It’s too late for apologies. The crisis is here

OPINION: COVID-19 is putting essential workers and their families in hospital now, today, as you read this — and whatever Doug Ford does next is going to come too late for thousands of Ontarians
By John Michael McGrath - Published on Apr 22, 2021
Premier Doug Ford at a press conference on April 22. (YouTube)

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Premier Doug Ford is sorry. Sorry, he says, for his government’s panicked reaction to the legitimately frightening modelling it was presented with last week. It went too far because the cabinet moved too fast, he says, and he sincerely apologizes. The opposition at Queen’s Park — the New Democratic, Liberal, and Green MPPs — are as one in their dismissal of Ford’s apology, and it’s not clear whether the premier’s attempt to mollify his critics will actually help end the political crisis the government has walked itself into.

Perhaps the second-most damning thing anyone can say about this government is that it seems to be belatedly, timidly, and once again by half-measures moving toward some kind of paid-sick-leave policy for workers who are exposed to COVID-19 — but not because of the public-health crisis the province is in, or else it would have moved months ago. Instead, workers might get the barest of respites because of the political crisis Ford personally finds himself in.

The most damning thing anyone can say about this government is that it’s too late. The crisis is here.

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Paid sick leave, in whatever form the government eventually gets around to supporting it, will be welcome (Progressive Conservative MPPs are likely to vote down Liberal Michael Coteau’s sick-leave private member’s bill Thursday anyway, just because). But it’s too late. The crisis is here. COVID-19 is putting essential workers and their family members in hospital now, today, as you read this, and whatever the government does next is going to come too late for thousands of people who have had their lives upended at best or ended at worst.

The alarming modelling that prompted a panic in the cabinet might turn out to be wrong, and if it does, the proper reaction would to be to thank several different gods that we dodged a bullet. But, in any case, it doesn’t matter, because the crisis isn’t in the modelling; it’s not in the future. It’s in the present and in our hospitals. The crisis is here.

The federal government might secure some miraculous new supply of vaccines for Canada, and Ontario would undoubtedly benefit from that, but it’s too late, because the crisis is here. Vaccines take time to work, and doctors are already warning the public that they’re seeing hospitalized patients who got their first doses less than 14 days earlier. (Please, please, please get vaccinated — but give the shot time to work its scientific miracle. Please.) Ontario is vaccinating more people every day, but the relentless math of COVID-19’s spread means we can’t vaccinate our way out of this. The crisis is here.

And it’s not going away. The province’s ICU beds are fuller now than they’ve been since the pandemic began, and that has brought the hospital system to the brink of collapse. Patients who need critical care and would otherwise get it are being denied it, today, in Ontario, right now, because this government ignored months of warnings that reopening businesses and ending January’s stay-at-home order was incredibly risky. The government got what it wanted, and now nurses, doctors, and, most of all, their patients and families are paying the price.

If we are very lucky, we might be at the peak of the third wave right now. But, if so, it’s too late. The crisis is here. ICU beds never really emptied out after the second wave, and there’s no reason to believe that, even if we do achieve a rapid fall in daily new cases thanks to a combination of public-health measures and vaccines, ICU capacity will return to anything like normal for months to come. The pandemic is going to have lasting health effects on people who were denied care when they needed it most, because the government dithered too long.

Ford can show all the contrition he likes, but the past four months happened, and the facts aren’t changing. The crisis is here. And if it’s not a crisis his government caused, it’s undeniably a crisis his government made needlessly worse due in part to its own political ideology — an ideology put on clear display just Wednesday, when Burlington’s PC MPP Jane McKenna stood up in the legislature and asserted that the government’s critics were “chicken littles” overstating the severity of the crisis Ontario now faces.

In one sense, we should be grateful to McKenna for saying the quiet part out loud so that we can all hear her and so that a transcript will be preserved. For all the excellent reporting that’s been done from multiple outlets over the past week about the government’s chaos, Occam’s razor is still useful, and the simplest explanation for how we found ourselves in this crisis may be that many, if not most, in the PC caucus simply don’t believe COVID-19 is that big a deal.

When the public demands apologies, it’s best for politicians to apologize, so good on Ford for ripping off the Band-Aid. But apologies without change are meaningless. Whether the government can change, and whether it can change enough over the coming weeks and months to lead Ontario out of the crisis its own choices exacerbated, will be an important question that only events can answer.

But it will all come too late. Because the crisis is here.

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