Taskforce aims to bolster rural physicians

Taskforce aims to bolster rural physicians

(latest in CMAJ)

Having worked in the interior of British Columbia since 1989 Dr. John Soles life as a rural family physician has been nothing like his urban colleagues. He has done “the full spectrum,” he says, from delivering babies and treating colds to mentoring young physicians and managing the business side of his practice.

“It’s about how to work with fewer resources and always dealing with a degree of uncertainty,” says Soles, president of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada (SRPC).

Although about 18% of Canadians live in rural or remote areas, only 14% of family physicians practise there. Adding to their stress is the fact that family physicians provide 85% of primary care needs. Continue reading “Taskforce aims to bolster rural physicians”

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Rampant corruption tests Ukrainians’ patience

(latest in the Winnipeg Free Press)

This month marks the second anniversary of Ukraine’s bloody revolution on the Maidan, but no one’s in a mood to celebrate.

“People here are in a state of total depression,” a friend told me this week from Kyiv. “People are frustrated. Nobody sees any prospects here.”

The statistics back this up. One poll released in January showed Ukrainians are feeling worse about the future than ever before. The percentage of Ukrainians who reported being satisfied with their standard of living dropped 10 per cent in 2015. More than one-third of Ukrainians reported they felt they were “suffering” — the highest among all post-Soviet countries surveyed — alongside less than 10 per cent who said they were “thriving.”

“I think the main cause of this depression isn’t the war,” my friend said. “It’s the government. We have the same problems as before: corruption and bribery.”

Take a look at what Ukraine’s government has done in the last few weeks and it’s easy to see why Ukrainians are so frustrated.

Earlier this month, the economy minister was the latest in a wave of reformers to resign. He accused President Petro Poroshenko’s right-hand man of standing in the way of anti-corruption reforms and trying to take control of the ministry to oversee sales of lucrative state-owned energy assets.

Last week, Poroshenko looked like he was taking a stand when he called for the resignation of the prosecutor-general, a man who hasn’t pursued a single high-profile, anti-corruption case in his tenure. Problem is, no one is sure right now whether he’s actually resigned, or just gone on vacation — by law, Ukrainian officials can’t be fired if they’re on vacation.

Poroshenko also called for the resignation of unpopular Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a man who’s long been accused of protecting the interests of Ukraine’s wealthy oligarchs and dragging his feet on anti-corruption reforms.

But while Ukraine’s parliament passed a resolution expressing dissatisfaction with Yatsenyuk and his cabinet, the vote to oust him from power failed. Three dozen MPs from Poroshenko’s party curiously decided not to vote in favour of ousting the prime minister, even though they’d voted for the resolution just 15 minutes earlier. A backroom deal had apparently been reached to keep Yatsenyuk in office, and the hands of Ukraine’s wealthy oligarchs were all over it, keen on keeping their exclusive access to the corridors of power.

Ukraine’s government will find itself in deep trouble if it doesn’t take the fight against corruption and the power of the oligarchs more seriously. The International Monetary Fund has told the government its four-year, US$17.5-billion bailout could be withdrawn unless meaningful anti-corruption reforms are put in place. A $1.7-billion tranche of that funding has been withheld since October, waiting for reforms that haven’t happened yet.

Ukraine’s economy is already struggling, and without western assistance, it will crumble. Even with western assistance, Ukraine’s economy contracted by 10 per cent in 2015, and the value of the hryvnya, its currency, keeps plunging. But, as Glib Vyshlinsky of Kyiv’s Centre for Economic Strategy told Agence France-Presse: “There are no other sources of foreign assistance. Turning to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is not an option.”

But without anti-corruption reforms, and without help and pressure from the West, there’s a real risk Ukraine will fall back into the Kremlin’s nihilistic, kleptocratic orbit and the revolution on the Maidan will have been for nothing — exactly what Putin wants.

It’s worrying then many Ukrainians feel like nothing has changed.

“Everything’s starting to be just like it was before,” another friend from western Ukraine said. “Everybody is so tired of all this. People are just trying to survive.”

Russia’s bald-faced lies

Russia’s bald-faced lies

(My latest in the National Post)

We can complain all we want about lying politicians in our own country, but last week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stepped up and showed us how it’s really done: without batting an eye, he told a press conference that Russia had never violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the agreement that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity (including Crimea) in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.

“If you’re talking about the Budapest Memorandum, we have not violated it,” he told a journalist. “It contains only one obligation — not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.”

There’s a few big problems with that statement, least of which is the fact that there are actually six obligations in the Budapest Memorandum, and the first of them is “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

Even worse was the Russian embassy in the U.K.’s ham-handed attempt to broadcast Lavrov’s bold new interpretation on Twitter. It provided a link to the text of the Budapest Memorandum itself with all six obligations, including the ones Russia has clearly violated — right there for everyone to see.

 Keep in mind that Lavrov wasn’t just Russia’s ambassador to the UN back in 1994; he actually signed the original Budapest Memorandum. He hasn’t been foreign minister for 12 years because he’s an idiot. He was lying, he knew he was lying and he knew everyone knew he was lying — and he didn’t care.

In the words of American diplomat Steven Pifer, who helped negotiate the Budapest Memorandum, “what does it say about the mendacity of Russian diplomacy and its contempt for international opinion when the foreign minister says something that can be proven wrong with less than 30 seconds of Google fact-checking?”

The answer: it says that, when it comes to the Kremlin, we’re dealing with a way of lying we’re not used to seeing. It’s a black-knight-from-Monty-Python-esque style of lying that makes dealing with Putin and company on issues like Ukraine and Syria such a nightmare.

Yes, our politicians lie, but they tend to be a bit more crafty about it. They lie by omission: they’ll answer part of a question; they’ll fudge a number or base a figure on something that doesn’t make any sense. Our politicians don’t often stand up and tell us something we all know is a total lie.

Why? Because, believe it or not, our politicians actually have some respect for us. They know we can go online and check the veracity of something before they’ve even finished their speech. They know we have a media that, for all its faults, will gleefully call them out on it. When they lie, they want us all to believe it.

Russian politicians, on the other hand, aren’t interested in concepts like respect or believability. It doesn’t matter if you actually cut Putin’s arm off. He doesn’t care that you can see it right there on the ground. “’Tis but a scratch,” he’ll say. He won’t budge. And he’ll insist it’s a flesh wound until, like his admission of Russian soldiers in Crimea, he quietly admits that, yeah, you did actually cut it off. But then he’ll go one step further and deny ever denying that you cut it off.

It’s a kind of mental gymnastics that drives Russia-watchers like me up the wall, and it extends to Russia’s echo-chamber state media. Russia’s Channel One fabricated a now-infamous story of a young boy apparently being crucified on a bulletin board in a town square by the Ukrainian army. They also told Germany’s large Russian-speaking diaspora that a young Russian-German girl was kidnapped and raped by migrants in Berlin, even though it’s since come out that she was hiding from her parents. The TV station Zvezda has even made up quotes from Western journalists to lend credibility to fake pro-Kremlin stories.

It’s hard for us to grasp the ridiculousness of all this, but that’s because these lies really aren’t designed to convince anyone. If these lies convince just a few nutters or populist politicians in Europe to mouth off and shift the debate Moscow’s way, then they’ve succeeded. But as we in the West finally begin to pay more attention to the Kremlin’s antics, we’re starting to catch on.