What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (October 12-15)

Reopening plans, QR codes, and child-care conflict
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Oct 15, 2021
Premier Doug Ford, pictured here on Sept. 22, has promised that next week there will be new details about the province's reopening plan. (Cole Burston/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

Reopening plan: Premier Doug Ford said details on how the province intends to exit the final stage of its reopening plan will be released next week. “The chief medical officer of health has been clear,” he said at a press conference Friday. “The objective is to avoid further lockdowns, and if additional measures are necessary, they will be localized, tailored and aimed at limiting disruption to businesses and families because this is not just a plan for the short term, but for the long term.” Chief Medical Officer Kieran Moore said that the details that will be shared next week will give greater clarity around when people can expect greater reopening of the economy to happen.

Restaurants and bars: During his Friday press conference, Ford also addressed the frustration expressed by restaurants and other small businesses who have seen capacity limits placed on them remain unchanged while large venues, such as arenas, recently had their capacity limits lifted. “We're going to get to the restaurants. We're going to be rolling out a comprehensive plan, one that will stand the test of time,” he said. “I'm not going to rush it because anything you do in this pandemic and you rush, it can backfire on you, but we have a comprehensive plan that we're rolling out next week.”

A man filming in The Agenda studio

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QR codes: The province has begun rolling out the QR codes people can use to have their vaccine status verified at non-essential businesses. The codes are being released on the province’s website in stages, based on birth month: People born from January, February, March, or April can download their code today; those born May, June, July, or August can do so on Saturday; and people whose birthdays are in September, October, November and December can download on Sunday. The website will be open to any birth month starting Monday. You can also call the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900 to have your enhanced vaccine certificate emailed or mailed to you. Verify Ontario, the app that businesses will use to scan the codes, became available on the Google and Apple app stores on Thursday. For more on the QR codes and the app, read the government’s full briefing here.

Child care: While the Trudeau government has managed to ink deals with seven provinces and one territory on creating $10-a-day child-care spaces, Ontario is not one of them. As is often the case, it seems the problem comes down to money. According to a senior Progressive Conservative official who spoke to CBC News, Ottawa has offered Ontario $10 billion to implement a program – a third of the money it has committed to child care. "It's not enough," said the official. "We represent close to 40 per cent of the Canadian population. We need close to 40 per cent of the amount."

Vaccine mandates: Premier Ford is asking Ontario’s hospital administrators for their input about a potential vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers. “Any decision will need to balance the risks posed by COVID-19 to hospitals with the risk of further exacerbating health human resourcing challenges and the risks these may pose to the sector’s ongoing delivery of high-quality care,” Ford wrote in a letter to hospital leaders released Friday. The Ontario Medical Association has been calling for mandatory vaccinations for all healthcare workers since July.

Fuel prices: Ford said on Friday the government is “absolutely” planning to lower the price of gasoline, as motorists deal with a big jump in oil prices. Ford said he remains committed to fulfilling his campaign promise of reducing the provincial gas tax by 5.7 cents a litre, but added he wants to see Ottawa match that cut in federal fuel taxes. (This is your weekly friendly reminder that while high fuel prices can certainly be a real burden on many drivers, lower gas prices encourage more fuel consumption, which is bad for climate change).

Electoral reform: At the Liberal party's annual convention Sunday, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is expected to say that, if elected to form a government, he'll reform Ontario's election process from a first-past-the-post system to a ranked-ballot system. If he fails to do so, Del Duca says he'll “resign on the spot and give you back the power to choose someone else," according to a draft of his speech obtained by the Toronto Star. (While electoral reform is often considered synonymous with proportional representation, a ranked ballot system is not a form of proportional representation.)

Star candidates: The Liberals have nominated financial services executive Stephanie Bowman as their candidate in Don Valley West. It’s a key riding for the party, since former premier Kathleen Wynne, who has decided not to seek re-election, has held it since 2003. Bowman is a former senior vice president at Scotiabank and just resigned from the Bank of Canada’s board of directors to enter politics. She will face off in the riding against another star candidate: former provincial advocate for children and youth Irwin Elman, who will be running for the NDP. The Progressive Conservatives have not yet nominated their candidate for Don Valley West. 

More politics coverage on TVO

#onpoli podcast: Mike Schreiner on the nursing shortage and Annamie Paul

The leader of the Green Party of Ontario and MPP for Guelph joins the podcast to discuss Ontario's nursing shortage. He also gets into the departure of his federal counterpart, Annamie Paul, and why he hopes she will run for the provincial Green Party in the upcoming election. Also, mandatory vaccinations, a funding dispute with optometrists, and controversial WSIB legislation.

Taking a closer look at the NDP’s new attack ads

The NDP spots aimed at Doug Ford are pretty standard fare, but the one targeting Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is more intriguing, according to Steve Paikin.

To win more votes in Ontario, Erin O’Toole should study Doug Ford's past and present

The federal Tories are arguing over where to go next. They should look to their provincial counterparts for a roadmap, John Michael McGrath argues.

As conditions improve, people — and institutions — struggle to lower their guard

The threat of COVID-19 has, for most of us, significantly receded. Some people will be slow to return to normal. Bureaucracies will be even slower, Matt Gurney writes.

The vaccine passport is a win for Doug Ford. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to his head

“Everyone wants their old lives back, myself very much included," Matt Gurney writes. "But the dumbest thing we could do now would be to botch the final act in our excitement to be nearly at the end of this. Maintaining a slow, cautious approach isn’t just the right thing to do on its own merits; it’s also the conservative thing to do.”

Beyond the Pink Palace

Private health care, public solution?

Ontario's health care system has been battered by COVID-19, medical staff have been pushed to their limits, and a massive backlog of diagnostic and surgical procedures has built up. The Agenda debates whether the province should turn to private health care to fix the situation.

COVID and schools: Epidemiologist Colin Furness talks about rapid testing, airborne transmission, and how when it comes to transmission of the virus in schools, “we’re still in the dark.”

Medical appointments: The province’s top health officials are telling doctors to reduce the number of virtual appointments and see more of their patients in person. In a letter released Wednesday on behalf of Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore, the Ministry of Health, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, physicians were told that while moving to virtual care was warranted earlier in the pandemic, “the pressures that led to prioritizing the adoption of virtual care over in-person care (e.g., lack of PPE, severity of the pandemic) have now diminished.” The letter went on to say that there are increasing reports of doctors’ offices not providing in-person care, and that there are many patients “for whom the standard of care cannot be met in a solely virtual care environment.”

Laurentian: Andrea Horwath was in Sudbury on Wednesday, criticizing the province’s handling of Laurentian University’s overwhelming financial problems. Laurentian declared insolvency earlier this year, and has had to cut dozens of programs and lay off more than 100 faculty members. Horwath did not offer specifics on what the NDP would do to fix the situation, but argued the Ford government had failed to make much of an effort. "Because the government has simply walked away from the crisis here at Laurentian, it's everyday folks who are paying the price,” she said.

Passport phase-out: Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said Thursday the province expects to slowly phase out vaccine passports sometime next year. But he added any end of the passport system will be done cautiously. “We’re still reviewing that science and getting the input of our experts but we do not see the whole (vaccination) certification process ending suddenly,” he said. “I can’t see us eliminating them until we get through some of the difficult holiday times.”

Buy American: A new provision working its way through U.S. Congress has Canada’s auto manufacturing sector – largely centred in Ontario – worried. It would provide $12,500 in tax credits for the purchase of an electric vehicle – but some of those credits would only apply if the vehicle was made in the U.S. The fear is that would motivate car companies to set up new manufacturing lines south of the border and bypass Canada. "We're all kind of anxious," Flavio Volpe of the Canada's Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association told CBC News. "It's an investment-chiller, potentially.”

Note: News about Steven Del Duca's electoral reform promise and Matt Gurney's column on vaccine passports was added after this article was first published. 

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