One thing I am pretty certain of is that Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, and perhaps even former premier Kathleen Wynne, went to bed this last week thanking God, or maybe just their lucky stars, that they were not currently premier of Ontario. Much better to have a heyday throwing the snowballs than have them smash you in the face!
They also know in their heart of hearts that if they were premier today, the third wave would still be upon us as it is in much of the world, the variants would still be a real problem, there would still be pandemic deniers messing things up, and that they, too, would have made mistakes along the way. Maybe not the same mistakes, but mistakes all the same.
The irony is, when it comes to actually controlling the virus, doing everything that needs to be done to wipe it out, none of these people, had they been premier, would have been primarily to blame for where we are today.
The same can be said for Premier Ford. Don’t blow a gasket yet. I’ll get to that.
There can be no doubt that Doug Ford and his cabinet screwed up big time in the manner in which they imposed this latest pandemic lockdown. There is also no doubt that a whole bunch of people are angry. As well, the mainstream media are having a field day and there is also no doubt that Doug Ford handed them the opportunity.
I must admit confusion about the swing between people lambasting the Ford Government for not taking strict enough measures to control the COVID-19 curve and then landing on him because he is too stringent. As political columnist Brian Lilley said (as summarized by fellow columnist Lorrie Goldstein), “…while Ford flip-flopped on his over-the-top lockdown measures, many of the people who had been demanding them for months freaked out when he imposed them.”
However, it really doesn’t matter anymore. The rollout was terrible, and Doug Ford has become like flypaper. Anything sticks. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.
Polls show that the Ford Government’s biggest mistakes, as far as the public was concerned, were allowing police to stop people randomly to determine what they were up to (nothing less than carding), prohibiting children to go to playgrounds, and forbidding people to be outside in small groups with anybody but members of their immediate household. These are all legitimate concerns that affected people’s civil rights and their mental health.
Ford was right to reverse some of these decisions. They never should have been imposed in the first place. His reversal and his subsequent apology were something that very few politicians would have had the courage to do. He should not be mocked or criticized for that.
But in the days ahead, there are more things that Doug Ford needs to do.
He needs to ease up on restricting outdoor activities that do not involve crowding and would still include social distancing and masks outside of your bubble, such as golf, tennis, and outdoor walking tracks. This is an acceptable risk and an imperative to people’s mental health.
He needs to be more effective in hitting the hotspots in the province where vaccines (when they are made available by the federal government), are most needed.
He must insist on rigorous enforcement of the Reopening Ontario Act when people flaunt the pandemic rules and become a principal cause of spreading the virus. They need to be heavily fined.
And because he needs better advice, Ford should look hard at strengthening his cabinet, which would include bringing back Rod Phillips, who has paid his penance for his mistake at Christmas and is one of the brighter lights of the Conservative caucus in Ontario.
The hard reality, however, is that with the possible exception of cracking down on pandemic deniers, whatever Doug Ford does, whatever other provincial and territorial premiers do, they cannot primarily change where we are in relation to the current pandemic. Only the federal government can do that.
In a recent article, I mentioned that there was only one thing I was critical of the Trudeau Government for in relation to the pandemic and that was their poor performance, compared to many other countries, in actually getting vaccines here to put in people’s arms. It is the vaccines that will eventually stop this virus and it is the inexcusable slowness by the federal government in providing them that has contributed to its spread.
Now, however, I have a second criticism, perhaps as serious as the first, and that is the Trudeau Government’s failure to sufficiently control our borders. Some steps have been taken, but not enough. One of the most serious pandemic issues today is the coronavirus variants that are quickly surpassing the original virus. It has been no secret for more than a year that variants were likely.
Now we have them in Canada and in Ontario. To the best of my knowledge, there are no known variants of the virus that originated in Canada. So how did they get here? As Premier Doug Ford said recently, they didn’t swim.
Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Public Safety, claims that non-essential travel in Canada has been banned for more than a year. He knows that this is either not true, greatly exaggerated, or not enforced.
Flights to Canada from hotspots around the world— from Brazil, India, China, Pakistan, and other places— have not (until a few days ago for India and Pakistan) been stopped. Pearson International Airport in Peel, which has the highest COVID instance rate in Canada, should have been closed months ago to all but necessary domestic travel and fully vaccinated Canadians returning from abroad. That it was not is the sole responsibility of the federal government.
Land borders, also the domain of the federal government, have also been an issue. Of course, it is impossible to completely close them but there could have been some innovative measures taken to control to a much greater extent the possibility of the coronavirus and its variants from coming into Canada from the United States or Mexico.
For example, long-haul truck drivers, who carry much-needed supplies of every nature, have been exempted from border closings. A much more effective way of controlling the virus spread might have been to exchange these payloads at the border so that inventory coming to Canada from the United States or Mexico was loaded on to Canadian trucks at the border and vice versa, preventing drivers from having to enter the country.
The bottom line here is that there are three main components, now that we have vaccines, to controlling and hopefully eradicating COVID-19 in Canada.
The first is the speedy availability of vaccines. The second is the effective control of the coronavirus and its variants coming into Canada from foreign sources. The third, of course, is controlling the pandemic deniers. Of these three, two are the sole responsibility of the federal government.
I would much prefer that we are not well into the blame game when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are. It does surprise me, however, that the premiers, especially Premier Ford, for all their imperfections and mistakes, bear the brunt of public dissatisfaction in relation to the pandemic when primary responsibility for controlling it, getting vaccines here on a timely basis, and controlling infections coming from outside of Canada lies with the federal government.
I am sure some of you will enlighten me!
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc. and enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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