Friday, November 13, 2020

We are back to the "old" Doug Ford just when we can least afford it

Doug Ford has officially lost the plot and, with it, the credibility and authority needed to lead a province through this COVID-19 pandemic.

To be honest, he has not been as convincing in this role as many people had hoped earlier in the virus, when he seemed surprisingly empathetic, even if not very effective. People talked about the "new" Doug Ford, which was certainly an improvement over the old one that was voted into power, and that spent his first several months frantically undoing any good and progressive changes the Liberals managed to introduce during their tenure.

Ford is a populist who relies on dog-whistle politics and short-term gratification with no thought for the future, although he is certainly no Donald Trump, and I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. On the coronavirus, he genuinely seemed to get it for a while, talking about "following the science" and "flattening the curve", and expressing incomprehension and outrage at the "yahoos" who weren't willing to follow the rules and do their bit towards breaking the transmission of the virus.

He might have retained the goodwill of a good proportion of Ontarians, but I think that most people (apart from the more hardline business types and those of a more libertarian bent) have come to realize that he has lost his way during the second, and much more powerful, wave of the virus. He seems to be bending away from the medical community, and towards his more conservative and business-orientated base, perhaps concerned about his positioning for the next provincial election. 

His most recent pronouncements on how to deal with the huge and accelerating increases in case loads in Toronto and Peel region (and to a lesser extent the surrounding areas of York, Halton and Durham) have been way off the mark according to the medical authorities. The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) does not beat about the bush when it says: "It is clear the new tiered framework is not enough to control the virus, which is spreading among more and more people". What the new system designates as a "red zone", for example, actually allows for a significant relaxation of current restrictions, not a tightening of it. 

Public Health Ontario (PHO) did not sign off on the latest colour-coded tiered regional system - despite Ford's almost Trumpian protestations that he was following their advice, and that black is in fact white - and they suggest that the criteria for relaxation of lockdown rules are much too lax, in fact four times too lax. Ford calls the PHO's opinions, "one doctor's perspective", although it seems to be the opinion of pretty much the whole medical community in Ontario. The Ontario COVID-19 modelling consensus table claims it was not consulted at all about the new guidelines, again despite the Health Minister's express claims to the contrary. Who would you believe, the doctors or the politicians?

Toronto and Peel, the hardest hit areas in the second wave, and the ones most at risk from an uncontrolled runaway deteriotation in the situation (which arguably is already underway), are basically ignoring the provincial guidelines and instituting their own stricter guidelines, making the Ontario rules all but redundant. Ford has some tame officials and enablers among the health authorities who seem to be willing to back him up (for example, the almost universally derided Ontario chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams), but he clearly does not have the support and the respect of the province's largest cities or the province's medical authorities.

For one thing, the new regs are way too complicated, and nobody really understands them (including the Ontario government, I suspect). And they are cetainly not strict enough, given that things are way worse now than they ever were in March, when a full shutdown was the correct decision. Ford says that he will "not hesitate for a second if we have to go further". Er, OK, now would be good. You're hesitating right now.

So, anyway, back to my original point: I guess we are back to the old Doug Ford at the very time when we can least afford it.

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