Old News is Still News in 2019

Welcome to 2019! As I write, I’ve already used up 19 days of a brand new year, and by the time anyone reads this, there will be 342 days left in which to accomplish anything, whether of real value or not. Glancing back at the topics that grabbed my interest in 2018, I realized a number of them will continue to be a focus in 2019.

Take the 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in August of 2017 and whose plight was given full press coverage — through horrific stories and pictures — in early 2018 but now seems to be traveling well below the radar. Granted, a UN report issued in August accused the Myanmar military of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for the prosecution of the commander-in-chief and five generals — but the Rohingya themselves remain in refugee camps — many had their homes destroyed  — and may never be able to return to their own territory. The start of a new year doesn’t seem to offer them any hope whatsoever.

The lack of reporting on the Rohingya, though, may be be due to a competing disaster in Yemen which is generating nightly pictures of starving children, over 85,000 of whom have died since war broke out there six years ago. PBS reporter Jane Ferguson has documented the cases of children abandoned by parents no longer able to provide for them:

The war in Yemen has devastated the economy. Millions are out of work, and the price of food and fuel has spiked. It is home to the worst humanitarian suffering in the world, with countless families unable to feed themselves.

And while we’re told that food has been delivered to the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, attacks on the port and warehouses mean it can’t be delivered to those suffering from malnutrition.

Rohingya refugees in refugee camp in Bangladesh, 2017 (Photo by Zlatica Hoke, VOA, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rohingya refugees in refugee camp in Bangladesh, 2017 (Photo by Zlatica Hoke, VOA, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

The sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, which inspired a number of my columns in 2018, will continue to rate discussion and ink in 2019, no doubt about it.

In December, for instance, the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus — the Jesuit province serving “much of the eastern United States” — released the names of Jesuit priests (five still living, eight now dead) who faced “credible or established” accusations of sexual abuse of minors dating to 1950, meaning – do the math – 68 years of abuse only now being acknowledged. As the Guardian reported, the revelations were:

…the latest in a string of similar disclosures from Jesuit governing bodies. Earlier this month, two other Jesuit provinces that cover nearly half the US released the names of more than 150 priests and other ministry leaders found to have “credible allegations” of sexual abuse made against them.

While some of the abusers were removed from ministry in the 1990s, others were left unscathed until the sexual abuse scandal exploded in Boston in 2002. The Jesuits settled 500 abuse claims in Oregon alone for $166 million in 2011. (In the case of the Maryland Jesuits,  the five living accused were reported to be living in supervised housing under “a safety plan.” Whether it was their safety or that of potential victims being guarded was not specified.)

Protesters gather outside the hotel in Baltimore where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was meeting during its fall general assembly. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

Protesters gather outside the hotel in Baltimore where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was meeting during its fall general assembly. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

My last column in December gave me some of the best lines I’ve ever written about poverty – not my lines, mind you, but those of Lars Osberg, professor of economics at Dalhousie University and author of The Age of Increasing Inequality: The Astonishing Rise of Canada’s 1%; and William Carroll, professor of sociology at the University of Victoria, BC and J.P. Sapinski, assistant professor of environmental studies at Universite de Moncton, authors of Organizing The 1%: How Corporate Power Works.

All three include poverty, homelessness and food insecurity among the “negative impacts of corporate power.” The inequality between the 90% and the 1%, according to Osberg, matters for many reasons – “the poverty of the disadvantaged, the growing gap between the poor and the middle class, and escalating consumption” and Osberg, Carroll and Sapinski all agree that “wealth inequality is even worse than income inequality,” arguing that we must see past what the wealthy “own” to what they “control” via their “social status and political influence.”

Osberg’s contention, as I stated in last month’s column, is that if the 90% paid $378 a year extra in taxes, they could raise 5.2 million Canadians out of poverty and provide a “[guaranteed annual income]-type program” where “such payments are already taxed back when the household receives other income and the benefit would go to poor people.” According to Osberg, “the only feasible method is for government to increase taxes and to spend the money necessary to reduce poverty.”

In December, the CP’s Jordan Press reported that both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Social Development Minister, Jean-Yves Duclos “appear to be warming to the idea of a guaranteed national minimum income.” A GAI apparently means “different things to different people” but at its core is “a no-strings-attached payment governments provide instead of an assortment of targeted benefits.”

It’s a very hopeful sign that finally such an income is actually being considered. As I’ve mentioned before, Hugh Segal, former Conservative senator, has been promoting such an idea for a long time and worked with former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to establish a pilot project in that province, only to have it axed by Premier Doug Ford.

In his interview with CP, Duclos said:

“Whether this is going to be enhanced eventually to a broader guaranteed minimum income for all Canadians, including those without children that are not currently covered by a guaranteed minimum income at the federal level, I believe the answer is yes…At some point, there will be a universal guaranteed minimum income in Canada for all Canadians.”

As for when, Duclos was less clear: “One day we will get there too, but that day has not yet arrived.”

It would seem that it will come down to electing a government that has the courage to increase taxes for the 1% in order to raise up those in poverty. If Lars Osberg is right, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, would any one of the 90% miss $378 a year? I think not.

 

 

Here in our own bailiwick, while homelessness received provincial government attention not long after the early cold snap in November, the loudest complaints were reserved for the healthcare system and the changes proposed by the provincial government — a subject I know will be on my radar in 2019. Certain recent published remarks, however, prompt me to at least comment on certain of them.

While protesters were adamant in their conviction the planned changes were no good, few had any concrete suggestions as to what the government should be doing. I will concede that the way the healthcare changes were presented to the public back in June lacked guts, but I wouldn’t want to have been the one facing that booing crowd. (An excellent summary of the province’s plan appeared in the Cape Breton Spectator back in June.)

People with far deeper connections to the healthcare system than I have spoken out about changes to the system that would create healthcare teams, including doctors, nurses and “other health professionals.” Included in such teams would be Nurse Practitioners (NPs), a move that makes imminent sense to me but not so much to Dr. A.J. (Halifax-based family doctor Ajantha Jayabarathan) who, writing in the Chronicle Herald in January, seemed to denigrate their work (while offering no evidence to back her charges):

There is now mounting evidence of patient harm being reported by colleagues. Specialists and emergency room doctors report lack of confidence in NPs’ skills and experience, and are taking on more patient followup, which is adding to their workload.

Dr. A. J. also decries the fact that citizens can receive the flu shot at pharmacies. One can still receive the flu shot from the family doctor but why not drop into a pharmacy if you are out and about? Why wouldn’t she sees these moves as a way to allow doctors time for more serious medical issues?

Healthcare consultant Mary Jane Hampton, in a Chronicle Herald piece dated January 15,  goes even further than Dr. A.J. in her criticism (and put down) of nurse practitioners. Hampton writes about a “recently released” document from Doctors Nova Scotia which made the case for family doctors as “the backbone of the primary health-care system.” The “elegantly written piece,” argues Hampton, is “clearly intended to stake territory without offending anyone in the process.” But, she continues:

…the politeness painfully avoids naming the real elephant in the room. The honest title of the paper would be “Why nurse practitioners can’t replace us,” because that is what many family doctors fear. They feel that their very existence as a profession is being evolved out of the health-care system in a process of extinction fuelled both by clumsy planning and insidious policy. And they may be right.

CBRM Health Redevelopment (Source: YouTube)

CBRM Health Redevelopment, Community Clinics (Source: YouTube)

Unfortunately, I think, her statement that NPs could make a decent living by seeing “only a quarter of the patients a doctor needs to churn through in a day to generate billings” is not the most flattering or, I would hope, accurate representation of how family doctors operate (no pun intended). I have yet to hear of anyone in all the recent discussion about the health-care system carrying a poster stating that every person in the province should have a nurse practitioner, but they would obviously be an asset in any “team” approach toward a revised system that would only improve on what is presently being offered.

Dr. Bob Martel, presently a palliative care physician in West Arichat, seems to state the obvious when he says (in a January 15/2019 Cape Breton Post column) that anyone seeking healthcare would want it provided by “the most appropriate person in the most appropriate place.” The most appropriate person, he says, could be “a paramedic, a mental health worker, a nurse practitioner, a social worker or a family physician” (to which I would add another obvious choice, a nurse.)

Martel offers four steps which he suggests would make a difference in “the mess” our healthcare system has become, number one being a change in the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) which, in four years, he says, “has failed to produce what they promised and must go.” I especially like his idea that claiming “the supremacy” of one healthcare provider over another is “counterproductive.” (Although, in the case of any unexpected healthcare emergency, I’m sure the first words heard will still be “Is there a doctor in the house?”)

Regardless, however, of how much of the 2018 news cycle will continue to dominate our lives (for better or worse) in 2019, it’s almost a universal thing to welcome each new year with hope. For some, the hope is that it will prove to be better than the year just ended and will actually present the opportunity to change course and take more control of their lives. For others, a new year offers a time to take stock of relationships with others that may have been lost in the shuffle of demands on our attention and our time.

A new year, most importantly, gives us all a chance to take a good look around and see that, for so many, the new date on the brand new calendar finds them caught in the same old circumstances — circumstances beyond their control, that limit their possibilities as they try merely to survive. Let’s hope that 2019 provides a chance for many more of us to reach out in whatever way possible to assist the less fortunate in our area by joining with the legions who are already deeply involved in such efforts and who will always welcome another pair of helping hands.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.

 

 

 

 

 

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