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THE IVORY SILO: Sacrificing the many

By Stewart Skinner

People seem to bristle when they are reminded that they are an animal no different than any other animal here in God’s creation. Each animal has the things that make them different from other animals, and humans have done a good job at developing a plethora of skills no other animal figured out – but we are still animals none the less.

A few years ago while working through a particularly challenging pig health issue there was an opportunity to learn a very valuable lesson regarding population health and the professionals that advise us. The veterinarian doesn’t always know the answer… in fact when it comes to especially difficult or novel situations, they are offering nothing more than a hypothesis for what to try first, and then experience becomes the teacher for what works and what doesn’t.

Managing the health of a population of animals requires strict focus on aggregate outcomes, the question isn’t, ‘what is best for the individual’; it is, ‘what is best for the herd’.  Perhaps that is why people really bristle; our self-absorbed society doesn’t like the implication that its individual health and wellness may be unimportant in the larger societal context. The good news is generally these two questions have the same answer. More often than not, what is good for the individual is also best for the herd. Sadly, right now we are caught in a situation where there is a diverse set of needs at an individual level and there is no course that can be picked that won’t cause suffering for some.

In the beginning, there was a willingness to give health professionals time to understand the problem knowing that, like my vet, no one really knew what to do. That patience has evaporated; Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Tam, and her provincial counterparts have been given enough time to come up with workable solutions that account for the risks of COVID while also considering all of the population health issues that existed before COVID-19. Regular people have been failed by every level of government this summer because no level of government has developed the courage to say what needs to be said. COVID-19 presents a marginal risk to herd health and in looking back we can see that in an attempt to mitigate risks, we have created multiple unintended consequences that negatively impact people far more than COVID-19.

Mental illness is one such variable that has been completely ignored to date. Frankly it is inexcusable just how ambivalent the larger medical community has been to mental health as it relates to COVID-19. According to the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 20 per cent of Canadians deal with mental illness and addiction on any given year and 70 per cent of these mental illnesses take root during childhood or adolescent years.

The cost burden on our health system from mental health issues is 700 per cent higher than all infectious diseases combined. Opioid use, largely tied to mental illness, now accounts for 12.5 per cent of all deaths in the 25-34 age demographic. By hyper focusing on an issue that has impacted less than 0.4 per cent of Canadians to date, we are causing more damage in the mental health area than we can ever hope to mitigate.

The needs of 7.5 million Canadians have been ignored to protect against an affliction that has a mortality rate of lower than 0.03 per cent. We have created instability for our children and teens that will lead to untold problems down the road – it cannot be stated firmly enough that 70 per cent of mental health illness is rooted in these formative years. Every day, Public Health officials and the media feed the manufactured hysteria with case counts while ignoring that aggregate mortality has been completely on historical trend since April is another day in which every Canadian who copes with mental illness has been failed.

The first step to better outcomes is to embrace that you are going to die. Fear of death is why people continue to act like lemmings even though there is no statistical validity whatsoever for the actions; stop cowering in fear and go out and live your life. Stop letting folks in Ottawa or Toronto scare you into thinking that normal life is somehow wrong when normal is what the vast majority of us actually need to be healthy. The inability of Dr. Tam and her associates to take into account a prevalent issue like mental health is unforgivable and should make us question every single recommendation given the many failures to date.

No person should ever be able to rise to the position of Chief Medical Officer if they can’t understand the most important rule, above all else: always do what is best for the herd. Failure of this magnitude should make every Canadian ask why we continue to let people like this wreak havoc on the lives of the people they are supposed to be protecting.


Stewart Skinner is a local business owner, former political candidate, and has worked at Queen’s Park as a Policy Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. He can be reached at or on Twitter: @modernfarmer.