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Once again, there really is only one story at Queen’s Park these days and that’s the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath weigh in on the week that was in the life of our province.
The angry premier
Steve Paikin: I guess, John Michael, technically we’re starting the third week of “the new normal” in Ontario. But I have to tell you, it feels like we’ve been at this for six months. I guess that’s a sign that most people I know have accepted the new conditions under which we’re all living now. Anyway, for me, the most interesting political story of the first couple of weeks of this crisis was how capably Premier Doug Ford appeared to be leading Ontario’s efforts. Many people didn’t think he had it in him to do so. But the big new political development this past week has been the emergence of, and I’ll put this in inverted commas, “Angry/Irked/Ticked-off Premier Ford,” who has been singularly unimpressed with the conduct of some businesses and some people lately.
John Michael: Before I get to Premier Angry, I just want to give people an example from Monday of how Doug Ford has surprised in his communications during this emergency. At his afternoon press conference at Queen’s Park on Monday, Ford was asked about his thoughts on the federal carbon tax increasing (as planned long ago) on April 1. Ford didn’t take the bait, saying he wasn’t going to get into politics at this time and singing the praises of both the prime minister and his deputy. Suffice it to say that Doug Ford has not always been so restrained on this topic and others.
Before that happened, we got an example of Ford’s increasingly forceful tone, telling people they need to stay home and do everything necessary to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The premier stepped right up to the line, but did not quite say outright, that police enforcement will be used to disperse crowds violating the current rule against public gatherings of more than five people. To my ears, “Ticked-off Ford” is also “Worried Ford” and I think that explains at least a little of the tone today. Do you think I’m overthinking it?
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Steve: I always watch the premier’s briefings on TV, and while he always appears very calm and measured, you can tell that this week, he’s had it up to here (I’m putting my hand well above my head) with people not listening to him.
Pusateri’s Fine Foods selling Lysol products for $30 a pop made the premier blow a gasket. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to name and shame others who appeared to profiteer this way. (For the record, store management insisted it was a clerical error that the product was listed at such an exorbitant price.) Ford also was highly miffed at construction companies that weren’t providing adequately safe and hygienic toilet facilities for their workers, threatening to shut them down if they didn’t get their acts together. And then yesterday, he was ready to blast those people who enjoyed the warm weekend weather a bit too much and congregated outdoors without practising physical distancing. I didn’t get the impression he was about to impose martial law if those who refuse to heed his admonitions continue this unsafe behaviour. But I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to order the Ontario Provincial Police to start handing out $1,000 tickets to people who were flouting his government’s wishes. Remember, people, we’re technically in a state of emergency right now, and we’ve also been told no gatherings of more than five people. I suspect it wouldn’t take too many $1,000 tickets for those practices to end.
Extending the province’s state of emergency
John Michael: Speaking of the state of emergency, we also got official confirmation from the premier on Monday that the current 14-day order will be extended for another 14 days. As regular TVO.org readers will know thanks to our skilled and handsome reporters (ahem), the state of emergency can be extended by the premier only once, for a grand total of 28 days before it needs to be extended by a vote of MPPs at Queen’s Park. It’s an important limit on the government’s emergency powers to make sure no premier can run roughshod over the elected chamber, and it comes into play on April 14. As it happens, the legislature is scheduled to reconvene at 1 p.m. on April 14 for the first time since last week’s “mini-budget”. Given that a lot of health models I’ve seen show Ontario’s COVID-19 caseload peaking in mid-April, I strongly expect the government to ask MPPs to extend the state of emergency, and if it gets as bad as some modelling currently predicts, I imagine MPPs will say yes. But that’s still in the future, and one thing all public officials are saying right now is that everyone still has a chance to make things better than they currently look on paper.
Just a reminder...
Want to know more? Check out the new episode of #onpoli for the latest updates and analysis on what the federal and provincial governments are doing to fight COVID-19.