Ontario Premier Doug Ford has a singular knack for avoiding doing the thing he obviously needs to do until the last possible moment, when it’s already too late.
This week, he decided to announce a vaccine certificate system, and make vaccination mandatory in order to do certain indoor activities, such as dining and watching a movie. On September 22, an interim system will go into place, and then later next month, people will get an Ontario app with a QR code to prove they’re vaccinated.
It took months for Ford to reach this point, consistently pushing against the idea when asked. Back in July, for example, he said the province wouldn’t be implementing a vaccine passport, claiming it would lead to a “split society.”
Now, the government has been dragged kicking and screaming — or maybe in complete silence; it’s hard to say as Ford has been AWOL for several weeks — into doing the thing he didn’t want to do, once again.
On Wednesday, he tried to make this delayed announcement seem like it was a failure of the federal government. But that’s bullshit. The best evidence Ford’s government could provide was a letter shared on Twitter by his head of communications, which shows the province was asking for a way to certify the vaccination status of international travellers.
“The requirements for fully vaccinated international arrivals should include proof of vaccination that is recognized by Health Canada and our international allies,” the letter reads. “Provinces and territories cannot operate or manage thirteen (13) separate systems to manage and track international travellers. A single federal system protecting Canada at all points of entry will prevent future inter-provincial barriers that could reduce the mobility of all Canadians.”
That isn’t a request for a program to make it so people can go out and eat, but rather for something to track the status of people coming into the country. And that letter exists because, as he admitted, Ford didn’t want internal vaccine documents. Instead, the Conservatives were running ads blaming the lack of international travel restrictions for the spread of COVID-19 within Ontario, while stalling for time in imposing any health restrictions on the province. It was about winning the news cycle, not beating the virus.
This is typical Ford. He didn’t want to have to be the one to do something, so he put it off as long as possible, and when he finally did the damn thing, he made sure to make it seem like the delay was someone else’s fault. Quebec, for what it’s worth, launched a vaccine certification system last month, and it went into effect on Wednesday. There was a choice, and Ford decided to delay the inevitable.
It has been obvious for some time that there would be a requirement for official vaccine certification. Ford and his government have said that the paper printouts and emailed PDF provided when you receive your vaccination were enough. But it was never going to be enough. Paper gets wet, it tears, it gets lost. And the PDFs provided from the province are so obviously easy to falsify that there was little chance they’d ever be effective.
Ford was asked at the passport announcement what workers should do if they’re confronted by upset customers, who refuse to accept the new rules. What if things get ugly?
“I just don’t want it to happen, I don’t if people want to get angry, they want to protest come down to Queen’s Park, they can protest, do cartwheels, do whatever they want down here,” Ford said. “But, please, these people are just trying to earn a living, they’re just trying to do their job.”
Ideally these people will, indeed, show some personal responsibility and not lose their minds when asked for proof of vaccination. But it’s unlikely. Protesters across Ontario and British Columbia swarmed around hospitals on the same day all this was being announced, screaming for “freedom” from the tyranny of vaccines. At least one nurse was assaulted in B.C.
It’s hard to say what the solution for that kind of societal rot is, but, “Gee, can you not” probably isn’t going to cut it.
A few weeks back, when David Fisman resigned his post on the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table — something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of — he said they were holding back important modelling information that showed disaster in our future. The Table replied that they weren’t holding anything back, but that the modelling just wasn’t ready yet.
Well, the modelling is in and it’s pretty horrifying: In order for the province to avoid further lockdowns and be battered by the full force of a fourth wave, “substantially” more than 85 per cent of the population needs to be fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, we were at 76 per cent.
Conveniently, that modelling has been released on the same day as the passport announcement, blunting the horror of the prospect of another giant pandemic wave. These two issues are inextricably linked. The only way the province is going to get above 85 per cent vaccination is if the holdouts have greater incentives to do so.
But because the program is so slapdash, it’s almost certain to leave people behind. Ontario has already shown its inability to reach vulnerable populations in provincial hotspots well enough to make up for their increased risk of infection. It’s unclear it will be able, or even interested, in making sure those populations aren’t shut out of society because of lack of access.
These are solvable problems, but it requires a government willing to solve them. If Ford’s history on vaccine passports is any guide, there’s no will there. If they ever solve these issues, it will be months too late.
Like everything else, the outcomes we face are all bound up in the choices Ford makes. If anyone is left behind, it’s because Ford will have once again dithered on making things happen.