Here we are, at the end of September 2020. It’s been over six months that we’ve been in this fight against COVID-19 and really there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Case numbers in most parts of the country are rising again. In Ontario testing capacity is a mess, there are teacher shortages and schools are slowly starting to close because of COVID cases in them. And in Quebec, it looks like Montreal and Quebec City are on the verge of going back to some of the strictest measures because of the rapidly rising case totals there.

With the Fall now here, it’s expected that things will get worse before they get better, similar to what happened with the Spanish Flu epidemic over 100 years ago. In that case, it was the second wave that was the worst of all and if things stay on this track, that’s exactly the direction we’re heading it. With that in mind you’d expect our governments to take measures to deal with this concerning situation. Last week in Ontario, we saw one such move that made sense:

Yes folks, it was always strange that re-opening strip clubs and having people packed into bars was a priority of any government before they had the return to school sorted out. Yet at the same time, it was a typical Doug Ford kind of thing to do. To say that the Ford Conservatives approach to their COVID response has been contradictory and a bit erratic of late would be polite. At the same time that Premier Ford has rightly been chastising people for getting together in big groups, having parties and alike, he’s also first moved to re-opening bars and strip clubs, the exact kind of places where you would exhibit the same kind of behaviour that he is chastising elsewhere. It’s not a big leap in logic to say that “if I’m allowed to go drinking in a bar or a strip club, surely I must be safe to do the same with friends in a private setting?”

That is what the mixed messaging of the Ford Conservatives has brought us; confusion and seemingly arbitrary policy set to fight COVID. As of writing this, the Ford Conservatives told Ontarians that it’s not safe to “cram” more than 10 people in your home, yet it’s perfectly fine to cram more than 30 kids and teachers into a tiny classroom for 8 hours a day. On Friday they made those moves to close strip clubs and reduce bar hours then today this policy came into effect:

Yep, more confusion and contradiction in this COVID response. Just as COVID cases are soaring across Ontario and things are getting worse, now is the time that the Ford Conservatives decided to re-open the provinces casinos. They will be limited to 50 people at a time, people will have to register online to go, there will be no table games and people will be limited to two hours, all of which are sensible measures. Although again, the bloody mixed messages of this is astounding.

What exactly is the rush to get casinos open and running again in the teeth of a bloody public health emergency? What is the public benefit to doing this, beyond helping those who work in the casinos get back to work? You could easily argue there is no rush to getting them opened again. Late last week the company that operates most of Ontario’s casinos, Gateway Casinos, became the first (and so far only) company in the country to access the Federal governments Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEF), getting a $200 million loan from Ottawa. So when it comes to the survival of their business, they seem to be just fine. As for individual Ontarians, as much as I know that some people like to go and gamble, the ability to go play the slots at the casino is not one that is a question of a need that is required to live. Hell, you’d think that with so many people having lost their jobs in this crisis that it wouldn’t be a good idea to make it easier for people to gamble away what little money they have left.

But that leads to another reason why this move doesn’t need to be made, the fact that so many people who do like to gamble now do so online, either through sites located in other countries or through Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s own website. The point here being that if you really, really have the urge to go gambling, you can already do it online. You don’t need to go into a bricks and mortar casino to do it and even if you wanted to, under these rules you can only go play the slots. That’s it.

So that brings us back to the question of “why?”. Why in the Hell is the Ford government adding to the confusion they have already created in their COVID response by letting these casinos re-open? What exactly is the benefit to society in doing so? The only thing I can figure is an attempt to raise revenue for the province, because since those casinos closed the province has lost a lot of incoming money that they usually provide. If there is a better reason for doing so, my ears are open, and I’d love to hear about it.

This announcement looks more like a vain attempt at a cash grab than good public policy, but that’s part of the box governments put themselves in when they became so dependent on lottery and casino revenues. It’s just disturbing that it seems that in this dire situation, in this dangerous time, now is the time that the Ford Conservatives are doing this. It’s a policy by itself that makes no public health sense, and makes even less sense when you look at what they just did on Friday. So here we are in Ontario, a place where the government says that it’s not safe to be in the bar too late or a strip club at all because of COVID, but it’s totally fine to park yourself in front of a slot machine for two hours at a time in a casino. When this is the logic that we see rising to the surface from this government, it’s no wonder that there is confusion out there about what people should and shouldn’t be doing. In part it’s that confusion that’s making this situation worse and feeding the rising case count. And like with most of this, it’s something that’s completely within our own control. We’ll see how long these casinos will stay opened, but I feel safe in saying this decision will soon feature on that list of Ford government decisions that will make people wonder “what were they thinking?”. Again it’s “one step forward, many steps back” when it comes to our COVID response in Ontario and these back steps are coming at what might be the worst time possible.