work since January 31, 2020, Bloc Québécois Whip Claude DeBellefeuille confirmed in an interview.

According to DeBellefeuille, Marcil provided a doctor’s note explaining that he required one month of medical leave at the time. The MP then provided a new note every month extending his leave to this day. His return to work is now expected to be Jan 10, 2021.

“Every week, my team reached out to the person in charge of Simon Marcil’s riding office, so I can assure you that there has been a large number of citizens that have been assisted and contacts with municipalities despite the MP’s absence. We made sure that all services were still being offered through the riding office,” the Bloc whip said.

But none of this information was disclosed to media or the public until National Post questioned the party about the MP’s disappearance from work this week. DeBellefeuille says that the party chose to keep the absence under wraps to protect Marcil’s privacy, and that she hasn’t heard of any complaints from Mirabel constituents.

That was the wrong decision and is unfair to voters, say experts and some party sources who spoke to National Post. They argue that the role and function of a public office holder requires Marcil and the Bloc Québécois to disclose the MP’s absence instead of leaving voters in the dark.

“That decision is very strange, very very strange,” says Mike Medeiros, a Canadian electoral politics expert now teaching at the University of Amsterdam. “He is an MP, he has obligations to his constituents. And part of that obligation is to be direct about what’s happening with your situation. If you disappear for one year, it becomes a problem for representative democracy.”

Louis Massicotte, a seasoned expert in Canadian politics and recently retired professor at Université Laval, says that everyone should be sensitive to the fact that an MP would need to take time off work for their health.

But he says that shrouding that decision in darkness in the hopes that no one notices during a pandemic is a disservice to the constituents.

“The public assumes that if they’re paying someone’s salary, that the individual will be actively working for them. There’s also an issue with transparency. If an MP stops working without announcing that they have a health issue, it creates space for a lot of speculation that is hurtful to everyone involved,” says Massicotte.

Both experts also point to other federal politicians who have faced health issues in recent years and who publicly disclosed that they were temporarily taking a step back from their job.

For example, rookie NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq announced on Twitter last October that she was “struggling with some personal health problems” and would be taking at least eight weeks off. Then on Monday, her team

announced

that her leave would continue until Jan. 4, 2021 before beginning a “progressive reintegration into full time work.”

In another case, Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan — now minister of natural resources — announced on Twitter a few months after the 2015 election that he would be absent for work while he checked in to a wellness program to address his alcoholism.

Another person who has been particularly stunned by Marcil’s absence is Mirabel Mayor Jean Bouchard. In an interview, the mayor — who publicly announced he’d miss months of work this year due to cancer treatments — says he was shocked by how absent Marcil was in the riding.

He says that he’d heard rumours of Marcil being on medical leave from work, but the MP or his party never told him about the absence.

The mayor says he occasionally needed help from MPs in neighbouring ridings to push certain files with the federal government.

“On December 16, the city and Exo (a local commuter train authority) announced the opening of the new Mirabel train station next month. This is a very important local file that involved an investment from the federal government. But Simon Marcil was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a Liberal MP from a neighbouring riding showed up,” Bouchard said during an interview.

“I’ve always gotten the impression from Marcil that he doesn’t care about the work at all. It’s interesting that you call me now, because I’ve been wondering over the past few days where our MP has been. How can a two-term MP like him just disappear?”

Four current and former Bloc Québécois sources also said they were surprised with their party’s decision to keep Marcil’s medically authorized leave of absence under wraps. “I don’t even know what Simon Marcil looks like,” one source told National Post.

The four sources said before Marcil went on leave he appeared to have little interest in the parliamentary part of his job and they used the exact same word to describe him: lazy.

The Bloc sources were granted anonymity so as to speak freely of internal party affairs. Marcil did not respond to an interview request or to an email containing a detailed list of questions.

Being on medical leave from work has not prevented Marcil from claiming $14,150 in expenses between January 1 and September 16, 2020, for his secondary residence in Mulgrave-et-Derry, a remote village of roughly 370 inhabitants in the middle of cottage country one hour north of Ottawa.

According to House of Commons rules, MPs who own their secondary residence — which is used as a pied-à-terre for parliamentarians when they need to work from Ottawa — are allowed to claim an “accommodation rate” of $50 for each day it is in their possession and is not rented out to another person.

DeBellefeuille refused to comment on how comfortable she was with Marcil claiming expenses for a secondary residence during a time when he knew he wouldn’t be working in Ottawa.

“There are rules that surround all these expenses, and all I can tell you is that he files his expenses to the House of Commons administration like any other MP. The administration then judges if the expenses are reimbursed after evaluating them,” the whip said.

“So all expenses that were disclosed publicly were determined to be in line with the MP expense rules. It’s not up to me as the whip to judge those expenses.”

• Email: cnardi@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Reporter leaves her husband and 'perfect' life for jailed 'Pharma Bro' fraudster Martin Shkreli

Christie Smythe, the reporter who broke the story in 2015 that notorious pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli was under investigation for trading violations, has revealed she fell in love with him.

A financial reporter who broke the story of one of America’s most reviled fraudsters has left her marriage and her job after falling in love with him.

Christie Smythe, a journalist with the Bloomberg news agency, disclosed in 2015 that Martin Shkreli — dubbed the “Pharma Bro” for manipulating the price of medicines — was under investigation for trading violations.

The brash New York hedge fund boss, serving a seven-year jail sentence, was branded “a new icon of modern greed” after raising the price of a life-saving drug 5,000 per cent.

Smythe, 38, has now made headlines after revealing she fell in love with him while covering his story, despite being warned he was a “master manipulator.”

She has now divorced her husband and plans to start a family with Shkreli, despite only having kissed him during a prison visit. He is not eligible for release for another three years.

Smythe gave details of the affair to Elle magazine, in which she says her romance was a case of falling “down the rabbit hole.” Since the Elle article came out, Smythe has gone on Twitter to further explain her side of the story.

Shkreli, 37, was convicted of three counts of fraud in 2017, having looted US$11 million from his firm to bail out a failed hedge fund he ran.

Before his trial, his flamboyant lifestyle and unrepentant behaviour led to him being branded the unacceptable face of so-called “Big Pharma” corporate profiteering. He smirked when testifying to Congress about price fixing and sparred with critics on Twitter.

He even became a topic in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, with Hillary Clinton berating his outrageous “price gouging” and Donald Trump branding him a “spoiled brat.”

Smythe, who had had what she called a “perfect” Brooklyn life with her husband, said she got to know Shkreli before his arrest, when he gave her off-the-record interviews intended to demonstrate his innocence.

“You could see his earnestness,” she said. “It just didn’t match this idea of a fraudster.”

The pair also bonded over having had to struggle to succeed in the Ivy League-dominated New York rat race. Both, she said, had suffered anxiety as children.

Her husband warned her Shkreli was “using her,” and that she risked her journalistic integrity by having close contact with him. But she carried on, amid plans to write a book about his case.

During a journalism course she was taking at Columbia University, she even wrote “quite candidly about how he had so successfully drawn her in”, according to her tutor, who spoke to Elle.

She said their romance began after Shkreli was jailed, when they exchanged a first kiss in a prison visiting room (that stank of fried chicken).

The couple have not consummated their relationship, but plan to have children. Smythe has had her eggs frozen, in case she is too old to conceive once Shkreli leaves jail.

Smythe has left Bloomberg, who deemed her conduct unprofessional, and has sold film rights to her book proposal.

Whether the story will have a happy ending remains to be seen. When Shkreli learned of her interview with Elle, he stopped communicating with her.

— With a file from National Post

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Will we ever learn? After a catastrophic first wave, COVID-19 is pummelling long-term care homes again

A montage of photographs honouring some of those who passed away from COVID-19 at Residence Angelica in Montreal on July 23, 2020.

Shirley Egerdeen had a fondness for fish and chips from Joey’s Seafood, detective dramas and diet root beer. She worked at, and retired from, the old Schneider’s plant, had a feisty sense of humour, loved animals, scratch cards and find-a-word puzzles and, though she had no children of her own, her close friend, Tracy Rowley, was like a daughter to her. “See ya, Toots,” she’d affectionately call out after their visits or outings to the mall.

Shirley’s family said her body was the third one taken out of Forest Heights on April 22.

Egerdeen, sister to Nancy and Robert, predeceased by parents Gertrude and Charles, was 74 when she perished from COVID-19 some three months after arriving at Forest Heights, a private, for-profit long-term care home in Kitchener, Ont. She had lived in her own apartment until last Christmas, when pneumonia sent her to hospital, and when she could no longer get in and out of her wheelchair unassisted she was moved to Forest Heights and into a third-floor room shared with three perfect strangers. “I always promised her that when she felt better she would go home,” Tracy said.

Tracy visited every day, bringing Shirley her favourite foods and watching TV together, until visits were suspended in March. In April, Shirley was infected with COVID-19. When asked how Shirley would be quarantined, Tracy was told that a curtain would be pulled around her bed.

Tracy had paid for a phone for Shirley, and she kept trying to call up to her room, but Shirley wouldn’t answer. A social worker said Shirley wasn’t eating so well, but that she had no temperature. The night before Shirley died, something tugged at Tracy. She called the home and asked staff to place the phone on Shirley’s chest. “I just need her to hear me,” she told them. Shirley’s breathing sounded heavy, laboured; Tracy said she could hear a rattle in her throat. She stayed on the phone for an hour. She told Shirley how amazing she was, and how she wished she had done things differently, how “I would have figured something out — I wouldn’t have left her there if I thought for a second I was going to lose her. And she never replied.” When staff went in to change Shirley’s dressing the next morning, she was no longer breathing.

In September, the province of Ontario lifted the mandatory management order that was placed on Forest Heights in June. After 90 days, and the death of 51 residents, management reverted back to Revera Inc., one of Canada’s largest private, for-profit providers of long-term care.

 Shirley Egerdeen, who died from COVID-19 on April 22, 2020 at a long-term care home in Kitchener, Ont.

In all, the virus infected 874 residents of Revera long-term care homes in COVID’s first wave, killing 266 of them, a fatality rate of 30 per cent. Eighty-seven of its homes went into outbreak during the first wave.

A report released in early December by an expert advisory panel struck by Revera

to review the pandemic’s “lamentable” impact on the lives of its residents and staff described confusion and chaos. The virus was unknowingly carried into homes by (often unprotected) staff that had no idea they were infectious and, once inside, it flourished. Ontario didn’t start regularly testing residents and staff for the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen that causes COVID-19 until months after the virus’ debut, and only after most of those who would die had already succumbed. Masks, gloves and gowns were scarce. Staffing collapsed as workers became sick themselves, went into quarantine or were too frightened to show up for work. Homes received “clashing instructions” from local health authorities, the panel wrote, about how to separate the healthy from the sick in homes with virtually no spare rooms. In the early days, few recognized COVID looks different in seniors. Instead of fever and cough, delirium, fatigue and anorexia often are the first symptoms. People don’t seem themselves. They sleep more than usual. They stop eating.

Alarmingly, many doctors under contract with homes to provide medical care were in absentia. They chose not to visit, despite repeated requests that they do so. Some doctors, older ones, were uncomfortable going into homes, and declined to visit in person. Some worried they didn’t have proper training in infection control, or knew the proper order in which to don gown, gloves, goggles and masks. While family doctors were urged by their governing bodies to provide as much virtual care as possible, to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, that doesn’t work terribly well with a 92-year-old with dementia. The homes’ doctors were often “unfamiliar with the online platforms needed to run appointments remotely,” Revera’s 10-member expert panel wrote, while elderly residents “found it difficult to participate in virtual consultations,” especially as they were sick and dying.

“Managing an insidious virus that spread, often asymptomatically, both in the communities where personal care staff lived, and in the four-bedded rooms where some residents slept, was an impossible task,” former hospital CEO and cancer surgeon Dr. Bob Bell, the panel’s chair, wrote.

Others saw the report as a communication strategy to deflect blame from Revera to the wider system, and said too many doctors simply abdicated their responsibilities.

Now, deep into Canada’s second wave, homes are being pummelled once again. As of Dec. 11, 3,107 new cases of COVID had been reported in Canada’s long-term care sector over the previous seven days.  In Ontario, more than 700 residents have died since the second wave hit long-term care on Aug. 30. British Columbia reported 26 deaths alone on Dec. 8. Fifty-two residents have died at Revera Maples Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg; 20 dead at Westside long-term care home outside Toronto

The “flattening?” It’s gone, geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall recently tweeted. Despite what he describes as vaccine euphoria, despite promises to prioritize long-term care residents, care is still being compromised. There often aren’t enough eyes to identify who is sick and who is not, and “there is still a lot of winter ahead,” he said.

When COVID-19 hit in late February, the initial face of the pandemic was hospital meltdown. Officials feared zero slack in the system would leave Canadians vulnerable to the scenes playing out in Italy and New York. Masks and other personal protective gear were diverted to hospitals. Non-urgent surgeries were cancelled, ventilators hauled out of storage, wards emptied and as many people as possible “decanted” into nursing homes. All eyes, every effort, focused on readying hospitals for a COVID-19 crush, while a highly contagious virus quietly began circulating in nursing homes. The result: outbreaks in nearly 1,300 sites across 10 provinces in the spring alone. Twenty-nine lives lost at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon. Forty-three deaths at Maison Herron in Montreal’s West Island. Sixty-eight at Camilla Care in Mississauga.

All told, deaths would dwarf mortality in the rest of the Canadian population: 9,771 deaths as of Dec. 17, the vast majority in Ontario and Quebec, accounting for 73 per cent of the country’s COVID-related casualties. Some were abandoned. Some died of dehydration. Still more are dying.

The grim toll has forced “a national reckoning,” Bell’s team wrote. But the cracks split wide by COVID were known long before the pandemic hit. An unsympathetic virus simply exploited them. Out-dated homes with four-bed wards and communal bathrooms, a short-staffed, underpaid, largely unregulated workforce with high burnout and no voice, overcrowding, poor infection control — had been exhaustively and wearily documented, over and over again, for decades, a Royal Society of Canada working group on the long-term care catastrophe reported in June. Despite commissions, inquiries and promises, nothing changed. “Not really, not fundamentally,” the working group wrote. Those who died deserved a good death, they said. “We failed them.” In the first wave, 16 long-term care workers also lost their lives.

The ruination has many Canadians uneasy with the prospect of ending up in care, the Royal Society of Canada wrote. The sector is currently home to nearly half a million people, but Canada is about to become super-aged: More than 20 per cent of the population will be 65 or older within the next five years.

Will we ever learn?

What went wrong? The better question might be what didn’t? By February, the Diamond Princess cruise ship should have been a clue congregate settings were going to be hit hard. Was there enough time to avert tragedy, given the failings of the system? Not all outbreaks could have been prevented, but a substantial fraction of them, “yeah. No question,” infectious disease physician Dr. Allison McGeer told Ontario’s long-term care COVID-19 commission.

At the tragedy’s core is the indelible stamp of ageism, and attitudes that COVID is largely a disease of the old, the frail and weak, and that somehow the rest of society is being held back unfairly because of pandemic restrictions. It creates an asterisk beside the death statistics, said those who care for the elderly, the implication being, “They had a good run, they were towards the end, anyway.”

It’s a sentiment reflected in emails the

National Post

has received since a Toronto man stepped off a plane from Wuhan in late January carrying the novel coronavirus inside his body. “In 2019, people in their 80s and 90s died without comment. Now when someone that old dies of COVID the media treats his death as an existential tragedy. Well, that’s stupid,” one wrote. Emphasizing long-term care deaths only pushes the fear narrative, many have said. The message is blunt: this should be about

proportional 

risk.

 Crosses are displayed at the Camilla Care Community long-term care facility in Mississauga, Ont., where 50 people died of COVID-19 by May 11, 2020.

Most of the population is not at high risk of having a bad outcome from COVID. “For every 1,000 people infected with the coronavirus who are under the age of 50, almost none will die,”

Nature reported in August.

For people in their 50s and 60s, five out of 1,000 will die. For people in their mid-70s or older, some 116 will succumb.

People in long-term care are older and frailer than seniors living at home. Sixty per cent of long-term care home residents have dementia; 70 per cent have heart and circulatory system issues. In Ontario, a typical resident is 84-years old, with a remaining median life expectancy of 18 months.

But Stall has little doubt lives were left on the table, and that people who potentially could have been saved with supportive care weren’t, because of decisions not to transfer to hospitals to free up hospital space. Revera says its homes were discouraged from doing so. Some families were told hospital treatment would be utterly futile, because there were no proven therapies then. Only a minority of Ontario nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 were hospitalized prior to death,

Stall and his colleagues reported in November.

Most disturbing for Stall, the transfers were lowest during the peak of the pandemic’s first wave. “You would expect, based on the level of chaos that was going on, and the number of deaths, that you would have higher-than-normal level of transfers at that time,” Stall said.

He worries others died dreadful deaths, alone and afraid, their families shut out, and without medications or oxygen to treat end-of-life symptoms like breathlessness, pain, delirium and psychological distress.

Hospital outreach teams went in. They were able to provide some of that acute palliative care. And, as hospitals and ICUs realized they weren’t going to be crushed, and that there was all this empty space, as the level of catastrophe in nursing homes came to light, the rate of hospital transfers went up.

“We’re in a much more precarious situation now,” Stall said. Critical care beds in COVID hotspots like Manitoba are near or over maximum capacity. Ontario hospitals have been told to activate their emergency plans. Hospitals, Stall said, are facing the fear that was never realized in the spring. Meanwhile, COVID is escalating in the 80 and older. Several Winnipeg doctors said they are seeing fewer elderly people in hospital than they would expect to see. Some worry their conditions are not monitored enough to even know when to offer to send them to hospital. During the Maples outbreak, paramedics responded to multiple 911 calls one weekend to treat 12 residents. Two died by the time paramedics arrived. One was rigid and cold, Stall said. Dead for several hours. “What was their hesitation to calling 911? Why was that not done?”

Even before the pandemic, many nursing home residents have advance directives that state “do not transport to hospital,” do not intubate or do not resuscitate. But some families were refused transfer,  “and that’s absolutely wrong,” said palliative care specialist Dr. Amit Arya. “It is everyone’s absolute right to seek emergency services with a disease like COVID-19.”

Still, Arya was deployed to homes with little doctor presence and a whole unit of people — 32, 64, even 100 — sick with COVID-19. Most families, when given the option, didn’t want their loved ones taken to hospital, because lying on a gurney in an emergency room hallway is perhaps equally as miserable, and maybe worse. Emergency rooms aren’t designed to provide the care long-term care residents need, Arya said. Do they know how to feed someone with dementia, and do they have an hour to do it?

The greatest failure, Arya said, was that many homes were barely managing before the pandemic hit.

It’s not that all for-profits did badly, but in Ontario homes that had outbreaks, the for-profits had twice as many residents infected, and 78 per cent more deaths than non-profit homes, research by Stall and colleagues shows. For-profits have a higher proportion of older, out-dated homes, as well as chain ownership — and chain ownership usually means lower levels of staffing, and more double and quadruple rooms. “It’s probably a bad idea to have a lot of people sharing a room and a bathroom, especially when you’re in the middle of a pandemic with a highly transmissible infection,” Stall told the Ontario COVID-19 commissioners, a situation playing out again. “Leaving homes crowded like this in the face of surging transmission is just leaving them lame ducks,” he said.

 Elizabeth Jeppesen, 94, who tested positive for COVID-19, waves goodbye to her son John Welbers from her room at Tabor Home, a long-term care facility in Abbotsford, B.C., on November 18, 2020.

Ontario’s response was lopsided, Stall said. It prioritized the lives we most identify with and left nursing homes to their own devices, even though, by the end of March, Spanish soldiers were entering nursing homes and finding people dead in their beds. Older lives were viewed as expendable, Stall said in an interview. “It wasn’t until there was a huge, catastrophic number of deaths before people did something.”

The deaths define the pandemic. Stall also worries about the mental wellbeing of those who lived through the crisis. Prescriptions for anti-depressants and anti-psychotics increased in Ontario’s nursing homes from March through to September,

a study led by Stall shows

, increases “out of proportion to secular trends.” Where there aren’t enough people to provide care, when people are in lockdown with no family, no social interactions, no physical activity, no fresh air, people with dementia can become agitated. They might grab onto others, push or hurt themselves. When a home is in crisis, Stall said, drugs become a chemical restraint.

Amid tragedy, there were bright spots. Long-term care homes in B.C. fared better — better coordination between homes, public health units and hospitals, according to a CMAJ report. In Ontario, Arya knows of doctors in care homes who stepped up during the pandemic, holding weekly town-hall style meetings, readying medication stocks. Personal support workers and other staff worked physically and mentally brutal 16-hour shifts, some living in hotels, separated from family. Hundreds responded to calls to go into hard hit facilities.

The average home in Ontario did reasonably well, many quite well, according to testimony given to Ontario’s COVID commission. Two-thirds of Revera homes did not have an outbreak. Of those that did, more than half involved a single case. Some homes across the sector were lucky. They had little community spread of the virus, so less chance of an infected person walking through their doors.

In other places, it was utter abandonment. No doctor presence for six weeks, “and nobody knew about it,” Arya said.

Revera, wholly owned by one of the largest pension funds in the country, the Public Sector Investment Board, has heightened screening protocols. Plexiglas dividers are being installed in rooms. The corporation has rolled out a “pandemic playbook.” It has plans to redevelop its stock of outdated sites. Construction applications were submitted years ago.

 The entrance to Revera Mount Royal Long Term Care Home in Calgary on December 1, 2020.

In the first wave, Ontario had up to 40 deaths a day in long-term care, Bell said. “In Wave 2, that number has generally been below 20. So, definitely Ontario is better protected than it was.”

And while we’re living longer, while medicine has “transformed the trajectory of our lives,” the bottom eventually falls out, Atul Gawande wrote in Being Mortal. “We reduce the blood pressure here, beat back the osteoporosis there, control this disease, track that one,” until eventually, weak and frail, “managing without help is no longer feasible.” Already, 430,000 Canadians aren’t getting the home care they need.  When the options run out, nursing homes become the final landing place.

Long-term care grew out the context of the poor house, Bell said. Caring for the poor and aged. “That has changed dramatically in terms of what we expect for our parents and grandparents, but has our thinking caught up — the thinking that allows for four people to be in the same room?”

What bothers Bell most is the “blame thing,” the finger pointing. “It’s nobody’s

fault

this happened. It was a perfect storm of features that came together to put residents at risk.”

Shirley Egerdeen wasn’t a small woman. COVID is listed as the cause of death on her death certificate, and obesity an underlying condition.

When Tracy saw Shirley in her casket, she remembered the photo taken of Shirley the day she moved into Forest Heights, three months earlier. “You wouldn’t think it was the same woman,” said Tracy, a representative plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Revera. “She must have lost 100 pounds.”

Days before Shirley died, Tracy was told Shirley seemed lethargic. It was getting harder to wake her. “But I think it was still not in their minds that she was going to pass.”

The action against Revera is one of multiple pandemic lawsuits against long-term care homes expected to tie up courts, for years.

• Email: skirkey@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Trudeau says government will 'absolutely' return to budget balance, lower temporary COVID-19 spending

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Dec. 1, 2020.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will “absolutely” return the budget to balance following the COVID-19 pandemic, saying temporary spending measures will eventually be wound down.

In a wide-ranging year-end interview with CTV’s Evan Solomon that aired Sunday, Trudeau was adamant that current levels of pandemic relief would not become a permanent expense for taxpayers.

“The contextual spending we’re doing right now is because of COVID, but we are not adding to the long term-pathway,” Trudeau said.

His comments come as economists and other experts have warned for months against allowing temporary relief benefits to become a fixture in the federal budget. The Parliamentary Budget Officer and others have said that Canada currently has the fiscal space to absorb a massive spike in spending, but a failure to return to normal could create a major fiscal burden down the road.

The federal government is preparing to run a $381-billion deficit in 2021, and has meanwhile voiced plans to widen spending on a raft of social files, from childcare to affordable housing. Other measures including a more generous employment insurance regime are likely to increase federal program spending.

Trudeau also defended his decision to promise another $70 billion to $100 billion in stimulus spending over the next three years. Ottawa announced the new spending in its fiscal update in late November, but declined to provide any details about how the funding would be distributed.

In the CTV interview, Trudeau said the new stimulus would be needed in addition to the huge piles of cash that households have saved up over the pandemic.

A report last month by CIBC found Canadian households are sitting on a record-high $90 billion in excess cash, largely because they had no place to spend money during lockdown, and with many receiving cash supports from the government. In its fiscal update, Ottawa referred to the cash pile as “pre-loaded stimulus” that would spur economic growth when restrictions are eventually eased.

“When this is done and we’re allowed to go back to our local favourite pub or restaurant, people are going to rush out,” Trudeau said. “And that’s going to be a great part of the recovery, but that’s not going to be enough.”

“There’s lots of things that we’re going to need to do to give the economy a boost so we can come roaring back,” he said.

The prime minister also expressed his support of the Keystone XL pipeline, proposed by Calgary-based TC Energy. The future of the pipeline has been in question after U.S. president-elect Joe Biden said the project would effectively transport “tar sands we don’t need.”

Trudeau reiterated his support for the Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline, which has already faced a long line of legal and regulatory hiccups since it was first proposed in 2007.

“I have been advocating for that pipeline as an important part of a continental energy strategy for many years,” he said.

Canada will also continue to be an oil-exporting nation 20 years from now, Trudeau said, even as his government laid out stricter environmental policies earlier this month to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Those plans include a sharp increase to carbon taxes and other industry-related programs — of which some oil and gas supports say runs counter to the long-term viability of the fossil fuels sector.

“Even as we transform our economy there will still be a need for the next few decades for fossil fuels and their various forms,” Trudeau said. “We just need to get a lot better in decarbonizing them and lean on the experts in the oil and gas industry and the expertise of energy workers to help us transform our economy for the long term.”

The prime minister also expressed regret over not having recused himself from the selection of WE Charity for a $950-million student loan program. The decision ultimately embroiled him in his third conflict-of-interest scandal since coming to power in 2015. Trudeau, his wife, and his mother had all been paid by the charity for public speaking arrangements, which he acknowledged on Sunday was bad from an “optics perspective.”

Trudeau also said he regretted not having moved more quickly to secure personal protective equipment early in the pandemic, after his office underestimated the spike in demand for masks by non-healthcare workers.

“I don’t think we understood or expected to see the kind of race for PPE,” he said. “We ended up being okay, but there are stories of frontline health workers who had to bring their masks home to wash them. That shouldn’t have happened.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Testing for COVID can be faster and easier, for those Canadians willing to pay for it

PCR tests are the gold-standard for COVID-19 testing, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Camryn Patterson

The dreaded swab up the nose could soon be swapped out with a saliva-based test for those who are asymptomatic and willing to pay a fee of $250.

Ichor Blood Services is a private, Calgary-based COVID-19 testing facilitator, and due to high demand in one of the highest-infected provinces, they’re partnering with DrugSmart Pharmacy and Travel Health Now to bring asymptomatic saliva-based PCR testing to Ontario on Jan. 4.

“How it will work is people can book in with DrugSmart, walk in to a pharmacy location, provide their saliva specimen into a tube, it will be packaged up and sent to the lab, and results will be provided 36 to 48 hours later,” said Mike Kuzmickas, the chief executive officer of Ichor.

DrugSmart is hoping to have their first two or three Ontario locations up and running by the new year, and Ichor is aiming to have its own Toronto location open by Jan. 15, said Kuzmickas. DrugSmart and Travel Health Now also have brick and mortar locations in Toronto, Ottawa, Peterborough and Kingston. Ichor also has several testing locations in Alberta, as well as Niagara Falls and Fredricton, NB.

Although testing in Ontario has picked up its pace, the saliva-based test will still be an appealing alternative. But it won’t be available to everyone. The tests are more aimed at people who are travelling and workers who will need a negative test in order to return to work.

PCR testing – polymerase chain reaction testing – is a way to detect an active COVID-19 infection in someone. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a PCR test is the gold-standard for COVID-19 testing.

Kuzmickas said that Ichor was one of the first companies in Ontario to offer private antibody testing in April, and now they’ve decided to bring forward an alternate collection method for PCR testing.

According to Kuzmickas, you will have to prove you’re asymptomatic to get this kind of PCR test. Anybody who walks into an Ichor facility or a partner company will have to go through an extensive COVID-19 screening process and if they come back as symptomatic, they’ll be redirected to general public health testing.

James Howard-Tripp, chief executive officer of Stage Zero Life Sciences, said that the saliva-based tests are highly reliable. His company is doing the lab work for Ichor. Nothing is 100 per cent accurate, he said “but you can be 99.99, and that is what PCR is.”

The downfall, he said, is the turnaround times. PCR tests are not instantaneous, even with a saliva-based process. Results take at least 24 hours.

A 36 to to 48-hour wait would’ve seemed quite unrealistic back in early October when Ontario was experiencing a severe backlog of unprocessed tests. Once they were processed, Howard-Tripp said it was taking four days to almost two weeks to get the results back to people.

“If you don’t get the result back really quickly, the test is of relatively little value,” he said.

Ichor Blood Services can provide infection testing to satisfy some countries’ need for a negative test before a traveller’s arrival.

“As of right now, we’re tied in with Air Canada on their Hawaii travel program,” Kuzmickas said. The Hawaii Safe Travels Program allows inbound passengers, as of Dec. 17, to skip quarantine upon arrival – a perk for many.

Even with vaccines on the horizon, and public health authorities promising most people should receive their shots by September, there’s no guarantee everyone will get them. There will still remain a need for testing, Kuzmickas said. “Testing is the key to getting through this.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Alberta has new cutting-edge tool for battling substance addiction: good data

EDMONTON — The Alberta government has unveiled a new tool for battling substance addiction: an enormous drug-related data set, a public resource that catalogues substance-related harms, deaths and hospitalizations across the province,.

Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said it is “step one of another transformational change” in confronting addictions in the province.

“We need accurate data, timely data to inform practices, guiding our policy and knowing what impact we’re making,” said Luan in an interview with the

National Post

.

Drawing on data from police, health services and coroner’s services, the data includes drug consumption ranging from prescription and non-prescription opioids, to alcohol and cannabis, and charts how successfully people in drug treatment have been able to follow regimens of suboxone treatment and stay away from opioids.

The data previously has only been available in quarterly reports released by the government. Now, emergency medical events and substance deaths will be updated every six weeks.

It also charts a variety of other metrics, such as dispersal of naloxone kits — a drug that helps in opioid overdoses — and visits to supervised-injection sites across the province. Further data updates are planned. For example, the government said the data from injection sites aren’t standardized across the province, so the trends aren’t as accurate as they might be. An adverse health event, for example, may be defined differently at one site versus another.

The province says it’s the most advanced substance-use data released publicly by any province. It breaks down various statistics by both health region and, in some cases, on the municipal level as well, allowing those in, say, Lethbridge, to view statistics about substance use in their community.

“This new data system will give us better insights into addiction issues, help us respond with better measures to support recovery, and ultimately support our overall goal of protecting lives and livelihoods through this pandemic and beyond,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a news release.

The data also showcases the remarkable shifts in the drug landscape because of the pandemic. For example, the first lockdown in spring led to a significant increase in those who abandoned drug treatment; there was also a spike in drug-related deaths — 443 people died from opioid poisoning between July and October 2020.

The data also shows some interesting trends that help inform policy responses, the government said. For example, the proportion of carfentanil — an extremely powerful opioid — has actually declined in the drug supply, and large percentages of those who died of drug overdoses had other substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, in their systems. As well, it details the extent of alcohol use in the province.

“Opioids (are) only one among many, many substances impacting in our province,” said Luan. “We must look at the whole addiction, mental health issues, in broad strokes.”

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

RCMP investigating alleged Canadian Pacific Railway cover-up of 2019 train derailment

Three crew members of a Canadian Pacific freight train have died in a derailment near the Alberta-British Columbia boundary.

The Canadian Pacific Railway is being investigated by the RCMP’s major crime unit following allegations of cover-up surrounding the fatal derailment of a train on Feb. 4, 2019 that resulted in the death of three employees.

The crash, which occurred in Field, B.C, was the result of cold weather conditions that caused the air brakes to lose pressure and no additional handbrakes — the train rolled down the mountain reaching speeds of 80 km/h before it crashed into the Kicking Horse River, reported

CBC

.

Three employees, engineer Andrew Dockrell, 56, conductor Dylan Paradis, 33, and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, 26, were all killed in the crash.

The investigation by the RCMP comes after the CBC’S

The Fifth Estate

uncovered evidence pointing towards a series of major issues surrounding the derailment, and allegations of a coverup from a former CP employee.

 The scene of the Canadian Pacific Railway freight train derailment near Field, B.C.,that killed the train’s conductor, engineer and a conductor trainee.

The employee, a former Canadian Pacific Police Service (CPPS) officer who was involved in the case, told CBC he quit due to being obstructed — claiming he believes there is a cover-up. CP denies the claim.

“We went to them [BC Prosecution Service] and just had a discussion with them about the potential for a criminal investigation, and they agreed with us that potentially there could be some criminality here and that it warranted further investigation,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet to

CBC

.

Following the crash, federal safety and labour investigations were conducted and it was investigated by CP’s own federally authorized CPPS — the RCMP investigation is the first outside police involvement in the crash.

The string of failures uncovered by the CBC reveal that CP kept trains running despite extreme cold weather conditions and inadequate precautions that should have been in place. This extreme weather means that the dangerous mountain pass has seen 26 derailments and runaways in 26 years.

“This is going to be a complex investigation,” said Shoihet.

“CP will cooperate with the RCMP on this investigation,” said company spokesman Jeremy Berry to CBC.

While the RCMP is not giving away details as to what they are going to be investigating, they did reveal that they had received formal complaints from a family member, Pam Fraser, requesting an investigation into criminal negligence and obstruction.

Fraser, who is the mother of Paradis, is pleased the RCMP is now involved, saying “we couldn’t be happier.”

“This particularly was completely preventable. Never should have happened this way. So to get answers — we could get closure. That’s huge,” she said to CBC.

Rob Stewart, a health and safety inspector who has worked with the families, told CBC he is thrilled that the RCMP is now involved in the case and that he believes outside police forces in general need to be more involved in cases of workplace fatality.

“Hopefully now with this, when they show up on scene, they look a little bit deeper. They realize their responsibility and they start conducting fulsome investigations,” said Stewart.

Despite the investigation coming about almost two years after the accident occurred, the families are still pleased that the RCMP is going to be investigating.

“It’s not the time that it’s going to take to have the investigation completed. If they are dogged and motivated … that’s what counts,” said Fraser.

Note: This article has been updated to correct errors in an earlier version.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

How the world was different one year ago, from Prince Harry to George Floyd and COVID-19

It seems like only yesterday. Dec. 31, 2019. Post Malone fell off the stage in Times Square. Someone

grabbed the Pope

. And they did

this

to the Burj Khalifa.

But while the rest of us were drinking too much and making other bad decisions, it was on that very day that the Chinese government finally got around to informing the World Health Organization that it looked like they had another SARS-like disease on their hands in the city of Wuhan.

More troubling still, we now know that this disease had already been surging through European and North American communities for weeks. Potentially, hundreds of people around the world welcomed 2020 without even knowing that they were infected with the disease that would come to define the year more than any other.

But it wasn’t just coronavirus. Here’s a quick look at how the world was different on Dec. 31, 2019.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry spent New Year’s Eve only a short drive from where I am right now: At David Foster’s house just outside Victoria. As far as anyone knew, they had simply jetted out to Vancouver Island for a quick getaway from their usual royal duties of shaking hands, cutting ribbons and unveiling plaques. But as we’ll soon learn, it’s on this trip to Canada that the pair will solidify their plans to abandon their royal titles and become private citizens.

Speaking of royalty, the notorious socialite accused of procuring underage girls for Prince Andrew, among other things, spent the last day of 2019 on the lam. Ghislaine Maxwell, the accomplice to the late financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, is evading an FBI probe by crashing at a series of safe houses throughout Europe and Israel,

sources tell the New York Post

. But in only six months, the law will catch up with her when a police raid catches her at her New Hampshire estate. Meanwhile, New Year’s Eve is much bleaker for former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who is on house arrest awaiting the beginning of a rape trial to begin in early January. Within only two months, Weinstein will be facing the rest of his life in prison.

As a bouncer at the Minneapolis nightclub El Nuevo Rodeo, it’s quite likely George Floyd spent New Year’s Eve keeping the peace among the establishment’s drunken revellers. In only a few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic will force the closure of El Nuevo Rodeo, putting Floyd out of work and on the track towards the events of May 25, 2020, when a 911 call about a suspected counterfeit bill will precipitate Floyd being killed at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

One of basketball star Kobe Bryant’s first actions of 2020 was to issue a tweet commemorating the death of former NBA commissioner David Stern. As a resident of traffic-heavy Los Angeles, Bryant has adopted the habit of commuting by helicopter in order to have more time to spend with his family. Before January is out, one of these helicopter flights will go down in heavy fog, killing Bryant at age 41.

Beirut, Lebanon is renowned for having one of the world’s best New Year’s Eve celebrations, and December 31, 2019

was no exception

. For six years, unbeknownst to most of the city, a warehouse at the Lebanese capital’s port has been packed with 2,800 tonnes of mining explosives seized from a freighter that had been bound for mining operations in Africa. It’s not quite a ticking time bomb, but in eight months, it’s the reason that an otherwise forgettable industrial fire will level whole swaths of the city with one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history.

Six people are aboard the International Space Station

as the earth below celebrates the new year. Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the world’s space agencies have been in the somewhat awkward position of needing to ask Russia every time they need to send astronauts to the International Space Station. But this is going to be the last year where Soviet-designed hardware is the only lifeline to the heavens. On May 30, two NASA astronauts named Bob and Doug will make space history by getting to the ISS on a rocket built by this guy.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques