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Writer-s-Bloc

Apathy replaces controversy over future of Senate: poll

Apathetic about Senate

When the Reform Party was being established in the late 1980s, the concept of a “Triple-E” Senate of Canada (equal, elected and effective) was regarded as a laudable goal.

Western Canadians frequently voiced displeasure at the way in which the upper house was assembled. At the time, the Senate had 104 members. Two Atlantic provinces with a low overall population – New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – each had 10 seats. This compared poorly with the representation from each one of the four western provinces: six seats each.

The notion of prime ministers appointing political operatives, friends and backers to the upper house was also a point of contention before the 1992 Charlottetown accord referendum. There was no official process in place to allow Canadians an opportunity to have a say in who their senators would be.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians about the upper house last month, the results outlined an extremely low level of awareness of its composition and their representatives, little consensus on what to do to move forward and a desire for direct participation in choosing the people who will be responsible for providing “a sober second thought” to the legislation passed by the House of Commons.

We asked British Columbians about the number of seats that the province is allocated in Canada’s Senate. Only 3% provided the correct answer (six seats). In a follow-up question that urged residents of the province to name at least one of the current senators, the results improved slightly, with 4% of British Columbians identifying at least one member of the upper house who represents the province.

Retirements are one of the reasons for the confusion. One respondent mentioned Richard Neufeld, who was appointed to the Senate in January 2009 and reached the mandatory age of retirement in November 2019. Six respondents assumed that Nancy Greene Raine was still a senator, but she stepped down in May 2018. Two others wrote the name of Pat Carney, who has not been a member of the upper house since January 2008.

The British Columbians who “got it right” were more likely to volunteer the name of Larry Campbell as a current member of the Senate (18 mentions) than Bev Busson (six mentions), Yonah Martin (four mentions), Yuen Pau Woo (three mentions) and Mobina Jaffer (two mentions). It is clear that senators, who do not have to worry about campaigning, are not engaging with constituents as much as the members of the House of Commons.

Even as British Columbians know little about the number and identities of their senators, the opinions on just what to do with the legislative body vary widely. Almost a third of British Columbians (32%) would reform the Senate to allow Canadians to elect their senators – a view that is more popular with residents aged 55 and over (34%).

The concept of a complete abolition of Canada’s Senate – which in the estimation of most scholars would require a constitutional amendment – is backed by 16% of British Columbians and climbs to 22% among men.

The status quo that has existed since Justin Trudeau became prime minister in 2015 – having a selection committee that would appoint non-partisan senators – is only pleasing to 13% of British Columbians. Fewer than one in 10 (7%) would go back to the previous process, where the prime minister appointed senators at his or her leisure. Almost a third (32%) are not sure about what course of action they would prefer.

In spite of the commotion that a re-imagination of Canada’s Senate presents, British Columbians would not avoid an opportunity to go to the ballot box and select the person who would take over from Neufeld.

In our survey, 58% of the province’s residents agree with holding a non-binding election, similar to the ones that have taken place in Alberta, to choose nominees to the Senate. Support for this idea is highest among men (61%), British Columbians aged 18 to 34 (65%) and residents of northern B.C. (69%).

It is important to note that only 11% of the province’s residents disagree with casting a ballot for a nominee to the Senate, while just over three in 10 (31%) are not sure. A significant proportion of British Columbians do not care about the present of the Senate and have no opinion about its future. The constant calls for change in the upper house that dominated the airwaves in the late 1980s and early 1990s have disappeared. At this point, the activities of senators are not making British Columbians angry enough to care.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from December 21 to December 23, 2021, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.





Some couples grapple with supporting family members

Supporting family members

People will sooner aid a sick dog lying on the sidewalk than to try to find shelter for a sick person. It's too much to deal with.”

Michael Zaslow

Some of us come with baggage in the form of relatives who, potentially, need a helping hand.

Not all people are created equal, nor do we all have the same opportunities, so it is not unusual to see families provide additional support to a family member when their life circumstances hit a rough patch.

Some have siblings with handicaps, mental health issues or drug use that may render them, at some point, in need of a place to live or aid in finding the social assistance they need to maintain a roof over their head and food in their stomach. It can be a bit like having another child. Some also have relatives who are perpetually a bit low on funds or need to be bailed out of jail.

I walk daily by homeless people, some due to mental health issues and some through drug addiction. I wonder about their families. Did they try to help, but just became exhausted or have they turned their back on them? What would you do if this was a part of your partner’s family?

It may be something you are just used to if it is your own family and it’s all you ever knew, but if this is your partner’s family, you may not want to be so charitable. It is important to look at your partner’s family make up to see if there is a member that may, somewhere down the line, require help from you both and discuss how this may play out and what you both are willing to do or give.

Look too at what diseases run in the family. This will give you an idea of what you may face down the line. If there is a history of Huntington's, your partner and their siblings each have a 50% chance of inheriting this disorder. It presents in middle age after people have had children. Would you be willing to have a sibling inflicted with this live with you or take over the care of their children?

Most young people have their parents still around and though it may be very far in the future, they may need your help down the line, much as they took care of you as a child. There are cultures where the parents will be readily taken in and others where a care home is found. Though this may be decades away, it is good to see how you each feel on the topic. There is little worse than having an in-law you abhor suddenly sitting at your breakfast table every morning.

Do not assume you will each only look after your own family members. You may find you take in a family member, but it is your partner who ends up dealing with him or her. The wife drives her mother-in-law to doctor appointments, the husband has the credit to co-sign a loan for his wife’s brother. If, or when, things go badly, it then becomes an issue between the wife and husband.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer only when it had reached the stage where nothing could be done. She didn’t have long to live. At that moment, the most important thing for me was to spend as much time as possible with her.

I sat at her bedside and I slept on a cot at the foot of her hospital bed. I did this for the two weeks she had left. Is this something your partner would support you doing? Would they take on childcare and put up with the loss of two weeks of income?

Some of this may seem like an easy yes, but what if the family member is one you have had a troubling past with?

It is always easier said than done. You may find after opening your home that the dynamics are far more irritating than you imagined or harmful to the dynamics of the family unit. Maybe your brother-in-law starts hoarding in your home. Maybe your niece is stealing from your wallet. Maybe you can’t keep up with bills because the loan you co-signed is not being repaid.

It is always good to have the ‘what if’ conversations with your partner. There may be a very different desire to help and if you can get on the same page before there is an issue, you will be able to better navigate any storms.

Renee Cesar has a degree is psychology and writes a blog, Happiest Ever After, that focusses relationships.



Manufacturing human organs with farm animals

Animal organ donors

At any given time, 4,000 to 5,000 people are waiting for organs in Canada. And every year, 200 to 250 people in Canada die while waiting

In an unprecedented surgery, a 57-year-old American with serious heart disease had a heart transplant with a genetically-modified pig’s heart on Jan. 7.

Almost three weeks later, the patient is reportedly still doing well.

The surgery was a first, performed by a team from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. It’s among the first to illustrate the feasibility of a pig-to-human heart transplant, a procedure made possible by new gene-editing tools. Science has given us xenotransplantation through gene editing.

Despite the successful operation, the patient is still hooked to a heart-lung bypass machine, which is keeping him alive. For a transplant, however, this is not out of the ordinary.

Agricultural production has supported our agri-food sector since the beginning of time, essentially to feed humans. It has also developed new vocations over the years, for example, with the energy industry.

Now, some researchers are contemplating animal production to help the health-care sector, which is in dire need of organs. At any given time, 4,000 to 5,000 people are waiting for organs in Canada. And every year, 200 to 250 people in Canada die while waiting for an organ transplant.

For the patient in Maryland, xenotransplantation was his only option to stay alive.

Xenotransplantation can save live—but some people will surely ask questions about the ethical and moral aspects of breeding animals to produce organs to save human lives.

The university obtained emergency clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under its compassionate use program a week before the operation. A few days later, the donor pig, raised in a hyper-sanitized environment, was slaughtered to extract its heart.

Science can be amazing. But the concept of a gene-edited pig, designed to produce a compatible organ for a human, will make some people uneasy. The science is real, and a debate is warranted.

Xenotransplantation has been discussed for years, but this is the first successful operation involving modifying a pig’s genetics to increase the chances of compatibility. For years, chimpanzee kidneys have been transplanted into humans, even a baboon heart into a baby, but the survival period has never exceeded nine months.

After a series of failures, the scientific community temporarily abandoned xenotransplantation—until pigs were considered.

Pork production lends itself better to xenotransplantation as it’s possible to obtain an organ of adequate size within six months. Several patients have received valves and other parts from pigs with positive results, so the concept isn’t new. But transplanting a pig’s entire organ is unprecedented.

Before we judge or condemn the practice, we must consider the egalitarian issue of transplants.

A hidden aspect of transplants is related to racialized groups. A black, Asian or Indigenous person is less likely to get an organ donation than a white person. Chronic diseases, genetics and blood history make it more difficult for them to find a donor. A person from these groups has between 50 and 70 per cent less chance of getting a donation when on the waiting list.

But animal gene editing to support xenotransplantation means it’s scientifically more probable to produce compatible organs for everyone, regardless of their genetic makeup. So xenotransplantation can further democratize organ donation.

Xenotransplantation supported by gene editing offers humanity a tailor-made organ donation system. But this brings its share of bioethical questions, especially when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals.

There’s also always the risk of transmitting porcine viruses to humans. And in light of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve all been living through for nearly two years, that’s no small consideration.

We don’t know much about the genetic editing practices applied to the pig to allow the heart to stop growing once inside the human body. The company behind the technology, Revivicor, remains very discreet. We also don’t know much about what happened to the carcass of the donor pig.

This is a discussion worth having. Revivicor could have at least given the pig a symbolic name like British researchers did with Dolly, the famous cloned sheep. After all, the pig is the real hero here.

Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.





Time to cure what ails Canada’s health-care systems

Curing ailing health systems

Health reform has been talked about enough.

The need to reform Canada’s health-care systems has long been a hot topic of debate. After all, Canada is an easy target. It has one of the highest price tags among countries with universal health systems in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, but its performance has lagged for years.

The effect of the poor performance of Canada’s health-care systems on the lives of patients is bad enough, but now the lack of capacity is interfering with the daily lives of all Canadians. Indeed, the (re-)re-introduction of strict public health measures in several provinces in response to the Omicron wave has been repeatedly justified by our health systems’ lack of capacity.

So how do we fix them? On one side of the debate, there are those who believe throwing more money at the problem would be a miraculous cure. Unfortunately, several provincial premiers seem to be of this opinion, with their plea to substantially increase the Canadian health transfer.

And yet, health-care spending in Canada has increased at an average yearly pace of over seven per cent since 1975, without delivering better results for patients. In fact, 55 per cent of Canadians believe the additional amounts of money injected over the past decade have either had no effect at all or actually worsened their health-care system. At this point, spending even more taxpayer dollars would simply be placing our health systems on an artificial respirator.

On the flip side, there are those who want to give the country’s health systems room to breathe by expanding the role of entrepreneurs in the delivery of care. Such a structural reform could involve encouraging provinces to form more partnerships between public and private institutions, or even letting entrepreneurs run publicly funded hospitals.

Now, adopting a greater mix of public and private care would not equate to an Americanization of our health care. Allowing and even encouraging entrepreneurs to pick up the slack is no danger to the universality of Canada’s health-care systems. Rather, as many European countries know well, such a change would increase the accessibility of services families already pay for through their taxes and offer greater choice within the public system. As an added bonus, expanding the role of entrepreneurs would enable health authorities to make better use of the billions of dollars spent on health care every year.

Involving entrepreneurs in the delivery of health services is the next step toward more efficient systems that Canadians can truly be proud of – ones that encourage innovation and prioritize public-private partnerships rather than always resorting to the mechanisms of a single-payer system. Taking this step will require political courage and co-operation from all levels of governance, including unions, professional orders, and colleges.

In fact, the management of a health-care system should not revolve around politics at all. It’s a matter of doing everything possible to guarantee the high quality of care that Canadians are right to expect, given that 33 per cent of federal and provincial government budgets are directly funnelled into their health systems.

Health reform has been talked about enough; it’s time to take action and catch up to the other universal health systems in the world that have already embraced the role of entrepreneurs in the delivery of care. Otherwise, the next generation is doomed to experience the same heartaches we’re suffering through today. As we head into the umpteenth wave of COVID-19, the pandemic must be the spur that finally gets us to have the conversation we need to have on fundamentally reforming Canada’s health-care systems. Anything less would be irresponsible.

Maria Lily Shaw is an economist at the Montreal Economic Institute



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