Alberta Politics
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, the public face of the fight against coronavirus in Alberta (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

It’s almost as if the new coronavirus has evolved to exploit the vulnerabilities of the modern neoliberal state

Posted on March 12, 2020, 1:58 am
7 mins

“The risk to Albertans is still low,” the Government of Alberta’s official website soothingly assured us yesterday afternoon, the day the World Health Organization officially declared the effects of the coronavirus swiftly coursing ’round the globe to be a pandemic.

This may reassure some of us. Others, not so much.

Donald Trump, president of the United States (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

Yesterday afternoon, Alberta had 19 confirmed cases of infection by the virus, the website said. Canada had 98.

Two weeks ago, with a population not quite double Canada’s, Italy had 322 confirmed coronavirus cases. One week ago, wrote Yascha Mounk in a grim piece published yesterday by The Atlantic, it had 2,502 cases.

Yesterday, Italy had 12,462, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus COVID-19 dashboard. By the time many readers click its link tomorrow, there will almost certainly be many more.

Italian doctors are starting to triage patients, based on among other things their age, to assure “the appropriate allocation of limited health resources,” according to a document published by the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care.

So we ought not to feel too smug, or too confident, about the low number of cases in Alberta or the seeming hesitation of the Alberta and Canadian governments to take strong measures such as banning large public gatherings or temporarily closing schools and universities now, while they might have a chance of preventing our health care system from being overwhelmed.

If China’s aggressive interventions, widely criticized in the West at the time as authoritarian, had been brought in one week earlier, an analysis by British scientists indicates, 66 per cent fewer people would have been infected.

“From a purely scientific standpoint, putting in place a combination of interventions as early as possible is the best way to slow spread and reduce outbreak size,” Prof. Andrew Tatum of the University of Southampton told the Guardian.

Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

From a purely political perspective, however, it’s hard to know if aggressive countermeasures are even possible in an increasingly neoliberalized country like Canada — let alone the hot mess south of the 49th Parallel, where there still aren’t enough tests to assess everyone who may have COVID-19.

Yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump moved to counter what he called the “foreign virus” with his usual mélange of illogicalities — among other things, banning travel from Europe for 30 days, but not from the United Kingdom. Call it the Brexit Advantage, if you like.

Meanwhile Mr. Trump’s supporters in the fetid swamp that is the right-wing mediasphere continue to label efforts to corral the coronavirus as fraudulent, a Chinese plot to wipe out the U.S. economy, or a backhanded scheme to re-impeach the president.

Alas, this is bad news for Canada because Mr. Trump’s mixed messaging and general incompetence are likely not only to hugely increase the impact of the virus in the United States, but to send the disease storming across the world’s longest undefended border. It is not too much to predict that our proximity to our increasingly unhinged neighbour will cost lives in Canada.

But it is also reasonable to expect the increasingly Republicanized Canadian right, including its (ironically, given who is most vulnerable to COVID-19) elderly base, will respond exactly the same way as do loyal Fox News believers south of the Medicine Line.

Rachel Notley, former NDP Premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It is increasingly evident that whatever you say about the difficulty of fighting a new and aggressive disease like COVID-19, effective public health policy and neoliberal economic doctrine are incompatible. You can have one. You can have the other. You can’t have both.

Alberta is coasting toward a crisis with a medical system under sustained attack by the United Conservative Party Government of Premier Jason Kenney. It seems to be functioning well now, having just come through four atypical years during which the NDP government of Rachel Notley didn’t try to undermine it at every turn.

But despite the reassuring presence of Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health and the public face of the fight against the coronavirus, the Kenney Government’s ideologically motivated efforts to privatize broad swathes of health care, its fights with physicians, nurses and other health workers, and its politicized defunding of other essential health services all continue to percolate behind the scenes.

Given the severity of the crisis, would Mr. Kenney’s government be prepared to legislate mandatory paid sick time for all workers, even as a temporary measure, to help halt the spread of the disease? Highly unlikely, given its ideological predilections.

While Mr. Kenney might put aside his market fundamentalist principles to bankroll the fossil fuel industry in its parallel crisis, it seems unthinkable that he would respond with similar vigour to protect the health of Albertans.

He’s much more likely to use the dual crisis caused by COVID-19 and tumbling oil prices to spread the intellectual virus of neoliberalism, or as just another stick with which to beat his rival in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It’s almost as if the this new novel coronavirus has evolved to exploit the vulnerabilities of the modern neoliberal state — two-tier health care, low wages, precarious work, weak unions, the gig economy, each one of them nurturing the conditions that make the spread of the virus harder to stop.

22 Comments to: It’s almost as if the new coronavirus has evolved to exploit the vulnerabilities of the modern neoliberal state

  1. Dave

    March 12th, 2020

    While I do believe the risk is still low, I am not reassured. The number of cases in Alberta is increasing and outside of Alberta even more so. We are not an island in this interconnected world, so unless we cease all travel and large gatherings immediately, it will probably continue to spread.

    As far as I know, unlike the US we do not have community spread here yet so I suppose we can still blame the virus on foreigners here. However, in reality a virus has no citizenship or political affiliation, so once it is here it is local and it does not care what party you support.

    I suppose it may be at the stage where Mr. Kenney still regards it more as an inconvenience than an emergency, but as the numbers in places like China or Italy show, that can easily, quickly change. One of the problems with liberal democracies is they can be slow to react to situations until it becomes clear there is a crisis. This virus is stealthy, so by the time it becomes evident it is a problem, the cat is likely out of the bag.

    Now to be fair, China was also slow to react, so maybe this problem is not just challenging for liberal democracies. South Korea and Japan seem to be getting it under control, so perhaps there is some hope. However, if people do not have paid sick leave, and not just through employers or EI, as there are a lot of contractors and self employed people who would be eligible for neither, it will be impossible to get ahead of this thing. There needs to be paid sick leave for everyone.

    Even though we are handling this better than some places, like the US, I doubt we can get our act together quickly enough to stop it from speading more widely.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      March 13th, 2020

      Thing is, this new bug is spreading just at the prime time for many Canadians’ late-winter travel to warmer climes … & I don’t mean Lethbridge lol. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Canadians are returning from cruises, resort vacays, and all sorts of other opportunities to be exposed to this new virus to which nobody on the planet Earth — with the possible exception of those who have already had & recovered from COVID-19 — has any immunity. Sh*t’s gonna get real …

      Reply
  2. e.a.f.

    March 12th, 2020

    Some believe Trump exempted G.B. to protect his hotels and golf courses.
    My take on it is, he is going to use this travel ban to beat the E.U. over the head to get the trade deal he wants.
    currently G.B. has more cases than European countries which are banned from travelling to the U.S.A.
    South Korea and Japan have not been banned from travelling to the U.S.A, but have more cases of the virus than western Europe.

    Washington State’s Gov. Inslee seems to have things well in hand. California and N.Y. appear to going their own way and not counting on the feds. There has been some chatter that the Trump administration is attempting to prevent the media from reporting on the virus by suggesting this information will become “security issues”. About the only security issue there is, is if the news gets out, the GOP may dump Trump. Once the dying starts in greater numbers. The blame will be placed on Trump even if he put Pence charge of it. its hard to ignore your neighbour, families, co workers dying.

    South Korea and the U.S.A started having their first cases at about the same time. S.K. is testing 10k a day, the U.S.A. as few as possible. No stats, no problem, so the orange maggot figures. China is sending medical equipment to Italy. At the rate the U.S.A. is going, they’ll need help from China also.

    With the medical system in Alberta under attack from Kenny, its not going to go well there. of course that will be Trudeau’s fault also, Oh and lets not forget to blame B.C.

    When the virus gets really going in Alberta and they have to close schools will Kenny pay for children to have decent day care while their parents work? Nurses, doctors, all hospital staff have children. if they can’t work because they have to look after their children, there could be a problem. Then there is the problem of school food programs which feed hungry kids, closed schools, how will those children be feed?

    Kenny is much like the orange maggot and praying pence. He doesn’t care how many people die as long as he can stick with his agenda.

    if people are laid off and not qualify for E. I. will Kenny authorize social assistance for low paid part time workers?

    The people of Alberta voted for Kenny. Now they can learn to live with it or die because of it.

    Reply
  3. ronmac

    March 12th, 2020

    Divine intervention. Anyways the bible has tons of stuff on this. Something about plagues being sent to turn us away from our wicked ways, etc.

    Reply
  4. John McManus

    March 12th, 2020

    The US, which loves to brand those they don’t like as “failed countries ” is accelerating to the same status. Hopefully, Canadians will come to our senses and avoid the trap.

    Reply
  5. Abs

    March 12th, 2020

    It is ominous that Kenney and the UCP are not saying anything about their April 1 plans. Will healthcare be gutted, nurses and other hospital staff laid off, and any word on negotiations with the doctors? Will the province allocate special funds for the fight against the coronavirus, or will it all be left to the federal government and chance? What is the strategy? Is there a strategy?

    Until otherwise advised, it’s best to believe what Kenney said already. He said that if things get worse in our economy, he’ll make more cuts. They have. He has done nothing to indicate that he will change that plan. We are in deep trouble. Alberta could be the worst place in Canada to be during this pandemic.

    On the other side of this crisis, we’re likely to hear that the dollar cost of all this was too high, so public healthcare must go. What I have not heard yet from our elected UCP government is any kind of genuine concern for people. They are stunningingly clueless. We are rudderless in this storm.

    Reply
    • e.a.f.

      March 13th, 2020

      Kenny isn’t bright enough to understand medical science and too interested in his own political agenda to care about the health of Albertans. He wants to cut, cut, cut. At some level, in my opinion, he just wants to hurt Albertans. He’s may well be like prayin’ pence, his “god” will save them all. He doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand medical science is what keeps people alive.

      If Kenny wants to gut the Alberta health care system or cause health care workers to leave, there will be lots of jobs for them in other provinces. It always helps to revive your economy if the health care system is gutted and people start dying. Just have a look at how well its worked in other parts of the world.

      Oh, well Albertans voted for him and now they can learn to live with it or die because of it.

      Reply
  6. Just Me

    March 12th, 2020

    It has been said the COVID-19 will be Trump’s Hurricane Katrina. The level of incompetence and stupidity is mind blowing. Worse, the effort to use a public policy crisis to further industry agendas will leave the cupboard bare and tax payers on the hook for trillions in new debt. There can be doubt in the minds of many Trumpers, this can be turned into their Reichstag moment.

    Reply
  7. Political Ranger

    March 12th, 2020

    Can’t disagree with your main thrust here Dave. Ignorance, belief in beliefs, religionism, a prejudice against book-learning or a diet of social-media; all these are antithetical to “effective public health policy” and a functioning modern democratic liberal economy. To the extent that any of these are allowed to influence public policy, people, communities and economies will face increasing difficulties just to maintain.

    Your reference to neoliberalism, while not incorrect, I think misses the mark. What is important today is that these ‘neoliberalists’ are in fact what we in Canada call Conservatives. These people are Conservatives today. These policies are Conservative today.
    Any Conservatives from even a couple decades ago or any Conservative policy from even a couple decades ago are now viewed as liberal and progressive.
    This is the problem today. It’s not neoliberalism. It’s the conservative leadership and policy masquerading as something responsible or as an alternative for the people. It is nothing of the sort!
    Today’s conservatives lie, regularly. It’s part of the methodology. Today’s conservatives are ignorant and aggressively anti-science. Actually, sorry to say, but today’s conservatives are basically stupid; they have no tools or basis to make decisions in today’s world but believe that they are uniquely gifted to do just that.
    Not just some conservatives but all conservatives in Canada today are in this libertarian, fascist and corporatist camp.

    Neoliberalism is a problem but it’s not ours. We have a bunch of unintelligent and uninformed belligerents running around lying to people about their bona fides while busily stealing public resources for themselves and their friends and squandering the common wealth they cannot get at.

    While we’re at it, another lie is, “we are at low risk”. Nonsense! Utter clap-trap and road-apples!
    Any review of the facts today will point to a very high likelihood of increasing numbers of infected; best estimates by epidemiologists and public health professionals, at the top of their fields, is 30% to 50% of the population. So, if you’re reading this, you are at a pretty high risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus.
    There is a low risk that you’ll die from the infection, 1-3%, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Most people will catch the disease or know someone who has.

    Reply
    • Alex Polkovsky

      March 13th, 2020

      I like the cut of your jib, sir! The UCP and CPC of today wouldn’t believe you if you argued the sky was up and fires are put out with water.

      “Life… ah, finds a way,” Jeff Goldblum will forever be heard saying, in that movie where they could have outrun a t-Rex in a car, but didn’t. We Albetans have been given ample time to start recognizing the thieving little so-and-sos, but didn’t.

      History is littered with the bones of dialogues. Trust the great Soviet revolution, they said, there is no reactor meltdown, they said.

      Reply
  8. alan

    March 12th, 2020

    What would Mr. fiscal conservative/free market fundamentalist do? Hint: I’m actually referring to Special K.

    His favorite quote from his favorite politician should offer a clue:

    “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” But, that only applies to real ‘socialists’. Because, this a ‘different’ kind of bailout that is sought after (well, not really, only because the script is so old and well worn):

    “Alberta needs similar support to what the federal government gave the auto sector during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, Kenney said.” And, “A number of our energy companies saw their share valuation go down by as much as 90 per cent in the last 48 hours,” he said. “Many of them have basically no cash flow.”

    And, “There are a range of companies that are not well prepared for this downturn. That’s part of the problem. This is after five years of fragility, when a number of companies have been leveraging themselves in debt,” he said.”

    Special K, seems to have forgotten that, if you have not done your homework, then you should not go to school, or beg for handouts, as it were, in the form of corporate welfare, because as was stated not that long ago:

    “The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.”

    And, “The essential point to grasp is that in dealing with capitalism we are dealing with an evolutionary process.”

    Economic death and decay (lost jobs, bankrupt companies, [Seldom the owners of capital of course. It is a limited liability world, after all, designed by those individuals that would benefit the most from the rules of the economic game, it appears.], and the loss of entire industries, are part of that process.

    Finally, Special K, it is your economic system that you personally cheerlead incessantly, so at least have the intellectual integrity/rigour to deal with it honestly.

    .

    Reply
  9. MoS

    March 12th, 2020

    Perhaps this virus will coax us to focus on something we have refused for too long to explore – the resilience of the state under neoliberalism. We have given some consideration to the gamut of looming threats facing us such as global warming, biodiversity loss, ocean warming and acidification but taking the measure of those without weighing our resilience to meet them is folly.

    The science types have been telling us for the past couple of years that we need to prepare not for one crisis but a cascade of several challenges arriving more or less simultaneously. Have we heeded that warning?

    Neoliberalism almost demands an economy that is razor-honed. Everything must be optimized for peak profit. Redundancy is an extravagance. That is an incredibly brittle culture. “Just in time” supply chains. Madness.

    Reply
  10. Kang

    March 12th, 2020

    Denmark is allocating $20 billion US to addressing the covid 19 pandemic. Ottawa is allocating a mere one billion Canadian. Canada is following the Italian model of being too timid, too weak, and too slow. Italy now has over four times more infections per capita than China. Germany has essentially thrown in the towel and expects some 70% of its population will be infected. Even at a 3% mortality rate, that is a lot of dead people. Average time from first symptoms to death is 14 days. Oops! Too many numbers, the UCP are confused and falling asleep! Meanwhile Kenney is busy knocking the pins out from under our public health care system. Isn’t democracy wonderful? Don’t you just love being ruled by a collection of fundamentalist evangelicals led by a graduate from the “Flying Fathers”?

    Reply
    • e.a.f.

      March 13th, 2020

      on the bright side, funeral directors are going to make a lot of money.

      Reply
  11. Hana Razga

    March 12th, 2020

    March 12, 2020. Just heard on the radio that first ministers conference to be chaired by Justin Trudeau has been postponed indefinitely.
    Justin Trudeau is self-isolating himself because his wife Sofie was showing some signs of being ill. Thus Jason Kenney who flew to Ottawa full of bluster and cap in hand will have to return to Alberta with the cap empty.

    Reply
  12. Murphy

    March 12th, 2020

    The amusing thing about Drumpf and co. and their fellow clones in AB, is that, like a broken clock, they are correct at least twice a day. I find increasingly that skepticism of the far Right, while rooted in ignorance and a different type of indoctrination and inculcation than that of “progressives”, is stimulated by the incessant scams perpetrated on the world’s population by the elites, both of the crypto and overt fascist varities.
    H1N1 was a massive fraud, and the WHO had to change their definition of a pandemic in order to perpetuate this fraud. It occurred as the ongoing fraud by the world’s banks came to light in the collapse that showed itself in 2008.
    Virtually every geopolitical event, and this “pandemic” is certainly that, is presented deceptively to the masses, and it is all rooted in the single strategic imperative of the US to prevent an economic and military integration of the Eurasian land-mass and resulting rise of a hegemonic rival. The Super-continent holds most of the world’s population and most of it’s resources, and as a result of the outcome of the Second World War, the US has been able to prevent that manifestation, as it’s current junior partner, the UK, managed to do during the previous century when the British state ran the banker’s empire.
    We are living in a world where people accept the kooky rubbish spouted at ever turn about the supremacy of our western democracies and our freedoms, as the US, with the fawning assistance of compradors and vassals like Canada, have Special Forces deployed in over seventy-five countries at any given time. Every single state or corporate media source in the west tells us to fear the wicked expansionist Russians.
    This is perhaps a minor anecdote, but in 2015 the Russian Tu-95 strategic bomber was used in combat for the first time, in operations against moslem terrorists in Syria, a phenomenon itself the result of the US Arc of Crisis strategy implemented under Carter in 1979. The plane entered service in 1956. The US equivalent, the B-52, entered service in 1955, and has been bombing unforunate third-world victims in illegal wars since 1965.
    The most paranoid fantasies of MAGAs and Wexiters do not do justice to the machinations of the Anglo-American banker’s empire, regardless of how limited and uniformed be their world views.
    Perhaps SARS-CoV-2 simply evolved naturally in China, but there is no reason to doubt claims that the creature is the product of the US bio-weapons program at Ft. Detrick, like the anthrax strain that was distributed in the fall of 2001.
    Currently, the information being dispensed about the effects of this virus are vague and completely unreliable. How many cases confirmed via reliable scientific testing? How many likely untested cases? How many deaths attributable to pneumonia and other respiratory disease already present in elderly vicims, etc.?
    Be afraid people, be very afraid! Or don’t.

    Reply
  13. Bill Malcolm

    March 12th, 2020

    Yesterday, because there wasn’t anything else to air beyond the doom and gloom of covid-19 updates, CBC TV News Network had kenney on at noon Atlantic time from Ottawa. He didn’t need prompting but immediately ran off at the mouth. Jason had come to lecture Justin on how Alberta is the most important place in Canada, and needed a bailout like the auto companies got from stevie in 2009. Well, that was GM and Chrysler because Ford didn’t go bankrupt. GM and Chrysler have steadily reduced their manufacturing in Canada ever since as a Big Thankyou to us all, and although Chrysler paid back all its loans, the “new” GM shares we got for $8 billion never amounted to much, and so stevie unloaded them at about a $3 billion loss after about four years, when they simply would not increase in value on the stock market. Not much about it on the internet — stevie kept all that stuff quiet. Typical. It was all a bit too embarrassing for the wunderkind if anyone had taken much notice, which they didn’t.

    So if Canada bails out Alberta, whatever that means and kenney did not elucidate, what will we get back in return? jason said we owed it to Alberta, never mentioning the frittering away of royalties and no PST, of course, or all the petroil industry subsidies. No we are just supposed to hand over cash and build a useless pipeline as well. Oil prices are down for the count for ll those that can read. Natural gas is going for $3 a whatever it is they sell as a “unit”, and Horgan’s BC CGL fracked gas is going to cost $9, with part investment by AIMCo and KKR. Guess what? We are sitting on an over priced resource nobody needs! I’d be very surprised if CGL goes ahead unless private investors want to lose their shirt completely.

    After the first five minutes of kenney nattering, I realized the man is a crashing bore. On and on he went, whining, complaining, going on about the province needing help. I found doing the L A Times crossword more interesting as he droned on and on in the background, claiming the feds had never got back to him on his proposals over the last six months, and what was up with that etc etc, blah, blah, blah. No wonder, he’d put anyone to sleep. Except of course, he’s deadly with his “subjects” in Alberta as Dave continually points out. Notably missing from kenney’s monologue was any mention of Wexit, and not much at all on Covid-19. The former wouldn’t be smart if you’re demanding free money from Canada as if it were a right, and the latter issue Dave discusses above.

    We may learn later today if Justin and Sophie test positive for Covid-19, so the meeting’s off with the premiers and Wetsuweten this aft. Maybe kenney is hatching plans to derail everything he can while he has some spare time. But what a glib droner of a crashing bore he is personally! If you were the feds listening to it, you’d be wondering when coffee time was and stifling yawns.

    This covid-19 is going to ruin things all right. And I’m in the target demographic of old and with “issues”, so not going out much. I did earlier today here in NS, and I was the only one taking disinfectant wipes at store entrances. people still chatting and shaking hands. Oh well, we’ll all just have to wait and see. If the US gets really hammered, there’ll be a political shakeup, and God isn’t going to be of much help to anyone.

    The premise about this virus being the perfect storm for neoliberalism is spot on, in my view.

    Reply
  14. Abs

    March 12th, 2020

    Please can someone tell me how the independent elderly can get help if they need food, meds, etc.? I was in the Acadia area of Calgary today and noticed a lot of elderly people buying food for a few days. That won’t be enough. I don’t think this age group uses delivery services much, and many don’t have a computer to order online. Is there a non-emergency helpline for these people and others, too, who need help? Worried about people alone in houses and apartments and sick or hungry.

    Reply
    • e.a.f.

      March 13th, 2020

      perhaps Kenny can answer that question.
      oh, he didn’t plan for that?
      some times in times such as these hard lessons will be learnt. One of them is voting for a party who cares about people. the people of Alberta did this to themselves. Now they can learn to live with it or die because of it. sound harsh? it is but sometimes people really need to get a grip.

      What concerned people can do is start writing letters to the editor of the local paper and giving this issue as much time and space as possible. Start asking your local MLA what they have planned for this. Most likely nothing given Kenny has come to grips with the virus.

      In N.Y. the national guard has been called out for one area to help get food to people who are self isolating.

      Reply
      • Abs

        March 14th, 2020

        As an alternate to what the National Guard is doing in the U.S., I hope grocery stores will set up a telephone hotline for customers to get an emergency kit of prebundled groceries, much like those bundles that we can buy at the checkout for donation to the food bank. These bundles could be sold for delivery, for customers who are willing and able to pay. This would accomplish social distancing, and limits on bundles would even out the food hoarding situation. Many elderly do not have computers, so phone access would be helpful. People could also have the option of driving to the store to pick up a bundle at a window, and pay by tap card in person, with limits on food bundles.

        Something needs to be done, even if these ideas aren’t great. Elsewhere, stores are limiting their hours in order to restock, or because they have no stock, or because governments have placed restrictions. I could see some stores closing certain outlets for online orders only, to protect their staff and ration supplies. Rationing is the only way they’ll be able to manage inventory.

        What a difference a day makes.

        Reply
    • Tana Macnab

      March 15th, 2020

      Calgary/Acadia is Tyler Shandro’s riding. The Minister of Health. Certainly all the people in that riding who are caught unprepared, or who are unable to ride out the COVID-19 storm should absolutely contact Mr. Shandro’s office and ask for assistance.

      Reply

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