Should B.C. bubble-up with neighbours?

Canada’s four Atlantic Provinces have agreed to open their borders to each other on July 3, creating a regional pandemic bubble. What are the opportunities for B.C.?

image: Britannica

The Atlantic bubble means that travellers within the region will not be required to self-isolate after crossing the borders. Travellers will have show proof of residency with a driver’s licence or health card.

As we know from creating bubble families, picking who you want to bubble up with is tricky -a bit like asking someone to dance. Who is desirable? Are they available? Do they practice safe social intercourse?

For the Atlantic Provinces, it was easy. Not only are they attractive because they form a natural geographic area but also there are no active COVID-19 cases, with the exception of New Brunswick and that was caused by a doctor who was infected upon returning from Quebec. They form a natural regional bubble that’s desirable, available, and safe.

Countries can bubble up with neighbours as well. While not quite bubbles, the European Union has loosened border restrictions this week to 15 countries including Canada but not the U.S. Russia, or Brazil. The loosening includes countries that have controlled the spread of COVID-19.

But while some countries are desirable, they are not available. New Zealand makes an appealing partner because they have largely contained the virus. But they want nothing to do with bubbling after three new travel-related cases were reported.

Canada’s travel and tourism industries want to bring more countries to the dance floor. In an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau in the Globe and Mail, they say 14-day quarantines and travel restrictions are “no longer necessary” and are “out of step with other countries across the globe,”

Trudeau objects, saying that lifting travel restrictions now “would lead to a resurgence that might well force us to go back into lockdown.”

Epidemiologists agree with Trudeau. Lauren Lapointe-Shaw, general internist and clinical epidemiologist says: “Travel is the one segment of the economy that probably has the greatest potential to derail our ability to stay out of lockdown.”

The problem is not just being in a metal tube hurtling through the sky with dozens of other passengers, it’s the dangers that await you on landing. “When people travel, they don’t travel to stay indoors with their close travel companion at their arrival destination,” Dr. Lapointe-Shaw said. “Travel does have an outsized effect on the ability of outbreaks to grow quickly.”

When B.C. is stares across the dance floor at potential partners to bubble with, there are Alberta and Washington State.

B.C.’s relations with Alberta are a bit prickly. Last month, travelers with Alberta plates have received nasty notes and had tires slashed. One Alberta traveler had a note attached to his windshield reading: “F-ck off back to Alberta! Supposed to be not doing non-essential travel.” Soon after, he also noticed a large scratch on the side of his car.

The love with Alberta just isn’t there.

Washington State forms a natural geographic area with B.C. It’s part of Cascadia, a loose association of bioregions along the West Coast. While appealing, Washington is off limits as the U.S. spirals into an every-growing deadly pandemic.

It looks like B.C. will have to sit out this dance.

Why capitalists should support the European Union

Like most Canadians, I favour the European Union and have a negative opinion of Brexit. According to a poll by Carleton University, 75 per cent of Canadians have positive or somewhat positive opinion of the E.U. and 64 per cent are unsympathetic or somewhat unsympathetic of Brexit.

European Union flag. Image: Vector illustration.

Curiously, Canadian views are partisan. More Conservatives are sympathetic of Brexit than Liberals and New Democrats (46, 13, and 8 per cent, respectively). What’s odd about Conservative sympathy is that Brexit will hurt the flow of British capital.

Equally odd is support for Brexit by Britain’s Tory Party, the traditional party of capital.  Neil Davidson, author and professor at the University of Glasgow, explains:

“The Tory Party is not acting in the interests of British capital in pushing through Brexit. This dereliction of its duty is the result of how ruling-class parties have evolved in the neoliberal era (Harper’s, October, 2019).”

This is further evidence of the shift in conservative values towards populism. The Republican Party in the U.S. no longer has capitalism as a core value, rather it owes fealty to a reckless madcap leader who supporters see as maverick. Britain’s Boris Johnson has the same eccentric appeal.

Here’s why rational conservatives should support the European Union:

“Given the illusions many on the left have about the E.U., it’s ironic that its structure corresponds quite closely to the model of ‘interstate federalism’ devised by the economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1939,” says Davidson. “Hayek, in many ways the intellectual forerunner of neoliberalism, proposed that economic activity in a federal Europe should be governed by a set of nonnegotiable rules presided over by a group of unelected bureaucrats, without any elected members of government and irrational voters getting in the way,”

British capitalists have always been in favour of the E.U. as a replacement for their colonies. As the British Empire imploded and colonies became self-governing and resistant to exploitation, British capital sought new opportunities for investment and found them right next door.

Not only Britain, but capitalists in Germany and France looked within Europe itself for opportunities. Global capital needed outlets for investment beyond the boundaries of individual states. At a time when decolonization across the Global South reduced slavery as a source of cheap labour, the E.U. provided a means for capitalism within Western Europe.

Contrary to my impression of the E.U. as being a foil to the rising U.S. military industrial complex, the E.U. benefited the U.S. as well. The E.U. was a political and economic complement to the NATO military alliance in Europe, part of Washington’s Cold War imperial project.

The global economic crisis in 2008 exposed the structural inequalities of the E.U. as not a union of equals. Germany imposed austerity measures on weaker states, throwing countries such as Greece into depressions.

The E.U. is a model of globalization in which “free trade” is the advertised objective but the imposition of non-trade clauses, such as copyright and protection of Big Pharma patents, is a primary goal.

The E.U. is more undemocratic than any of the nation-states that compose it, including Britain. Its least democratic institutions such as the European Commission and the European Global Central Bank have the most power while the nominally democratic European Parliament has the least. It’s a undemocratic institution designed to prevent social democrats from infringing on the logic of capital in Europe.

Brexit will diminish the power of capitalism as we move into an era of populism and protectionism characterized by the Trump administration.

My hope is that organic movements, such as climate activism, will rise to restore sanity in resolving the greatest threat to humanity.

Seeing red in food dyes

They have no nutritional value; they are completely unnecessary; and they are harmful to health. Yet food dyes are added in growing amounts.

Blue #1 and Blue #2 banned in Norway, Finland and France,

Blue #1 and Blue #2 banned in Norway, Finland and France,

If you read food labels, as I do, you won’t necessarily find them listed.  Health Canada reluctantly allows dyes to be labelled as “colours,” which obscures what they really are.

“Regulations provide food manufacturers with the choice of declaring added colour(s) by either their common name or simply as ‘colours’.”

I say reluctantly because Health Canada recognizes that current labelling is a problem. They would prefer that all colours be listed by their common name or by the Colour Identification number. And they want natural colours, which can cause allergic or sensitivity responses, to be listed as well.

To get some idea of what such labelling might look like, the European Union has the following regulation in place since 2010.

“This regulation requires that the synthetic colours sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102), and Ponceau 4R (E124) be labelled by their common names or E numbers in the list of ingredients along with the following warning statement: ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’.

What was once only suspected is now confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the 1970s, more than 30 studies have been conducted on the adverse affects of dyes. Two large studies done in the United Kingdom found that they affect the behaviour of children in the general population.

When food dyes are eliminated, adverse behaviour is reduced in children. A report from Center for Science in the Public Interest released earlier this year states:

“The mounting evidence has led to a growing consensus among researchers, physicians, psychologists, and others who treat patients with such behavioural disorders as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that avoidance of food dyes benefits some children.”

The dyes in just a single cupcake or glass of Kool-Aid can be enough to prompt adverse behavioural reactions in some children. If the U.S. numbers are projected to Canada, fifty thousand children suffer adverse behavioural reactions after ingesting food dyes with a cost of hundreds of millions to our health care system.

The United Kingdom regulates dyes in foods, especially those which appeal to children. Take McDonald’s Strawberry Sundae, for example. In the UK the ingredients are Strawberries (38%), Sugar, Glucose, Syrup, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Acidant (Citric Acid).  In the U.S., the percentage of strawberries is not shown and while the other ingredients are similar, Red 40 has been added.

The food industry likes food dyes because they can reduce or eliminate any natural ingredients without any change in appearance.

The harm to children and the costs to society from dyes are needless and preventable. If Health Canada recognizes food dyes as being harmful, why hasn’t the Government of Canada acted on their concerns? The short answer is that the Government of Canada during the Dark Decade preferred to let industry regulate itself.

Elimination of harmful food dyes is just one more things on the current government’s to-do list. No doubt Canadians will have to remind them of their duty to protect the health of children.