This morning I woke up to a chill in the air, as we are under a frost warning. It was as sure a reminder as any that our warm summer is behind us and the Fall and Winter are coming around the corner fast. It also serves as a reminder of just how long we’ve been in this fight against COVID-19; it started at the end of winter and now as the summer ends, we’re starting to see COVID case numbers rise again. And we haven’t even hit flu season yet when we expect things to get that much worse.
Given that we’ve been in this for six months, we no longer have the excuse of lack of time to get certain things right. Yes no one government has had a perfect reaction to this pandemic, but still there is a difference between perfection and competent. The longer we go in this, we expect our governments to learn more and apply those lessons, improving their response. Yet in Ontario we’re honestly starting to see the opposite. Two different stories are driving home how the Ford Conservatives are falling down on the job right now, at probably the worst possible time. The first comes from Ottawa this morning and is as chilling as the cool morning air:
That is the Twitter account of my former colleague Kiavash Najafi and those tweets above are the start of a harrowing thread that I’m sure all parents cringe at seeing. In many communities across the province there has been a serious shortage of testing, just as more people are having to access it. In Ottawa, you’re seeing insane lines like that, with parents having to stand with children in line waiting all day in the cold just to get a test. Just a couple of days ago in Brockville, where I live, we saw this:
We’re seeing examples of this lack of testing popping up all around the province, as families are having to get tested because of symptoms that they are showing and the rules about accessing schools. In the board where my daughter goes to school, if she shows any symptoms, she must get a COVID test before being able to return to school or be in isolation for 14 days, showing no symptoms. Most boards have similar rules, which means that normal symptoms of illness require greater reactions.
To be clear, that makes sense because in these circumstances we can’t just assume it’s not COVID and move on. But in order for things to work, that means that the province needs to ensure that the necessary testing is not just in place, but that it’s accessible in a timely manner. You can’t cut that corner, yet as the Ford Conservatives have done in many things of lately when it’s come to the COVID response, they are trying to cut it. It’s not acceptable for parents to have to stand in lines all day long in the elements with their young children trying to get a test. It’s an imagine that’s more akin to a Soviet bread line, not the Canadian health care system that we cherish. And honestly, it’s access problems like that which will keep people from getting tested when they should. But that wasn’t the only piece of news around COVID in Ontario yesterday, as the Ford Conservatives announced changes to the rules around dealing with the disease that raised some honest questions:
Let me be clear off the hop here, this is not a bad announcement. The government should be taking steps like these as the case numbers rise and they should be getting harder on those who flaunt those regulations. You’ll find zero argument against that from me. But while this move in of itself is the right one, it’s also a half-measure that’s been typical of this Ford government when it comes to how they’ve dealt with COVID. While they are limiting the number of people who can be at indoor social gatherings in some areas to 10 people, they aren’t in others. While those rules apply to personal homes, they don’t apply to places like theatres, restaurants or banquet halls. Premier Ford warned that they will “throw the book at you” if you break those rules by having a barbecue in your back yard with a few too many people, but at the same time refuses to reduce the numbers of kids crammed into classrooms.
We’ve now got a situation where in certain parts of Ontario you’re being told you can’t have more than 10 people in your house, yet your kids can leave that home and be crammed into classrooms full of 30 kids without proper physical distancing. You know, those same classrooms where many of those kids standing in line waiting for COVID tests were just a day or two before. If I were to be kind about it, I would say that this makes no bloody sense. But honestly, I’m not feeling as charitable about it because the Ford Conservatives had six bloody months to sort a lot of this out and they simply didn’t. They knew that we would need lots of testing capacity, especially when schools re-opened or when flu season hit. This was coming, they knew it and have gotten caught with their pants down.
That’s not a matter of not being perfect; it’s a matter of not meeting an accepted standard of competence in governing. This is a failure on the behalf of the Ford Conservatives, one that they solely own. Healthcare is provincial jurisdiction and it’s been completely in the hands of this Conservative government to get all of this right. You can’t objectively say that they have succeeded when you see pictures like that in the capital city of a G7 nation. You can’t say you’re getting it right when you have an incoherent policy that says 11 people in your home is a danger yet 30 kids crammed into a small classroom is “safe”. In all of this I’ve never expected perfection from any government on this response, but the further we go along we rightfully expect our governments to perform better in their response, not worse. Yet somehow the Ford Conservatives have backslid here. Sure individual behaviours will go a long way to determining how we will deal with COVID and governments can only do so much to deal with that. But what governments can do is provide the proper resources and coherent public health advice to give individuals the tools they need to do right. On that score, the Ford Conservatives are failing right now.
I hope they take this chance to do the right thing and get this right, but if the Premier Ford’s reactions at Queen’s Park on this yesterday were any indication, he’d rather accuse others and cast invectives. The only hope we have left is that we’ll see a classic Ford backdown in the days to come because right now we need leadership and humility, not bluster and attacks. Doug Ford seemed to have understood that back in the Spring and maybe the return of the chilly air will remind him of the value of that approach he appeared to grasp at that time. One can hope.