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Opinion  

B.C. mines can support the global low carbon transition

Cutting carbon emissions

At the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow, UK, world leaders were united about the urgency of tackling climate change.

This call to action coincided with six months of extreme weather events that devastated B.C. communities and strained supply chains.

According to the International Energy Agency, meeting global demand for metals and minerals is imperative to achieving international climate targets set for 2050. Up to six times more minerals and metals are required by 2040 to provide the technologies to transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.

Independent research by Skarn Associates, experts on GHG emission benchmarking in the global mining industry, suggests B.C. has among the lowest GHG emitting mines and smelters in the world, thanks to our use of clean, renewable hydroelectricity.

B.C. has a unique opportunity to supply the low carbon minerals and metals needed for global transition to clean energy, while sustaining family-supporting jobs and businesses in local and Indigenous communities throughout the province.

We must seize this opportunity, and the provincial government has a significant role to play.

BC’s carbon tax is among the highest in the world and is scheduled to more than triple by 2030. Our province is the only global jurisdiction that doesn’t provide carbon price protection for trade exposed industries like mining that sell into global markets. It simply doesn’t make sense that B.C.’s mining and smelting operations, among the cleanest in the world, pay the highest carbon price.

Building on our long-standing use of hydroelectricity, B.C.’s operating mines and smelters are focused on further decarbonization. For example, the Brucejack mine in northwest B.C. and the Copper Mountain mine near Princeton installed battery-electric and electric trolley-assist technology respectively to dramatically reduce haul truck GHG emissions.

The simplest way to align B.C.’s carbon pricing with other jurisdictions is to enhance the province’s CleanBC Industrial Incentive Program and Industrial Fund which helped Brucejack and Copper Mountain reduce haul truck emissions. Expanding these programs in the upcoming provincial budget would accelerate GHG reductions to support BC’s role as a global low carbon mineral and metal supplier of choice.

Importantly, seven new mines or expansions in B.C. will reach final investment decisions within the next two years. Provincial government action to level the playing field on carbon pricing to help with further decarbonization and a concerted focus on permitting and authorizations can turn these promising prospects into operating mines.

This will benefit workers, Indigenous partners, and local communities, while helping sustain funding for health care and social services. And the environment will also benefit as B.C.’s low carbon minerals and metals contribute to global decarbonization efforts.

Tim McEwan, senior vice-president, corporate affairs, Mining Association of BC



Long COVID: For the 1 in 10 patients who become long-haulers, COVID-19 has lasting effects

Long-haul COVID for 10%

Even as the unpredictable rise and fall of COVID-19 infections continues at home and around the world, a new and ugly pandemic-related problem is emerging.

We know it generically as “long COVID,” though it’s hardly generic, and we still know very little about it, including what it is, who, when or how badly it will strike, how long it might take to recover or whether complete recovery is possible for all.

Long COVID, or post-COVID condition, features symptoms that can include trouble breathing, chest pain, brain “fog,” fatigue, loss of smell or taste, nausea, anxiety and depression, among others.

It appears to affect about one in 10 people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection. In Canada, a conservative estimate is that long COVID has affected 100,000 to 150,000 people so far, although the studies assessing prevalence have serious methodologic flaws.

Post-viral syndromes

The medical and research community first became aware of long COVID as a sometimes debilitating post-viral syndrome that first appeared to affect patients who’d had severe COVID-19, particularly those who had been treated in intensive care.

What’s challenging about identifying long COVID is that the symptoms are broad and can be associated with other conditions, and that some, such as anxiety, depression and fatigue, cannot be confirmed with lab tests.

Similar symptoms that follow viral infections other than COVID have been seen before. Post-viral syndrome after influenza continues to haunt some long after the infection has passed, for example. Even common and typically less harmful viral infections such as mononucleosis can sometimes have very serious and long-lasting after-effects.

But long COVID appears to be different: it is often more severe and is harder to track. Though we and others are heavily engaged in long-COVID research, it will likely be a year before we have a better picture of the condition. Once we do, it should be easier to develop therapies.

Among the questions that demand urgent answers is whether long COVID is a typical post-viral syndrome that follows a predictable pattern, or whether it has a unique immune fingerprint. Are there clinical, X-ray or other markers of long COVID? Is there evidence of persistent low-level infection or unrelenting inflammation?

Part of the challenge is that researchers like us are trying to study COVID-19’s after-effects while the world is still struggling with the acute phase of the pandemic, including the new Omicron variant.

Cause and effect

We are working systematically to determine what the cause and effect might be. We need reliable evidence, but it is elusive.

Even finding the “control,” or comparator population, for research — those who have not been affected — is hard, because some people who have been infected with COVID-19 were never diagnosed, while others were diagnosed without testing.

As long as there remains a segment of the population that may or may not have had COVID-19, it is devilishly hard to assemble a control group that would allow us to draw definitive conclusions about what long COVID is — and what it isn’t.

A further obstacle is that we lack detailed pre-infection health information for COVID-19 patients, making it challenging to measure how post-COVID-19 condition has changed them.

If a patient is depressed now, for example, might there be another cause, or could the condition have been developing before the infection? Could persistent coughing be rooted in something that happened before or after a COVID-19 infection?

Viruses and hosts

The relationship between hosts and viruses can be complex and highly varied. It is shaped by the condition of a patient prior to being infected, and by the individual’s immune system. The interplay between those factors creates a wide range of potential outcomes, making it harder to study and treat this new condition.

One theory we and our colleagues are exploring through research is that COVID-19 triggers such a powerful immune response that it may not be the virus that is directly responsible for long COVID, but our bodies’ response to it.

Some of long COVID’s effects appear to be caused by inflammation, which is part of the body’s typical reaction to any virus. This reaction is exaggerated in COVID-19, especially in terms of the immune system’s inability to return to normal function.

When a patient’s body is unable to eliminate a virus quickly, it escalates its immune response, and can end up making antibodies against itself. Some of what we are seeing with long COVID may be due to the collateral damage from that response, especially when the inflammation resulting from the acute infection was severe.

Despite the logistical, methodological, scientific and other barriers — including general pandemic overload — it’s vital to do the research to answer these and other questions.

The health-care system needs to plan for the resources to care for this significant group of patients, perhaps for years after the pandemic has subsided. Knowing more about this serious and growing problem is the only way we can take it on.

Manali Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at McMaster University

Zain Chagla is an Associate Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Department of Medicine, McMaster University



Opinion: Membership list controversy looms over BC Liberal leadership vote

Controversy for BC Liberals

Less than a month before it elects a new leader, the BC Liberal Party has a brewing controversy about the legitimacy of the organization’s membership list and who will be eligible to vote.

Leadership races are typically clouded by questions about the credibility of membership lists, but rarely on this scale. Sources say six of the seven leadership campaigns are complaining to the party that about 60% of BC Liberal memberships – more than 24,000 of the roughly 44,000 members as of the December cut-off date to qualify to vote – do not comply with party criteria to be eligible to elect the successor to Andrew Wilkinson.

They are warning of catastrophic reputational damage to the party if the situation is not addressed and if the race is not perceived as free and fair. The party’s leadership election organizing committee, in turn, has written the campaign teams that it intends to address the issues. But given the extent of the concerns, some campaigns are skeptical problems can be solved in time.

To mitigate foul play in the contest, the BC Liberals required a prospective party member to supply a full first and last name, full address, birth date and an unduplicated phone number and email address. (For those without email, the party accepted a witnessed document.) The four-year membership costs $10 and must be paid with a unique credit card or by cheque, again to avoid one person paying for a batch of memberships.

But reviews of the membership lists conducted by campaigns in the leadership race have concluded there is the potential for massive voter fraud next month to choose a new leader. The problems appear to have become acute in recent months: for instance, campaigns are questioning the validity of more than 14,000 of the 23,000 memberships sold since last May 1, when the campaigns and the membership drives went into high gear.

In some cases, the membership data reveals that more than one member shares a phone number or an email address. In some of those cases, campaigns found members that held the same phone number and email address but different residential addresses in different ridings. Some had provided out-of-province phone numbers or addresses, and some addresses weren’t residences but were parking lots or forestry service roads.

The membership lists have been shared with all of the campaigns to permit candidates to court their support. But campaigns have written the party to note that when they contacted newly minted members by phone or in person, many were unaware of their membership, of a leadership contest or even of the BC Liberal party itself.

A significant issue amid the questionable membership data is that some of the party’s new members have misrepresented where they live and claim to reside in ridings where there are few party members. Given that each riding will have an equal weight in the February vote – 100 points per riding to be divided among the candidates according to their percentage of the votes – membership in a riding with fewer members would have a greater voting value than it would in a riding with many members. The potential to skew the result is particularly high in those ridings.

Documents provided to BIV indicate the complaining campaigns’ review of the membership data concludes that unqualified memberships outnumber qualified memberships in 30 of the province’s 87 ridings, in some instances by a 4-to-1 margin. A widely shared document among campaigns, reflecting the results of data analysis of the memberships, suggests no riding has less than one in seven memberships in non-compliance with the rules.

These irregularities are by no means a new phenomenon in this party or in others. The BC Liberal leadership campaigns in 2011 and 2018 were marked with allegations of problematic memberships. The difference now is that non-compliance with the rules can be detected with technology. Some campaigns have enlisted expertise to do so, but they are not assured that the party can do the same.

The leadership executive committee has pledged in the last few weeks to campaigns that it would be inclined to set aside the February result if it uncovers voter irregularities or excessive campaign spending. Some campaigns are seeking more details of what the party will do in the next few weeks to ensure the integrity of the membership list.

Earlier, the party committed to randomly audit 10% of the new memberships. The complaining leadership campaigns argue that somewhere between one-third and one-half should be audited.

Each member has to register to vote by re-inputting information, a process that was tested internally in the last few days and ought to eventually yield evidence of the deficient memberships. But some of the leadership campaigns contend the process remains susceptible to fraud because the party is not using sufficiently modern technology and will not have time to be able to review tens of thousands of problems by the February 3-5 voting period.

The leadership vote will be conducted with a preferential ballot in which members select their first, second and subsequent choices. The lowest vote recipient on each ballot will be dropped and that candidate’s votes will shift to each voter’s next choice. First-choice votes will be accorded their percentage of 100 points in each riding.

Candidates in the race include former provincial candidate Gavin Dew, former cabinet minister Kevin Falcon, MLA Michael Lee, former BC Chamber of Commerce president Val Litwin, MLA Renée Merrifield, MLA Ellis Ross and housing developer Stan Sipos. The next provincial election is scheduled for 2024. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.



I am double vaccinated and tested positive for COVID-19

Reporter's virus experience

After a year of surprises and unprecedented challenges, I am not sure why I thought my COVID-19 test would be any different.

To say I was ready or prepared for my test result to come back positive would be an understatement. It happened so quickly and I am thankful to be vaccinated and healthy.

It all started on Dec. 13. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling out of sorts. By 6 a.m., I felt intense body aches and had a pounding headache. I shrugged it off at first as just a bad sleep. I also had a hard workout the day before. But as the day continued and the pain didn’t subside, I worried I might have contracted the virus.

I keep my contacts small, always wash my hands, wear a mask and follow the pandemic orders. The symptoms I experienced in those 24 hours felt mild compared to my symptoms after getting my two COVID-19 vaccines earlier this year (AstraZeneca and Pfizer).

I broke my fever in my sleep the night of Dec. 14 and woke up feeling “normal.” My gargle test was scheduled the following day in Victoria. Because I was feeling “normal,” I felt some reassurance that maybe I didn't have the virus.

Then at 6:02 p.m. I received an automated message from the BC Centre for Disease Control that my COVID-19 test result was positive and to self-isolate immediately.

Frantically, I started cancelling holiday plans. I called all my close contacts and felt immense fear that I could have spread the virus unknowingly to someone close to me.

Over the next few days, my symptoms remained mild: I had a headache every day and was tired. Roughly after five days of the virus, I lost my sense of taste. Since then, I don’t appear to have any long-term symptoms, but my taste has not come back fully.

It took public health three days to contact me; once they did, we determined there was no way of knowing where or how I got the virus. I then learned that contact tracing was to be conducted by me and that I had to alert everyone. All of my close contacts tested negative.

The next step was figuring out how long I needed to isolate for. Two nurses told me over the phone that because I was double vaccinated and had mild symptoms, I only needed to isolate for seven days. People who are not vaccinated or are immune-compromised are supposed to isolate for 10 days.

Following up on this information, Glacier Media contacted the Ministry of Health and was told the different isolation timelines reflect emerging information on how COVID-19 and its variants behave.

"We have learnt that people who are double vaccinated tend to shed [the] virus for a shorter duration of time,” says a spokesperson. "In a vaccinated person, by seven days after symptom onset, they are very unlikely to transmit infection."

In contrast, people who are not vaccinated shed the virus for about 10 days after symptoms start.

"Omicron has been found to spread more easily between people than previous COVID-19 variants. People can spread Omicron to others even if they have been vaccinated,” says the spokesperson. "Current vaccines provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalizations for Omicron."

Meanwhile, the two public health nurses told me I would not be able to get a PCR test once my isolation period finished. Ministry of Health staff echo this and tell Glacier Media that people can continue to test positive for weeks.

Ministry staff say PCR tests will remain positive for 20 days or more, so testing by PCR in a public setting is not helpful.

"Theoretically, this might imply that dead virus can be transmitted but it is unclear if this is protective,” says a spokesperson. "The best protection is to be vaccinated.”

Out of an abundance of caution for those closest to me, including an immune-compromised person, I purchased a box of rapid tests online to see if I would continue testing positive.

Thankfully, my results came back negative.

One scroll through social media tells the story of many people coping with COVID-19. I hope my story finds you healthy and safe this holiday season.



Opinion: (Bad) things in B.C. in 2022 will look a lot like those from 2021

More of the same to come

I do not usually like to make predictions but here is one that I will venture: the top two stories in 2022 will be the same ones that dominated 2021.

In other words: the COVID-19 pandemic and extraordinary weather events caused by climate change.

Not only does the pandemic show no signs of ending, the sudden emergence of the Omicron variant and its rapid spread almost makes it seem like we are starting all over again, as if we were back at the beginning of this ordeal rather than nearing its end.

People are testing positive in numbers that were almost unimaginable just a few weeks ago, when it looked like we were slowly wrestling the virus to the ground.

Public health restrictions are increasing, rather than relaxing. The future of some professional sports leagues’ seasons are in doubt.

Haven’t we seen this all before? Yes we have, and we will continue to watch the same kinds of things unfold until we can get Omicron (and whatever the next variant of concern may be) under control. There is no timeline for this.

It is possible that Omicron disappears in a way that matches its emergence: quickly and dramatically. But the alternative – that it cuts such a vast swath through the population that the health-care system gets overwhelmed – remains a scary one.

When it comes to the weather, it is hard to believe that the past year of disasters associated with climate change – the wildfires, the heat dome, the mudslides and massive flooding — were all one-off events never to be seen again (at least to the magnitude we witnessed this past year) for another hundred years or so.

The year 2022 will undoubtedly bring more weather disasters. The question is: will we be better prepared in the coming year to deal with them?

Will enough fuel be scooped off forest floors to lessen the chance of another aggressive and devastating wildfire season from occurring?

Wlll the broken parts of our highway system be rebuilt in a way to withstand mudslides and mass flooding?

Will the dike system be upgraded in time for even more flooding, or will places like the Sumas prairies be underwater again?

Of course, we have to get through this winter and next spring before we even get to the time of year when the weather “events” even began occurring in 2021.

Will snowfall levels dramatically increase in southwest B.C in the coming weeks? We are currently in a cold snap. Will there be an usual number of them this winter?

Then there is the spring freshet, when melting snow swells river and streams. We almost always experience some flooding associated with this event, but will it be more extensive this spring?

Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the aggressive Omicron variant has essentially taken us into a different pandemic. Pouring climate change weather on top of it will undoubtedly shape the year to come.

Year 2022 meet Year 2021. I am sure you’ll have a lot in common.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.



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