'No shot, no job': Vax holdouts forced to face reality

B.C. hardening vax stance

Still they trickle in, a few thousand every day, late to the party but ­welcome nonetheless.

Twenty months into the worst pandemic in modern history, 10 months into the biggest vaccination drive ever, people are still dropping into clinics around B.C. to get their first shots.

They withstood non-stop saturation messaging urging them to get vaccinated. They watched 90 per cent of their friends and neighbours get shots. By this point, it could be assumed they are simply anti-vaxxers. But one by one, some are flipping and getting shots. They are a fascinating group of people, as are the remaining 10 per cent still ­holding out.

Part of what makes the holdouts interesting is the fact they are potentially lethal to everyone else, given the virulence of the newer version of COVID-19 and the fact that even double doses don’t guarantee immunity. Thirty-two per cent of new cases in the past week (1,382) were double-vaccinated. Twenty-six per cent (101) of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past two weeks were double-dosed, according to a Tuesday update.

Those are the factors that adjusted expectations around community immunity. In the early going it was thought that a high immunization rate would curb the virus. The exact percentage wasn’t specified, but B.C. passed 75 per cent weeks ago and COVID-19 is still a threat.

The province is closing in on 90 per cent of adults vaccinated, and the case count is considered stable but still concerning.

B.C. health officials have been relatively gentle with the holdouts. It’s much more cajoling, than demanding. The consistent themes are enthusiastic urgings to get the shots, constant reassurance to ease any fears and continuing appeals that it’s best for the individual and everyone else.

None of the provincial leaders — at least publicly — have criticized the holdouts to any degree. Only lately has the official stance hardened, with mandatory vaccination orders for certain public sector workers.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday workers in care homes refusing to get shots “will be subject to progressive discipline, up to and including termination.”

That’s about the toughest statement he’s made since the pandemic took hold in B.C. The mandatory orders are likely driving some of the remaining holdouts into clinics. No shot, no job has a way of ­grabbing your attention.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also on Tuesday applauded private sector vaccination mandates, saying she was pleased to see more and more ­businesses imposing them.

The other reasons for the belated walk-in traffic are less clear. Awareness dawns late for some. The Health Ministry cites “misinformation” as one reason for the hesitancy. Family pressures over time may have overcome that. The constant safety refrains over months may have worn them down.

The threat they pose and their regional distribution suggests the vaccination drive is going to take on a harder edge. It is trailing well below expectations in some areas, given how much went into it. That poses real danger.

There are eight communities in the Interior where the first dose vaccination rate is in the low 70s. The eastern Fraser Valley is still below 80 per cent.

In the Peace River region, the all-out immunization drive is failing. It’s still below 65 per cent.

That prompted Henry on Friday to confirm a course change.

“I think I can signal that we’re looking at that on a more regional basis now, so it may not as we had hoped in August, that we would have the same approach across the province,” she said.

Part of that approach on Tuesday was to highlight how much stress those holdouts are imposing on the rest of the province.

Dix took pains to note 55 northern patients have been transferred to south coast hospitals to ease the strain. Forty-three are COVID-19 patients and 42 of them are not fully vaccinated. Those 42 would have filled every regular critical care bed in northern B.C, he said.

He said two more aircraft were contracted by emergency health to fly 14 of those patients over Thanksgiving to Victoria and Vancouver hospitals.

People make bad decisions about their health all the time and no one criticizes them. When the consequences for others are so serious, and so fantastically expensive, it looks like it’s getting harder to resist that temptation.

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

One year later, reasons to be grateful — but got your card?

Gratitude in a time of Covid

She stopped me at the door: “Vaccine card, please.”

I paused. “Are you sure that’s necessary?”

She smiled blandly, but didn’t move aside. “I think it is.”

Defeated, I showed her my phone — though I couldn’t help pointing out the obvious: “You know this is our house, right?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“And you remember that you and I are married?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “Now, do you have any photo ID?”


“Cough? Headache? Fever? Have you or anyone in your household travelled outside ­Canada in the past two weeks?”

“You are my household,” I said. “And you just sent me to the store for cranberry sauce.”

“Thanks for that,” she said. “Put it in the kitchen. Just follow the arrows.”

I peered over her shoulder. “Arrows?”

“Six feet!” she barked, so I dutifully scuttled back.

Jeez, I thought, Thanksgiving dinner is going to be different this year. All this awkwardness about who is allowed in whose home, whether it’s polite to ask about vaccine status and should the rapid test kit go to the left of the salad fork or beside the napkin.

What we forget is that last Thanksgiving there was no turkey dinner at all, or at least nobody was buying a 20-pounder. “Small bubbles only,” we were told. “Stick to your safe six.” (Remember that?)

In lieu of communal feasts, some creative Victorians swapped dishes. They’d leave them on one another’s porches, then ring the doorbell and flee as though what they had just dropped off was a flaming bag of dog crap, not a steaming bowl of brussels sprouts. As much as we might moan about today’s COVID restrictions, we’re living in a veritable mosh pit relative to last year’s isolation.

Another thing we forget about at Thanksgiving? Giving thanks.

Frequent readers might recognize this is something I like to do each year at this time: step back, take stock, count my blessings — then jealously compare them with those of others. This Thanksgiving, I was appalled to find I had seven fewer blessings than Joe Perkins. Ticked me right off. I mean, my car doesn’t even have a back-up camera. What am I, Amish?

Never mind. Mustn’t grumble. Better to take the high road and express gratitude for the good things that have happened in the past year. Here goes:

• I am thankful that scientists found a way to lessen the chance of contracting COVID. Added bonus: I am worm-free.

• I am thankful that Justin Trudeau bought me a three-inch pencil. For $610 million. (Just kidding: we paid for it ourselves.)

• I am grateful for the self-pity of those who protest outside hospitals, for otherwise they might feel ­overwhelmed by guilt.

• I am grateful that I haven’t felt compelled to mention Donald You-Know-Who since January.

• I would be super-thankful, though, if the no-shirt, painted-face, horned-fur-hat Capitol Hill insurrection guy became this year’s go-to Halloween costume.

• I am grateful that, for the second year in a row, Canada has topped the annual Quality of Life ranking of 78 countries. And thank heaven that those who find it too burdensome to live here still have the freedom to move to 78th-place Iraq.

• I am grateful for stumbling across this line in a book this week: When Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane, died on the same day as Joseph Stalin, one of his sons said to another: “Well, we split a doubleheader.”

• I am grateful for the goodness of Ted Lasso, central character of the eponymous, charming, too-raunchy-for-the-networks TV show. If you have yet to see Ted, think of a cross between Dr. Bonnie and Ned Flanders. We need Ted.

• Last year’s column (“Dear God, it’s the worst Thankgiving ever”) was framed as a tongue-in-cheek letter to the Almighty. I am grateful for the woman who responded by sending me a Bible — the most well-intentioned, kindest bit of criticism I have ever received. Total Ted Lasso move.

• I am grateful for the chance to see that while things are not that great, nor are they — for most of us — that bad. To quote Kentucky poet Kat Savage: “Life is simply a mix of mayhem and magnolias, so embrace this gentle riot and gather flowers along the way.”

Jack Knox is a columnist for the Times Colonist newspaper in Victoria.

Higher food prices mean rescuing food is getting more attention

Food rescuing is mainstream

Many people claim the term "food waste" should never be used and there’s some truth to that.

Food is precious and is always of value to someone, somewhere.

Associating food with the term "waste" can only imply that food can become worthless. We can compost it, use it to produce biofuels and, of course, repurpose it or even "rescue" it. It’s not really wasted.

Since food prices are progressively increasing, the entire food supply chain is empowering consumers to rescue food more than ever. Yes, rescue food.

Grocers are no longer putting a rack of shelves in some obscure spot in the grocery store to sell off discounted food products that are about to expire. As you walk into any grocery store, it’s now common to see discounted food products displayed prominently in a busy section of the store. These discounts can be substantial, ranging from 25% to 50% in some cases.

Many have noticed that the “enjoy tonight” deals are becoming more common, especially at the meat counter. While grocers can reduce food spoilage, consumers now have an opportunity to rescue food from an almost certain fate in a landfill.

According to a recent survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with marketer Caddle, 39.6% of Canadians are purchasing discounted products— with expiry or best-before dates within a few days of purchase—more often than in 2020. A total of 26.9% of Canadians are buying products with the “enjoy tonight” label more often than in 2020, according to the survey.

The pay-what-you-feel movement is also taking off. The Food Stash Foundation, a Vancouver-based charity, launched the Rescued Food Market at Olympic Village in the city on Oct. 1. The group rescues well over 60,000 pounds of food per month, which would have otherwise gone to landfills.

The Rescued Food Market will stock perishable foods, including produce, meat, cheese, milk and eggs. Inventories in the store come from grocery stores, wholesalers and farms. The store encourages everyone to donate or pay what they believe the food they’re taking is worth.

Another location in Toronto, called Feed it Forward, is a pay-what-you-can grocery store, cafe and bakery on Dundas Street. It just opened a few days ago with the same operating model. It’s all about retailing food, repurposing and reducing spoilage.

We expect more of these types of stores to open in coming months.

Can’t go to these locations? No problem. Your cellphone has you covered. Apps like Flashfood and FoodHero will tell you about the daily deals in your neighbourhood, regardless of where you are in the country. Some discounts can be as high as 50 per cent.

These apps are useful portals, providing consumers with substantial bargains while helping the environment – if you’re willing to compromise on freshness, of course. But for many consumers, compromising on quality and freshness is still not an option.

But food rescuing is far from new. Second Harvest, the largest food rescue program in the country, has been at this for 36 years. It redistributes enough food to make more than 60,000 meals a day.

The issues of food waste and food rescuing have since attracted attention for environmental and food security reasons.

Second Harvest’s greatest achievement has been to create competition for itself, getting more people involved in valuing all the food we have while eliminating the stigma of food waste. Saving food is now a cool thing, which was not the case in 1985 when Second Harvest started.

More than 35.5 million tonnes of perfectly good food is thrown out each year in Canada, enough to fill 319,000 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Consumers are responsible for 48% of all the food wasted – more than farmers, processors and grocers. The thought of all the work and resources invested in producing this food, only to be thrown away, is causing consumers to change their food choices. It’s only fitting to see consumers as the best potential food rescuers.

Instead of hoarding food, consumers should be thinking about doing the opposite. Buying food as you need it will certainly get you to save and rescue more food. With current food economic trends, consumers will be rewarded for patience and for using multiple points of purchase.

With the Thanksgiving weekend coming up, we have a lot to be thankful for, despite and because of what we’ve been through in the last several months.

But our food budgets have been challenged of late and food is only getting more expensive – except if you seek out food-rescuing opportunities.

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

Why wind, solar energy not answer to reducing global emissions

Alternate energy sources

In a previous column I pointed out that since switching coal-fuelled power plants to natural gas cuts CO2 emissions in half, exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to displace coal benefits our economy and reduces global emissions.

In addition, since converting gasoline and diesel-fuelled vehicles and ships to natural gas cuts emissions by 25 per cent, providing incentives to achieve that could substantially decrease domestic emissions, as well.

It’s not unusual for my columns to draw criticism but presenting a practical and achievable way of substantially reducing global greenhouse gas emissions seemed to me the least likely to do so.

I was wrong!

Criticisms of my columns typically fall into two categories. Those incapable of disputing the facts often resort to personal attacks. In this case, I was accused of writing a “propaganda piece for the fossil fuel industry.”

I retired from the industry and disposed of all my investments in it 15 years ago. But, if being an engineer with 30 years of experience in the energy industry is a sin, I plead guilty.

The second category of critics dispute the validity of my analysis. In this case, criticism focused on “fracked gas.”

Much of our natural gas is locked in solid rock, requiring the creation of cracks (fractures, hence fracking) to allow it to flow to the well. Those fractures are created by injecting fluid, mostly water along with small amounts of vegetable oil, household cleansers and automotive anti-freeze, under high pressure.

Anti-fossil-fuel zealots have coined the derogatory term “fracked gas,” falsely claiming it constitutes a health hazard to those who burn it. In fact, it’s made of the same methane molecule (CH4) as all other natural gas.

A more valid criticism is that leaks in production and transportation release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. But those emissions are minuscule compared to the environmental benefits of displacing higher emissions from coal and liquid fuels.

Raising issues about the environmental impact of gas production and transportation is certainly fair game. But what about the environmental impact of producing wind and solar energy?

A study by the Manhattan Institute, an independent New York-based think-tank, found that replacing the energy output of a single 100-megawatt natural gas-fuelled power plant requires 20 170-metre-tall windmills occupying 10 square miles of land. Building that wind farm requires 30,000 tons of iron ore, 50,000 tons of concrete and 900 tons of non-recyclable plastics (for the mammoth blades).

Moreover, the wind farm can only replace the natural gas plant power when the wind blows sufficiently.

Making wind power reliable would require the storage capacity of 10,000 tons of Tesla-class batteries. Mining the minerals to produce those batteries would consume huge amounts of fossil fuel to power the heavy equipment, not to mention the environmental and social impact of the mining.

Meanwhile, building that natural-gas-fuelled power plant requires less than 10 per cent of those wind farm raw materials and occupies just a couple of acres. And it saves large numbers of eagles and other birds from being killed by windmill blades.

What about solar panels?

The Manhattan Institute report includes U.S. Department of Energy data showing the material requirements to produce a given amount of solar energy are some 60 per cent higher than for wind turbines. And solar farms also need all those batteries to be reliable.

Clearly, building wind and solar farms that could replace the 84 per cent of global energy currently supplied by fossil fuels is technically impossible and would be very damaging to the environment. Moreover, the colossal costs of trying to do it would drive electricity prices to what, for most people, would be ruinous levels.

But there’s yet another compelling reason why wind and solar energy aren’t the answer to reducing global emissions. Just 1.3 billion of the Earth’s 7.9 billion inhabitants live in advanced economies where those costly investments might even be possible. Most of the other 6.6 billion are striving to lift themselves out of energy poverty by increasing their access to fossil fuels.

That’s why almost all of the current increase in oil and coal demand is in non-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. For example, the International Energy Agency estimates that OECD demand will increase by just 1.5 million barrels per day over the next five years while non-OECD oil demand increases from 51.7 to 58.3 million barrels per day.

Shifting that increasing energy consumption from coal and diesel to natural gas is the only way of arresting emissions growth in those countries.

In the end, what sparked the most strident criticism of my column is the inconvenient truth that a “net-zero” emissions utopia can’t be reached unless all fossil fuels are eliminated.

The day may come when breakthroughs such as nuclear fission make that possible. In the meantime, the world is blessed with natural gas – an energy source that’s safe, plentiful and effective at substantially reducing emissions, if only our political leaders would understand that.

Gwyn Morgan is a retired business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

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