According to polling exclusively for Global News, new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has overtaken Justin Trudeau as the preferred candidate for prime minister. Trudeau’s popularity has waned since first becoming prime minister in 2015 and people are looking for a change, explains Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs. “Their leader has become a drag on the ticket,” he says.
The so-called “freedom convoy” that blocked Parliament Hill and several Canada-U.S. border crossings may have dispersed earlier this year, but it won’t be leaving our political conversation anytime soon. At least, not if opponents of the federal Conservative Party and their new leader, Pierre Poilievre, have anything to say about it.
The most recent polling Ipsos conducted for Global News shows why.
The party most interested in reminding Canadians about ties between the convoy and Pierre Poilievre will be the Liberal Party. Why? The Liberals are in a very difficult spot. They currently trail the Conservatives in the national popular vote by five points. The Conservatives also lead the Liberals in all regions of the country west of Quebec, with a stunning seven-point lead in seat-rich Ontario. With these numbers, if an election were held tomorrow, the Conservatives would easily win a plurality of seats.
It gets worse for the Liberals.
Justin Trudeau trails Pierre Poilievre as preferred prime minister by about the same amount as the Liberal Party trails the Conservative Party on vote. Most worrying for the prime minister is how high his negatives are. Canadians who strongly disapprove of Trudeau outnumber those who strongly approve of him by a ratio of four-to-one. These negatives are also well ahead of those of Poilievre, who remains largely unknown to a significant number of Canadians.
Trudeau’s relationship with Canadians has gone through the full cycle of Ds: darling, to disappointment, to dislike. This situation will be difficult to reverse, even for a gifted politician like Trudeau.
Further on leadership, two data points jump out of the polling on how Canadians view Trudeau and Poilievre. Trudeau leads Poilievre by 16 points on which federal leader is most likely to “be in over his head.” This is astounding given that Trudeau has been prime minister for seven years and Canadians barely know Poilievre.
As worrying for the Liberals is that Poilievre and Trudeau are separated by only two points on which leader is most likely to have a hidden agenda. In the past, this issue has proven to be an Achilles Heel for the Conservatives. Not so much for the new Conservative leader.
If the Liberals can’t count on their governing record or the strength of their leader to provide them with an advantage going into the next election, then what about their strengths on policy? Unfortunately, there isn’t much for them to work with here either.
We asked Canadians about which issues they are most focused on for the next election. The top five that came back are: health care, the economy, housing, inflation/interest rates, and taxes. Unfortunately for the Liberals, the Conservatives lead on all these issues with the exception of health care, where there is a three-way tie. Even on the sixth issue, climate, a signature issue for the Liberals, the Liberals are tied with the NDP. In other words, the policy door is closed for the Liberals too.
If the Liberals can’t count on their record, their leader, or a specific policy issue to defeat the Conservatives in the next election then how will they win a fourth mandate? This is where the convoy comes back in. The poll shows Poilievre’s support of the protesters is a potential vulnerability available for the Liberals to exploit. The Liberals are too good at running effective, disciplined, and ruthless election campaigns to miss it.
Ipsos asked Canadians the following question: “As you know, Pierre Poilievre, the new leader of the Conservative Party, expressed his support for the freedom convoy protests that occurred in Ottawa and at border crossings last year. Are you more or less likely to vote for the Conservative Party because of his stance on this issue?”
Seventeen per cent of Canadians told us they would be more likely to vote for the Conservatives because of Poilievre’s support for the truckers. Conversely, 41 per cent said they would be less likely to vote for the Conservatives due to Poilievre’s position. Most importantly though, 41 per cent said Poilievre’s stance on the truckers would have no impact on their future vote.
If the numbers on the convoy continue as they are, then this issue won’t have much influence on the outcome of the next election. That’s because 58 per cent of Canadians either support Poilievre’s position or say it won’t factor into their vote.
The Liberals will not allow this much fence sitting to continue without challenge. They will push voters to pick a side. If the fence sitters split in the same ratio (roughly 2:1 to unfavourable) as those who have already made up their minds, then the Liberals will have something to work with. That’s why they will go all in on making the truck convoy and various adjacent issues the focus of their campaign. Otherwise, they can only wait for Poilievre to make a serious error or for some crisis to change their prospects. Nearly a decade in power has left the Liberals little else to work with.
Global News travelled to this isolated convent as part of a wider investigation into Canada’s dairy industry. We wanted to ask about the sisters’ public clash with Les Producteurs de lait du Québec (LPQ), the group representing Quebec dairy producers, when the sisters were handed a $75,000 fine for producing milk without a proper licence.
Even three years on, it’s a sensitive topic. While the kind but nervous nun invited me to take shelter from the storm, she also conveyed orders from above not to speak about the ordeal, in case they “get in trouble.”
This fear of reprisal became a central refrain in our months-long investigation, prompted by two unprecedented hikes to the price of milk this year. In six months, milk in many provinces has increased in price by about 20 per cent.
As inflation soars, dairy farmers say price increases are necessary to cover ballooning costs.
But industry advocates argue that no other industry is able to pass on its cost increases directly on to the consumer. Canada’s controversial supply-management system protects dairy, poultry and egg farmers from international competition by regulating supply and imposing massive border tariffs on imports.
Supply management also forces farmers to pay millions in marketing costs to provincial milk boards. This week, a portion of that money found its way to the upper right-hand corner of the Maple Leaf’s jerseys as the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) became the NHL team’s first sweater branding partner. DFO refuse to say how much the deal cost.
Amid all this controversy, however, we have seldom heard from the people at the centre of it all: the farmers.
So, we sought to change that, by journeying into rural Quebec — the heart of Canada’s dairy industry.
Home to more than half of the country’s dairy farms (4,675 of 9,952), the province boasts two of the country’s biggest processors – Agropur and Saputo – and is the dominant force shaping Canada’s milk policy.
But it’s not the agricultural land of milk and honey we expected to find. Instead, it seems, almost nobody is entirely happy with the way supply management is functioning.
Farmers say they are still struggling. Restaurants say price increases are pushing them to closure. Critics say supermarket prices are artificially inflated without international competition. Politicians, leery of offending voters, don’t say much at all.
This apprehension to talk openly has become a hallmark of Canada’s dairy industry. One industry stakeholder had manure dumped on her lawn after speaking out against supply management. Academics and experts declined to speak on the record because they’d been bullied for it in the past.
But amid the rise of plant-based milk and as the Canadian Food Guidedrops dairy from its once lofty perch as a recommended food group, why does Canada’s dairy lobby continue to wield so much power? In what other occupation do members get to dole out fines and write their own salary cheques?
And why, amid simmering internal discontent, does the dairy industry continue to be Canada’s sacred cow?
For two decades, Virgin Mary the Consolatory nuns produced and sold sheep’s and goat’s cheese in grocery stores around Quebec without an issue, under their Le Troupeau Benit label.
But in 2019, LPQ accused the nuns of selling cow’s milk products without a licence – known in Canada as “quota.” A quota is, in as close to layman’s terms as we can manage, the amount of “butterfat” a farm is allowed to produce, which is transformed into milk, butter and other dairy products. Quota is measured in kilograms, but one kilogram is roughly equivalent to owning one cow.
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The nuns denied these claims, saying they milked two Guernsey cows for personal consumption, which doesn’t require a quota. They publicly complained about the fine, but after that, the nuns went silent.
Apparently, there’s a reason for that.
After weeks of dodged calls and emails, a visit to the monastery and another week of evading contact, LPQ confirmed that the two parties had reached an out-of-court settlement.
An eventual reply from the monastery’s administrator, Sister Macrina, cited confidentiality clauses as the reason they wouldn’t speak to us.
“We have decided to put that issue behind us and to focus our attention on other issues, especially prayer and our spiritual peace, the main reason we dedicated our life for,” Sister Macrina said.
In the tiny village of Saint-Francoise, full of wooden bungalows, grain silos and lush paddocks about 90 kilometres east of Quebec City, Mario Lyonnais is tending to his 35-cow farm on a drizzly Thursday afternoon. It’s a modest operation dominated by a barn in need of a paint job, two tractors and children’s toys littered across the yard.
Lyonnais is a second-generation dairy farmer — he has also been Saint Francoise’s mayor for 25 years. Agriculture is crucial to the village — there are 11 farms (two crop, nine dairy) among a population of 500.
Like most of the farmers we speak to, Lyonnais agrees he’s wealthy — but not in the way people think. His money is tied up in assets and overheads, he explains.
He wears an old pair of dirty overalls, ripped in places, and gumboots while haranguing a twin grandchild under each arm as he explains his farm is just “breaking even.” As modern farms attempt to improve efficiency with milking robots elsewhere, there’s not a mechanical arm in sight here. His home is an old wooden bungalow.
But, like most others, Lyonnais’s fortune lies in his quota.
In Quebec and Ontario, one kilo of quota costs $24,000, and is capped, but in Alberta, it soared to $58,000 in March.
That means a 35-cow farm, such as Lyonnais’ is worth about $840,000 in quota alone.
“Yes I’m rich … on paper,” Lyonnais says. “But I’m not going to just sell my family’s farm.”
Lyonnais says February’s record farmgate milk price increase (the amount farmers are paid for their milk) of 8.4 per cent was not enough to cover costs. He says dairy farming was “already tough and now it’s worse.”
He’s concerned about the impact of a 35 per cent tax on goods from Russia — he buys Russian fertilizer and seeds. While he is not in debt, he’s concerned about the impact rising interest rates will have on younger peers — many of whom had to take out loans to buy quota, which was handed out in the 1970s for free.
To survive, this small community bands together. They have a Facebook group. On a Friday night, they sit around his back porch and drink rum. A call comes in from a young dairy farmer asking for an equipment part. Lyonnais says he’ll bring it over later.
“There’s a psychologist in the town, and they have too many people to see. Suicides and divorces are a worry,” Lyonnais says.
It’s why farmers keep exiting the industry, he says. He hands over a flyer announcing the sale of a nearby farm, shaking his head.
That flyer is for the sale of Marc Duval’s 80-cow farm in Nicolet, Que., about 70 kilometres away.
The deaths were most commonly related to financial loss and heavy workloads, Lafleur tells Global News, issues that were exacerbated by a lack of social support and a “non-recognition of their work by society.”
Farmers were also less likely to seek help due to a “fear of being perceived as weak and of not being understood by professional services outside of agriculture.”
So, Quebec set up a network of farm social workers (travailleurs de rang) to improve the accessibility of psychosocial support services by working directly with farmers.
But is it enough?
In Saint-Barnabe-Sud, near Montreal, fourth-generation farmer Jean-Sebastien Savaria says one of the hardest aspects of being a farmer is the negative perception from the public.
“We’re always getting complaints, and that’s very difficult on our emotions.”
Now, he operates an “open farm” day each September to allow curious townspeople to look around his operation.
Savaria’s 40-cow farm is the epitome of the small family farm that supply management is trying to protect. His parents still live in the property’s 100-year-old farmhouse. His sister lives next door. Savaria and his family live in his grandfather’s old house.
Savaria grew up watching the toll the career took on his father and his “low good quality life, working too much for no money.”
He wanted to become a lawyer instead, but the family calling became too hard to ignore. He wears a Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) branded hoodie and pats his cows lovingly on the ears as he speaks.
“I love it. When you do good you get the payback. But when it’s bad, it’s bad.”
Like others, Savaria has had to diversify his farm to make money. He grows crops – corn and soy mostly – which make up about a quarter of his revenue. A decade ago, it was half that.
“Why do I work so much for this? Every year it gets less and less,” he says.
Other things get him down too, like milk dumping. Farmers are forced to dispose of milk if consumption patterns change or things go awry. Over Canada Day weekend, two million litres were dumped due to a workers’ strike at Agropur’s Granby plant. At $5.39 per 4-litre bag, that’s roughly $2.7-million worth of milk.
Savaria too says he is a rich man – on paper. He says his salary is $2,000 per month and everything else is reinvested.
In fact, the only farmer we spoke to who says he’s not rich, is the one who appears the richest.
Visitors to Drapeau Farm in Saint-Francoise are greeted in a modern administration building the size of a house. There are laser-cut signs bearing the farm’s name and polished wooden floors. Robots take on much of the workload in the barn. It is a stark contrast to Mario Lyonnais’ basic farm less than 10 kilometres down the road.
Owner Dominic Drapeau wears a Drapeau Farm-branded sweatshirt as he recalls his upbringing on an 80-cow farm, which he’s grown to 800. Drapeau reinvests his profits in quota, expanding at a rate of 30 to 40 cows per year.
“We have a comfortable life, and we don’t miss out on anything, but we all work very hard,” he says.
He says he’s not struggling right now, but costs are higher, and he should be compensated fairly with increased milk prices. He says he could make more money without supply management, as his farm is bigger and more efficient, but he doesn’t want to lose it.
“The rules are the same for everyone,” he says. “We are taking care of everyone.”
But critics say those rules, and the organization that imposes them, are part of the problem.
The Crown-controlled Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) sets the price of milk every six months, using a formula split into two parts: one half considers the cost of milk production, using a randomized and anonymous survey of roughly 200 farms, and the other considers inflation.
But there’s a time lag of two years to this equation. For instance, the cost of production data from 2021 dictates 2023 prices.
CDC stakeholders can ask for the formula to be set aside, citing “exceptional circumstances” if certain criteria are met, including unanticipated events and rising costs. The Dairy Farmers of Canada used this mechanism for both pricing decisions this year — a record-breaking 8.4 per cent increase in February and a rare mid-year hike.
This formula has been set aside four times since 2017, when it was implemented, due to rising costs. But the specific proof of these costs is never provided. The CDC has long refused to share its farm survey data.
Global News requested CDC records from the February price hike through access-to-information legislation. The information we received was heavily redacted, with all of the specific farm data missing.
The data that was included showed animal feed accounted for 58 per cent of the 2022 cost of production increase, with 25 per cent due to the increase in the minimum wage.
More recently, leaked documents shared with Global News show the cost of producing milk is actually getting cheaper. In a CDC PowerPoint presentation from July, the 2021 standardized cost of production for milk — used to set 2023 prices — decreased from $85.42 per hectolitre to $84.57 per hectolitre. That should mean that milk gets cheaper next year – but inflation might bring prices up again.
The CDC has also not cut back on its own costs.
According to its annual report, the commission received $4.7 million from taxpayers in 2020-21, up from $3.9 million in 2019-20. The increase was “to fund increased salary expenses.”
Part of that was to fund bonuses and pay raises during the pandemic. In 2020, 57 CDC employees got pay rises (79 per cent of all employees), according to data from the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, at a cost of $143,202. In 2021, 48 employees got a raise.
The CDC’s labour costs are up 35 per cent in five years.
While the CDC initially refused to release data on bonuses, it later admitted that five employees were awarded bonuses in 2020 — $16,764 each. In 2021, five employees were given $17,470.
This lack of transparency has landed the commission in hot water with many of its stakeholders, including Restaurants Canada and the Retail Council of Canada.
Even the Dairy Processors of Canada (DPAC) this year departed from its traditionally tight-lipped approach, telling Global News that it too has been asking the CDC for better communication.
Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau has even entered the fray to call for more transparency.
Chantal Paul, CDC spokesperson, said it was already adapting its communications, by including a FAQ section on its website and follow-up sessions with stakeholders.
The CDC has no control over the pricing mechanism itself as it was put in place by industry consensus, Paul says.
Restaurants Canada vice-president Olivier Bourbeau, however, says the commission itself needs to change. He says other supply-managed industries work in ”collaboration, instead of confrontation,” unlike dairy.
Bourbeau and others have long been asking for a seat on the CDC board or for a say in pricing decisions. But he says they are frequently rebuffed, leaving stakeholders feeling shut out and restaurants absorbing costs they can’t take after the pandemic.
Farmers wonder if costs could be cut in other areas — marketing, for example.
Farmers pay annual fees to milk marketing boards, which oversee each province’s dairy industry, to promote the consumption of milk.
LPQ spends $24 million per year on advertising and social media. Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), Canada’s second-biggest milk producer, spent $15.6 million on brand advertising and mass media in 2021 (like these kitschy social media campaigns). Around $8 million is earmarked for consumer marketing.
This year, the Toronto Maple Leafs will sport DFO’s “Milk” patch on their jersey in a multi-year agreement for an undisclosed sum.
Asked how much the deal cost, an external marketing firm offered this response from Cheryl Smith, DFO chief executive: “While specific terms of this deal are confidential, it is an extremely unique opportunity for DFO to increase milk consumption, and one that will deliver results.”
In 2021, from an expense budget of $55 million, DFC spent $22.3 million on marketing — including $6.9 million on “marketing to millennials.”
But research shows the price of dairy is more likely to influence consumers than generic marketing.
Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick cheesemaker and dairy farmer Jean Morin says he pays $25,000 in marketing each year. He thinks that money should be redirected to “coming up with solutions to save dairy farming.”
Morin’s award-winning cheeses, produced on a homestead across the road from his 140-cow, fourth-generation dairy farm, have put the picturesque village on the map. He says 6,000 customers came to buy his cheese in 2021. His picnics and weekend street parties draw thousands — and that’s all down to personal marketing.
He pays himself $15 per hour, and the rest is reinvested in his businesses. He doesn’t claim to be struggling — he spent $1 million renovating the church next-door to store his cheese and just bought the village’s general store. But he worries for the future of the industry.
“The system is keeping out the younger generation. They can’t get into the business because it’s too expensive,” he says, referring to the high cost of quota.
“DFC is a private club for rich people. They just want to make more money, and they don’t want to do better.”
Morin laments the fact that cheese has now become a “luxury item.” He says the industry is also too monopolized.
In Canada, three main processors transform the bulk of our products into cheese, drinkable milk and butter: Saputo, Lactalis and Agropur.
Saputo and Lactalis did not respond to questions.
Agropur, a collective made up of Canadian dairy farmers, posted $274 million in net earnings in 2021 — a 600 per cent increase on 2020. Asked about this windfall at a time the industry says it’s struggling, an Agropur spokeswoman said their profitability “ensures the sustainability of the cooperative and offers members equity.”
But those members are farmers — the same people saying they aren’t being paid enough.
After processing, dairy products head for the supermarket shelf — arguably the least transparent part of the supply chain.
In February, consumers worried that the record 8.4 per cent CDC increase would directly apply to the price they paid for milk. But it didn’t — it was more.
Milk was increased in several provinces by doubling the farmgate increase. The same happened earlier this month when retail prices rose by 6.0 per cent instead of 2.5 per cent.
Milk prices are also uniform – in Ontario, the cheapest four-litre bag is now $5.69 at Walmart, FreshCo, Metro and Loblaws.
We emailed several supermarkets — Loblaws, Sobey’s, Walmart, Metro — to ask about these pricing decisions. All of them refused to comment.
Recent price hikes mean dairy alternatives are now almost the same price as a two-litre carton of milk. A recent study by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University found dairy alternatives were actually cheaper than milk in Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
Processors and farmers say the final price of their goods has nothing to do with them.
“The pricing decisions are very tough to manage,” says Luc Boivin, director-general at Fromagerie Boivin in La Baie, Que.
“On one side we have farmers and milk increases every six months, and on the other side we have a relationship with our customers, and that’s very tough.”
Boivin says it makes no sense that the farmgate price is heavily regulated when the rest of the process is not, and a grocery code of conduct was needed.
In 2015, University of Manitoba research labelled supply management in Canada “highly regressive” and disproportionately impacting low-income workers, who pay a tax of 2.29 per cent, or $339 per year of household income. Wealthy households pay just 0.47 per cent.
Study author associate professor Ryan Cardwell, says seven years later, “the story is unchanged.”
Cardwell says these “serious unintended consequences of supply management” are unlikely to be curbed without the intervention of politicians and industry reform. But politicians won’t interfere for fear of losing votes.
“This system is serving the interests of elected politicians and dairy farmers very well,” he says.
Indeed, it’s rare to find a politician who opposes supply management.
Reflecting on the saga now, Bernier doesn’t regret a thing.
“Other politicians are against supply management. … I’m just the one who said it publicly,” he tells Global News.
Since Bernier, scarce few politicians have publicly opposed supply management until Conservative leadership hopeful Scott Aitchison reignited the debate this year by calling for a government buyback scheme to compensate farmers for their quota.
“For example, Canadians could pay $2.31 for a two-litre carton of milk from the start of liberalization, and $2.08 after the reimbursement period, instead of the current price of $4.93,” the study says.
Valentin Petkantchin, MEI director of research, says supply management was a “lose-lose situation for everyone now.”
“Canadians are not stupider than Australians. We can change this,” he says.
It will also help Canada around the negotiating table — dairy is one of the hardest-fought points of our trade deals.
In 2015, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (now known as the CPTPP) opened up 3.25 per cent of the Canadian dairy market, drawing ire from farmers.
Former Trade Minister Ed Fast, who negotiated the deal, says supply management was the “most sensitive defensive interest” for Canada.
But he says it is “patently false” that politicians are pressured to protect farmers.
“The reality is in Canada, supply management for those products has been in place for many years, and there’s not a general clamour across Canada to change that system,” he says.
He has a point.
In 2017, an Angus Reid survey showed that 58 per cent of Canadians know “nothing at all” about how supply management works.
The dairy industry is so misunderstood that it inspired a stage show. Run de Lait premiered in Quebec City in March, a culmination of five years of research by actor and director Justin Laramee. He’s now in talks with the National Film Board of Canada to turn it into a documentary.
Laramee’s journey from farm to theatre began while working on a project on suicides in dairy farming. Enamoured by the industry, he offered to work on farms for free to understand them.
That snowballed into interviewing widows and investigating Agropur’s exports to Africa.
The final product sees Laramee on stage alone with a composer for three acts that investigate farmers, processors and the politics behind it all.
“It’s something between Birdman and a black-and-white film,” he says with a laugh.
Laramee believes supply management has to go. But in the meantime, he hopes putting a spotlight on the industry — literally — might help the public make up its own mind.
“Two years in and I was hating myself for picking this topic — I just thought this is not interesting,” he adds.
“But that’s the problem, people don’t understand it, so they don’t care about it.”
The new provincial energy savings program has left operators in the H-VAC industry outraged. Released on Wednesday, the program includes free mini-split heat pumps for thousands in New Brunswick. But as Robert Lothian tells us, only one company is currently allowed to provide the installation service.
Bradley Hoy was thrilled to hear about New Brunswick’s Enhanced Energy Savings Program.
The owner of Reliable Heating Mechanical figured the program offering free mini-split heat pumps and upgraded insulation for households with an income under $70,000 would mean he has bookings for the next six months.
However, Hoy was stunned to learn the only company currently allowed to do the installations is Greenfoot Energy Solutions.
“When (customers) found out we couldn’t do it, we lost the jobs, and we had to refund deposits. I can tell you so far, it’s been three or four, and the news has just come out,” Hoy told Global News in an interview Friday.
According to N.B. Power, since 2019, there has been a contract with Greenfoot for energy efficiency upgrades.
They will remain the service provider of the new Enhanced Energy Savings Program, the statement reads.
When asked what would happen if the rollout of the program is not altered, Hoy said, “I’d hate to say to lay people off in the wintertime, but if we lose enough work, there’s a possibility.”
In an interview with Global News on Thursday, minister of natural resources and energy development Mike Holland said contractors outside of Greenfoot would be able to participate in the program, but he didn’t provide a timeline.
“The utility is going to be coming forward with a list of criteria for eligible contractors as to what they would need to be certified … to be able to perform this service, so the program won’t be just limited to one provider,” Holland said about the program.
However, the crown corporation says differently. Instead, contractors will have to contact Greenfoot to partake in the program.
“Due to demand, sub-contracting for installers may be possible. HVAC companies interested in participating as installers for this program can send their contact information directly to firstname.lastname@example.org to be evaluated,” stated a spokesperson for N.B. Power.
For Andrew Doucet, the owner of Andrew’s Air Care, the province appears to be doing “damage control.”
“Sounds to me like someone’s doing a little back-pedalling there, because you don’t start with one contractor,” Doucet remarked.
Doucet discovered only one company would be allowed to offer the program when he arrived at a customer’s doorstep.
“We had all our gear, trucks, employees, we arrived on site to do a job, and we were turned around at the door.”
He said the belief N.B. Power does not already have a list of certified contractors is false.
While he believes the program is a strong initiative in troubling economic times, it shouldn’t come at the cost of small businesses.
“Let’s not look at the program as a bad thing, let’s do better, and I believe we could do better. Open the door to your already approved list of contractors and say go, and let’s get the heat pumps in the system tomorrow.”
When the pandemic hit and the lockdowns set in, many people suspected there was going to be a Canadian baby boom.
There was — but perhaps not in the way people imagined.
Canada’s birth rate has fallen since the pandemic began, but what rose was interest in the field of fertility. COVID-19 sparked a reassessment of priorities: Canadians who were putting off having a family began considering starting one.
The evidence? A boom in baby-making services. The fertility clinics and sperm banks that Global News reached out to reported a rise in clients using their services – some by as much as 20 per cent compared with previous years.
Tiffany Soper, a single professional living in Vancouver, was one of those clients who was prompted to action because of the pandemic.
“It gave me that opportunity to really stop, re-evaluate everything,” she said. “I realized that I was working too much and then I didn’t have to live my life that way anymore and that I could fit in time for a baby and time for family, if I wanted to, if I made the decision to do that.”
But as we all learned in health class: there’s no innate correlation between wanting a baby and conceiving one, particularly when you are doing so later in life. Biology does not wait for everyone – and overcoming that has been the goal of fertility scientists since the first successful in vitro fertilization baby was born in 1978.
It turns out there’s been a boom in fertility innovation when it comes to assisting people who struggle to conceive – a lot of it happening right here in Canada.
And that was great news for Erika Fryer and Stephen Quinlan, a couple living in Maple Ridge, B.C., who knew they had some big biological hurdles to overcome if they were ever going to have a baby.
Quinlan was a widower with two grown children and Fryer never had children of her own.
They met and moved in together a couple of years ago. During the pandemic, Fryer realized that having a baby was something she really wanted. She and Quinlan began talking about whether it was something they should explore.
“I wanted to see if Steve would be open to that,” said Fryer.
It wasn’t an easy discussion for either of them.
“We went to see a counsellor to talk things through,” Fryer said. “It was really hard on our relationship.”
Quinlan was worried about the timing of it all.
“My main concern is that I’m 60 now and I need to stay healthy.”
And Fryer, who was in her 40s, knew she wasn’t the ideal candidate for pregnancy.
“I’m older, my eggs are older. So there was that that played into it, too. This wasn’t a guarantee.”
After deciding they were ready to go for it, the couple met with Dr. Sonya Kashyup, director of Genesis Fertility in Vancouver.
Biology does not give women a big window to work with when it comes to conception, said Kashyup.
“The natural pregnancy rates at age 40 are about six per cent per month compared to at age 30, which are about 20 per cent per month.”
To improve Fryer’s odds, Kashyap prescribed hormonal treatments to stimulate her ovaries.
“I took the injections for 10 days to try and get as many eggs as we could, and we were hoping for 10 (eggs). But there was only four.”
There were also real concerns about Quinlan’s ability to procreate because he had a vasectomy over 20 years ago.
“So if we were going to do this, it would have to be very purposeful,” Fryer said.
Kashyup says after seven years, a vasectomy reversal has a low success rate – hence why they needed to explore other options.
“In order to use his sperm, you have to go through a procedure to extract the sperm,” explained Kashyup.
To retrieve Quinlan’s sperm, they sought the help of Dr. Ryan Flannigan, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, and founder of the Flannigan Fertility clinic in Vancouver. His specialty is male infertility and sexual medicine for men.
An initial examination showed that Quinlan had healthy, detectable sperm but because of his vasectomy, Flannigan had to use a process called percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration (PESA) to retrieve it. A needle is inserted into the testicle and sperm is withdrawn and sent to a lab to be examined and preserved.
It was a learning process for both Quinlan and Fryer.
“They find a sperm that works the best and actually inject it right into the egg. So it’s a bit of a different procedure than just the regular IVF. So we didn’t know that that was possible,” Fryer said, still sounding amazed at the process.
There is amazement, likely, because we’ve come to accept certain fertility treatments as par for the course these days. The fertility tech boom started in the 1970s with the development of in vitro fertilization – where egg and sperm are united outside of the womb, then implanted in the uterus.
Science has taken off in the decades since with the ability to freeze eggs, retrieve sperm and detect healthy embryos. But there’s always room for more innovation. And it turns out a lot of that is happening in Canada.
Flannigan is on the cutting edge of modern techniques to help men successfully fertilize an egg. It’s an important field in fertility.
“Low sperm count can often be some of the most challenging things to overcome,” says Flannigan.
One technique he uses is called MicroTESE.
”When they don’t see it (sperm), it’s because the testicles are failing to make enough of it, and then the only way to retrieve it is through a microsurgical procedure where essentially we’re looking inside the testicle, using a microscope to try to find rare areas of sperm production that could then be used with IVF.”
MicroTESE differs from PESA — the procedure Quinlan had — because it involves taking a tissue sample that a clinician searches through to look for active sperm.
“When we do these biopsies during the MicroTESE procedure, we may be collecting tens of millions of cells and we’re asking them to find tens to hundreds of sperm in order to facilitate an IVF round,” Flannigan explained.
It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack on a microscopic level.
“They will literally search for hours under a microscope,” Flannigan said. “They’re trying to use their eye to distinguish amongst hundreds of cells in a field to try to find this single sperm.”
And sometimes they may not find a single sperm in thousands of fields. In fact, Flannigan said the odds are only 50 per cent that they will find anything they can use. That’s why he’s developing a new way to increase the odds of success.
“We have been working on trying to create a technology where we’re using artificial intelligence to train an algorithm, to identify a sperm among all these millions of other types of cells.”
It’s still in the early stages of development, and will need to go through several trial runs before it is put into action, but Flannigan hopes in the near future this artificial intelligence (AI) will make it faster and easier to identify healthy sperm.
Toronto fertility specialist Dr. Dan Nayot is also using AI to increase the odds of conception. But his focus is on eggs.
Women freeze their eggs for all sorts of reasons — some because they are aware of the biological clock ticking and want to ensure their future, others because they have a medical condition, like cancer, that may affect their fertility. And then there are egg donors.
As different as their motivations are, they all have one thing in common: they have no way of knowing how healthy those eggs are.
The human eye is incapable of confirming the quality of an egg, even with the aid of a microscope.
“Although we’ve tried to visually score eggs for decades now, there hasn’t been a validated evaluation system,” Nayot says.
Like Flannigan, he believes machine learning could be the solution. Nayot thinks they can more accurately predict which eggs will become the best candidates for making babies by feeding a computer program thousands of pictures of eggs and correlating them to successful pregnancies.
“What we’re doing with our AI is personalizing that feedback and is to say, ‘Yes, you’re 36 years old and you have 10 eggs. But when we’ve analyzed each egg, this is our personal prediction of what we think your chances of success are.’”
It’s something that gives women more data to help them decide whether they want to freeze more eggs as a backup.
“That’s really important information,” Nayot said. “Because when she comes back in the future and if it does not work, she may not have this opportunity again.”
The program is already starting to be used in some clinics as a counselling tool, and Nayot says they have had a surge in interest from North America and Europe. His hope is that the system will only get more accurate with time, as they continually add more information to it.
Checking the quality of her eggs wasn’t an option Erika Fryer explored because of her age as well as the cost of the fertility treatment she was already undergoing. She was only prepared to give her fertility treatment one shot.
“We feel very lucky that we were able to pay for it once,” she told Global News. “A lot of people are not able to pay for it at all. So we feel fortunate in that respect. But it is very expensive.”
Her treatment was approximately $25,000.
“So we were like, ‘We’re just going to do this once. If this doesn’t work, well, I’m going to have to be OK with not having kids.’ And I’ve resigned to that.”
Three of the four eggs taken from Fryer and injected with Quinlan’s sperm were healthy enough to be implanted in her uterus. Then it was time to wait. As soon as she knew she might see results, the testing began.
How many? Erika laughed: “I took so many pregnancy tests.”
Ten days later she got a positive pregnancy test. And nine months after that, baby Elliot arrived.
She can’t wait to tell him all about the journey it took for him to arrive.
“Genesis (the fertility clinic) gives you a picture of the embryos right before they put them in,” she said.
“You know, there’s this little clump of cells. And so I have this picture of these three embryos, and one of those is him. And how cool is that to be able to show him and say like, ‘That was you. Like, that’s the earliest baby picture you can possibly have!’ I think he’ll like the story.… It’s a really cool story.”
When Fryer embarked on her journey to have a baby later in life she was fortunate to have the support of Quinlan, but some people take that journey alone.
At the age of 42, Tiffany Soper, a public relations professional in Vancouver, also decided during the pandemic that she wanted to make her dream of having a child become a reality.
“I’ve had serious relationships, (but there) was never the right person at the right time to be like, ‘Yes, let’s do this. Let’s start a family,’” Soper told Global News.
Soper had actually planned ahead, thinking this day might come.
“I wanted to have a family and I knew that perhaps that traditional family unit wasn’t going to be my reality. And so I started to kind of prepare for that, knowing that I wanted to have a baby regardless of the situation.”
In her 30s, while she was busy with her career, Soper froze some of her eggs — a process that’s become instrumental in closing what Kashyap calls “the fertility gender gap.”
“Men make new sperm every two to three months. So throughout their life, they can reproduce. For women, we don’t make new eggs. We’re actually born with a finite number of eggs that we will deplete in quantity and quality as we age. After age 35 or 37, the quality of those eggs also diminishes,” Kashyap explained. “Mother Nature has just not caught up with us yet.”
And during the pandemic, it seems more people became aware of this short window.
“We certainly saw an uptick in couples, individuals and same-sex couples being interested in starting their families and women freezing their eggs.”
Without a partner, Soper needed the use of a sperm bank.
“I went through an online portal, a sperm donation clinic based in the U.S. I spent several months researching donors. It was a really, really hard decision to make.”
In Canada, it is illegal to compensate egg donors or sperm donors. Hence, most people turn to sperm banks in the U.S.
There are a variety of options you can choose from when picking a sperm donor, everything from education to eye colour to ethnicity. The one thing that is not allowed through traditional sperm banks is knowing who that donor is, at least until the child reaches the age of 18 years. And the sperm donor has to agree to be contacted at that time.
But some women want their sperm donor to come with a degree of parental involvement and there are new services out there that are helping to make that happen.
Stephanie Reibel, a 42-year-old single woman working in sales and living in Los Angeles, also wants a baby – but she wants her sperm donor to be involved in the child’s life.
Ivan Fatovic is working with her to make that happen. He is the founder of Modamily. It’s basically a dating site, for people who want to be parents.
“We connect people who are ready to have kids and start a family, whether you’re looking for a romantic relationship or a platonic co-parent or a known sperm donor,” Fatovic told Global News “We have one of the largest databases in the world of co-parents and donors and people just looking to start a family or help you start your family.”
It’s exactly what Reibel is looking for.
“I would like a romantic relationship and a partner that’s ready to have a kid, but I like that this site can give me an option for a platonic relationship, which kind of takes the pressure off. So if I do want to find somebody down the road, at least then I’ve had my children and I have a great co-parent and then they can come into my life in a romantic way and they can still be involved.”
Fatovic says with Modamily, men have the option to go beyond being just sperm donors.
“We have one of the largest known sperm donor databases where there’s men all over the world that are open to being a known donor as opposed to an anonymous donor.”
Those donors can choose how much involvement they want in the child’s life. It could be anything from occasional hangouts to full-time co-parenting.
“There’s a lot of men in their 40s and 50s that maybe spent a lot of time in the singles scene and not settling down,” Fatovic said. “And they’re getting to a point where they want to have children or maybe they had a child and they were married and divorced and they want another child, but they don’t want to get married again.”
While sperm banks struggle to attract donors from various ethnic backgrounds, Fatovic maintains that for Modamily, that’s not a problem.
“We do help people find those harder-to-find donors, whether you’re looking for an African-American donor, an Asian donor or a Jewish donor.”
Reibel is excited to find her match.
“I mean, if I could do it by the end of the year, that would be ideal.”
Meanwhile, Soper’s insemination was a success. She got pregnant on the first try and is now the mother of a baby girl named Byrdie.
“It was the most profound experience of my life. I’m really grateful to have gone through that, even just the pregnancy and everything. And the birth was such a phenomenal experience.”
Although Byrdie won’t know her father until she turns 18 years old, her mom is looking forward to sharing the story of the family she created.
“As soon as she’s old enough to sort of understand or to start to talk about it, I’ll be messaging, ‘We have a unique family. I needed a little bit of help to get here. And I just really wanted you so badly,’” Soper said with a smile. “I definitely want to be open and honest about it.”
The Edmonton Oilers overcame a strong goaltending effort from Calgary’s Dan Vladar to beat the Flames 2-1 in pre-season action Friday night at Rogers Place.
The Oilers opened the scoring while killing a penalty in the first period.
Kailer Yamamoto held onto the puck down low before putting it in front for Leon Draisaitl, who flipped the puck past Flames goaltender Dan Vladar. Dillon Dube pulled the Flames even about minutes later.
Late in the second, Connor McDavid collided with teammate Evander Kane in the neutral zone. McDavid was spun around and fell to the ice, remaining down for a few seconds before skating slowly to the bench. He returned to the game without missing a shift.
“I was trying to get out of the way, but those things happen,” Kane said. “I knew he was okay — he’s a big, strong guy.
“Anytime you don’t see it coming, you’re probably more surprised than anything.”
The Oilers dominated the second, outshooting the Flames 16-4, but couldn’t solve Vladar.
“Tip your hat to their goaltender, he played a heck of a game,” Woodcroft said post-game.
The Oilers had their first fight of the pre-season in the third period, when Darnell Nurse engaged in a brief scrap with Mitch McLain.
Brett Kulak gave the Oilers the lead with 11:05 left, taking a pass from Luke Esposito and sailing a long shot past Vladar.
Nurse and McLain tussled again late in the game.
“I would never want to pull back Darnell in that situation because I thought he tried to do it for the right reasons — he was sticking up for a teammate,” Woodcroft said.
“It’s part of what makes him of of the most feared defencemen in the league.”
“He’s obviously a leader on this team and seeing him step up and take care of that physical stuff for me is appreciated,” Evander Kane said.
Jack Campbell made his first appearance in the Oilers goal, stopping seven of eight shots in just over 31 minutes of work.
“It was nice to get in the new jersey and hear the new fans and the boys were buzzing out there,” Campbell said.
“He didn’t get a ton of work, but I thought he was clean with the puck and looked confident and big in the net,” Woodcroft said post-game.
Calvin Pickard went the rest of the way and turned away 14 pucks. Vladar finished with 37 saves.
The Oilers will play in Winnipeg on Saturday. It’s on 630 CHED with the Face-off Show at 5:30 p.m. The game will start at 6 p.m.
Two weeks after allowing a stunning 48 points in a loss to Hamilton, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence looked like its usual self again Friday night.
The Bombers forced six turnovers and Zach Collaros had four touchdown passes en route to a 31-13 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in front of a sold-out crowd at IG Field.
The win moves the Blue and Gold to 13-2 on the season, and a step closer to clinching the West Division.
It was Winnipeg’s third win against Saskatchewan this month and the victory assured the Bombers of a home playoff game in November.
Saskatchewan drops their fourth straight game, now 6-9 on the season, and will be battling to stay in the crossover spot for the rest of the year.
The Riders had an early field goal, but the Bombers scored a touchdown on their very next drive, and held onto the lead for the rest of the game.
The Bombers didn’t have a single first down the entire third quarter and the Riders climbed within four points to start the fourth, but the Bombers soon added two quick TD’s to end any chance of a comeback.
“When things go bad, you got to have a short memory,” said Demski. “And go back out there and re-group and we all relied on each other to go out there and do our job.
“It was messy at times, but at the end of the day we did what we had to do, and we got the win.”
It was a bounce back effort by the defence after surrendering 48 points in their last outing.
“We executed pretty good on second down,” said linebacker Adam Bighill. “Our efficiency is pretty good. We had Cody (Fajardo) running all over the place. We made some big plays on third down, some takeaways which we’ve lacked a little bit in the last bit, but it’s much more up to par.”
Rookie receiver Dalton Schoen went over the thousand yard mark for the season with 125 yards on the night. He also scored his 11th touchdown of the year to set the team record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season by a rookie.
“That’s not really something I think about or given thought to,” said Schoen. “It’s a honour and it’s really humbling to have that happen. And it’s really special in hindsight.”
The win guarantees the Bombers a home playoff game for a second straight season, but they still have some work to do to host the Western Final.
“To lock up that home playoff game that obviously means a lot for us in there,” said Demski. “And for everybody in the community and all of Bombers nation.”
After the Riders opened the scoring on a 25-yard Brett Lauther field goal, the Bombers offence drove 70 yards for the game’s first touchdown, capped off by a 36-yard pass from Collaros to Rasheed Bailey.
It was Bailey’s third straight game with a touchdown and his sixth of the season, a CFL career-high for him.
The score remained 7-3 heading into the second quarter, where less than a minute in, Bombers kicker Marc Liegghio made a 22-yard chip shot field goal to extend the lead to 10-3.
It stayed that way until late in the quarter when Bombers defensive back Jamal Parker intercepted Riders QB Cody Fajardo and returned it to the Saskatchewan 37. A few plays later, Collaros found Nic Demski in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard score with 19 seconds left to give the Bombers a 17-3 lead at the half.
The Riders drove down the field to begin the third quarter but Fajardo bobbled a snap at the Winnipeg 20 which was recovered by the Bombers.
On their next possession however, the Riders kept it together and Fajardo was able to find the end zone on a run from seven yards out to cut the lead to 17-10 midway through the quarter.
The game moved into the fourth quarter, where the Riders again put together a solid drive, that ended with a 14-yard Lauther field goal and it was 17-13.
But then the Bombers offence, which had a very quiet third quarter, turned it on the fourth as Collaros found Demski for a 42-yard touchdown, and then on the next drive, Collaros hooked up with Dalton Schoen for a 64-yard major.
Demski now has nine touchdowns on the season and has scored in five straight games, while Schoen now has 1,113 receiving yards.
Next up for the Bombers is another game at home, next Saturday night against the 4-10 Edmonton Elks. The pregame show begins on 680 CJOB at 4 p.m., with kickoff just after 6 p.m.
WATCH: Indigenous adoptees reconnected with roots through community program
Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
A new initiative designed to help Indigenous people who have been disconnected from their communities return home is being launched on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast.
It was co-created by Charlene SanJenko, who was adopted at an early age. Her non-Indigenous foster parents made the decision not to tell her she’s First Nations. SanJenko believes they made the best decision they knew to make at the time.
“It wasn’t until my 50’s that I started digging into my heritage,” SanJenko told Global News.
Her research began after a fundraiser in Gibsons, B.C. in 2015. At the event in the community’s public market, she was gifted a wooden paddle featuring Indigenous designs and says the moment she first held it, she had a visceral reaction that pushed her to explore the questions she carried with her, her whole life.
“I felt this amazing wave of emotion come over me. I think it was my ancestors calling out to me through that paddle. That was the night I sought out to prove what I think I intuitively knew, so I started the journey of paperwork and proving my status,” she said.
A three-year process that began with her adoption certificate which she says shows her mother’s name, age at the time (16) and the word “Indian” underneath.
“I remember reading that and I actually just remember relief being the feeling that came, like, ‘I know,'” SanJenko said.
SanJenko is among more than 150 children taken from Splatsin First Nation between 1960 and 1980, during the Sixties Scoop. That was a significant portion of the population of her home nation, she says, leaving behind just 300 people in the community.
It sparked a movement called the Indian Child Caravan, led by a man also taken as a child from that same community.
“I remember running away from the foster placements and running home to my mother,” said Wenecwtsin, known by many as Wayne Christian.
“The RCMP would show up and take me back. At that point, I was 13-years-old. I honestly thought about taking my life. In that process, I just lost all hope. I turned that into anger as a teenager, I ended up in prison and jail,”
In his early 20’s, Wenecwtsin was a foster parent himself, caring for his brother. He still re-lives the unthinkable moment one cold December day when he discovered his dear brother had died by suicide, using his rifle.
“When you talk about this stuff, it’s alive in your mind. My story is like thousands of our people who were scooped up across the country,” Wenecwtsin said through tears.
A year later, his mother, who survived the former Kamloops Indian residential institution, passed away after a battle with treatable cancer.
“My mother was a child when she went into that institution.”
That’s a big part of the reason why the former Secwépemc Tribal Kúkpi7 (Chief) — who, through cultural healing practices, moved past the trauma responses of his teens — has now spent most of his adult years advocating for Indigenous children.
“The was a big push for us taking control of our own child welfare and enacting our own legislation. We’re the only one in Canada at this point that does what we’re doing,” he said.
“If we didn’t do what we did in 1980, our community would be like everybody else, because there’s more kids in care in the state now than when residential schools operated at their peak.”
Seeing his work, SanJenko got in touch with him last year. Now, the two are working together to help others who are trying to reconnect with their communities, by hosting a healing event back at that same place in Gibsons where her journey to returning home began.
The event is called For the Children and featured a listening circle for participants, the viewing of a short film and the announcement of a feature-length film called Elders Project.
“We’re looking at how do we begin a process of opening people up to the possibilities of what they can do for themselves, not only our own people, but Canadians as a whole because healing isn’t limited to us,” Wenecwtsin said.
This fall, they also plan to launch a project called Our Nation Heals, with a public call out to anyone who wants to walk the path of healing with them.
“I’m very curious to put a call out to others who might be looking to be on this journey of coming home. It might be from that community or others who just don’t know where to even start,” SanJenko said.
“Our intention is that our short film becomes like a calling card where we can walk into a community, any community and show a film, share a story and have a conversation or a dialogue.”
A full-circle moment for two survivors sent on very different paths, now coming together in order to help others come home.
“That’s how you change the world is through the children,” Wenecwtsin said.
Wenecwtsin says with classes resuming for the new school year, it’s especially important to keep in mind what we teach and how we play in a role changing the narrative towards a more truthful one.
“I was going to study history and become a history teacher but they taught nothing about our people, so it’s about us helping to rewrite that story about our history,” he said.
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419