A few weeks ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford introduced a series of half-hearted measures to fight the pandemic’s third wave. The government’s combination of draconian police powers but lax workplace measures sparked mass outrage in the province.
That outrage led to a bit of back peddling from the province. The police powers are a little less draconian, but still amount to what is essentially carding for the whole province. Playgrounds are open for kids, but basketball nets have been chained shut and tennis courts blocked off. The government hinted it might do something like implement sick leave, but made sure to dance around actually calling it that.
Well, we’ve now seen their plan. They want to top up the woeful federal sick benefit, doubling the amount it pays out to $1,000. Doing this would be better than nothing, probably, but it doesn’t deal with the federal program’s core flaw: it takes too long for people to get the money, and therefore doesn’t give anyone the stability they need to take time off work if they’re sick. Regardless, the federal government isn’t interested in the Ontario government’s offer anyways, saying it’s too difficult to modify the system for one province.
There’s a much faster way for people to get their money: mandating sick pay. It’s automatic. People just get their paycheque like normal. There’s no applying to a program, no waiting for the payment to be deposited, no wrangling between levels of government over a poorly designed program. People get their pay, they don’t go to work sick and fewer people die. Simple. Ford’s government doesn’t want that.
And yet, despite all the people that have died because of this government’s callousness, Health Minister Christine Elliott still has her job. Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, who had the gall to say the government was doing everything in its power to protect workers, still has his job. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, the face of the new police powers, still has her job. Hell, Ford himself still has his job, though he is very sad these days.
All of these people should be out of their posts, either by resigning or being sacked. But, sadly, that’s not really how things work in Canadian politics, so they’re likely to stick around in one way or another.
Yet there are other places where accountability could, and should, come from, namely the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which is the group of doctors and experts giving Ford and his cabinet advice on what to do.
Theoretically, they’re the scientists Ford is referring to during his press conferences when he talks about listening to experts. In reality, they make a bunch of recommendations that are disregarded whenever they might clash with the premier’s own ideological goals.
Here are some examples of recommendations or predictions from the Table that have been ignored:
- Implementing paid sick leave, which Ford’s government has voted down on at least 21 occasions.
- Suggestions on how to designate areas as hotspots. Ford’s government has failed to designate a few hard hit non-Conservative run postal codes as hot spots, while at the same time putting low-risk neighbourhoods that voted for him in line for expedited vaccines.
- Stricter lockdown measures that would classify more workplaces as non-essential. This would close more construction sites, warehouses and offices, because workplaces are the heart of COVID’s current spread.
- Modelling and projections that the COVID-19 variants would drive infections to new highs if restrictions were lifted, and another stay-at-home order would be necessary.
- At least one member of the science table was calling the third wave of the pandemic “completely out of control” a full month ago.
Last Monday, the Table’s scientific director, Peter Jüni, was quoted in a Global News article saying he considered resigning, but ultimately decided against it: “I was at a complete loss. On Friday it was like the floor would give way on me. […] It really pains me. I was desperate. I see something that is perfectly avoidable happening anyway and it’s absolutely unclear to me why.”
At least six of the Table’s members also spoke to the Globe and Mail for an article published early last week — some on the record — expressing their varying levels of distress and dismay over the direction Ontario is taking.
Jüni told the Globe that much of the Table will probably stay at their posts: “People are independent and they need to do what they feel is right for them. I believe the majority of the table will stay on. We’re not doing that for the government, we’re doing that for the people of this province.”
Later that week, the Table took a stronger step by releasing a public letter with the health recommendations they’ve been suggesting. While it initially seemed like it may work, with rumblings that the government was finally considering sick pay for workers, it has turned out to be a dud. We’re not going to get the sick leave they, or us, wanted.
And yet, science table members still haven’t resigned. The essential bet they seem to be making is that by being there and giving advice that’s ignored, they’re preventing worse advice from being given and ignored. If things have gotten this bad while they’ve been giving their advice, what use has it been? At a certain point going down with the ship turns from noble service to absurd delusion. The point has clearly been crossed.
Health officials can say how disappointed and sad they are that the government is abandoning workers to the ravages of COVID-19, but until they actually do something and quit their posts, it’s not worth squat.
Ford has used the table’s presence to pretend his decisions have been guided by something other than his gut and ideology. Table members quitting would take away his cover.
To stick around is to give support. It’s time for the Science Table to quit, and quit loudly. To stay at their posts is to collaborate with the government in its social murder of Ontarians.