Transcript: Ep. 9 - Ontario closes for business | Mar 23, 2020

Today I am ordering
the mandatory closure
of all non-essential workplaces
in the province of Ontario.

Hi again, everybody.
I'm Steve Paikin and this
is the OnPoli podcast.
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
Well, John Michael, we saw
a very different Premier Ford
at his news conference, his
daily briefing earlier today.
We sit here taping this at
a little after two o'clock
on Monday afternoon. This was
a Premier, who, shall I put it
in the vernacular,
was completely pissed off
with the numbers of people
he's hearing about
who are not respecting
the social distancing,
the physical distancing,
who are getting off planes
and coming back as snowbirds
and going right to the stores
instead of going home into
self-isolation for 14 days.
He was one irked Premier today,
that's for sure.
I can't stress it enough.
It's unacceptable.
If you're coming from the
airport, do not, I repeat,
do not stop at a store!
Go directly home
and self-isolate for 14 days.
Oh, absolutely. And also, you
know, reading the riot act
to construction companies.
Construction companies have been
pretty friendly with this
government so far, and yet
the Premier, very irritated
at some of the pictures that
we're seeing passed around
on social media of construction
sites with almost no effective
hygiene management, you know,
overflowing porta-potties,
no sinks for people to wash
their hands in.
These kinds of things. Everybody
understands that
a construction site is a
difficult place to, you know,
keep spotless, and I don't think
anybody is realistically
asking for that, but some of
what we're seeing is,
at least the Premier seemed to
say, a sign that the industry
is just not taking these
directions seriously.
And he wants them to.
They have outhouses overflowing.
Not having proper
sanitary items.
Get your act together.
And he did make a distinction
between a couple of different
types of construction sites,
because people asked him,
the media asked the question
"why don't you just
"shut everything down?"
And he said, well,
"let's be reasonable here.
If you're in rural Ontario,
"and you're a construction crew
of two or three people,
"and you're finishing up a house
that people who have sold
"their home need to move into or
something like that,
"finish off the project.
"If you're building that
hospital in Vaughan," he said,
"we need that hospital right
away, so please, you know,
"finish off that project."
But he also was unequivocally
clear, he said
"if you are a construction
worker and you are going to work
"and you don't think that site
is safe" for some of the reasons
that you have just enumerated,
John Michael, he said
"go home, do not go to a place
where you feel unsafe."
And he said "I've been in
constant contact with
"the labour union leaders, with
other labour leaders." He said
"if they don't get the message,"
not the union leaders here,
he's speaking about the
development companies now.
"If you don't get the message
that these things need
"to be improved, if you can't
get a handle on this,
"then we will."
With the clear impression being
if you don't figure this out,
"we're shutting you down.
And of course, we might
be burying the lede slightly
in our podcast-- I mean, the big
news of the day is that
the Premier has ordered
a mandatory shutdown
of all non-essential businesses.
That was really the day's
announcement from the Premier.
This follows a similar move
in Quebec,
so now, you know...
the majority of central Canada
at least is under the mandatory
broad closure that a lot of
people have been expecting
but we didn't quite know when
it was coming.
The next step, I think one of
the question marks left
from today's announcement is, at
least so far, we haven't heard
about any changes to the--
the order not to gather
in groups
of more than 50 people.
Some provinces have gone lower
than that-- I believe in Germany
the rule is now groups
of no more than two people.
Um, I've definitely heard from
public health experts
who expect that rule to get
tightened even further.
And some, of course, wondering
why it hasn't been tightened
further already.
Yeah, it was a bit of
a frustrating announcement
in so far as you're quite right,
the Premier did announce
all non-essential businesses are
to be shut down as of midnight
tomorrow-- I think that's right,
isn't it? Midnight tomorrow?
11:59 pm, yes.
11:59 pm, I think. Yes. Um, but
what the Premier did not do
today was actually release
a list of what that means.
How do you know if you're an
essential business
or a non-essential business?
And he essentially said
"please give us 24 hours to
figure this out,
"because we are putting our list
together right now
"and we want to be very clear
about what constitutes
"a non-essential business from
an essential business."
We heard Toronto mayor John Tory
already say today, you know,
the Toronto subway system, for
example is an essential service.
And he said in order for people
to-- for workers to get to
grocery stores, to get to
long-term care facilities,
to get to hospitals and so on,
the subway system,
the public transit system of
Toronto needs to stay open
in order for that to happen.
So I don't think there's any
question that the subways are
not about to be shut down,
but we'll find out what's on
the list of-- what's allowed
to stay open and what's not
allowed to stay open anymore.
My hunch, John Michael, is that
that gaming store yesterday,
that video store that had
a lineup around the block,
that's not going to be
necessarily considered
an essential service going
I'll tell you one thing that did
catch my eye during this
news conference as well,
Brian Lilley is a columnist
The Toronto Sun,
and I think it's fair to say
that ideologically speaking,
he's a bit of a soulmate
of the Premier's and of
this government's.
And he asked an extremely tough
question off the top
of Premier Ford.
When you and your staff, your
advisors are constantly saying
one thing one hour, one thing
the next, it really does
make it look like the government
doesn't have a handle on this.
Shouldn't this be-- if this is
where you're going to be now,
shouldn't you have made these
decisions a week ago?
Shouldn't you be now perhaps
going further
if you think it's that bad?
You seem to be behind the curve
every step of the way.
Under normal circumstances,
the Premier might take a strip
off a reporter who asked
a question with that much
He didn't.
In fact, later in the press
conference, the Premier said
"I still want to commend the
media," he said.
"You guys are acting like
You're making sure you're
getting the message out,
"stay at home," no matter if
it's in the papers,
or on the radio, or on
You guys are doing an incredible
job getting the message out.
And if you know Premier Ford,
you'll know being called
a "champ" or a "champion"
is about as high of praise
as it gets.
But I found some of those
moments quite noteworthy
in today's press conference.
And I think, to link two of
these things, you know,
one of the things that is
confusing about the government
not having the list of what is a
essential and a non-essential
business, them not having that
list ready to go
is one of those times in this
crisis that I have been
genuinely confused. This seems
to me like the kind of thing
that, you know, the Ministry of
the Attorney General
and the Solicitor General, and--
this should have been a document
that was in a drawer somewhere
that was waiting to be used.
This is the kind of thing that
is just part
of emergency planning,
I would have thought.
So the fact that they don't have
a list ready to go today
to give everybody, you know,
a solid 24 hours' notice
about who is going to be shut
down and who is not,
that is legitimately confusing
to me.
I have said repeatedly though
all of this that the government
is reacting to events as much as
we all are,
and I understand that everybody
is in a difficult position,
so I don't want to come off as,
you know,
I have said repeatedly, I don't
think it's like I could do,
you know, a massively better job
than the government is.
But this is one of those times
that I was confused
that this wasn't already done,
or that they didn't have
a document ready to go.
I have to agree with you there.
I mean, emergency preparedness
and emergency planning would
seem to be a constant.
You've got to be ready for
whatever it is.
It's a hurricane, it's a massive
flood, it's a something.
It's not like this is the first
time-- this is not even
the first time that Ontario has
been through a serious pandemic.
I mean, after all, SARS was
17 years ago.
So yeah, the list--
you wouldn't think the list
would be all that complicated,
I mean, drug stores and
have got to stay open.
Doctors' offices have got to be
able to stay open.
Video stores probably ought
not to--
(John Michael laughing)
--have to stay open!
But I don't know, this is one of
these circumstances where
everybody is being very careful
not to be too judgemental,
which again, is why the Brian
Lilley question
right off the top kind of threw
me for a bit of a loop.
And particularly the fact that
it came from him.
But yes, indeed. You did mention
the Solicitor General
in that answer, and Sylvia Jones
is the Solicitor General
in Ontario, and when she came to
the microphone today,
and essentially asked "what if,
when this emergency plan
"is put fully into effect,
and non-essential businesses
"know who they are, and yet they
want to stay open anyways,
"what are you going to do about
it?" And the answer was
"we have been in conversation
with our policing partners,"
which presumably means the
Ontario Provincial Police,
and then all of the other local
police forces around Ontario.
Because, of course, many
municipalities have their own
police services--
Toronto, Ottawa,
Hamilton, Peel, etc.
The list goes on.
Um, she was, again,
quite clear in saying
if and when anybody violates
this directive,
the police certainly have
the authority to take matters
into their own hand to
enforce it.
So that emerged from today, as
well. We should also say,
John Michael, that-- and I guess
this was obvious,
we just hadn't heard anything
categorical about it.
The initial school shutdown was
going to be until the 6th
of April, and we're not that far
away from the 6th of April.
And we seem a heck of a long way
away from children being able
to gather in the hundreds or
thousands, as is the case
in some big city schools.
Premier Ford made it
categorically clear again today,
no one is going back to school
on the 6th of April, so it looks
like once again,
school boards, school systems,
teachers, the list goes on,
are going to have to figure out
what to do with hundreds
of thousands of students after
the 6th of April comes.
Yeah, in the press conference,
it almost didn't sound like
the Premier intended to give
that little detail away,
but he was asked to confirm it
and did-- that no,
students will not be returning
to school on April 6th.
We don't know, the government
doesn't seem to have
an immediate date that they want
to give for when students
might return, and I think you
can understand why
they don't want to start giving
dates out,
because it's very likely that
any date they give now
will just have
to get pushed again.
Another thing that I think
should at least be
sort of, noted, that the order
for the mandatory closures
is effective for 14 days.
We're already 7 days into a 14
day state of emergency,
so today's announcement
was also effectively,
the government saying that
the current state of emergency
will be extended one more time,
to a further 14 days.
Um, I think I've said before
on this podcast,
if they want to get another
they have to bring back
the legislative assembly
to get MPPs to approve that
I'm not clear yet whether they
can do that this week
when MPPs return for this kind
of, sort of "mini-budget"
that is going to be presented
on Wednesday,
or whether they will have to do
that separately.
Things are still a bit up
in the air.
Yeah, and I guess we should say,
just parenthetically,
the province of Quebec has said
no school is returning
until May the 1st, but I quite
agree with you.
Who knows when, you know-- a few
days before May the 1st comes,
whether they're going to have to
extend that again.
But we'll just put that on the
record that in Quebec,
they've already said "forget
April, we're into May now,
"before anybody comes back."
We should reiterate,
a couple of days ago,
the Education Minister,
Stephen Lecce did say
"no one is going to lose their
year because of this."
So if you're in grade 12 right
now, somehow they will figure
out how to make sure that you
get all the credits you need.
Presumably if you pass your
courses online
or write your exams online,
they've got to figure
all that out still,
and that post-secondary,
if you want to be going there in
the fall, and presuming
that this whole COVID thing is
over by then,
although let's not make any
your post-secondary
educational career
will be able to start then.
Um, I've guess I've said--
let me say one more thing,
and that's on the issue of labs
and testing.
Um, you know, there's been a
certain amount of criticism
about the fact, and some of it's
come from the Health Minister,
Christine Elliot herself, about
the fact that when people try
to get tested, and
that's extremely difficult still
in Ontario, because we don't
have the testing capacity
that we perhaps ought to have at
this stage of the game.
Um, but when those tests do take
place, it is only certain
accredited public institutions
that have been allowed
to do them.
Hospitals, Public Health Ontario
labs, that kind of thing.
I heard the Premier say today
for the first time
that he has been in conversation
with the private sector,
with private labs who he thinks
can be brought in to help
with this as well, because
goodness knows,
we have a ton of private lab
capacity in the province
of Ontario, which heretofore,
has not been engaged
in its potential partnership
in this,
and what they might be able
to do about it.
And I guess if I can do
a little plug here,
I've got a piece on the TVO
website today,,
about some of the other
anomalies in the Ontario
healthcare system where,
you know, there are valid
and good reasons for doing
things the way we have
in normal times, for example,
maybe the lab situation.
Maybe having registered nurses
only staffing telehealth.
Maybe having, for privacy
reasons, it be inappropriate
for doctors to communicate with
and or diagnose their patients
on Skype or on email or
on the phone,
but these are not normal times.
And we may have to look twice at
taking the shackles off
some of these regulations,
which are normally in place,
because, well, these are just
not the kinds of times
where we can afford to perhaps
not use all the resources
that are at our disposal, if we
just sort of, bevel the edges
on the regulations while this
global pandemic needs fighting.
Anyway, there's my speech
for the day.
No, I agree with you, and I
think, more importantly,
so does the Premier. And the--
just to give people an idea
of what we're talking about
here, I mean,
Public Health Ontario is a,
you know, a government agency
that has, I believe, 11 or 12
labs that it owns and operates
across the province, and those
have, so far had
really a monopoly on the
COVID-19 tests across Ontario.
But there's been a backlog
in testing,
and that backlog
grew again today,
though not as much as it has in
previous days.
And-- so one of the resources
that the government
is looking at is both university
labs-- I mean,
the University of Toronto is
literally, you know,
just down the block from where
Public Health Ontario's
Toronto location is, and also,
by the way,
U of T's labs are currently not
filled with students, um...
(Steve chuckling)
But also, there are private
labs. Like, if you go
to your family doctor,
and your doctor tells you
to get a blood test,
you are very likely going
to a private lab that is going
to draw that blood.
They may send it away to
somewhere else
and they will analyze it there.
So there's like, a private
capacity in the system
to do that work. Public Health
Ontario hasn't done that
so far because they want to keep
a very high level of quality.
Obviously you don't want people
getting false positives
or false negatives when they do
these tests,
and Public Health Ontario, you
know, believes that they have
kept the level of analytical
quality very high.
And they, you know, worry about
what happens if this gets beyond
their control, but I think at
a certain point,
the backlog really starts
to be problematic,
where people are waiting four,
five, six days for results.
And the government needs
the best information it can get,
which means as fast
as it can get it.
John Michael, I guess finally
I should say one more thing.
And that is the COVID-19 story
has, well, what do we say?
It's finally hit home. We had
our first positive case,
an employee at TVO contracted
the disease.
Excuse me, the virus,
I've got to make that clear.
Contracted the virus.
And, um, as a result, we had to
cancel, or we have to cancel
tonight's edition of
The Agenda
on TV.
You and I are sitting here at
2:30 on Monday afternoon,
and because the landlord of our
at Yonge and Eglinton has now
sent out the word
that we are going to have to
sanitize the building
extremely thoroughly,
and do the whole, you know,
fumigation process.
Everybody's been sent home, and
that means we don't have access
to our master control
and our control room,
and that means we don't have the
ability to broadcast a program
on television tonight.
I now look at the third floor
of my home.
I see a great deal of television
equipment here right now,
and that means, at some point,
I guess I'm going to be
The Agenda
from the third floor of my home.
Uh, this is, well...
oh, I guess I should add,
as well--
apparently the person
is fine now,
the person who had the COVID-19.
it has gone through their system
and they are fine.
And that's very good news,
but it also means that we've had
a significant disruption
in the way that we normally do
our business.
So we're off the air tonight,
or I guess we've got a repeat
on tonight, and back to
fresh shows--
probably out of Paikin's
HQ tomorrow!
Well, I mean, I've been
recording all of these hits
from my home, and I can give you
some pointers if you need 'em.
(Steve laughing)
You didn't have to wear makeup
during your hits, if I may say.
That's true, I-- currently,
I'm well, I'm wearing pants.
So our listeners get that much.
We're grateful for that.
And that's it for us!
Tell us what you thought of
the show you just heard.
Email us at
or tweet at us.
I'm @SPaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
And I'm @JM_McGrath.
Subscribe to the OnPoli podcast
on Apple Podcasts,
GooglePlay, Spotify, or your
favourite podcast app.
Today's episode was produced by
Katie O'Connor.
Audio and editing by
Matthew O'Mara.
JOHN MICHAEL: The series
producer is Katie O'Connor.
Production support from Jonathan
Halliwell and Nikki Ashworth.
The executive producer for
digital is Kathy Vey.
Thanks for listening, everybody,
and we'll talk again tomorrow.

Watch: Ep. 9 - Ontario closes for business