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Writer-s-Bloc

Charities hardest sell in world of online digital transactions

Online giving to charity

Last month, 71 per cent of British Columbians told Research Co. and Glacier Media that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was “behind us” and a similar proportion (72 per cent) expressed a wish to visit relatives or friends in person over the next fortnight. These findings suggest that the province’s residents are ready to go back to the way life was in 2019.

The way we shop has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. Fear of contagion led many of us to order groceries online. Still, there are groups of British Columbians who continue to harbour concerns about their digital information.

In 2022, we see little movement in the number of British Columbians who are partaking in specific activities related to technology at least a few times per month. More than seven in 10 of the province’s residents are visiting websites of blogs (89 per cent, up two points since 2021), accessing banking information (87 per cent, down one point), looking for deals on websites (81 per cent, up two points), using an instant messaging service (79 per cent, up two points) and looking for directions and/or maps to get to a destination (73 per cent, up four points).

The needle did not move significantly on four other activities: buying goods from a website (60 per cent, unchanged), posting on social media (57 per cent, down two points) , uploading pictures or videos to the internet (53 per cent, up three points) and using the internet to place telephone calls (39 per cent, down two points).

Some may have expected that the end of the pandemic would entice British Columbians to visit stores more often. The answer, as is the case for many matters related to technology, varies according to the age of residents. While 50 per cent of British Columbians say they buy goods from a website “once a month or less,” the proportion drops to 30 per cent among those aged 35 to 54 and to 24 per cent among those aged 18 to 34. For the province’s youngest adults, the internet is preferable to the physical location.

There is also little movement on the level of concern from residents on facing a setback while using technology. Just over half of British Columbians have worried “occasionally” or “frequently” over the past couple of months about two issues: having their personal information stolen over the internet (51 per cent, down two points) and computers and technology being used to invade their privacy (also 51 per cent, down two points). Slightly fewer residents have worried about somebody hacking into their computer or smartphone (46 per cent, down three points).

Our level of comfort about embarking on specific tasks online is also similar to where it was last year. Sizable majorities of British Columbians claim to be “very comfortable” or “moderately comfortable” using computers to shop (89 per cent, up two points) and to access banking information (87 per cent, unchanged).

The numbers are lower when British Columbians are asked about making a charitable donation online (73 per cent, unchanged) and commenting on an online forum that requires their email address (56 per cent, up two points).

More than three in four British Columbians (78 per cent) have more than one email address. This leaves 22 per cent of residents who deal with everything on one address – a proportion that jumps to 31 per cent among those aged 55 and over.

Some of the nuisances that we identified last year continue to clog the inboxes of British Columbians, with 63 per cent (up two points) saying they received a “phishing” message, where a sender attempted to acquire personal information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. There is also an increase (58 per cent, up four points) on emails offering money for the recipient’s help or assistance.
Fewer British Columbians acknowledge catching a virus while browsing the internet (31 per cent, unchanged), having their social media platform hacked (16 per cent, up one point) or having their email address hacked (15 per cent, unchanged).

More than three in five British Columbians (62 per cent) have typed their name on Google to see what the internet has to say about them – a proportion that rises to 64 per cent among women and to 69 per cent among those aged 18 to 34. While 27 per cent of these curious residents found nothing, 61 per cent say the information that came up was accurate. Only 12 per cent say they encountered what can be safely described as “fake news” about them on the internet.

Our annual look at how British Columbians relate to digital tools leaves us with two observations. First, there is a gender gap on some of these questions. Women are significantly more likely to worry “occasionally” or “frequently” about their personal information falling into the wrong hands (55 per cent) than men (46 per cent). Female respondents are also less likely to feel “very comfortable” about managing tasks such as banking and shopping online than their male counterparts.

Finally, charities continue to face an enormous problem, as British Columbians are significantly more likely to trust online retailers to handle their information properly. There is a 17-point difference in the level of extreme comfort for online shopping (43 per cent) and online charitable donations (26 per cent). Some people want to give, but are evidently thrown off by the look and feel of some websites.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from May 26 to May 28, 2022, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Crash course in opioid damage for B.C. politicians,

B.C's opioid crisis

While the federal government was putting the finishing touches on the B.C. drug decriminalization project, provincial politicians were taking a crash course on the opioid crisis that prompted the change.

A standing committee on health, which hasn’t sat for several years, convened in April to “examine the urgent and ongoing illicit drug toxicity and overdose crisis.”

Several meetings since then involving numerous experts have amounted to an advanced course on overdose fatalities.

Although the decriminalization decision was pending at the time, many anticipated Ottawa would approve B.C.’s request. “Implementing decriminalization” was in the terms of reference weeks before federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett announced Tuesday that possession of less than 2.5 grams will be decriminalized starting next year, for three years.

But witnesses told MLAs it won’t be as a dramatic as it sounds.

Director of police services Wayne Rideout said B.C. police chiefs agreed a long time ago “the idea of prosecuting individuals for simple possession was really a waste of time.”

Charges are still laid but he said they are often concurrent with other criminal matters.

“The concept of it being humanitarian to not charge people and trying to be sensitive to people’s health issues, they (police) are on board.”

Police will also stop confiscating small amounts of drugs in simple possession cases, next year. Rideout said police thinking has evolved and they recognize the harm that flows from seizing small amounts for personal use.

“The challenge they face is the worry that if they leave the drugs … and it is a toxic supply, now they’ve left something that killed the individual on the person. They really struggle with that issue.”

Trafficking larger amounts will still be illegal, but Rideout painted a picture of futility in that enforcement sphere.

“No matter how much drugs you seize, how much you stop abroad or in this country, it’s very challenging to stop enough to make a difference to the deaths on the streets and the tragedies that occur.

“There’s simply so much of it out there.”

Before fentanyl production started in B.C., it was simply mailed here and was almost impossible to interdict.

“Organized crime is very good at adapting to police techniques and successes. You close down one route, one technique, and they find another.”

Other witnesses made clear the losses B.C. is sustaining.

Island Health medical health officer Dr. Sandra Allison said that despite ongoing commitment and investment, 326 people died in that health region last year, two and a half times more than the number attributed to COVID-19.

There were 127 overdose deaths last year in Victoria, which has been in the top three communities for fatalities in the six years since the provincial health emergency was declared.

More than 9,000 people have died in B.C. of drug overdoses now. But the number of potential victims is higher than ever. The estimate is that about 100,000 people are at very high risk of dying due to continued use of illicit drugs.

Vancouver Coastal medical health officer Dr. Patty Daly said: “We actually have more people now at risk of death from toxic drugs than we did at the beginning of the crisis. … If these people have an addiction, it’s a chronic relapsing condition,” she said. Decriminalization is important in order to address the stigma, but it won’t change the toxicity.

Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson said the number of people remaining who are at extreme risk shows the need for a bigger response. “The sheer size of the issue means we need to think about and implement interventions that aren’t incremental. We are not in a situation where incremental improvements are going to address the magnitude of the issue.”

Deputy minister of mental health and addictions Christine Massey outlined the statistical survey of the victims. People in extreme poverty are 33 times more likely to die of overdose. Forty-four per cent of the fatalities had received social assistance in the month before their death. Others said overdoses spike on the day welfare cheques are issued.

Testimony painted a mostly discouraging picture of futility, despite several innovations and huge investments.

With that track record, the committee has a wide open field when it comes to recommending new approaches.

Les Leyne is a reporter with the Time Colonist newspaper in Victoria. This column first appeared in the Times Colonist.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



Pharmacist offers tips to go tobacco-free

Commit to quit

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in Canada.

Today, May 31, is World No Tobacco Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of tobacco use and what we can do to reduce global tobacco consumption.

As a pharmacist, the health and wellness of our community is very important to me, so I’m providing information about smoking cessation to help you reclaim your health.

Nicotine, the chemical found in all tobacco products, is addicting and the reason it is so difficult to quit smoking. In fact, a mere 5% of people successfully quit smoking without the support of smoking cessation medications or help from a counsellor.

You shouldn’t feel discouraged if quitting cold turkey isn’t working for you, as it doesn’t work for 95 per cent of those trying to quit.

Research has found that combining different methods to quit has a higher chance of success than using one alone. The most important thing is to find the best approach that works for you.

It is not easy to quit smoking, but with help, you can increase your chance of success.

If you are trying to quit smoking there are several supports available, including seeking guidance from health care providers, visiting smoking cessation clinics, using medication and following self-help guides.

Health care professionals, including pharmacists, can help assess your needs, come up with an individualized plan to help you quit and address any concerns you have about quitting. As a pharmacist, and someone qualified to support with smoking cessation, I’ve put together some tips and resources to help you quit smoking:

• Remember, there is a light at the end of the tunnel—When quitting smoking, you may experience uncomfortable symptoms including headaches, dizziness and fatigue. This is because your body becomes dependent on nicotine, so in its absence, your body will go through withdrawal. While withdrawal is unpleasant, it isn’t harmful to your body, and it will get better overtime as you stay smoke-free.

• Crush the cravings—It’s normal to have cravings when you quit, especially if you used tobacco regularly. There are many things you can do to manage cravings. Identifying and avoiding triggers, chewing sugarless gum and distracting yourself with physical activity are great starting points.

• Talk to your pharmacist—Simply talking to a health care professional about quitting has been shown to increase motivation to quit. Your pharmacist is an accessible health care professional who can listen and provide information about smoking cessation, and help you develop an individualized plan. Your pharmacist can also recommend products to help you quit that may be available without a prescription.

Quitting tobacco is hard but not impossible. Pharmacists are there to help you take one of the most important steps towards improving your health.

Speak with one to learn more about the importance of quitting smoking and the supports and services available to you.

Nathan Klaassen is a pharmacist and owner of your local Shoppers Drug Mart in Kelowna.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.





NDP has dug itself into a deep hole with museum project

Outrage at museum money

The NDP government’s plan to tear down and rebuild the Royal B.C. Museum is an even tougher sell now than when they announced it two weeks ago.

They’ve dug themselves into a deep hole by cavalierly presenting the $789-million ­proposal as a fait accompli. That created widespread ­astonishment and ­condemnation as people pondered a ­minimum seven-year closure of the ­institution and lined up to cite better uses for the money.

The blowback prompted a frantic effort — Tourism ­Minister Melanie Mark said officials worked around the clock — to make up lost ground by belatedly explaining the ­justification for the project.

It culminated Wednesday in the partial release of the ­business case for the project – hundreds of pages of documents showing exhaustive analysis of the facilities going back years. Several sections were redacted for commercial reasons. But the overall impression created is that the RBCM is a decrepit, non-functional, sub-sea level, inaccessible, asbestos- and ­arsenic-ridden ruin.

To that, Mark added two other points: It’s the previous B.C. Liberal government’s fault for letting things slide, and the drive for Indigenous ­reconciliation makes the $789-million job imperative. “We are not willing to take the risk of wiping out our culture, our collective history,” she said. “There are some things that are at risk [seismically] that are non-negotiable.” The mountain of background material was a far cry from the announcement, which ­consisted of just a news release, a background brief and 18 canned quotes from validators.

The contrast reflects how floored the government was when Premier John Horgan proudly proclaimed a flagship cultural investment — the biggest in B.C.’s history — then watched it crash into a wall of negative public opinion.

“The announcement did not land as I had hoped,” Mark said.

The information dump also raises questions about how secretive the NDP was in arriving at its conclusion.

The business plan shows that officials spent five years studying the facility and narrowed the options down to a handful.

The work was always described as a “modernization” project. But as far back as two years ago, officials concluded demolition and reconstruction was the best decision. That was presented to cabinet’s Treasury Board in March, but the first taxpayers heard of it was on May 13.

Mark said the government’s intention was always to be “transparent.”

A more straightforward and realistic description of the scope of the project would have eased some of the unrest she and Horgan unleashed. They consulted with the public on the vague idea of modernizing and upgrading.

“Our mandate … was very clear that we were going to modernize,” she said. “We came forward to the public about what that meant.”

But the people paying the freight got no chance to comment on the central renovation versus rebuild issue.

They hold public engagement sessions on highway widening jobs, but they didn’t ask anyone about demolishing Victoria’s prime tourist attraction and building a new one over a period of at least seven years.

All of which makes the parting shot in the release of the business plan a bit much: “Sharing the business case and concept plan with the public reflects government’s commitment to transparency.”

Apart from the communication gap that opened up during the process, the cost is a separate stopper for many people.

Mark discounted the parlour game people are playing of equating how much more benefit government could provide with $789 million. “There are many people that are doing a plus and minus analysis. This is plus and plus.”

She said school seismic upgrades are proceeding on schedule, hospitals are being built and there is an aggressive capital investment program all over B.C.

The business case will re-energize the opposition B.C. Liberals and B.C. Green Party to continue an argument they’ve been winning so far.

Both oppose the project and have been capitalizing on the public backlash. They’ll be combing through hundreds of pages of the project’s origin story to find more faults.

The business plan could ease some public concern. A careful read could bring some people around to supporting it. And major public works often start out in a hail of bullets and turn into something everyone loves.

But this one started out much lower in the polls than necessary, and will need a big change of mind for the NDP to avoid it festering through their term.

Les Leyne is a reporter with the Times Colonist newspaper in Victoria.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Welcome to Writer’s Bloc, an opinion column for guest writers to share their experiences and viewpoints with our readers.

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