What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (January 10-14)

Rod Phillips says goodbye, Ford vows no anti-vax tax, and the province goes back to court over testing teachers
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Jan 14, 2022
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore listens to questions from the media on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. (Nathan Denette/CP)



Every Friday, TVO.org provides a summary of the most notable developments in Ontario politics over the past week.

Here’s what caught our attention:

Queen’s Park keywords

Phillips out: Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips has announced he will not seek re-election and is stepping down as MPP for Ajax next month. A statement Phillips posted to Twitter did not really explain why he was leaving, apart from saying he was looking forward to returning to the business sector, where he has spent most of his career. Phillips was one of the Progressive Conservative party's highest profile candidates in 2018, immediately being appointed to cabinet as minister of the environment following the election. He eventually was promoted to finance minister, but had to step down after he was publicly criticized for vacationing in the Caribbean during the pandemic's second wave. But he made a comeback last June when he was appointed to oversee long-term care. Phillips' decision to leave means at least seven current PC MPPs are not seeking re-election. 

Hospital transfers: The Toronto Star has learned Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore has authorized hospitals to transfer patients to other hospitals more frequently than normal while the Omicron variant puts pressure on the entire health care system. It's something that happened during the pandemic's third wave, sometimes resulting in patients being sent outside their home city. “It’s sending a very strong message to the system that the functional integrity of the health-care system is in danger,” said Chris Simpson, a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital and executive vice-president of Ontario Health, a provincial agency overseeing health care.

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Testing teachers: The province will appeal a ruling that struck down its plan to test all new teachers in math. Ontario's Divisional Court determined last month the test had a disproportionate impact on racialized teachers and would therefore infringe equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The provincial government is asking the Court of Appeal for Ontario to hear the case, and will argue the previous ruling set too low a threshold to determine discrimination. The province believes screening teachers for math ability will ultimately lead to better student performance on standardized math tests.

No tax for unvaxxed: While Quebec is planning to introduce a tax on citizens not vaccinated against COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford says no such measure is coming to Ontario. “We aren’t going down that road,” he said Wednesday. “We’re going to take a different approach, but I implore, I ask, I beg every single person that’s not vaccinated please protect yourself, protect your family, protect coworkers. Please get your vaccination.”

Uncertain reopening: Businesses hoping to see Omicron-related health restrictions lifted later this month might have to wait a little longer. The provincial government has shut down indoor dining at restaurants and bars, and cut capacity at retail settings and personal care services to 50 per cent until at least Jan. 26. But Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore says he can’t promise the province will be able to ease restrictions by that date. “A sudden reopening, I’d be worried about another wave of Omicron,” he said Thursday. Moore added that data coming in early next week should allow officials to provide more clarity to businesses.

School reopenings: The province says schools will be safe when they reopen to in-class learning on Monday. It promises greater use of rapid tests, school vaccine clinics during school hours in the hopes of making vaccinations more accessible for families, and to allow retired teachers to work more days as supply teachers as a way to address staffing shortages during the pandemic. You can read the governent's full briefing here. Meanwhile, several school boards across the province are warning parents some classes may be cancelled with short notice if the Omicron variant causes staffing shortages because too many teachers are sick. Boards are saying while they will try to give as much notice as possible, some classes may cancelled last-minute.

Internationally-trained nurses: The province is turning to nurses trained in other countries for help with staffing shortages in the health care system. Health Minister Christine Elliott announced this week nurses with foreign credentials will be allowed to work under the supervision of a regulated health-care provider. She said more than 1,200 internationally-trained professionals have already expressed interest in taking part.

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

The Agenda: Should Ontario Let Omicron Rip?

Is Omicron how the pandemic ends? Is it the beginning of the endemic period of the virus, as some people think? If it is, are restrictions still necessary? While some countries and jurisdictions are still limiting freedom of movement, others are seemingly letting the virus run rampant. The Agenda discussed whether that's ill-advised or actually insightful thinking and how Canada will ever achieve the elusive "community immunity."

#onpoli podcast: Shutdowns, again

Capacity limits, schools closed, limited testing. On this week's episode of the #onpoli podcast, Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discussed the restrictions in the province and the decision-making behind them. Also, why are politicians sending out Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore to make announcements solo?

Once again, parents and kids have been left to fend for themselves

Written before the province announced schools would reopen on Jan. 17, Nam Kiwanuka argued that, whether kids are learning in class or from home, the province still isn’t using every tool in its toolbox to give them the best and safest learning experience possible during the pandemic.

What exactly is Ontario’s exit plan?

A few months ago, the answer seemed clear: vaccines. Now we have vaccines. Yet here we are again, Matt Gurney writes.

Ontario’s opposition parties unite around fighting COVID-19

It’s extremely unusual for opposition parties to come together at Queen’s Park, particularly during an election year. But these are not normal times, Steve Paikin writes.

What do we want our health-care system to do, and how much are we willing to pay?

The argument for expanding Ontario’s hospital capacity was strong pre-COVID, and it’s even stronger now. But saying that is easy — making decisions is a whole lot harder, according to John Michael McGrath.

Don’t let politicians blame all our health-care woes on the pandemic

COVID-19 has absolutely overwhelmed the system. But there were existing fault lines — and the hard work won’t be over when the immediate crisis has passed, argues Matt Gurney.

Beyond the Pink Palace

The pandemic ‘addiction’ myth: TVO.org Deputy Editor Sarah Sweet, who has seen her own life “shrunk down, shrivelled, limited” because of long-term illness, tears a strip off people who say those arguing for continued pandemic restrictions actually “want” society to stay locked down.

Bearskin Lake: TVO’s northwestern Ontario Hubs reporter Charnel Anderson provides an update on Bearskin Lake, a First Nations community ravaged by COVID-19 and whose leaders complain the federal and provincial governments have been too slow to provide help.

Sandy Lake: Another northwestern Ontario First Nation is dealing with a tragedy today. Several children are believed to have died in a house fire in Sandy Lake. "Chii-miigwetch to the first responders and other community members who braved extreme cold for hours. We have heard that their efforts were nothing short of heroic," Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Bobby Narcisse said in a statement.

Ottawa LRT debacle: TVO.org assistant editor Sarah Trick breaks down the dubious milestones in the national capital’s years-long transit saga, including derailments, lawsuits, and delays.

Four-day workweek: TVO.org columnist John Michael McGrath explains why one Ontario town moved to a four-day workweek.  

Fourth shot: Ontarians considered severely immunocompromised can start booking for a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine today.

Vaccinating truckers: Do you know what’s going on with the federal government’s vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border? I’m not sure I do. Earlier this week, Ottawa was adamant that Canadian truckers who wanted to drive over the border had to be fully vaccinated by Saturday. If not, they couldn’t cross or would face testing and quarantine. Even though it was estimated the move would prevent 12,000 cross-border truckers from working – about 10 per cent of the total – the federal government stuck to its guns. Then, late Wednesday, the Canadian Border Services Agency announced that even Canadian truckers who weren’t vaccinated would still be allowed to cross the border. Then, late Thursday, the government said actually no, the CBSA spokesperson misspoke and the vaccine mandate would be enforced and Canadian truckers would need to be vaccinated or undergo testing and quarantine. Perhaps things will have changed again by the time you read this.  

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