Transcript: Ep. 52 - Trouble at Trinity Bellwoods Park | May 25, 2020

Welcome, everyone,
to the #onpoli podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
I'm guessing most
people in Ontario
had not heard of
Trinity Bellwoods Park
before this past weekend.
But I bet many more have now.
That downtown Toronto park
was the scene on Saturday
of what Premier Ford likened
to a rock concert-sized crowd.
Thousands of people,
no physical distancing,
and both the premier
and the mayor of Toronto
were not amused.
That, plus the rest
of the day's developments,
coming up on this
Monday, May 25th, 2020.
So let's get to it.
Okay, JMM, I'm going to ask you.
You live anywhere near
Trinity Bellwoods Park?
No, I don't.
I live out in the east end
of the city.
Pretty far away
from Trinity Bellwoods.
But I do know it.
Ah, okay.
You're an "east of Yonge Street"
guy. I didn't know that.
Jeez, I wonder if that means
we can get along any further,
because I'm a "west of Yonge
Street" guy and, you know...
JOHN: Well, you did actually
insult my neighbourhood once
on a blog post for TVO,
and I'm still bitter about it,
but we're going to work past it.
Is that right?
Which neighbourhood was that,
and what did I say to insult it?
You made a crack about
Main Street subway station.
Oh, I do remember that,
because my Presto card
wasn't working.
That's right, that's right.
Yeah, okay, well...
It's only "east of Yonge Street"
that I have a problem with.
It's not the Main Street station
in particular.
So I'll just clarify that
for the record.
So, confirming you did or did
not go to that mass gathering
of 10,000 people on Saturday?
No, no, I learned about it
from Twitter, like a lot of us.
(Steve laughing)
Okay, well, this perfectly
represented the fear that public
health officials have had.
The weather finally
got good this weekend,
and the people just would not
be denied.
For those who might have missed
it, what happened on Saturday?
Well, Trinity Bellwoods Park
in Toronto
is one of the central parks
in the downtown
on the west side of the city
that every spring,
when the weather gets warm,
it becomes a bit
of a gathering place.
And despite all of the public
health warnings,
it was much the same
on Saturday at a certain point.
I guess the first thing I saw
was a CBC reporter
who tweeted a picture
of the crowd,
saying that Trinity Bellwoods
looks like a club right now.
And I thought
that was pretty apt,
given the density
of the crowds.
Within hours, we saw Toronto's
medical officer of health,
Dr. Eileen de Villa,
send out a tweet urging people
to maybe make better decisions.
The mayor of Toronto
also urged people to do better.
He himself was also
at Trinity Bellwoods,
we learned later.
Also, not wearing
a mask properly.
And then Premier Doug Ford,
on Sunday,
came out and said, you know,
we can't have this right now.
We're still trying to get
the virus under control.
And big crowds,
even outside,
really aren't great.
I should add, you know,
I am not a public health
I'm not a doctor,
and I don't want to really
offer medical advice,
but when I saw those pictures,
what concerned me was maybe
not the crowds themselves.
I think outdoors people
maybe shouldn't be
taking any risks.
But from what we know,
the virus doesn't love
the outdoors that much.
But for me, the concern is that
traditionally, anyway,
Trinity Bellwoods is also
a place where people
tend to share alcohol
and perhaps other intoxicants.
And that definitely set off
my antenna.
Well, any way you looked at it,
it really was not--
It was 10,000 people
not following protocols,
that's to be sure.
And, you know,
Doug Ford made the point
in his press briefing today
that, okay,
all of you are young people,
and as a result,
if you got COVID-19,
you probably wouldn't be
severely affected by it,
because most
young people aren't.
But, you know,
play it forward.
What happens if you go
visit a parent,
and you end up giving one
of your parents COVID-19,
or a grandparent,
and now we're getting
into situations
where fatalities are certainly
more of a cause,
or more of a concern,
I should say.
The other thing was John Tory
The mayor of Toronto,
was wearing his mask
when he went down there.
And let's be fair to him,
he went down there
because he saw the pictures
and he thought, you know,
I'm going to go down there
and raise
some H-E-double hockey sticks.
The problem was, as he tried
to start speaking to people
with his mask on,
there was so many people there,
they couldn't hear him.
So he pulled the mask down,
and as soon as he did that
somebody snapped a picture.
It was all over Twitter.
And I guess to his credit,
the mayor did apologize for,
again, he's supposed to be
an example of what to do,
and instead he turned into
an example of what not to do.
Although I hasten to add,
he did apologize for it.
And, you know, they're trying
to get this set today,
but this just raises a whole
host of questions of,
now that the weather's
getting better,
you know, are we going
to see this every weekend?
I sure hope not.
You know, by Sunday,
Toronto had sent in police to,
you know,
patrol Trinity Bellwoods.
It seemed to be much more
sparsely attended.
And, you know, I hope...
And I would like to think
that we are not going to see
a repeat of this
every single weekend.
You know, I understand that
for a lot of people,
especially living downtown,
you don't have a backyard.
You don't have--
Many condos have, you know,
maybe a tiny, tiny balcony.
And as the weather gets,
you know, better,
we don't exactly have
long summers
in this country
to begin with.
The urge to get out there
is very real and hard to deny.
But there are other parks
in the world and in the city
aside from Trinity Bellwoods,
and I think what irritated
a lot of people
on social media, certainly,
is that I think a lot of people
were not going
to Trinity Bellwoods
just because they needed
a respite from their apartments.
They went to Trinity Bellwoods
for the crowd.
And that's absolutely
the worst thing to do.
So going forward, maybe...
You know, I want to cut
some people some slack,
because there are people who,
you know,
don't have abundant
space options for them.
But try to stay away
from crowds.
Well, and that word "options"
is a good word.
And if anybody
listening to this
has not read André Picard
in the
Globe and Mail
I would strongly urge them
to do so,
because André makes a great
point that this is not about,
you know, calling people out
for bad behavior,
or ought not to be
in his view.
It should be a signal
to all of our public leaders
that they have to offer more
options to people
in terms of places
where they can gather.
And in our public parks,
you know, I've seen this
in the States sometimes,
the parks departments actually
put white circles on the grass
about, you know, here's where--
Your little bubble group.
You can sit here.
And then six feet away they do
another white circle,
and that's as close
as the next group can come.
So that may be the future.
We need to start,
according to André Picard,
we got to start offering people
more and better options,
because we know everybody's
going to want to get outside
as much as possible,
starting now.
I think that's exactly right.
And if we're on the topic
of public space,
I will just say
very briefly today,
Toronto City Council
just released
its next council
meeting agenda,
which they will be handling
virtually on Thursday.
And one of the big items
they are going to be debating
is bike lanes.
One of the issues that we've
talked a lot about in this city,
about expanding the ability
for people to get around safely
without necessarily having
to crowd onto public transit.
I expect that I will want
to talk about that more
later in the week.
But for now, I just want
to put that on people's radar.
Pretty major expansion
of the city's bike lane network
coming up in Toronto
later this week.
Good. Let's also put this up
on people's network right now,
or up on people's
radar screen.
The commercial rent
backstop program
that I think goes into effect
The Canadian Federation
of Independent Business
has added its voice to those
who want a moratorium
on commercial evictions.
The premier still not
going there, right?
No, not yet.
He was asked about that
again today.
This joint letter from the CFIB
and other major business groups.
You know, just the latest volley
of communications.
People are really desperately
urging the provincial government
to impose a moratorium
on commercial evictions.
The premier still not
taking the bait.
Actually, the applications
for the Canadian Emergency
Commercial Rent...
The federal--
How many acronyms
can you remember?
Oh, God.
I'm pretty good with acronyms,
and this pandemic is trying me.
Regardless, this federal
provincial program,
the applications
do start today.
Landlords can go
to the CMHC Web site
and check in there.
And the premier is urging them
in the strongest possible terms
to sign up for this program,
or he says they will not like
the consequences.
Please, I'm asking you.
I'm begging you, landlords,
please sign up.
Because, trust me,
if they don't sign up,
then there'll be consequences.
Simple as that.
The details of the program
we've been over before.
But just to reiterate
for people.
The federal and provincial
will cover half of a commercial
landlord's rent.
The tenant will still
have to pay 25%.
And the landlord
is being expected
to take a 25% discount,
in effect.
So, you know, just to maybe
spell it out
a bit more clearly
for people,
you know, if your rent
is a thousand dollars a month
and your landlord signs up
for this program,
you would still be expected
to pay $250.
The feds and the province
would chip in 500.
And the landlord is expected
to eat that last $250.
So the premier
very clearly saying
he wants landlords to come in
on this program.
So far, all of the anecdotes
that we have heard,
all of the reporting we've heard
from business reporters
about this
is that landlords really do not
like this program.
They are not lining up
around the block to sign up.
But between the program
actually opening
and some of the premier's
over the last week or so,
we might see something
change their minds.
It will be,
at least for nothing,
it'll be the first time we
actually get real numbers
on who actually applies.
now, we always give
our Twitter handles
at the end of every podcast,
and we got somebody here
who lives in Vancouver,
British Columbia,
who tweeted at us.
His name's Ken A. Thompson,
and he's saying,
"I hope @spaikin
and I hope @jm_mcgrath
"talk about these negative
He's talking about
the COVID-19 tests.
Our testing positive numbers,
they've started going up again,
John Michael.
What's the story now?
Yeah, this is really
because I would say
starting two weeks ago
we saw the decline that Ontario
had been on
start to flatten out.
And then in the last week,
the numbers have started
climbing again.
And what I'm referring to
is specifically
the number of new cases
every day.
So, you know, at the peak
of the pandemic,
we were seeing six,
and I think at one point
700 new cases a day.
And then for a few days
two weeks ago,
that was more like
300 cases a day.
And now it's back above 400
for the last steadily
five days.
And because of the earlier
we're also not seeing the same
number of recoveries.
Pulling people out of the
disease, I guess, so to speak.
And so one of the numbers
I've been tracking
is the number
of active cases,
the people who are currently
infected with COVID-19.
And last week, last Sunday,
that number was as low as 3,400
people in the province.
And now we're back
north of 4,000 again.
So the--
You know, I don't know
if anybody
is calling this
the second wave again.
I'm not sure
whether that would be
the appropriate
terminology or not.
Again, I am not a medical
But certainly
a lot of the success
that we had been having
in this province has reversed.
Minister of Health
Christine Elliott today
attributed a lot of that
to starting around Mother's Day
saying that perhaps people
went to go visit family
when they shouldn't have.
Also, even if people
didn't go visit families,
it seems like a lot of people
started letting down
their guard
around Mother's Day.
And, yeah,
so it's bad news.
And it's disappointing.
And it has--
Apparently the premier and the
minister of health said today,
the government had been
looking at increasing
the number of allowable people
in a social gathering.
People will remember that under
the state of emergency,
you currently aren't allowed to
meet with more than five people
who aren't directly
living with you.
They had been talking about
raising that threshold somewhat.
But they have now
put that off
because of the increase
in new caseloads.
Until these numbers
start reversing again,
I suspect it's fair to say
that we are not going
to be moving quickly
towards that next stage
of reopening the economy,
when the government can start
talking about things like
more business reopening.
Perhaps child care centres,
that kind of thing.
Mm-hm, let's do an update
on the postsecondary sector now.
There are more and more
which are now indicating
how they intend to proceed
with their fall semesters.
McMaster University
in Hamilton today announced
that they're going to be begin
all classes, all classes,
online only.
And this comes after
Huron University College
in London
led the way last week,
saying they are going to be
online only to start with.
There are some other
postsecondary institutions
that are trying
to mix and match.
Maybe some, you know, in class,
some online.
But this is a big debate
in the postsecondary world
on how to go here,
because, well, I'll let you fill
in the blanks here.
But it's really
quite a testy debate
among university presidents,
I can say.
It's a real tough
decision to make,
because, you know,
if you start with only
online classes,
you could--
One imagines you could
transition reasonably easily
to bringing people
back into the classroom
if miraculously we get
a vaccine, you know,
early in the fall semester,
or maybe over Christmas
or something.
The problem is for a lot
of students, I think,
if they're being promised
that the in-person
academic experience
is going to be available
to them in--
You know, as we record this,
in May,
and then they make
their applications
for their undergraduate program,
for example,
on that assumption,
And then, you know,
the week before Labour Day,
the university has to announce,
oh, well, sorry,
the COVID numbers are still bad.
It's going to be online only.
A lot of people are going to
feel like they got ripped off.
Mm-hm. And even more than that,
really inconvenienced as well.
You can imagine if you're living
out of town
and you've decided, on the basis
of your university, saying,
Well, we're going to try and get
some of you into classes.
So you moved who knows where,
from Toronto to London,
to go to Western.
Or whatever.
From, you know,
North Bay to Kingston,
to go to Queens.
You've gone through
the logistics
of trying to pull
all that together,
and then suddenly you're right,
Labour Day comes and, whoops,
we've had to re-evaluate.
Now, all of a sudden,
you're in a new city
where you're stuck at home.
You can't go out.
You can't see anybody.
You're paying for a rent you
really didn't need to pay for.
If it all online anyway,
you could have stayed at home.
These are-- You know,
this is a can of worms
that this whole debate
opens up.
I can also add, you know,
I worked through my school year.
I didn't just do summer jobs.
So I would not just be looking
for housing in September.
I would be looking for work.
And it's difficult enough
to coordinate
everything else
you have to do
when starting
a new school somewhere.
But trying to throw in
job searching right now
on top of everything else,
when frankly the job market,
we have no idea
what that's going to look like
in September.
It's just a whole other mess
that I'm not sure people
are necessarily prepared for.
Yeah, we're going to keep an eye
on this one,
because this story's obviously
not going away.
Let's return to a subject now
that we have more empirical
evidence for,
and that is Premier Doug Ford's
The Abacus polling firm
did some surveying,
and they found that the Ford
government's performance
is strongly or mostly approved
by 60% of Ontarians.
Only 15%, 1-5,
strongly or mostly disapprove
of Ford's performance.
Which, of course, is the exact
opposite of where he was
before the pandemic started.
And, John Michael,
you've got some further
breakdown numbers
on this as well.
So this is, I think,
reinforcing a lot of what we had
seen in prior polling.
You know, the premier does have
a pretty high approval rating
right now.
74% approve of Ford's
on the COVID-19
62% say he communicates well.
55% think of him
as open and accessible.
You go down the list,
you know, he generally has
very positive numbers.
Certainly more positive
than negative
on things like budgeting,
health care, affordability.
There is one thing that is still
a black mark on this record.
Yes, indeed.
And that one thing where he's
underwater is climate change.
Only 29% of Ontarians
approve of the Ford government's
performance on climate change.
29% approve, 42% disapprove.
Which really does go to show you
that people are really
paying attention, eh?
People are paying attention,
and people are not forgetting,
And the premier
and his government
really haven't had much to say
about climate change
for two years.
Certainly nothing
that would make people
who take climate change
seriously terribly happy.
The environment minister
has been at the premier's
daily briefing once or twice.
But that's because his ministry
also includes
the provincial parks
So when they shut down
the provincial parks
and then reopened them,
but sort of touched
on his file.
But, you know, it's I guess
worth reminding people
that, technically speaking,
the province of Ontario is still
suing the federal government
over the carbon tax issue.
And it's stuff like that,
I suspect,
that people are remembering
when they are asked,
hey, what do you think about
Doug Ford on climate change?
Mm-hm. Now, in the interest
of equal time,
we should also tell you
how the other party leaders
at Queen's Park are doing.
Andrea Horwath,
the NDP leader,
the leader of the official
is at 30% approval,
23% disapproval.
So that's above water.
Steven Del Duca,
the new Liberal leader,
13% approval,
19% disapproval,
which suggests a little more
underwater than above.
But perhaps the most important
number there
is 42% with no opinion at all.
So he's a blank slate
for a lot of people.
And Mike Schreiner,
the leader of the Greens,
he's got 12% approval,
15% disapproval.
That's pretty well
within the statistical range
of what do they call that?
The margin of error.
But, again, 42% with no opinion,
which means Mr. Schreiner
is a blank canvas
for a lot of people as well.
How about on the federal scene?
On the federal scene,
Justin Trudeau is scoring
51% approval
and 27% disapproval.
So generally, people seem to be
pretty happy with the way
the prime minister
is doing right now.
Andrew Scheer, 18% approval,
54% disapproval.
And Jagmeet Singh,
31% approval, 18% disapproval.
Boy, those numbers
on Andrew Scheer,
don't they tell you everything
about why so many conservatives
are anxious to have him
step down
and get a new leader in place
sooner than later?
Boy, those numbers are really
badly underwater
for the Conservative leader.
I suspect what you're
seeing there, if we're honest,
is not just that many Liberals
and New Democrats and Greens
are not a fan of Mr. Scheer,
but that a great many
have also lost patience with
the official opposition leader.
Obviously, that party is still
in the midst
of a leadership race
to choose his successor.
...based on these numbers,
I think quite a few
conservatives think
that the next Conservative
leader cannot come fast enough.
All right, let's stay
on the federal scene.
Prime Minister Trudeau
today revealed
that he's still in negotiations
with the provinces
to try to ensure that employees
get 10 paid sick days
per year off
when the economy fully opens.
The idea is,
we don't want you ignoring
potential COVID-19 symptoms
and coming back to work
and infecting everybody else,
because you need the paycheque.
What do you think the prospects
are for this coming to pass?
Well, within the boundaries
of Parliament Hill,
the chances are pretty good,
because he just needs
the support
of one other party to do it,
and the NDP are already onboard.
The prime minister expressly
credited Jagmeet Singh's efforts
to push this issue
to the forefront
when he announced this
earlier today.
When you get to the provincial
it's a bit more uncertain.
How this program looks
is really,
you know,
a mystery right now.
I mean, do you, for example,
ask businesses
to eat some of the cost
of providing paid sick days?
Most provinces
in Canada right now
have conservative
They don't love the idea
of a new burden for businesses.
Do you ask the provinces
to help cost share?
Well, same story, basically.
The premiers are not going
to love that either.
If this boils down
to the provinces tinker
with their own labour laws to
require the 10 paid sick days,
but the federal government
pays for it all,
yeah, that'll probably
sail through.
But we can already see
that there are places
where the federal government
is balking at absorbing
even more of the cost
of economic recovery
in this country.
And they may be looking for
either business or the provinces
to pick up their side of this.
Well, and of course,
there's a bit of an irony here
inasmuch as when he first
came into power,
Premier Ford got rid of some
of the family-friendly policies,
such as more paid sick days,
and the doctor's notes,
and all of that business
that the previous government
had enacted.
These are rather
different times, eh?
The doctor's notes thing,
I think stuck in a lot
of people's craw.
Just a refresher for people
who may not recall,
the Liberal government
before Doug Ford
had made it...
had prohibited the practice
of employers
requiring sick leaves for
anybody who was calling in sick.
It wastes doctors' time.
It forces sick people to go
into a doctor's office
even for trivial things.
The only people who wanted it
were basically small businesses
who were worried that they were
getting taken for a ride
by their employees.
The Ford government
reversed that.
Allowed businesses to demand
sick notes again.
And at the time,
I remember thinking...
You know, this was of course
well before COVID.
But I do remember thinking,
all it takes it one bad
flu season,
and the ERs are filled
with people
who ought to stay home
but are worried
about being fired,
so they need to go get
a doctor's note.
You know, if the--
You know, obviously we should
say in the context
that the premier
and the government
did reverse
that doctor's note thing
at the beginning
of the pandemic,
under a lot of pressure
from various groups.
But, you know,
it does tell you
that we need to start
thinking about
even these relatively
small business regulations.
We need to think about them
in a more holistic way, I think.
There was a moment--
You know what?
Can we take a second here
and talk about this?
There was a moment during
the premier's briefing today
when Laura Stone
of the
Globe and Mail
asked him a question,
as one would.
"How are you doing, premier?"
And I don't think she was
saying it to, you know,
dig deep into his psyche.
But it's interesting.
I thought she got something
out of him
with just that question.
His answer was...
Hi, premier, how are you doing?
Oh, I'm doing all right.
Now, what did you hear
in the premier's voice
maybe that I also heard
in the premier's voice
when he answered that question?
Well, he sounded tired.
And, speaking for myself,
that was relatable.
And, you know, maybe a bit
run-down by it all.
You know, I think that,
at the risk of a little
dime-store psychology here,
you know, I don't think
that this was the job
that Doug Ford thought
he was signing up for.
And the hours have been
way longer
than he probably
for the last
almost three months.
And, you know,
I think it showed,
at least in that moment.
I think you're right
that something--
Something definitely
came through there.
It's interesting.
the simplest questions
can actually evoke,
you know,
a real authentic
moment of truth.
And I think,
for what it's worth,
I think that was one
of those moments today.
Now, speaking of a moment
of truth, I did go--
As I always do, John Michael,
as you know,
I went on Twitter before we
started recording this podcast,
and I did see a tweet
that I wanted to bring to yours
and to our listeners' attention.
It was from a...
what is this?
I don't know if you know
who that is.
But anyway,
this person tweeted,
"Possible that when I put
all of my podcasting gear
"in a linen closet
for recording purposes,
"I didn't anticipate
the pandemic lasting
into 28-degree Celsius weather."
Would this be the wrong time
for me to point out
that I turned my
air conditioning on yesterday
in anticipation
of 30 degrees today?
You want to know
what the silly thing is?
We have central air in my house,
and yet for some reason,
we're doing the stubborn thing
of not turning it on
until June 1st.
JOHN: And I got to tell you,
after 26 minutes
on the tape of recording this,
I'm really close
to breaking right now.
(Both laughing)
Oh, so maybe I'll just
drag this out a little more
and you can sweat
a little bit more.
No, no, it's all right,
we'll cut you a break here,
and let's go into our wrap-up.
We always conclude
this podcast
with our favourite quotes
of the day,
and we'll have those
immediately for you
after we ask you to give us
a rating on Apple podcasts.
We love your feedback.
Mr. McGrath, where else
can they reach us?
You can also email us at
Or tweet at us,
as mentioned earlier.
I'm @jm_mcgrath.
And I'm @spaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
Subscribe to the #onpoli podcast
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Here, now, my quote of the day.
And, yes, we are going to
revisit the premier's reaction
to that huge crowd,
estimated at 10,000 people
who gathered in downtown Toronto
at Trinity Bellwoods Park
on Saturday.
As I said on Sunday,
it was like a rock concert
without the band.
So, you know, these are smart,
young people that were there.
Like, come on, guys.
Give me a break.
You know, just don't do reckless
things like that.
I just-- Because they're
obviously smart,
smart young people
in the city.
And that's what took me back.
I'm thinking, wow,
that's the last group
I'm thinking that would
be out there.
But, you know, they did,
and now hopefully
it's not going to happen again.
There's Premier Doug Ford.
Not a happy camper
after thousands broke protocol
this weekend.
And my quote of the day
is also from the premier,
and also includes him reacting
to the scenes
at Trinity Bellwoods.
But this is from Sunday,
when the premier
had a relatively rare
Sunday morning
news announcement,
both asking people to not crowd
into parks,
and also telling people
to start getting tested
as the province ramps up
its testing capacity.
I get it.
It's a beautiful day out.
Everyone wants to get out
and have a great time.
I fully understand.
And that's the reason
we opened the parks,
so people could get out there
and enjoy the weather.
But the images I saw,
we just can't have that
right now.
There's just too many people
too close.
And it might not even
be about the young people.
They can go home and give it
to their parents
or their grandparents,
because there's still
a deadly virus amongst us.
That's Premier Ford telling
people once again on Sunday
maybe don't all crowd
in the same single park.
Well, folks, what do you think?
Should we let him out
of the closet now?
Shall we let him go mop
his brow?
Shall we say,
"Good job, well done"?
Yeah, I think we can do that
right now.
Take it easy, JMM,
and we'll talk to you again
See you tomorrow, Steve.

Watch: Ep. 52 - Trouble at Trinity Bellwoods Park