Transcript: Ep. 49 - Public transit safety and sustainability | May 20, 2020

STEVE: Welcome everyone
to the OnPoli podcast,
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE: With the economy starting
to reopen,
Premier Doug Ford told Ontarians
today
if you want to go out in public
or ride a subway train or a bus,
you gotta wear a mask.
Not so much to protect you
from others,
but to protect others from you.
That and the rest
of the day's developments
on this Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
So, let's get to it.
Well, John Michael, wear a mask
in public
especially on transit.
Big news of the day?
JOHN MICHAEL: It's not exactly
news
if you have, like you and I,
have been obsessively been
following
the various press conferences
around the pandemic
for the last few months.
This has certainly been
the message from
the Chief Medical Officer
for Ontario,
Dr. David Williams has
repeatedly said this
over and over that people should
be wearing masks
in places where
they can't maintain
the 2m physical distance rule.
That said, you know,
the premier's announcement
is timed to the fact
that we are reopening more
businesses in Ontario
and that comes with risks
and so the premier
and the Minister of Health
and the Minister
of Transportation
all come out today to say--
DOUG FORD: And if you're
going out for necessities
or if you're taking
public transit
and you can't keep 2m apart,
we recommend that you wear
a non-medical mask
or a face covering.
JOHN MICHAEL: I can't help
but say
that you and I probably both
remember
the earlier parts of this
pandemic
when the message
from public health officials
was frankly a lot less clear
and there were several weeks
at the beginning of this
where actually
the official advice was
masks probably wouldn't help
that much
and in any case, we really
wanted to keep the supply
almost exclusively
for medical professionals
and medical staff,
so, you know, just another thing
we have learned in
this pandemic.
STEVE: Well, I think that's
an absolutely fair thing
to point out and it's probably
one of the things
that chipped away at the
credibility of,
for example, Canada's Chief
Medical Officer of Health,
Dr. Theresa Tam,
who was at that point taking
her advice
from the World Health
Organization
and both she and it were saying
as you indicated to people,
you don't need to wear a mask.
In fact, with all of
the touching of your face
that you might do when you put
a mask on,
it might actually be more
harmful than good.
Clearly, we're in a different
place right now.
Everybody's--
And I don't know about you,
but I'm seeing it on the streets
all the time.
Most people I see now,
particularly, if they've gone
to the shopping,
you know, if they've gone to
a supermarket or something,
they're masked up
and, in fact, I was just taking
a walk down the street
the other day.
Boy, we're getting off
track here,
but you popped this in my head.
I was walking down the street
the other day.
Not in a very busy setting.
And a woman was walking across
the road towards me
and I walking towards her.
She had a mask on,
I did not at that moment.
I was just out for
a quick dog walk
and she pointed to her face
as if to give me,
as we said yesterday,
H-E-L-L for my not wearing
my mask.
So, okay, a word to the wise
is sufficient,
I will from now on.
JOHN MICHAEL: Yeah, I think if
this is becoming
a more accepted practice
and we should say that today
federally, there was also
a change in communications.
The joint committee
or whatever it is
of the federal and provincial
public health officials
have really made this advice
the official line
so to speak,
that people should be
wearing masks
in places where
they can't maintain
that 2m rule,
but, I mean, I don't want
to start a fight
between us and our listeners,
but my understanding
from everything I've heard,
you know, in these
medical briefings now
for several months is that
wearing a mask outside
when you're not in a crowd,
if you're just on a sidewalk
that you're well more than 2m
away from everybody,
you rapidly are approaching
the point
of diminishing returns there.
A mask is probably not going to
do that much more for you.
That said, if you happen to be,
you know,
walking on a crowded sidewalk
and there are certainly
some crowded sidewalks
in downtown Toronto,
it may be worthwhile then to put
a mask on.
STEVE: Well, that's why I felt I
was within my rights
not to wear a mask,
because it was not
a very crowded setting at all,
but you know what?
I also don't want people
giving me H-E-L-L in public,
so maybe I'll just put it on
and forget about
the whole thing.
Look, we should talk about
this story
that the NDP sort
of broke today,
because the official opposition
did release some information
pointing out,
and we're talking about
the long-term care story now,
pointing out that since
the pandemic began
at least four top,
call them friends,
call them acquaintances,
call them associates,
call them former
campaign advisers,
of Premier Doug Ford's.
They have registered
to lobby on behalf
of three of the biggest players
in the long-term care sector
and we're talking
about Extendicare,
Revera, and Chartwell.
All right, tell us more about
what the NDP
is concerned about here.
JOHN MICHAEL: So, these are
four people who either
worked in the premier's office
or high up
in the provincial government
or the PC Party
and, you know, people like
Melissa Lantsman
who was Premier Ford's
campaign spokesperson
before he was premier.
She effectively,
her last day of work
was the inauguration day
for the government.
She has since taken a role with
the PC Party itself
and works for a lobbying firm.
Lauren McDonald
was Premier Ford's former
Director of Marketing.
She now works for Revera.
Michael Wilson,
a former Chief of Staff
to the Attorney General,
now also is lobbying for Revera
and Leslie Noble,
former campaign manager,
long-time party stalwart,
is also lobbying for Chartwell
Retirement Residences.
Chartwell may not necessarily
need her help
in getting the ear of the
Progressive Conservative Party,
because its Board of Directors
also includes Mike Harris,
the former premier as Chair.
So, a lot of
Progressive Conservative
political firepower
that has been lobbying for
the long-term care sector
at the moment.
STEVE: Now, as we put all that
on the record though,
John Michael, let us also
stipulate
no one is accusing anyone or has
any evidence at the moment
of anybody doing
anything illegal
or inappropriate or improper.
We know about
these relationships
we should say,
because these four,
the four you just mentioned,
they signed up on the provincial
lobbying registry
as required by law
so that we know
of these relationships
as they exist.
The question, however,
then becomes
how influential could these
former and current
Conservative advisors be
on a Conservative government
which only yesterday called for
a commission to investigate
the sector that they are now
lobbying for?
How much speculation you want
to do on that?
JOHN MICHAEL: (Laughing) Well,
I suppose you could look at it
one of two ways, you know,
the fact that the government
has announced
an independent commissioner,
an independent inquiry into
the long-term care sector
is probably not great news
for these businesses.
There's always the possibility
that the commission
is going to dig up some really
bad news for these companies.
That said, it is
substantially less
as we talked about yesterday
than what the
official opposition
and the other opposition parties
were asking for.
It's not going to be a broad,
comprehensive,
you know, fact-finding inquiry
with all sorts
of intrusive powers
to investigate.
We don't know quite what
the government is going
to implement yet in terms
of an inquiry,
but it's not going to be
the public inquiry
that the opposition parties
wanted,
so you could certainly,
if you were inclined
to be cynical
and Lord knows we always hate
to do that here
on this podcast.
STEVE: We never do that.
We don't do that.
That's illegal here.
JOHN MICHAEL: (Laughing)
But if you were so inclined,
you could say that the industry
is not facing
the worst-case scenario yet
and that the kind of thing
that lobbying gets you.
Sometimes if you can't avoid
the--
some kind of government action,
you're stuck doing
harm reduction so to speak.
STEVE: Well, let's admit that
this could go one of two ways.
You know, seeing all
that firepower in there
lobbying on behalf of those
long-term care companies,
you know, people could
reasonably come to a conclusion
that Premier Ford will not have
a particularly robust response
to the long-term care situation,
because he's doing the bidding
of these lobbyists
who are friends of his.
That is a reasonable inference
that people could draw.
We're going months and months
down the road now
when this commission
of inquiry reports back.
On the other hand,
you know,
we have seen these things go
the other way
where a politician wants
to be seen
to be beyond the reach of his
or her former friends
and therefore, comes down even
harder on
and gets even tougher with
the businesses in question
that his former friends were
lobbying on behalf of,
so obviously, we don't know at
this stage of the game
which way it's gonna go,
but I don't think
we should assume
that it's a slam dunk that
because these four
are doing their work
that it's necessarily going
to work out to their favour.
We don't know how Doug Ford's
going to react to all this
and we do know that, you know,
there are days of the week
when Premier Ford
can be fairly unpredictable
in the way he responds
to crises.
JOHN MICHAEL: Sometimes, yes,
and I think I would also add
just what you said at the top
about, you know, nothing that
has been unearthed
so far anyway is illegal
or frankly, you know,
it's not even unexpected.
The long-term care sector
is a really large part
of the Province's healthcare
system,
the Province's healthcare
system, you know,
so much public money sloshes
through
the public healthcare system
in Ontario
that it's really the size
of several provinces
in terms of the amount of money
that it spends,
so, of course, these companies
hire lobbyists
and, of course, they are trying
to have their voices heard
in government.
The reason that lobbying firms
hire
lots of former political staff
is so that
their voices can be heard
by the government of the day,
you know, when the Liberals
had been in power for 15 years,
every major lobbying firm in
this province,
and certainly in this city,
all had lots and lots
of Liberals on their payroll
and, of course, they still do,
you know, when the Conservatives
won the election in 2018,
a lot of people found work
at Queen's Park
and a lot of other people
found work in lobbying shops.
STEVE: Indeed.
Okay, let's talk transit.
This is two weeks in a row now
that Premier Ford
was asked at his daily briefing
about the desperate state
of the books of Ontario's
various transit systems
and for the second week
in a row he said,
"Well, we're talking to the feds
about this,
but I've got nothing
to report yet."
So, can we infer from the fact
that this issue
hasn't gone away now
for two straight weeks
that the two levels
of government
are having a bit of a fight
over who needs
to pay for the shortfalls?
JOHN MICHAEL:
It sure seems like that.
I mean, it seems weird to talk
about this
in the sense of, like,
something's happening
behind the scenes
when all of the evidence
we have is
what people are saying in front
of TV press conferences
with lots of microphones
and cameras on them,
but, you know, we're getting
these illusions to
the basic disagreement being
that the provinces
are facing various forms
of financial distress.
They're all running
large deficits at the moment
and they're worried about their
long-term fiscal picture
and the federal government is--
at the risk of speculating again
here,
it does seem like
the federal government is,
you know, saying something
to the effect of, you know,
"We are doing so much already.
You know?
Hundreds of billions of dollars
in federal support
flowing into the economy.
Can the provinces at least
handle this relatively small
part of the emergency?"
It is 100% their jurisdiction,
this is not some kind of
constitutional mystery
or mixed bag.
Municipalities and their
transit systems
are 100% provincial.
The feds occasionally finance
big, you know, projects
when they need some extra
billion dollars for funding,
but the operations
of the transit system
are always provincial
and I'm somewhat sympathetic to
a federal government
that is doing so many
other things at once
and, sort of, again this is
a hypothesis of mine,
but it sure looks to me like
they're saying,
"Can you please just do
this one thing."
STEVE: (Laughing)
No, I totally hear you,
because you can imagine
Prime Minister Trudeau
saying to Premier Ford,
"Look! I'm going to be running a
$252 billion deficit this year,
40% of which is on you."
Right? 40% of the
Canadian population
being in Ontario, you know?
"Could you not see it
in your heart
to run maybe a deficit
of $500 million
to $1 billion more
and help all the various transit
systems around your province,
which after all,
are in your jurisdiction?"
Love to be a fly on the wall
for that conversation,
but I bet it went something
like that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah, the Ontario situation
where, you know, the financial
accountability officer
has projected that the Province
will run a $43 billion deficit
for this year.
You know, that's obviously,
that's not chicken scratch,
that's, you know,
that's real money,
but if it's $44 billion
or $45 billion instead,
I don't think anybody thinks
that difference
is going to be anything other
than really a rounding error
when we are on the far side
of this pandemic.
STEVE: Now, let me ask you about
what I would call
a rather timely column
you've got up today
on our website tvo.org.
You know, of course,
that we're just a matter
of days away from
the Province having gone through
Stage One
of its initial opening.
The first of three stages.
And, of course, we don't get
to Stage Two or Three
unless we continue to flatten
the curve as we,
most of the time, have been.
But I know you gave voice to
some people in the province
who think, "You know,
we're shutdown still pretty
tight as a drum,"
and particularly
if you're not in Toronto,
if you're in one of the more,
you know,
rural parts of the province,
some people may be asking,
"How come we can't open up
a lot more
given that we've got virtually
no cases
of COVID up here at all?"
So, you looked into this
and what did you find out?
JOHN MICHAEL: So, this was
interesting to me.
There was a new model published
by three researchers.
Two at the University of Guelph
and one at the
University of Waterloo
who basically looked at this
question of, you know,
can we try to project
what would happen
if you did open things up on
a more, sort of,
granular region by region level
instead of the, sort of,
province-wide lockdown?
And the results of their model
and, you know,
I think we should say that it is
just a model.
It's not, you know,
a crystal ball.
It can't tell us the future
with any perfection,
but it's a useful insight.
The results of their model
show that
when you plugin
realistic assumptions
about how much travelling people
actually do,
you could, in theory,
if you coordinate it well,
reopen different parts
of the province
at different times
without seeing
a massive increase in cases.
There would absolutely be
a small increase in cases.
About one to two percent
depending on your assumptions,
but you would balance that
by having a much smaller number
of days lost to schools
and employers.
Students could hypothetically
return to school
and employers could reopen
for their businesses.
It's kind of academic
at this point,
because the Province has
emphasized over
and over and over again.
The premier himself
has said this
that it's not the tack they want
to go right now.
That said,
you know, we really do face
the prospect of future lockdowns
maybe being necessary
as the virus sort of
ebbs and flows, so this might be
relevant research
sometime in the future.
STEVE: Now, just before we leave
the Queen's Park scene
and look at the federal scene,
we should mention that
Transportation Minister
Caroline Mulroney,
I think for the first time,
was invited to attend
the premier's
daily briefing today
and I mention this not
so much because
of what she had to say about
transportation,
although she did say a few
things about that obviously,
but because she's one
of the very,
very few bilingual
cabinet ministers
in this government of Ontario.
So, today,
I think for the first time,
we had three for four questions
from French-speaking reporters
in French, which hasn't happened
before.
(Speaks French)
Which I know made the very
romantic
Mr. McGrath's heart to well,
right, JMM?
JOHN MICHAEL: (Laughing)
I will not be inflicting
my high school French on
our listeners' poor ears,
because I'm generally asked to
stop by Francophones when I try.
But, yes, this has been--
I think a sore point for a lot
of Francophones.
Certainly, I have heard
from them on social media
via email
that these briefings
are conducted
in the premier's only language,
English,
and there hasn't been
for a while at least,
there wasn't even
French translation.
They did start streaming
an alternative YouTube stream
with French translation.
But I was hearing from listeners
and readers at tvo.org
who were saying that they were
so frustrated not hearing news
in their first language,
that they were actually
listening to briefings
from Quebec just to get news
that they could understand.
You know, a reminder
to our listeners
that something like 700,000
Ontarians speak French
as a first language,
so, you know,
a substantial population
of the province that,
until today really,
wasn't able to get questions
and answers directly
from the government.
STEVE: And I guess we should
remind everybody
it is one of
our official languages
in Canada
and there was a time,
I'm gonna go back how many years
ago now?
35 years ago was the first time
and maybe the only time
in the history of the province
when we actually had
three leaders all of whom
were functionally bilingual.
That would have been
Frank Miller,
the premier of the day.
That would have been
David Peterson,
the opposition leader
for the Liberals,
and Bob Rae,
the leader of the NDP.
That was the first time that
all three
of our provincial leaders could
speak both official languages
of the country
and we are certainly
not there today.
JOHN MICHAEL: No, we are not.
STEVE: All right, let's move on
to Ottawa.
We finally got the official word
today
about Ottawa's commercial rent
assistance program.
This is something that has been
a hot, hot, hot topic
as all sorts of both--
Well, both frankly commercial
and residential tenants
have been complaining about
their ability
to pay their rents.
What can you tell us about what
the prime minister
announced today?
JOHN MICHAEL: The details
of the program
are basically as we have
heard before.
The federal
and provincial governments
will cover 50 percent
of a commercial landlord's rent,
the tenant will be asked
to pay 25 percent,
and the landlords are going to
be asked
to take a 25 percent haircut.
The news today is
that applications
will finally open on May 25
through Canada Mortgage and
Housing Corporation's website,
the CMHC.
And this is going
to be interesting to see,
because we will finally get some
real numbers
about how many landlords
are actually willing
to use this program.
We have been hearing anecdotally
from lots of tenants
who say their landlords
are not willing to
take part in this program.
On the other hand,
this week the premier has been
let's say a bit more
energetic about
telling landlords
that he wants them to make use
of this program,
so maybe that will goose
the numbers.
We are just gonna have to wait
and see.
STEVE: Now, let's go full-circle
here
and finish where we started
and that is talking about masks
and one of the more interesting
things we learned
in the nation's capital today
at the prime minister's daily
briefing
is that unlike
President Donald Trump,
who has apparently decided never
to be seen in public
wearing a mask,
Justin Trudeau is going
in a different direction.
What did we have to say today on
the issue of wearing masks
in public places?
JOHN MICHAEL: The prime minister
said,
you know, we will be wearing
a mask
in busy hallways
on Parliament Hill.
Not so much in the Chamber of
the House of Commons itself
during question period,
because, of course,
both in Ottawa
and on Queen's Park,
they have adopted rules,
you know, not bringing in
the full complement of MPs
and MPPs giving people lots
of space
to physically distance.
But in places where
it's impossible to avoid crowds,
yes, the prime minister says
he will be wearing a mask.
We should add that Premier Ford
was also asked
this question today
and he says--
DOUG FORD: Well, anytime I go
out in public over at--
I was over at
William Osler, wear a mask.
When I was handing out meals
at the mosque,
I was wearing a mask,
so anytime I go out in public,
I put a mask on.
I think it's the right thing
to do
and when possible, we highly,
highly recommend
that people wear a mask.
It protects themselves
and it protects other people.
STEVE: So, let me get
this straight,
it's good enough for Trudeau,
it's good enough for Ford,
it's even good enough
for Vice President Pence,
but it's not for the President
of the United States.
Okay, I got it.
It makes perfect sense.
JOHN MICHAEL: You have the issue
surrounded.
(Laughing)
STEVE: Well, let's surround
this extro here, shall we?
We always conclude this podcast
with our favourite quotes
of the day
and we'll have that immediately
for you
after we ask you to give us
a rating on Apple Podcasts.
Here's a review from a listener
named Bree Newby who says,
"I started listening to
this podcast
before the last federal election
to make sure my knowledge on
current issues
was up to snuff.
I've continued listening
past then
into the regular season
and now into the COVID-19
pandemic episodes
that help me make sense
of federal and provincial
briefings.
With short episodes,
accessible language,
and a positive attitude,
John Michael and Steve help
to give guidance and facts
without swaying the viewer
to one political party.
I'd absolutely recommend
listening in.
Bree Newby, thank you very much
for that.
We're delighted
that you're listening.
I'm less delighted
that you decided
to mention John Michael
before me,
but I guess that's okay.
Hey, JMM, old age should have
some privileges,
don't you think?
JOHN MICHAEL: I mean, I keep
waiting for my privileges.
I'm nearly 40.
STEVE: (Laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL: Thank you so much
for that, Bree Newby.
Anybody else who wants
to email us can do so
at onpolitics@tvo.org,
or you can tweet at us.
I'm @jm_mcgrath.
STEVE: And I'm @spaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
JOHN MICHAEL: Subscribe to
the OnPoli podcast
on Apple Podcasts, Google Play,
Spotify, or your favourite
podcast app.
Here now, my quote of the day.
Minister of Transportation
and Minister
of Francophone Affairs,
Caroline Mulroney,
taking a question in French
and answering it as well.
As we mentioned,
something we haven't heard
from the government
since this started.
FRANCOPHONE REPORTER:
(Speaks French)
CAROLINE MULRONEY:
(Speaks French)
JOHN MICHAEL:
That's Caroline Mulroney
taking a question in French
at Queen's Park today.
STEVE: And here's my quote
of the day.
This is Canada's prime minister
explaining
under what circumstances
he's decided
to wear a mask in public.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU: When it is
possible for me
to keep 2m distance from people.
That is what I prefer to do.
In situations where I'm either
walking through the halls
of Parliament or going
to my office
and coming in proximity
to people.
I've chosen to start wearing
a mask.
That's my personal choice
that is aligned, I think,
with what public health
is recommending.
I think we all need to adjust to
what works in our circumstances
and keep safety at the forefront
of what we're doing.
STEVE: Justin Trudeau--
Setting an example of why, when,
and where
we should be wearing our masks.
Okay, JMM, so long
and we'll talk to you
again tomorrow.
JOHN MICHAEL: See you tomorrow,
Steve.
Stay safe and wash your hands.

Watch: Ep. 49 - Public transit safety and sustainability