Most Ontarians are doing their part. Doug Ford needs to do his

OPINION: As cases rise, the premier is calling out “reckless folks” doing “foolish things.” But the bulk of us are behaving responsibly — it’s the government that must do more
By Nam Kiwanuka - Published on Nov 13, 2020
Premier Doug Ford at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital on November 5. (Nathan Denette/CP)

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“People have to be responsible,” said Premier Doug Ford at a press conference this past Thursday — a day on which the province had seen another record number of case totals, even though testing was down.

“We have to be responsible,” he repeated. “I’ve always said that the government — the federal, the provincial, the municipal — we can put in effect every protocol: if the people aren’t following the protocols, it’s just not gonna happen.”

It’s surprising that the premier would place blame on individuals for not following the rules when individuals in his own caucus have been caught breaking them.

Just two weeks ago, Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff shared a picture on Facebook (later deleted) that showed him at a restaurant with a group of some 40 people not physically distancing or wearing masks.

The restaurant itself then posted to Facebook, indicating that staff had asked the group “several times” to wear masks when not seated at their tables: "Unfortunately they chose not to follow posted rules about wearing masks and distancing. We can remind guests but we cannot strong-arm them into following rules.”

The president of the Ontario Hospital Association, Anthony Dale, called on Oosterhoff to resign; NDP leader Andrea Horwath noted that “the member for Niagara West, as we all saw, literally posed for a photo where he violated public-health guidelines with over 40 of his friends and family” and asked, “So why is the premier’s own team challenging and outright ignoring his directions?"

Ford defended him, saying that he had “100 per cent confidence” in Oosterhoff and that he would continue to act as parliamentary assistant to the education minister. “He does a great job representing his area,” said Ford. “People love him out there. And he came out and apologized. Everyone makes mistakes. I accept that.”

When it’s an MPP flouting government policy, it’s a “mistake”; when it’s the rest of us, it’s “reckless folks” doing “foolish things.”

Most people I know have been taking all the necessary precautions: staying at home, working from home if they can, and, if they have children — well, that’s a whole other article. It’s frustrating to hear politicians say that individuals aren’t doing enough when there is so much contradictory messaging. And, of course, the responsibility of getting that messaging right is placed on us.

It’s not lost on me that the venue whose rules Oosterhoff violated was a small business; the premier passionately advocates for that sector and wants to avoid another lockdown.

But, as he defends what he calls a “balanced approach” to shutdown — one that protects business — he should keep in mind that no one wants businesses to shut down. Business owners are our friends, our neighbours, and often our employers. Small businesses look after our children so we can go to work. They are the heart of our communities — where we meet and gather and where we look after one other.

If businesses shut down, we stand to lose our jobs (if we haven’t already been furloughed or laid off). Birthday parties have been cancelled, graduations skipped, promotions delayed, mortgages declined, and loved ones left alone in long-term-care homes. Some of us have had to shoulder the burden of saying goodbye to fathers, mothers, grandparents, and friends during the pandemic. We’ve had to watch funerals from afar and on video, unable to travel across oceans because our COVID-19 tests didn’t come back in time. Food banks have become a lifeline for many.

The suggestion that people aren’t doing their best is both misguided and hypocritical.

The truth is, there’s very little that we as individuals can do without structural change.

We need sick leave, so that people don’t have to choose between losing a day’s wage and going to work ill. We need support for local businesses, for those living with disabilities, for caregivers who are being forced to leave the workforce because they have to watch children. We need a government that listens to expert advice on everything from class sizes to new restrictions.

Ford has reminded us to follow the protocols, one of which is physical distancing. Months ago, Toronto’s SickKids hospital and experts from around the world said that it would be possible for students to return to school if class sizes were kept small to allow for physical distancing. As winter approaches, the concern is that COVID-19 cases in schools will grow — in part because  kids will be indoors more.

A month ago, my child’s classroom increased in size by 10 students, bringing it to around 30 — double the recommended number of 15. Two weeks later, I got the news that I’d been dreading: there was a case of COVID-19 at my kids’ school. Worse still, it was in one of my children’s classrooms. Cases have been climbing in schools, and even though my family has stayed at home in our bubble, our bubble now includes all the families at the school and anyone else they come in contact with.

My family behaved responsibly. I’m sure most families at the school had behaved responsibly. It’s the government that hasn’t taken action on class sizes.

We’re also seeing rising numbers in long-term-care homes — we should have been preparing since the first wave, in March, but the government has failed to make vital structural changes.

“Folks, I don’t know what I have to do,” Ford said toward the end of his press conference. “Every single day, I’m pleading to follow the protocols. No matter how much money — we can throw hundreds of billions at this. We can throw everything we can, but if there are certain groups of people that don’t want to follow the procedures, it’s not gonna be good. It is not gonna be good for all of us.”

Trust between us all is now more important than ever. And we all stand to lose; some of us have lost so much already. We all need to do what we can to help control this thing — the government included.

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