Dispatch from the Front Line: The final days of slumber
You can smell the election in the air. It smells like wildfire and a plague of grasshoppers.
Just a few notes from us this week. All of us here at The Line are enjoying a few final days of rest before an entirely unnecessary and totally cynical election is called. As you are probably aware, we have been working at a reduced schedule over the summer, and no wonder. After more than a year trapped indoors, we've been eager to get out and enjoy ourselves before our lives return to their ordinary state of pear-shaped madness.
Alas, all such joys have their moments, and we are nearing the end of this one. To Twitter we must return, the cultural barricades, we must re-man. An election waits for no reluctant journalist, and there will be too much bullshit to call out in coming weeks for us to stay so silent much longer.
Besides, we enjoy writing this newsletter, and we think it will only become more important as the news cycle begins its inevitable death spiral into September. If you have enjoyed our missives but have not yet subscribed, please consider doing so. We are one of the very few media outlets not taking money from the government, which means we maintain the independence to say what we think needs saying. If that's a value that matters to you too, then we need your help to continue to grow.
Now on to a little news. We at The Line are not above petty, juvenile emotional reactions, and on this note some of us are willing to admit that we would have paid actual money for the opportunity to listen to those in Alberta’s health department tell their federal counterparts to pound sand.
While some of the angrier progressives in Alberta and eastern Canada were busy portraying Alberta's chief medical officer as some kind of child murderer for ending all "extraordinary" COVID restrictions — including asymptomatic testing, and mandatory isolation for positive cases — federal minister Patty Hajdu rather overstepped her own jurisdictional boundaries this week. She sided with the Canadian Paediatric Society in its criticism of Alberta, which described the province’s move as an “unnecessary and risky gamble.”
She further said she wants to better understand the rationale and science behind Alberta's decision, as if she didn't have access to exactly the same data that Hinshaw is using.
We've already written about Alberta's decision (and admitted to our own predictive failures!) at some length in last week's dispatch, and so we need not go over it again. On the whole, we think that Hinshaw's plan is aggressive, but not crazy.
We watched as the Delta variant played out in the U.K., and while their wave was worse than we had expected, we now feel pretty cozy with the assessment that in a heavily vaccinated population, COVID no longer presents the kind of risk that required extraordinary measures a year, and even six months ago. That doesn't mean COVID isn't a problem; but it does mean that the the disease no longer warrants historic restrictions like extensive lockdowns and severe limitations on movement and gatherings.
Needless to say, reasonable people can look at the same data and fundamentally disagree about the best course of action. Because that's life. Are less invasive restrictions still justifiable? Probably. Is fighting over something like mandatory vs. recommended isolation for positive cases going to make a significant difference to R? Honestly, probably not, but we understand why people are a little horrified by the thought. Are we really that fussed about masks one way or another? Nah, not really, and we still wear them where appropriate. Further, we think it's probable that even Alberta will ban specific events, bring back masks, and introduce restrictions in local areas where COVID case counts spike. Probably for years to come.
What isn't disputable is that these are ultimately the provinces' calls to make. And it will be the provinces, and the people within them, that live with the consequences.
Alberta does not need to explain itself to Ottawa. The relationship should not be deferential. It's not Hajdu's place to undermine a provincial counterpart on a decision of provincial jurisdiction. She knows this. We know this. So why is she stepping in?
Because her criticism is not about public health. We're now well into the realm of good ole' stinkin' politics, through and through. What we're getting here is a little sneak-a-peek into the election to come. Either the Liberals think that antipathy towards Alberta premier Jason Kenney can be converted into a few seats in Alberta, and they are using Hadju to leverage anger at the provincial government's handling of COVID.
Or, they're going to turn Kenney, and said pandemic management, into a conservative bogeyman that they can run against once the writ drops.
CPC leader Erin O'Toole isn't a fat target. He's not particularly well liked, but neither is he well known. It's not going to be easy to paint him as an extremist. Kenney, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of conservative the Liberals would love to be running against, and a smug insinuation: "aren't you glad we were at the helm, and not someone like that?" might be the ballot question they're looking for.
That little observation about domestic politics aside, we'd like to draw your attention briefly to this spat between Nate Silver and New York Times reporter Apoorva Mandavilli, in which the famous statistician takes her to task for reporting on Delta variant research that was sensationalistic and misleading.
Click through and read the thread in through. It's sciency and delicious.
A final note to fellow political watchers out there. Elections are fascinating to watch if for no other reason that they allow us to triangulate strategy for fun. And then watch all the best-laid plans of politicos crumble in the face of reality. Sometimes parties wade into them with a clear communications plan, map of attack, ballot question all lined up and then — events, my dear. Events.
Well, there's one event that we think much of Canada isn't paying very much attention to at the moment, and that's the weather. Yeah, sure, many of you will know about the wildfires in B.C., and especially about the destruction of the small town of Lytton, which scored a global heat record the day before it burned to the ground. That was an example of a sudden, dramatic event that caught everyone's attention.
What we ignore are the creeping disasters. The curios that flit in and out of the backpages until they become an all-consuming problem.
So for those who have not been paying attention to the Western Producer, just such a slow-moving catastrophe will be shaping up through the late summer and fall. Much of Canada's bread basket is a state of drought, the extent of which is still not clear. High temperatures and low precipitation are killing off crops across the prairies and the U.S. at an extraordinary rate.
Drinking water is in short supply in some spots in southern Manitoba, and plague of grasshoppers has descended across plots in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The conditions have decimated feed, prompting talk of a mass sell offs of herds. We don't quite know where this is going to go, and we don't advise stocking up on toilet paper and yeast again, but if you notice a glut of cheap beef in the supermarket this fall, consider filling the chest freezer. The weather conditions could contribute to a spike in food prices that may have us all talking a little more seriously about cost of living in coming weeks — something we're not sure any political party is anticipating.
Another half-week for us here at The Line.
On Tuesday, the always-spectacular Rishi Maharaj wrote about the collapse of the B.C. salmon stocks. Our own incompetence is to blame for the destruction of this industry, he notes. "The decline of Pacific salmon appears to be yet another facet of an alarming problem: the Canadian government is unable to recognize and act on urgent policy problems, instead punting them to an endless cycle of outrage-motivated independent reviews whose recommendations are never acted on. This is not a partisan matter." Ideally, this is the sort of systemic issue we would like to address during an election. But we all know that our inability to act on urgent policy matters will instead be treated like a fair question to be studied, sent off to an independent committee, probably chaired by a retired Supreme Court justice, that will report back to us sometime in 2023. And again in 2035.
Speaking about issues we continue to punt into perpetuity, Kevin Newman notes that we are failing the very people who helped us and our soldiers during the war in Afghanistan. "The truth is for years — years —committed groups of veterans and their civilian allies have been asking for this kind of rescue effort, and no one in government would act." While our guides and interpreters are literally being hunted down in the streets of Kabul and Kandahar, we're demanding that they fill out forms in triplicate, make multiple in-person embassy appearances, and find ways to procure digital photographs and biometric fingerprints. "A paperwork process that would be frustrating for a Canadian navigating it in safety from an office tower in comfortable Ottawa, is absurd in Kabul, and impossible in Kandahar with the advancing Taliban damaging roads, runways, and communications infrastructure."
Here's to another week of hoping all of these problems sort themselves out on their own while we congratulate ourselves on how awesome we are and/or craft dirges and apologies for our many historic failures.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org