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Bob Mackin

To the average British Columbian, the weekdays at 3 p.m. news conference with Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry might look like an exercise in transparency.

The coronavirus pandemic update is instead a master class of corporate-style communications for the B.C. government, which is always measuring what it does through a political lens. (The stakes are high: There is an election scheduled in October 2021 and the NDP will be judged on how it manages the pandemic.)

The news conferences generally last 45 minutes, but only half or less of the time is given to questions from reporters, who are limited to one question only. No followup. (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau routinely allows reporters to ask one question and a followup.)

This is the most-controlled communication exercise in B.C. government history. Not even the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics were this regimented.

The B.C. government’s joint information centre through the Government Communications and Public Engagement department often instructs reporters to wait for the next day’s Dix and Henry news conference. As if it is that easy to have a question answered in the limited time allowed.

With that in mind, I am sharing 10 questions that British Columbians need answered about the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis.

1.

British Columbians have been told to stay home and, if ill, isolate themselves. On April 14, the World Health Organization issued a warning about alcohol use: “At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence.” On the same day, the B.C. government extended B.C. liquor store hours to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

  • Question: Did the Provincial Health Officer, Minister of Health and/or the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions approve the revenue-generating extension of B.C. liquor store hours?

Dr. Bonnie Henry (left), Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix (Mackin)

2.

On the same theme of staying home and being in isolation. The 2014 B.C. Problem Gambling Prevalence Study found 57% of online gamblers gamble alone and 52% use alcohol or drugs while gambling.

  • Question: Who decided that B.C. Lottery Corp.-contracted video poker dealers (who webcast from a studio in the New Westminster riding of the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions) are an essential service under the state of emergency regulations?

3.

On March 23 during Question Period, Minister of Health Dix said these words: “And we’re doing right now, in the last two days over the weekend, approximately 3,500 tests a day.” B.C. Center for Disease Control statistics for the number of samples on March 21 and 22 did not come close to “3,500 tests a day” (there were 1,963 and 2,036 tests, respectively). In fact, only once did coronavirus testing in B.C. reach close to 3,500 in one day (3,480 on March 16).

  • Question: Does Minister Dix plan to correct the record at the next sitting of the Legislature and explain how and why he gave misleading information?

4.

  • Question: Who was the elected or appointed official in the NDP B.C. government that proposed or lobbied the Information and Privacy Commissioner to make an extraordinary decision on March 18 that allows public bodies in B.C. to delay disclosures under the freedom of information law by an additional 30 business days, until June and July (despite the public interest override that requires disclosure of any and all records about an imminent risk to public health)?

5.

  • Question: While B.C. MLAs of all parties are to be commended for delaying their statutory cost of living increase, will the Premier, cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and Crown corporation CEOs take a temporary and voluntary pay cut, like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who cut cabinet and Crown CEO salaries by 20%?

    Dr. Bonnie Henry (left) and Adrian Dix on March 26 (BC Gov)

6.

The NDP government’s $5 billion emergency economic package passed March 23 will include aid for businesses big and small.

  • Question: For any companies that receive bailouts from B.C. taxpayers, will the NDP follow the lead of the European Union and mandate executive salaries be capped and executive bonuses be banned?

7.

In March, Royal Columbian Hospital emergency room Dr. Sean Wormsbecker accused B.C. of under-testing for coronavirus, therefore low-balling the number of people carrying the disease in B.C. Australia is also testing 1% of the population, but an Australian actuary’s modelling estimates six to seven times more people are infected than the government has disclosed. In Santa Clara County, Calif., Stanford University School of Medicine researchers estimate the number of people infected is at least 50 times greater than the confirmed cases reported by public health officials.

  • Question: What is the estimate of the number of people in B.C. who were really infected with COVID-19? 

8.

British Columbia is not the only jurisdiction where mass deaths occurred in senior citizens’ care homes. Federal authorities fined Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. $611,000 for various violations. Owners of Residence Herron in Dorval, Que. are under police and coroner investigation.

  • Question: Why is there no investigation into North Shore Private Hospital, the company that owns Lynn Valley Care Centre, where 20 people died of coronavirus?

9.

Until March 12, Dix and Henry reported on a daily basis about anonymized individual cases in B.C., including the patient ages and gender, transmission type, patient status, date reported and health authority of jurisdiction. That stopped on March 13. Ontario has never stopped providing this type of information to its citizens.

  • Question: Why do Ontario citizens get anonymized case data but British Columbians don’t?

10.

The World Health Organization has been blunt in its coronavirus-fighting instructions to all countries: test every suspected case. Yet, in B.C., officials narrowed testing to residents of senior citizens’ care homes, healthcare workers and the sickest who present at a hospital emergency ward.

  • Question: What was the real reason why B.C. doctors were not allowed until April 8 to order testing for any patient showing symptoms?

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Bob Mackin To the average British Columbian,

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, independent journalist Tristin Hopper, editor of The Capital, gives you the view from Victoria during the pandemic state of emergency.

Tristin Hopper

Government is still operating, but the tourism industry has collapsed and homelessness is magnified. What next? 

Dr. Roland Orfaly, CEO of the B.C. Anesthesiologists, tells host Bob Mackin about his members’ work on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Orfaly expresses concerns about staffing levels, and medicine and personal protective equipment supplies as public health officials consider the possibility of phasing-in surgeries that were delayed by COVID19.

Dr. Roland Orfaly

And, you won’t believe your ears! Highlights (and lowlights) of the most error-riddled Vancouver city council meeting in the city’s 134-year history.

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong at the April 14 virtual meeting for the civic government that budgeted $35 million on information technology and digital services this year.

Plus coronavirus headlines from the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim,

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theBreaker.news Podcast: The view from Victoria
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On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, independent

Bob Mackin

After a year and a half parked behind the Parliament Buildings, the infamous woodsplitter and trailer bought by disgraced ex-clerk Craig James were quietly taken away by the RCMP on April 16.

The infamous wood splitter, photographed on the Legislature grounds on Nov. 20, 2019. (Mackin)

A flatbed truck hauled away the most-famous evidence in the British Columbia Legislature scandal for safe-keeping.

“We got a request from the RCMP that they wanted custody of the woodsplitter and the trailer and obviously we complied with that request,” Alan Mullen, Chief of staff to Speaker Darryl Plecas, told theBreaker.news. “They moved very quickly and arrived at the Legislative precinct at 8 a.m. and loaded it onto a flatbed truck and took it to an undisclosed location.”

The woodsplitter inspired a Twitter account and parody song while parked in an alcove behind the former 19th century drill hall that now houses offices for the conflict of interest commissioner and the Legislature’s IT department.

James is under investigation by the RCMP for breach of trust after spending $13,230.51 of taxpayers’ money in 2018 to buy the P.J. D5102 Dump trailer and Wallenstein WX450-L log splitter that he originally kept at his house in Saanich. James had claimed that the equipment was to be used for supplying Legislature fireplaces with firewood in case of natural disaster.

James and ex-sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suspended with pay by unanimous vote on Nov. 20, 2018 and escorted out of the building by police. They claimed they were innocent and demanded their jobs back, but both eventually quit to prevent their certain firings.

Craig James (left) and Gary Lenz (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)

The woodsplitter became the symbol of James’s excess in January 2019 when Plecas revealed the purchase in a bombshell report to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee. That report detailed some of the reasons why Plecas called the RCMP to investigate alleged corruption by James and Lenz.

Plecas’s report, compiled with Mullen, found flagrant overspending on luxurious trips overseas and charges to taxpayers for personal items, such as suits and luggage, in the tens of thousands of dollars. James and Lenz also pocketed pension and travel allowances in the six figures.

According to RCMP search warrant documents unsealed last November, witnesses interviewed indicated that James had insisted on picking the woodsplitter and trailer up himself, with his white 2017 GMC Sierra Crew Cab truck.

The trailer could have been delivered to Vancouver Island, but witnesses said James insisted on using his own pickup truck to retrieve it from the Lower Mainland, instead of one owned by the Legislature, because it supposedly had the correct hitch.

Officers from E Division attended James’s house in a Saanich subdivision at 9:50 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2018. A tow truck driver loaded the woodsplitter onto a flat bed truck and took it to a secure bay at Totem Towing. Police found evidence that it had been used.

The wood splitter trailer at Craig James’s house in Saanich in 2018 (Speaker’s Office)

The trailer had been returned earlier to the Legislative precinct. The documents say that a black trailer was found parked beside sea containers on the Legislature grounds on Oct. 22, 2018. One of the witnesses interviewed said that “James suddenly returned the trailer because ‘we were pestering the Clerk to… you know… park it back on the ground’.”

James negotiated his sudden retirement in mid-May of last year after Beverley McLachlin, the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, found he had committed misconduct.

Lenz retired at the end of last September, before the release of a Police Act investigation by retired Vancouver Police deputy chief Doug LePard. LePard found that Lenz breached his oath as a special constable by lying to McLachlin.

Neither James nor Lenz have repaid taxpayers.

Deputy clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd was officially appointed as James’s successor on March 2.

An RCMP investigation with special prosecutors Brock Martland and David Butcher continues.

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Bob Mackin After a year and a half

Al Macintyre

I am a retired RCMP member with 39 years experience. I have policed Surrey in a command role, have been a past resident of Surrey and have also served with the Delta Police Department. So I guess it is okay for me to have an opinion on the topic.

I served as the Surrey RCMP Operations Officer from July 1999 to July 2001 and occasionally the Acting Officer in Charge of Surrey Detachment. Those were back in the days when Mayor McCallum was Mayor the first time. You know, before he was voted out.

(Al Macintyre-submitted/Facebook)

We had quite a ride of it back in the day when dealing with him. If the walls could only speak.

I have read and listened to his rhetoric and untruths about the RCMP and to this point have remained silent.

In Maclean’s magazine, they note McCallum believes Surrey long ago outgrew the RCMP, which has policed the city since 1951. He says residents are prepared to pay a bit more for a municipal force, allowing enough officers who are fully invested in the community to be hired and trained for urban policing.

Wow, a bit more. That is an understatement and while the exact cost of the transition is still  not clear, I would urge City of Surrey residents to persist in getting an accurate dollar figure from their Mayor and Council. The devil will be in the details.

“The RCMP are trained to do mostly rural policing in Canada. They still are controlled by Ottawa.” (Doug McCallum). Another bogus statement and those in Surrey have heard their past and current OIC’s (Chiefs) comment on this claim. The statement is further shown to be bovine scat in that if McCallum thought the RCMP were not suited for municipal policing, why on earth would he then be so intent and reliant on hiring as many RCMP members as he can to create his own SPD?

Do your homework folks and check the course training standard for the B.C. Justice Institute Police Program against the RCMP Cadet Training Program Course Training Standard. JIBC trains police officers for large and small departments in B.C., as does the RCMP for large and small detachments across Canada.

I have heard comments attributed to McCallum that he wants police officers who are invested in and connected to the community. When I was in Surrey I served on local boards of governance, my wife taught in the Surrey School District and our kids went to school in Surrey and later worked in Surrey. When little Heather Thomas was abducted in Cloverdale, where we lived, I was out on my own time looking for her.  Is that the connection or investment he was looking for?

And what about the several members of the RCMP who have given their lives while serving the citizens of Surrey. Is that not invested or connected to the community enough for the Mayor?

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum (Surrey)

We have heard figures of only 20% of VPD members live within the City of Vancouver.  Surely that does not make the other 80% not invested or connected. And please don’t get me wrong. This is not an us and they situation, but rather about facts as they do matter.

I have often wondered what it was that put the RCMP in McCallum’s cross hairs?  I thought maybe it was related to a speeding ticket on the Crescent Beach Road where the officer signed it with “Surrey RCMP Traffic Section”. McCallum directed the RCMP to close down the traffic section and move them to other duties. The Chief of the day told him that was not going to happen. McCallum persisted.

At the time, the Surrey Traffic Section consisted of about 25 members engaged in traffic enforcement and accident investigation. Not every police officer likes doing traffic work, and it is important to have a component of your police service engaged in directed traffic law enforcement. Mayor McCallum did not agree. There was a small conference at about the same time at the Guildford Sheraton. The main speaker was the Chief of Toronto Metro Police, Julian Fantino. Mayor McCallum attended as a guest. During a Q&A Mayor McCallum stood up and said that his Chief had guys wasting time on traffic duty when they were needed elsewhere in his view. Fantino responded: “Mr. Mayor, traffic law enforcement is critical to a policing service and integral to safe homes and safe communities” and that he did not agree with the Mayor’s position. Mayor McCallum sat down and that was the end of cancelling the traffic section.

We sent out a press release one afternoon to the effect that there had been a very bad injury MVA at  the intersection of 184th and #10 Hwy and that traffic was not moving.  Mayor McCallum  called over and asked what was the purpose in sending out this negative to Surrey news release. It was explained to him that it was to alert motorists via the media that traffic was not moving and to stay clear and pick another route. He hung up.

Or then there was the time his office called after a press release was issued about a bad guy that was dangerous to the public peace and told us not to send those out as it made Surrey look bad. We tried to explain the necessity in warning the public and we continued to send them out. Yes, safe homes and safe communities.

Maybe he remained mad over this debacle. If you do some research, you will find that in 2000 or 2001, the following unfolded. Mayor McCallum was at a sporting event in Surrey. Some local seniors had parked in a manner in which access to a fire hydrant was blocked. As we learned, a Surrey Bylaw Officer pulled up and was in the process of ticketing the offending vehicles. As the story went,  the Mayor stepped in and openly challenged the Bylaw Officer and told him to back down. A RCMP member was nearby heard this and piped up that the Mayor should leave the Bylaw Officer to do his job.   There was some verbal back and forth.

(Al Macintyre-submitted/Facebook)

The RCMP member was so annoyed, he actually filed a self generated police report.  Further, he made a copy of the report in his frustration and in while still in his uniform drove to the office of the Surrey Now/Leader in his police car, walked in, said nothing and dropped a copy of the report on the receptionist’s desk. They published a story in the newspaper and the Mayor was upset. He complained and we followed up at our end  and had to administer  informal discipline to the RCMP member for failing to safeguard a police report. 

In our dealings with him back then, it was always about the power, control and the ability to influence. There was a Public Safety Committee, but in my view he just paid it lip service and gave directions and exercised decisions from the hip either personally or via his CAO.

He would sometimes come into Public Safety Committee meetings, stand there and make statements and quasi directions and then leave. No decorum and no discussion.  The PSC Chairperson would just look over and shake her head.

He must figure that when he has his hands on the entire police force as the Chair of the Police Board that it will be all “sunshine, wide roads and shallow ditches” with everything going his way. I truly believe he wants all of the “launch codes” to himself.

VPD have a big traffic unit…I wonder if SPD will as well (me laughing).

In closing, attached are a couple of pictures of the ceremony where the 50 years of RCMP policing Surrey was celebrated. I was the Acting OIC at the time. The gentlemen in plain clothes were some of the original RCMP members who worked that first shift on the night of the turnover from the old BCPP to the RCMP. I am pretty sure those fellows were then and are still invested and connected to the community they started with over 50 years prior.

Just saying.

(Editor’s note: Reprinted from the Keep the RCMP in Surrey campaign Facebook page. theBreaker.news is extending an invitation for Mayor Doug McCallum to respond.)

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Al Macintyre I am a retired RCMP member

Bob Mackin

At the very same time Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was on a conference call with reporters April 15, city manager Sadhu Johnston quietly sent a staff memo announcing furloughs of non-union civic staff.

City manager Sadhu Johnston (UBC)

Already 1,800 unionized workers received pink slips as the city grapples with the sudden halt to the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. Stewart wants a $200 million bailout from the provincial government to prevent insolvency.

In lieu of exempt staff layoffs at this time, I have made the difficult decision to implement a mandatory unpaid furlough for all exempt staff. This furlough will replace the current earned day-off program,” Johnston wrote in the memo, which was obtained by theBreaker.news. “The furlough will be implemented immediately through the imposition of one day of unpaid leave in each two-week pay period. The impact on our gross salary in each pay period will be a reduction of approximately 10%.”

The furlough will last until Dec. 17, but could end sooner if the city’s finances improve.

The city will not adjust salary ranges this year and is planning to defer merit-based pay raises for those employees paid “less than the maximum of the applicable range,” Johnston wrote.

“Those increases will take effect on October 1.”

Johnston, who was paid $362,852 last year, also suggested those interested in voluntarily transitioning to part-time work speak to their manager.

“In very limited circumstances, we will be considering exceptions to the mandatory furlough for exempt employees who are deployed exclusively to the City’s COVID response or other essential services and who cannot be released for an additional day in a given pay period.”

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Bob Mackin At the very same time Vancouver

Bob Mackin

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed March 25 that British Columbia’s inventory of personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses and paramedics had reached a “tenuous level.”

The World Health Organization had already raised the alarm on Feb. 7 about exhausted stockpiles and hyper-inflated prices on the world market.

Philip Twyford (LinkedIn)

Just how tenuous did B.C.’s shortage of masks become? 

According to an April 7 staff memo from Assistant Deputy Minister Philip Twyford, government staff visited every office they could and literally looked under desks in order to nick the N95 masks out of workers’ earthquake kits. 

Thousands of masks were redeployed from bureaucrats waiting for the Big One to the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

From: Twyford, Philip HLTH:EX
Sent: April 7, 2020 3:36 PM
To: HLTH All MOH Employees
Subject: N95 masks from earthquake kit

Good afternoon;

As you know, we are currently experiencing a global demand for masks that can assist in infection control. They are critical for the safety of front-line health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many public service employees are working remotely at this time, the masks that are in earthquake kits in BC Public Service offices have been collected to meet the immediate need for additional personal protective equipment. This was a cross government effort which provided thousands of masks to front-line health workers.

Facilities staff went to each workspace and removed the earthquake kits to check for masks.  As a result, some workspaces may have been slightly disturbed when the masks were retrieved.  Staff placed the earthquake kits on the floor, and did not reattach them to desks and other surfaces, so we can replenish the kits when a supply is available for this purpose.

Thank you for your understanding,

Philip

Philip Twyford, CPA, MBA, C.Dir

Assistant Deputy Minister and Executive Financial Officer

Finance & Corporate Services Division

Some of the N95s under the desks in government offices could have been gathering dust for a decade or two. Are they still useful? The answer is maybe. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control guidance about Use of N95 Respirators Beyond the Manufacturer-Designated Shelf Life for Training and Fit Testing:

Emergency Desk Kit (DCV.gov.bc.ca)

In times of shortage, consideration can be made to use N95 respirators beyond the manufacturer-designated shelf life. However, expired respirators might not perform to the requirements for which they were certified. Over time, components such as the strap and material may degrade, which can affect the quality of the fit and seal. Because of this, use of expired respirators could be prioritized for situations where HCP [health care professionals] are NOT exposed to pathogens, such as training and fit testing.  As expired respirators can still serve an important purpose, healthcare facilities should retain and reserve all N95 respirators during the pandemic.

At his April 13 news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said more PPE arrived over the weekend.

“Our supply continues to arrive in amounts that’s keeping us ahead of the need,” Dix said. “We’d love to say we’re in a position that where we’re flush for a long time. That is still no longer the case. We still have to work on this, both on the supply side and ensuring that we use PPE properly.”

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Bob Mackin Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

Bob Mackin

A cargo plane arrived April 12 at Vancouver International Airport from Shanghai, carrying millions of pieces of personal protective equipment.

CargoJet PPE flight from Shanghai on April 12 in Vancouver (theBreaker.news Exclusive)

The CargoJet Boeing 767 later continued on to Edmonton with gear earmarked for Canadian healthcare workers on the frontlines in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

A CargoJet flight also arrived April 11 at YVR, en route to Hamilton. The company said it the gear totalled 75,000 pounds. Costs have not been released. 

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said 109,500 N95 respirators, 51,000 face shields and 1.2 million gloves arrived over Easter weekend.

“Our supply continues to arrive in amounts that’s keeping us ahead of the need,” Dix said at an April 13 news conference. “We’d love to say we’re in a position that where we’re flush for a long time. That is still no longer the case. We still have to work on this, both on the supply side and ensuring that we use PPE properly.”

The CargoJet deliveries are part of the better-late-than-never effort to outfit doctors, nurses, paramedics and others.

Just over two months ago, the head of the World Health Organization said demand was 100 times normal and prices 20 times higher than normal for masks, respirators, goggles, gloves and gowns. Stockpiles were exhausted and factory orders backlogged as much as six months.

Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations donation at VGH on April 9 (Dawa)

That did not stop the Trudeau Liberal government from shipping a 16-tonne donation to China in early February. Around the same time, business and cultural groups in Metro Vancouver that are loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, and its United Front foreign influence campaign, went on a buying spree.

The Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations sent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of scarce Canadian PPE to China.

Just before Easter weekend, CACA said it donated $120,000 worth of PPE and cash to Vancouver-area hospitals.

CACA head Yongtao Chen traveled last year as a guest of the Chinese government to the national congress and celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule.

READ more here.

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Bob Mackin A cargo plane arrived April 12

On this week’s edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, Jim Mullin of TSN and Football Canada provides the View from Bowen Island, the idyllic home to 3,700 in Howe Sound.

Mullin has been under the weather with flu and is among the many in British Columbia who have been unable to get tested for coronavirus in B.C. Coincidentally, he stayed at a downtown Vancouver hotel near the Pacific Dental Conference in early March, which turned out to be the site of a well-publicized coronavirus outbreak.

Jim Mullin (Twitter)

“I’m well on my way to getting better, but it’s still kind of frightening to know that without a test, you don’t really know how you can function in society yet,” Mullin told host Bob Mackin.

Mullin also gave his take on the Canadian Football League’s decision last week to delay the start of the 2020 regular season until at least July. Mullin, who hosts Krown Gridiron Nation on TSN, said the CFL is facing a more complicated situation than it appears.

American players would need to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival, at a hefty cost to the teams. A Labour Day weekend kickoff would be likely. Would the season be as few as eight games with playoffs culminating in the Grey Cup, as scheduled, in Regina? Or would there be a 12 to 16 game season, with the Grey Cup in January?

“There are sources that have said to me everything is on the table,” Mullin said.

Then there are the fans. Would they be comfortable returning to stadiums after social distancing in the spring? Would they be able to afford tickets anymore? And what about the potential for a dreaded second wave of the virus?

“You could start a season that could conceivably not have an end,” Mullin said.

Listen to the full interview.

Also, listen to highlights of free press advocates discussing the challenges for media in a time of crisis. United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye and Committee to Protect Journalists’ Courtney Radisch spoke on the International Centre for Journalists webinar on April 8.

Plus coronavirus headlines from the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim,

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to TuneIn or Apple Podcasts.

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theBreaker.news Podcast: The view from Bowen Island
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On this week's edition of theBreaker.news Podcast,

Bob Mackin

Yongtao Chen (second from right) with Chinese consul officials on Feb. 12 (Canadian Sichuan Association)

The real estate investor who heads a Richmond-based umbrella group aligned with the Chinese Communist Party led a campaign to donate $120,000 in medical supplies and money to Lower Mainland hospitals on April 9.

But, three months earlier, Yongtao Chen of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations spearheaded the bulk purchase of Canadian supplies of masks, goggles, disinfectant and clothing for shipment to China, as the coronavirus was spreading from Wuhan around the country.

Just before Easter weekend, Chen and members of CACA visited Vancouver General Hospital, Richmond General Hospital and Burnaby General Hospital, where they delivered boxes containing 36,000 masks and 1,700 pieces of clothing. They also came with $8,000 cheques for each of the hospitals. Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver was also provided a $5,100 cheque.

“With the domestic epidemic situation in our home country gradually stabilizing and the Canadian epidemic situation intensifying, we should contribute to this beautiful home where we live in the spirit of connecting hands, guarding the soil, working side by side, and fighting the epidemic together,” read a translation of the post on the Dawa website.

In January, Chen and CACA raised $150,000 to buy masks, gloves and clothing in Canada to send to China. On Feb. 12, he was photographed with officials of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver arranging logistics for the donation of 1,400 cases of personal protective equipment worth almost $500,000 for shipment to Sichuan province in China.

Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations donation at VGH on April 9 (Dawa)

CACA, which Chen chairs, is an umbrella organization for hundreds of businesses and cultural groups aligned with consulate and affiliated with the Communist Party’s United Front foreign influence and lobbying program.

Chen was one of 40 foreign delegates invited by the Chinese government to attend the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March 2019. He returned to Beijing last October for the 70th anniversary celebration of Communist Party rule and travelled with Hilbert Yiu, the president of the Chinese Benevolent Association in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Yiu coordinated an ad campaign last summer against the Hong Kong pro-democracy protest movement.

On April 3, Consul General Tong Xiaoling and her staff hosted a so-called “health package” distribution ceremony at the consular mansion in Shaughnessy. The packages were offered via WeChat to students from China in K-12 and university who are in the area.

Yongtao Chen (left), Wang Dianqi and Hilbert Yiu at China’s 70th anniversary celebration in Beijing. (Canada TCNews/WeChat)

The safety and health of overseas Chinese students has always been a concern of the party and the country,” read a translation of the consular website’s Chinese page. “To help everyone do their personal epidemic prevention work, the party and the government promptly distribute to Chinese students in countries seriously affected by the epidemic with masks, disinfectant wipes, and guidelines for epidemic prevention.”

The previous week, Tong donated 500 N95 masks to Vancouver General and St. Paul’s hospitals.

Dr. Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, warned Feb. 7 that PPE demand was 100 times normal and prices 20 times higher because of the widespread non-medical use of PPE.

“There are now depleted stockpiles and backlogs of four-to-six months,” Tedros said. “Global stocks of masks and respirators are now insufficient to meet the needs of WHO and our partners.”

The federal government went ahead anyway with a 16-tonne donation shipment to China that was announced Feb. 9.

Chinese consulate mansion in Vancouver April 3 (Frank Qi/Canadian Program Centre)

On March 25, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called B.C. was going through “way more PPE than we expected, so we are on a tenuous level.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on April 4 announced chartered cargo flights by Cargojet and Air Canada to import more PPE from China where the government had leased a warehouse in China to collect and distribute items as quickly as possible.

Did the donations pass quality control and get into the hands of doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients? Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson declined to comment on specific donations.

PPE imports have not been without pitfalls. Netherlands, Toronto and Ireland have been forced to recall hundreds of thousands of masks and other items. Former UFC champ Conor McGregor took to Twitter to complain about shoddy quality and price gouging.

“Ludicrously inhumane behaviour,” Tweeted McGregor, Ireland’s most-famous athlete.

Consul General Tong Xiaoling on April 3 (Frank Qi/Canadian Program Centre)

At his April 9 news conference, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said “we’re taking our time to inspect and test any and all PPE that comes into B.C. before it gets near the health care system.”

Dix said the B.C. government bought 800,000 surgical masks, 54,000 N95 masks, 157,000 isolation gowns and 85,000 pairs of gloves, and received 900,000 surgical masks and 36,000 N95 masks from the federal government.

Dix also said there were donations of 100,000 surgical masks, 83,000 N95 masks, 20,000 pairs of gloves and 1,760 protective coveralls.

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Bob Mackin [caption id="attachment_9754" align="alignright" width="471"] Yongtao Chen

Bob Mackin

The sudden halt to the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to layoffs in the thousands at one of Canada’s biggest privately owned hotel and restaurant companies.

Northland Properties senior VP Taj Kassam (Twitter)

Northland Properties Corporation of Vancouver continues to employ hundreds to operate its Sandman Hotels and Sutton Place hotel chains and Denny’s and Moxie’s restaurants for take-out and delivery. 

“We’ve been hit as an industry, deep and severe,” senior vice president of corporate affairs Taj Kassam said in an interview. 

Kassam declined to specify how many of the company’s 12,000 employees were let go and how many remain.

“We are a major employer,” he said. “We basically looked at how to keep the company in a position where it can come out of this dire state.”

Northland Properties-owned North Shore Denny’s (Mackin)

Senior leadership took 40% pay cuts, bonuses are suspended and they are working longer hours. “There’s a lot of dedicated senior leaders in this company, this is a family-owned company with a lot of family values and we’ve maintained that all along.”

The family is the Gaglardi family. Patriarch Bob Gaglardi was ranked 15th on the CEOWorld magazine list of richest in Canada last year, with an estimated $3 billion fortune. His son, president Tom Gaglardi, declined an interview request.

“We were, on a Friday, talking about some business strategies and, by Monday, the world had changed,” Kassam said, referring to the pivotal final weekend of winter. “It came very quickly, we have reacted accordingly.”

Mass-cancellations and legislated closures came on the cusp of what was expected to be a busy spring break and Easter period with favourable conditions at its ski resorts, Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Grouse Mountain. Instead, they are like ghost towns after public health officials and politicians implored citizens to stay home. 

Northland Properties CEO Tom Gaglardi (right) and Gary Bettman (YouTube)

In the company’s hockey division, Kamloops Blazers laid-off about a dozen staff. The rest of the Western Hockey League season and playoffs were cancelled, as was the Memorial Cup. For the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League, the rest of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs are both in limbo. Commissioner Gary Bettman told NBCSN April 7 that it “may not be possible” to complete the regular season.

Stars president Jim Lites and general manager Jim Nill both took 50% pay cuts.

“The Gaglardis have been really good to us, they’ve always said yes to us on things we’ve needed to do to build the franchise,” Lites told the Dallas Morning News.

The economic crash came on the heels of major resort acquisitions: Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in Dublin last October and the January purchase of Grouse Mountain from Chinese concern China Minsheng Investment Group (CMIG). Northland has not revealed what it paid, but Portmarnock was offered for the equivalent of $76.35 million, while Grouse’s asking price was $200 million when CMIG bought in 2017.

In February, Northland also bought two blocks in Dallas on the north and west sides of the Stars’ home rink, American Airlines Center, with plans to build a hotel and a conference centre. The company also has hotel projects on the go in Saskatoon and Halifax.

Northland Properties-owned Grouse Mountain (Mackin)

Tourism Industry Association of B.C. said member hotels saw occupancy drop to below 10%  at a time of year when 60-70% occupancy is normal. Kassam said some of Northland’s downtown and airport hotels dropped to 10-15% occupancy, but those in northern B.C. still enjoy blue collar guests.

Is the company capitalized to withstand the storm?

“We intend to get through this, that’s the reason we’ve taken the measures we’ve taken, we are committed to get through this,” Kassam said.

“At this stage, when we look at the horizon, we don’t have [sale of assets] on our horizon. With all the help the government has done to make sure our employees are well-protected and looked after, we have a plan in place.”

Restaurants Canada estimates 800,000 foodservice jobs were lost nationwide since March 1. It jointly lobbied the federal government for relief, with Hotel Association of Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. Part of the $107 billion federal plan includes deferred GST and HST payments until June, loans, credit and the 75% Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. The latter program is for employers that suffered a plunge in monthly revenue of at least 30%, on a year-over-year basis. 

“We’re in trying times and I hope we get through this very quickly and put everybody’s lives on track again,” Kassam said. “So we are certainly diligently working towards making sure that we as soon as we can bring our employees back.”

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Bob Mackin The sudden halt to the economy