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FIRST READING: Another ruinous lockdown just for old time’s sake


Also, the Americans are bombing Manitoba and pretending it’s China

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

There are plenty of politicians and public health types now telling Canadians to worry about omicron, but the country largely appears to be checking out . Just six months ago, nearly 70 per cent of Canadian supported a fresh round of lockdowns to respond to the delta variant. Now, support for lockdowns has dropped to barely half . As McGill University anthropologist Samuel Veissière told the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey last week , Canadians now “see evidence in their everyday life” that measures such as vaccination and masking have worked. He added, “they are making statistically correct assumptions by not panicking when a new variant causes more infections, but no spike in severe illness and death.”

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Meanwhile, things are going quite well in South Africa , the first country to record cases of the omicron variant. Of identified cases, omicron only sent 1.7 per cent of patients to hospital , compared to 19 per cent for South Africa’s prior waves of delta variant. Even that 1.7 per cent is inflated by the fact that milder cases are being admitted because there is now adequate space to hold them.

Canada’s population isn’t as young as South Africa’s, but so far Canadian omicron cases do seem to be rising without yielding the typical rate of hospitalizations that would be expected from prior COVID-19 waves . As of Friday, of 1,000 confirmed carriers of the omicron variant in Ontario, only two have required hospitalization.

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The big unknown with omicron, however, is its transmissibility . Even a dramatically milder version of COVID-19 can overwhelm the hospital system if it’s also dramatically more contagious. And if the recent experiences of Alberta and Saskatchewan are any guide, it only takes a few thousand extra hospitalizations to completely seize the Canadian health-care system .

A buck in Fort Nelson, B.C. pictured moments before attacking a front yard ornament shaped like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Homeowner Arlene Chmelyk told CBC News that the ornament is a frequent target of passing bucks, whose rutting season happens to coincide with Christmas.
A buck in Fort Nelson, B.C. pictured moments before attacking a front yard ornament shaped like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Homeowner Arlene Chmelyk told CBC News that the ornament is a frequent target of passing bucks, whose rutting season happens to coincide with Christmas. Photo by Facebook.com/Arlene Chmelyk

MORE COVID NEWS!

First, let’s start with a sampling of all the new restrictions …

  • B.C. cancelled New Year’s Eve. Not capacity limits or mandatory vaccine card checks; just a blanket ban on any and all organized New Year’s Eve events (including those hosted by Bryan Adams). They also banned sports tournaments and limited all large venues to 50 per cent capacity.
  • Ontario is going even harder on the capacity limits: In addition to sports stadiums, they’re halving it everywhere from gyms to restaurants to retail stores. For the 50 per cent of fans still allowed to attend a Toronto Maple Leafs of Raptors game, meanwhile, they’re not allowed to eat or drink in the stands anymore.
  • In Quebec, recreational pursuits such as karaoke and Christmas parties are now labelled “high-risk activities” and have been banned. Speaking on Friday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault would not rule out the possibility of reintroducing nightly curfews.
  • Those pain-in-the-butt PCR tests at the border are back. If you so much as step off Canadian soil for an afternoon, you’ll need a $150 negative PCR test to get back in.
  • And Ottawa still wants to seal off the borders to non-essential travellers, including a potential blanket ban on non-citizens. It was public pushback, including from provincial premiers, which convinced the feds last week to temporarily shelve the idea in favour of an advisory against non-essential travel.
  • Alberta actually relaxed some of their COVID restriction last week. Indoor gatherings are still limited to 10 people, but there’s now no cap on how many households can comprise those 10 people. They also don’t have to be vaccinated anymore.

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party just lost control of North Shropshire, a Tory seat so safe that it hasn’t been won by a non-Conservative since its creation nearly 200 years ago. Pictured here is the riding’s new MP, Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan, who clinched the seat in a byelection last week. In the U.K., election candidates all have to stand side-by-side on a stage to hear the final results, which is why Morgan is pictured here being congratulated by the riding’s Loony Party contender.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party just lost control of North Shropshire, a Tory seat so safe that it hasn’t been won by a non-Conservative since its creation nearly 200 years ago. Pictured here is the riding’s new MP, Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan, who clinched the seat in a byelection last week. In the U.K., election candidates all have to stand side-by-side on a stage to hear the final results, which is why Morgan is pictured here being congratulated by the riding’s Loony Party contender. Photo by Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Those lineups outside Ontario LCBOs weren’t for the season’s must-have Christmas gift. Rather, they were crowds of Ontarians desperate to get their hands on a rapid COVID-19 test kit, which last week Ontario starting giving out free at liquor stores. Within hours, however, the province’s supply of tests ran out .

A potentially chilling line item can be found deep within the federal government’s latest fiscal update : A $37.4 million budget allocation intended to fund enforcement of vaccine mandates for the next three years. Allocating money doesn’t mean it’s going to get spent, but it does mean that someone in the federal government suspects they’ll be requiring up-to-date vaccine cards to board airliners and trains as late as 2024 .

If you’re under the notion that Canadian public health leaders are out-of-touch boffins imposing all these measures without any regard for the broader consequences, then Ontario COVID-19 advisor Peter Juni hasn’t done you any favours. In a Thursday appearance on CBC, Juni told Ontarians to “ stop moaning ” regarding a slew of new restrictions including a 25 per cent capacity limit on restaurants. In a tweet, Canadian Federation of Independent Business CEO Dan Kelly called the comment “deeply insulting” to those in the restaurant sector. “His comment that ‘life will go on’ is true for those, like him, whose livelihood is not affected,” wrote Kelly .

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IN OTHER NEWS

The House of Commons disbanded almost as quickly as it began. By unanimous consent, Canada’s 338 MPs started Christmas Break a day early on Thursday, and they won’t be getting back to Ottawa until Jan. 31 (and that’s if they bother going to Ottawa at all, what with the virtual parliament). All told, the House of Commons only sat for 96 days in 2021.

For the first time in history there are now one million Nova Scotians, according to the latest Statistics Canada population counts. It’s quite a milestone for a part of the country that is normally hemorrhaging residents, and in a statement Premier Tim Houston used the milestone to declare “the world is learning how special Nova Scotia is.” Not to detract from Nova Scotia’s 400-year march towards one million, however, but it only takes about three years for one million babies to be born across Canada.

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A dozen new cell towers are being erected in the B.C. Interior for the express purpose of making it safer for young Indigenous women along the Highway of Tears , a 725 km stretch of B.C.’s Highway 16 notorious for abductions of young women. Better cell service has long been requested by the families of those who have gone missing along Highway 16, and it was one of the recommendations in the 2006 Highway of Tears Symposium Report.

If you live in the Prairies and see a U.S. Air Force B-52 flying overhead, do not be alarmed. As part of a program to better prepare for conflict in the Pacific, the U.S. is sending the iconic Cold War-era bombers on mock long-range bombing missions into Manitoba. The most recent of these “bomber agile combat employment” missions, conducted from Dec. 6 to 8, even saw bombs dropped on a special target range at CFB Shilo.
If you live in the Prairies and see a U.S. Air Force B-52 flying overhead, do not be alarmed. As part of a program to better prepare for conflict in the Pacific, the U.S. is sending the iconic Cold War-era bombers on mock long-range bombing missions into Manitoba. The most recent of these “bomber agile combat employment” missions, conducted from Dec. 6 to 8, even saw bombs dropped on a special target range at CFB Shilo. Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman

ECONOMIX

The Bank of England has raised its interest rates for the first time in three years. Rather than sitting at an absolutely rock-bottom 0.1 per cent, rates have risen to a somewhat less rock-bottom 0.25 per cent . With the move made specifically in a bid to control rising inflation on the British Pound, it’s a sign that the Bank of England’s central bank cousins – the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve – could also soon be throttling up their rock-bottom interest rates as well.

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Despite the Bank of Canada’s projections that inflation will taper off by the end of next year, University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz isn’t so sure. In an op-ed for the Financial Post , he wrote that there’s some pretty fundamental reasons that prices everywhere are spiking . Among them, Canada is facing a pretty severe labour shortage, energy is set to get way more expensive due to green policies, and governments keep blowing massive amounts of cash into the economy.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is pictured laughing it up with military brass in this 2017 photo. Laughing is currently banned in North Korea as part of a period of official mourning to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is pictured laughing it up with military brass in this 2017 photo. Laughing is currently banned in North Korea as part of a period of official mourning to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor. Photo by Korean Central News Agency

CULTURE WARS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dislikes his left-wing critics more than his right-wing critics . “What hit me harder, on a really personal level, was not the anger and the anti-everything of the far right, so much as the casual cynicism of the left,” he told the Toronto Star. Writing for The Line , Matt Gurney reflected on how weird it is that Trudeau – “a fairly standard centrist prime minister of a centrist big-tent party” – seems to feel he should be lauded as a progressive hero. “Perhaps he wishes he was something he’s not willing to actually be,” wrote Gurney.

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There are reports from within recent Tory caucus meetings that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is demanding his MPs stop talking publicly about Bill 21 , the two-year-old Quebec law that bans government employment to anyone who wears religious garb. Publicly, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has repeatedly said he doesn’t plan to oppose the law, although in a recent CBC interview he called it “unfair” and hinted that his party was going to “consult” on their response (he also accused Trudeau, whose position is basically the same, of trying to “play both sides of this”).

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here. 

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