Transcript: Ep. 106 - Everything old is new... again | Apr 06, 2021

STEVE:
Welcome, everyone,
to the OnPoli Podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
Here we go again.
Ontario is back into
a full-fledged lockdown.
Well, sort of.
The big box stores are open.
Small businesses, once again,
take it on the chin.
Our hospitals are filling up
too quickly and we still have
a fairly small percentage
of our population
that's actually
received the vaccine.
Those stories,
plus some fresh polling
on Ontario's
four major political parties
and where they stand this week.
It's Tuesday, April 6th, 2021.
So let's get to it.

STEVE:
We hope our podcast listeners
had a happy
Easter holiday weekend,
or at least,
as happy as possible,
considering the circumstances.
Before the weekend,
the Ontario government announced
some new modelling numbers,
which are not encouraging.
And so, here come
the restrictions once again.
JMM, how's about you telling us
where things are at this week.
JOHN MICHAEL:
It makes for some
pretty grim reading.
Basically, the so-called
variants of concern,
these mutations of COVID-19,
that are both more infectious,
and more likely
to put people in hospital,
are now the dominant form
of COVID in the province
and still growing quickly.
That is driving
an increase in case numbers.
We have reported
about 3,000 new cases a day
over the last several days.
And, they're also filling up
ICU beds very quickly.
Our intensive care units
never really emptied out
from the second wave.
So, the third wave is hitting
them particularly hard,
and they didn't really
have a lot of room to spare.
And so, over the last week,
we've seen patients
in overloaded GTA hospitals
that have been moved
to places with spare capacity.
And so, that has involved,
you know, ambulances
going up and down the 401
trying to find whatever
free ICU bed they can.
According to the University
of Toronto's Adalsteinn Brown,
who presented
all this on Thursday morning,
one family had all
three members sick with COVID
and sent
to three different hospitals.
I think I'm running out of
different ways to say
that this is a really dangerous
and a frightening time
in the pandemic because we have
said this many times before,
but it is still true today.
STEVE:
I think you're not the only one
finding...or having difficulty
finding new ways to say this,
as we will hear
in our quotes of the week later.
Because, I've got
a little exchange between you
and Dr. Brown
from his briefing last week
and we're gonna play that later.
So, stay tuned
for that everybody.
Now, we know
because of this pandemic
that these are not normal times,
but the Ontario Liberals
found that out
in rather dramatic
fashion recently
when they tried
to mount a campaign event
in Waterloo's Chesapeake Park.
What was the problem?
Well, the problem was
no one showed up.
And I mean no one.
The leader Steven Del Duca
showed up to make a speech,
his videographer shot it,
and one reporter heard it,
and that was it.
Now, how much
do we read into that?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I believe you're old enough
to remember the reference
"Suppose they held a war
and nobody came?"
That was a slogan
from the anti-war protests
of the 1960's and 70's.
You really, really don't want
to be a politician holding
a campaign rally
and have nobody come.
You know, these are obviously
unusual circumstances.
And, you know,
this isn't about, you know,
busting Steven Del Duca's chops
for what, I guess,
is kind of embarrassing.
But, you know, I actually
expect that by August,
the traditional summertime
political barbeque circuit
will actually be
reasonably lively.
But right now, you know,
that's obviously an event
that neither Steven Del Duca,
nor his team, want to repeat.
STEVE:
Well, you gotta feel,
in some respects,
a bit sorry for the guy, because
for the whole previous year,
he's been basically doing
all his work as leader online.
Remember, he doesn't
have a seat in the Legislature,
so he has been doing day-long
Zoom feeds, over, and over,
and over all over the province
with different people.
This was actually...
I think this past couple
of weeks are the first time
that he's actually wanted
to get out of his living room.
And...or, I think
it's actually his dining room.
It's on his dining room table
that he does all this.
This is the first time
he's gotten out
and actually tried to go to
different parts of the province
and wave the flag.
And, um, you know,
people are, I guess,
a mixture of either too afraid
to be out at events in public,
or not interested enough
in provincial politics
at a time like this.
So, there you go.
Um, it's tough.
It's tough sledding
if you're the leader of
the third party some days.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Better luck next time.
STEVE:
Yeah, well, if people
wanna find out more about this,
we've put a link
to a column by Geoffrey Stevens.
Geoffrey Stevens,
one of the great, long-time
Queen's Park observers,
he's got the lowdown
in our show notes.
So, you can
go look for that there.
Now, let's dovetail
from that story
to a look at
the relative popularity
of all the four major
political parties in Ontario.
We don't, JMM,
as a general rule,
see as much polling
at the provincial level
as we do for the national scene,
but as of this week, we now have
three relatively recent polls
from three different
polling companies,
giving us a sense of the state
of play at Queen's Park.
We will not drown
our listeners in numbers here.
Suffice to say, Doug Ford's
Progressive Conservatives
are in first place
in all three polls
with either a comfortable,
or actually large-ish lead.
One poll has the NDP in second
place and the Liberals in third.
Another poll has that reversed.
That being the Liberals in
second and the NDP in third.
The Greens are in fourth place
in all three polls.
These polls come from Leger,
Campaign Research, and Abacus.
Okay, will all that having been
said, what tickles your fancy
in these polls?
JOHN MICHAEL:
You know, every time
I post one of those polls
to my social media,
and not just these three polls,
but, you know, every poll
that has preceded them
for the last six months,
I am flooded with people saying,
basically,
that they don't get it.
These are people who...
They don't love Doug Ford.
And they've got a laundry list
of reasons why they think
he doesn't deserve re-election.
And, you know, insofar as...
You know,
political passions run hot.
I get it.
But I honestly don't think
it's that hard to explain.
You know, in my life time, there
is a grand total of one time
a party in Ontario didn't
win some kind of re-election
after their first term,
and that was Bob Rae's.
Voters really
still haven't forgotten
that they didn't love
the Liberals by the end of 2018
and the progressive votes
haven't consolidated behind
either Andrea Horvath
or Steven Del Duca
as a potential replacement.
So, that might change as
we get closer to the election.
And I sort of expect it to.
I don't think these, at least
the numbers for the Liberal
and NDP to be that stable,
you know, a year from now.
But on the surface, you know,
as far as
these headline numbers go,
they don't really surprise me
as of, you know, April of 2021.
STEVE:
You know,
as you were saying all that,
I sort of reminded myself
that if you look out
at every single province
in the country
which has faced an election
over the past year...
And I'm gonna get these wrong.
I know I shouldn't do this
off the top of my head,
but it's British Columbia,
New Brunswick,
Newfoundland and Labrador.
Those three anyway and--
JOHN MICHAEL:
Saskatchewan I believe as well.
STEVE:
Saskatchewan as well, very good.
And of course, the federal
government may or may not
have an election
coming up this year.
And if you look in every
single one of those cases,
the incumbent government won.
And of course,
the Trudeau Liberals
are in first place
federally right now.
So, that suggests that all of
our unhappiness about COVID-19
not withstanding,
and our irritation that things
are not going as well in terms
of procurement, or vaccine jabs,
as we'd like it to go,
there, apparently, John Michael,
there apparently is
a decent amount of understanding
for those in power right now.
Because all the parties that
were in power a year ago
are still either in power,
or winning re-election,
or are in first place
in the polls today.
So there you go.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, the one exception I think,
and admittedly, I'm not
as on top of Alberta polls
as I should be, but
Jason Kenney seems to be having
a little bit of difficulty
in Alberta relative to--
STEVE:
You're right.
He's lower in the polls.
That's true.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah, but, but, one out of
13 provinces or territories
that I can think of where
we're seeing anything other than
a real affinity
for the incumbents.
STEVE:
Right, quite right.
Now, of course,
let's do a little, you know,
one level deeper dive
on the polling
that we've
just been talking about.
And we will learn some more
things about the state of play.
And I'm thinking for example.
There is a very large gender gap
among the parties
how women vote, how men vote.
Take us through that
if you would.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Right, as we said, we're not
gonna drown people in numbers.
So suffice it to say that
the Tories are walking away
with the male vote
in the province of Ontario.
Um, whereas for women,
the vote is a bit more divided.
They are more likely
to vote NDP or Liberal.
If you are under 35,
you are much,
much more inclined to vote NDP.
And if you are over 35,
you are more likely to vote
for the Progressive
Conservatives.
So, real clear age
and gender splits.
STEVE:
I do wonder what these metrics
tell the campaign teams
of the four respective parties:
Conservatives, New Democrats,
Liberals, and Greens.
Now, if you're a Conservative,
knowing the gender gap exists,
do you just forget
about the female vote
and focus like crazy
on getting men to come out
and vote for you?
Or, do you say, as you just
indicated Stephen Harper did,
"We can bank on the male vote.
Now, let's get some policies
in the window that can
get us some
female voters as well."?
Um, I'll tell you what.
Three, four, five decades ago,
you'd've
definitely done the latter.
You would've tried to reach out
to a broader
coalition of support,
and you would not
have been satisfied
with merely
getting your base out.
Today, the parties
are so identified
with particular demographics,
that it has really
turned into a contest
about identifying your vote
and getting it to show up
on election day.
I'm not sure that's better.
JOHN MICHAEL:
No, I don't think it is at all.
But, I also don't think that
the people
inside these campaigns
love this dynamic either.
Um, I think if you,
you know, ask them,
you know, "Could they..."
Would they like
to go back to an era where,
somebody like Bill Davis,
to invoke your favourite
politician, you know,
could govern with, you know,
through much of his career with,
like, very large
and stable majorities
because he had the preponderance
of public opinion on his side?
Um, sorry.
That was a lot of alliteration.
(Both laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL:
Um, the...
I think they would all love to
get back to that kind of an era,
if for no other reason than
they would love to win elections
by those kinds of margins.
Um, but, nobody knows how
to get back there from here.
You know,
there's no brightly marked exit.
You know, "To get off
of this ride exit here."
Right?
Um, you know,
I mentioned Stephen Harper.
And I do think that
the provincial Tories
are trying to peel away marginal
voters from the Liberals
and the New Democrats
where they can.
I'm thinking in particular
of some of
their policies towards unions
in the building trades.
You know, I don't think
anybody's ever gonna confuse
the Progressive Conservative
Party of Ontario for a,
you know, strong,
pro-organized labour stance.
But, they are definitely
interested in the votes
of some union members.
And we're seeing them
appeal really directly
to people in
the building trades right now.
Maybe that wins them
some votes on the margins.
Maybe it flips
a seat or two for them.
But I think this is all in
the context of people, I think,
will acknowledge that they're
not gonna win an election
based on the kinds of changes
that these appeals make.

STEVE:
As a journalist,
you always like to think
that maybe people read your
stories or watch your interviews
and that helps inform
their choices on election day.
But, this year has been
a strange one
to be a journalist.
We basically never see
the people
we're supposed to cover.
Everything is done
over the phone now.
Reporters
are essentially prohibited
from being in the same venue
as the politicians
making the announcements.
Is it affecting
the stories that get covered,
or how they get covered?
Well, let's find out
from Sabrina Nanji.
She's a freelance
Queen's Park reporter
and she joins us now
from the provincial capital.
And Sabrina,
I hope this call finds you
doing as well as possible
under the circumstances.
I think that's the way
we always ask
"How you doin'?" these days.
SABRINA:
Yeah, I think that's
the new pandemic "fine," right?
Um, I don't know
if it's as convincing.
But, no, I'm doing well.
I'm happy to be joining you guys
virtually, so thank you so much.
STEVE:
Good stuff.
Let's start with this.
How have you found
trying to cover Queen's Park
during the coronavirus pandemic
when you can't be
in the same place
as any of the people
you're covering?
SABRINA:
Hm, it's been
a challenge, absolutely.
I think one
of the main things
that we've lost
is in-person scrums,
being able to ask questions to
the Premier, and the Ministers,
questions in person
and to their face.
I know that we have the daily,
near daily, we don't
get them as much anymore,
press conferences
from the Premier.
Um, and, this is being done
by teleconference now.
And I think one of
the major things that we've lost
is the rhythm of a scrum.
So, how this would typically go,
is, you know, I would ask
a question of the Premier,
or the Health Minister, say,
and they start their answer.
Maybe they get into talking
points a bit, so you know,
maybe John Michael
jumps in with a follow-up
and there's
a bit of a back and forth.
and that's how
we get the truth out
and that's how
we get the answer.
Um, the teleconference,
it's fits and starts, you know?
It's not even organically
how you'd have a conversation.
You ask a question.
There's a big, long answer.
And then, if you don't
really get what you need,
you have to weigh
whether you're going to press
and ask it in a different way,
or if you move on
to a different subject.
So it's a bit
of a different dance
of what's going on right now.
I think that's one thing
that I've missed the most.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You mentioned the Premier's
teleconferences there.
And, back in the before times,
we very rarely got the Premier.
I'm not even sure
I remember getting the Premier
twice in one week,
back before the pandemic.
Maybe we would
get once in a week,
and often less than that.
And now, we, you know,
it's no longer daily
like you said, but it is
multiple days a week often.
But, of course, there's
also all the difficulties
of the teleconference
that you mentioned.
I mean, are they
still helpful, do you think?
SABRINA:
I mean, it's a bit of
a double-edged sword.
I think you're right, you know?
Before the pandemic hit,
we would scrum the Premier
maybe once a month,
or every couple of months.
Um, I mean, I think it was
a bit of a more
adversarial relationship.
The Premier himself called us
"The Unofficial
Official Opposition."
And now he's thanking us
for getting this important
pandemic messaging
out to the public.
But, you know, at least he's out
there answering, or you know,
I guess we could argue
on the quality of these answers.
But he's up there taking
questions more regularly
I think, and so,
you gotta take what you can get
I think sometimes.
But, um, yeah, I'm not mad
that he's out there very often
even though the teleconference
isn't really ideal,
an ideal way to get the truth.
STEVE:
Sabrina, the people
listening to this right now
may not appreciate how important
it is to getting information
that's accurate and out there.
They may not appreciate
how important it is that
the journalists themselves
control that process.
As in, we decide
who asks the question.
The Premier's Office
should not be deciding
who asks the question,
because obviously, they have
the potential to favour
whom they like and
shut out whom they don't like.
How is that all working itself
out during this pandemic?
SABRINA:
Mm-hm, yeah.
I think, um, well,
at the teleconference line,
the Premier's Office
is in charge of that.
So, they're the ones, you know,
picking who gets to ask
the questions, you know,
how many questions there are,
and that type of thing.
And we are seeing that,
you know, these
have been tightly controlled.
But, you know,
the Press Gallery,
and I'm actually
a member of the Executive,
that there we have been pushing,
and, you know,
behind the scenes
for a more
fair and equitable system.
And we have seen some movement
in that, but it's not perfect.
And, um, we have actually,
now that we've
gotten sort of used to,
and understand more of like,
which public health
measures should be in place.
So we've been able to sort of
bring that to Queen's Park.
And post question period scrums.
So, this is just after
question period.
You know, whichever Minister
is in a more loose format
than the teleconference line,
they can come down to
the media studio at Queen's Park
and we can have
some reporters there physically.
It's all distanced.
Everyone's wearing masks.
And that's a bit
of a looser format,
but we still have the
teleconference line available,
and that one is, like,
controlled by the Press Gallery.
So, it's, you know,
first come first serve,
accredited journalists.
You do the usual "Star 1" and
you get to ask your question.
I will say that bringing that
back has been really helpful.
To get a Minister,
you know the Health Minister,
or the Long-term Care Minister,
people that we can ask our
questions in a more open forum,
I think has really helped.
I know that for me, personally,
when I wasn't getting questions
on the Premier's
teleconference line, you know,
I spoke up about it
to my Gallery colleagues.
Um, they...
I wasn't the only one
experiencing this.
So, we ended up, you know,
writing a formal letter
to the Premier's Office
and I think it was
a couple of days after that
that I got the question.
Another tactic was just
tweeting out the questions
I would've asked.
So I think, you know,
drawing the attention to it
has been helping a little bit,
but it's, um,
you know, it's not ideal.
And then the other week, we had
a former Conservative candidate
who runs
the Punjabi Post ask a question,
which the Premier and his office
took a lot of flack for,
especially from Opposition
parties who said, you know,
"This is crossing the line
into a partisan
campaign appeal for votes."
Which probably didn't really
help much with the optics
when the Premier sort of made
that plea after the question.
And, even on that, you know,
it's really rare for Premiers
to so overtly
woo voters so far out
from the next scheduled
election more than a year away.
So it does stand out
and make you sit up.
But I think from this Premier,
Doug Ford in particular,
it's not wholly surprising.
You know, he's said himself,
he's always in campaign mode.
He's just going
from one to the next.
And we've also seen several
occasions where they're using
their pandemic response in
their fundraising E-mail blasts
that go to supporters
or people who
might donate to the PC party.
So, I think it is concerning,
maybe not so surprising,
but I think for us reporters,
it's important
to just lay it all out there
so that people can make
informed opinions and decisions.
JOHN MICHAEL:
At the same time,
as you rightly point out,
the former
Conservative candidate
who was given a question
during the press conference,
I mean, at the same time
as we've seen that, certainly,
some of our fellow members
of the Press Gallery
have also been very vocal
in alleging that they think
they're being frozen out
from these teleconferences.
And I'm thinking in particular
of our colleague,
Travis Dhanraj,
who has, you know,
not gotten very many questions
to the Premier
over the last few months.
And, I mean,
do you see those
as a linked problem?
And is this affecting
the integrity of the journalism
that comes out of Queen's Park?
SABRINA:
Hm, I mean,
I think that, you know,
since the beginning of time,
governments have, you know,
so-called "frozen out" reporters
that they don't like.
I don't think that's unique to
a pandemic or this government,
but I think maybe
it's just more visible.
And, yeah, when you wait on hold
for, you know, two hours
and you don't get a question,
that is really frustrating.
And I think,
you know, to call it out
is maybe a way to sort of help.
But, again, like I said,
it is just a double-edged sword.
Like, we don't...
There's been some
really wild suggestions
on how to address this.
You know, do we boycott
the Premier's pressers?
Or, do we start
pooling questions?
Those didn't pan out.
But, I think one other thing
that's really missed,
is that you can't really...
Because we're not
there physically,
you can't really
grab a Minister,
or you know,
even an Opposition politician
to get a one-on-one about
a story that you're working on.
In the before times, you know,
after question period,
you get the Minister who speaks
to the big news of the day
up to scrum.
And, so that would be like,
Health, or maybe the Finance
Minister, but if you want to...
If you're working
on something about, you know,
the re-vamping of
the blue box recycling program,
you might be able to pull aside
the Environment Minister
and get something
a little more in depth.
I think that's really another
thing that's also been missed.
I know that was
starting to go away a bit more
with the PC's as well.
But, I think that's one thing
that we don't have a lot of,
you know, missing out,
being at Queen's Park.
STEVE:
Sabrina, I wanna ask a follow-up
on this Travis Dhanraj situation
because it's one thing for
journalists to sort of complain
either privately or amongst
themselves behind the scenes
about the way
the Premier's Office is handling
the allocation of questions.
It is really another thing,
as Travis did,
and I'm not
criticizing him for it.
I'm impressed
at his courage actually.
Um, he tweeted it.
He went right out there
and he said "I am outta here.
I've had enough of this.
This is not working anymore.
This is ridiculous about how I'm
never getting to ask a question.
And it seems
that only the people
who are among the favoured few,
you know, get called on
by the Premier's Office."
Since he went public with that
tweet, and was very critical
on the record about it,
do you know whether or not
there has been any discussion
or any change of approach
in the Premier's Office
accordingly.
SABRINA:
I'm not sure how much
I can speak to what's going on
in the Premier's Office.
I hadn't heard Travis
since then ask a question.
But, I mean,
I can relate to him, right?
There were some times
where I just thought,
"You know, I'm not even
going to bother calling in
because I never
get called on anyway."
And it's not a good
feeling to feel like
you need to give up
or try something else.
Travis also
called out the Executive,
which I'm a part of.
And I think,
um, what he didn't mention
was what's going on
behind the scenes.
So, I know that
there has been discussions
between the Gallery Executive
and the Premier's Office
about this.
And it happened, you know,
just before, days before
Travis put that out there.
That we had sent
a formal letter, you know,
laying out the concerns.
And this is one of many letters
that the Premier's Office
has gotten, so,
at the end of the day,
it's really up to
the Premier's Office.
They're the ones in control.
They're the ones in charge.
And, the Gallery and Executive
is having to kind of be
a bit more creative in, you
know, their formal complaints,
and, um, like, pointing out
to the Premier's Office
"This isn't okay."
And I can understand when
sometimes they do want to have
the regional media
ask questions.
Because I know that
the Queen's Park Gallery,
we would ask every
opportunity that we can get.
And so, sometimes, you know,
there might not be enough time
for a regional reporter
to get their question in
about some specific thing
that's happening in that riding.
Um, I think that's one thing
that PO has controlled
in a good way.
Um, I do...
I do feel what Travis is saying.
But I know that
there's also a lot of other, um,
accredited journalists
who haven't gotten questions
as often as he has as well.
But I completely
understand his frustration.
And, um, I mean those formal
letters have been going out.
I know that
they've been small wins,
but we have gotten
our small victories.
And I think that it's...
You've gotta kind of
be a bit more cooperative.
I think that the Premier's
Office understands that
it's bad optics on them too.
I don't think the public is...
You know, they can't trick
the public into, you know,
just having the same questions,
like the same people.
I don't think the public's going
to fall for something like that.
So, I think, um, you know,
taking questions from folks,
different folks,
different people,
choosing on them,
that's what's gonna make it...
That's how you get the better
optics of it I think too.
I think now, um...
I don't know if we will,
if Travis
is trying still or not.
But I think it's definitely
a frustrating experience.
And he's not the only one
that's felt that frustration
in the Gallery.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You've mentioned
the Executive a few times here.
And I think probably
worth spelling out
for our listeners that,
you know,
the Queen's Park Press Gallery
is actually a body
in the Legislative Assembly.
All of the journalists
who report on Queen's Park
regularly are members.
Steve and I are both members
and we elect members
as the sort of the leaders
of the Press Gallery.
And so, at the moment,
the President of
the Queen's Park Press Gallery
is Colin D'Mello.
And there are, um...
Actually, I forget what
the technical titles is.
Deputies or vice-presidents?
I forget.
SABRINA:
Vice-presidents.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Right, um, and--
SABRINA:
Yeah, so there's one
for print, one for broadcast.
I'm the Secretary,
so I take the minutes
and things like that.
But, yeah, it's volunteer.
And, um, I think, you know,
your mandate essentially
being on the Executive
is to fight for your colleagues,
and, you know,
access and transparency
from the powers that be.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And, you know,
while we're talking about
the very inside gossip
of Queen's Park, I guess
we might as well talk about
the story from, geez,
a week or two ago now.
We learned that
the Toronto Sun's Brian Lilley
is in a relationship
with Premier Doug Ford's
Director of Media
Relations, Ivana Yelich.
Um, this poses
some pretty ethical,
some pretty obvious
ethical problems.
Um...
What struck you
about that revelation?
SABRINA:
I would say generally, you know,
it's not really surprising
to think that relationships
can be formed in these ways.
You know,
media, political people,
political people
and stakeholders.
Um, we're all
working long hours.
We all spend
a lot of time together.
You know, I mean, I count
a lot of my close friends
even in government, Opposition,
and they are
absolutely partisan.
And I still think, you know,
I can do my job objectively.
And I think, um,
they must have, you know,
like most folks in these types
of personal relationships,
you know,
they might have boundaries
about what you can
and can't talk about.
You know, I had a close friend
who worked for Tim Hudak
and when we would chat,
you know, about the usual stuff,
"You know, how's your day?"
And then maybe they would, you
know, get to a big announcement
they were prepping for but
wasn't at liberty to discuss,
he'd say, "Oh, sorry, Sabrina."
Like, "Let's talk about
something else."
And then, you just move on
and that's how
you kind of maintain things.
I think the key to the optics
and ethical questions of it
is really disclosure.
And, you know, whether
that's disclosure to your bosses
or the public, I think
the onus is on a reporter.
And then it's really
up to the public to decide,
you know, um,
what they think about that.
STEVE:
Well, that's the point.
You can't stop people
from falling in love,
but you can certainly
urge people to be up front
about people with whom
they're in a relationship.
And the questions
are related to that.
Whether or not
the parties involved here
have really been as public
and disclosed appropriately
their relationship
for their superiors,
and the public to know about,
and frankly,
whether there are any other
relationships like this
going on out there
that pose similar difficulties.
It's hard to imagine
that in a province
of 14.7 million people,
where you've got,
I don't know what,
60,000 people working
in the public service,
and you know hundreds,
if not several thousands
more journalists,
it's hard to imagine that these
two are the only ones involved
in this kind of a situation.
So, anyway, we certainly
leave that out there
for people to think about.
But, Sabrina, I guess...
I mean, here's the main point
about all of what
we're talking about here today.
This is not...
We haven't had you on
so that we can moan
about how difficult
our jobs are.
That is hardly the point.
The point is that because
of the new rules under COVID,
one wonders
whether there are stories
that are not getting covered.
One wonders if there are
answers we're not getting.
I mean, we're the proxy for
the listener, for the viewer,
for the reader.
And, you know, is it...
In your view,
are we missing out on stuff
in doing our job for
the public because of the nature
of how we have to cover things
during the course of a pandemic?
SABRINA:
Yeah, absolutely.
I mean,
I think the teleconferences,
they're really not ideal
and they do sort of allow
the Minister of the day,
or whoever's up at the mic,
to sort of give these long
talking points filled answers.
And that's really...
You know, that's how you
lose out on getting the truth,
or it's a little trickier.
I think we've had to adapt.
But, I don't know if we'll ever
get those big crowded scrums
where you see a Minister,
you know,
sardined in a group of reporters
with microphones pressed up
against their nose.
You know, I don't know
if we'll ever get that back,
you know, even after everyone's
vaccinated and everything.
But I do think that it's
the style of the teleconference
that's really not ideal,
and also, you know, the ability
to be there in person, um,
and to maybe run into
somebody in the basement.
You know, grabbing
a coffee in the cafeteria,
you can ask
a couple of questions
or you'll get a tidbit
and can run with that.
I think, um...
It's gonna have to be
a lot of getting creative.
You know, I think even now,
we've been hearing reporters
even calling out the Premier
sometimes when he doesn't give
a straight answer to a fairly
straightforward question.
But you kind of have to decide
whether you're going to press
on that in just one follow-up,
or move on and try
to cover something else.
I think, um, hopefully we'll
start to see more of, you know,
the option of asking in-person
questions to the Premier.
Our trusted camera guy,
Jamie Tumelty, at CP24,
he is sometimes, you know,
when he's out
with the Premier on photo ops,
he's been able to,
you know, yell questions at him
because he's gonna at least try.
Um, and, sometimes
we have gotten, you know,
things that we can
follow up on,
or need to clarify,
you know, a bit of news.
So, it's a struggle,
but I think people are getting,
you know, a bit more
creative and adapting.
And, I'm glad, you know.
I'm glad that we are
getting the Premier out there
and the ability
to ask the questions.
Um, that's something.
I should say.
STEVE:
Well, Sabrina,
we really did wanna
pull the curtain back
a little bit and find out
a little bit more
on behalf of our listeners
as to how this all works.
And we're grateful that
you could spend some time
with John Michael and me
today to do just that.
So thanks very much
for joining us.
SABRINA:
Thanks so much for having me.
And hopefully we'll be
in the scrums together soon.
STEVE:
Amen to that.

JOHN MICHAEL:
That was Sabrina Nanji,
freelance Queen's Park reporter.
STEVE:
And, we always
conclude this podcast
with our favourite
quotes of the week.
And we'll have those for you
immediately after we ask you
to give us a rating
on Apple Podcasts.
Help make this little podcast
a little bit better.
For example, some of you
said you enjoy the banter
between John Michael and me,
but you'd also like
to hear some guests
from time to time as well.
So, we did that today.
Give us other good advice
and we will happily take it.
JOHN MICHAEL:
We are entirely
open to suggestion.
And you can shoot us
an E-mail at onpolitics@tvo.org.
STEVE:
Right on.
Okay, here comes
my quote of the week.
This is from the Public
Health Table's top expert,
Dr. Steini Brown,
at his briefing
of the new modelling numbers.
It's last April first
when this happened.
But this is clearly
no April Fool's joke.
My estimable co-host
asked a wonderful question.
And folks,
listen carefully here.
Listen to Dr. Brown's answer.
In particular,
listen for the pause
and then the deep exhale before
he actually opens his mouth
to answer the question.
If you're a journalist,
that is a great sign,
because it means
the subject is not giving you
a bunch
of talking points or spin.
He is genuinely thinking hard
about what to say.
Steini Brown, take it away.
WOMAN:
Your first question comes
from John McGrath with TVO.
Please go ahead.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Dr. Brown,
you sat there six weeks ago
and warned us all
that this was coming
if policy measures
weren't taken.
They weren't taken
and now we're here.
Um...
You've been relatively stoic
in these briefings,
but I'm wondering
how you feel today.
Are you frustrated?
Are you angry
about this outcome?
STEINI BROWN:
(Sighing deeply)
No.
I'm just hopeful that
if the goal
is to reduce the infection
and the impact of this disease,
that the measures
we take are strong enough
to make sure that we can
get the disease under control,
we can protect our hospitals,
and we can get back
to a normal life
as quickly as possible.
STEVE:
That's Dr. Adalsteinn Brown
in response
to John Michael McGrath
at last Thursday's
public health briefing.
Well done, JMM.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Thank you for that, Steve.
I'm mildly embarrassed.
But, you know,
can I just take a second
and say what we've talked
a bit about the dynamics
of these teleconferences
that we call into.
And so, I wasn't
watching the TV.
I wasn't watching a video feed
when I asked that question.
And so,
he waited so long to answer,
if he'd waited
another half a second
I was actually gonna jump in and
ask if I was still on the line.
I was kind of
confused about that,
like whether
I had been dropped or not.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
I'm so glad you didn't,
and were patient,
and just let
the silence breathe,
because it really did create
a memorable and dramatic moment.
And it really did sum up.
I mean, that moment where
he said nothing, John Michael,
it summed up the whole conundrum
of the past several weeks.
Is that it seems that
there's a great debate right now
about what we're doing,
what we're not doing,
whether it's working,
whether it's not working.
And you got all that summed up
in that great exhale
and that pause.
So, good for you for resisting
the temptation to jump in.
JOHN MICHAEL:
One of the few lessons
that really stuck in my brain
from journalism school
is "Let the silences hang."
STEVE:
Mm-hm, mm-hm.
JOHN MICHAEL:
My quote of the week
is from Monday
when Toronto's
Medical Officer of Health,
Dr. Eileen de Villa, was asked
about the need for both
more vaccines
and for social supports
for people who get sick,
including paid sick leave.
EILEEN DE VILLA:
As I see it, this is not
an "either or thing."
It's actually a "both and."
We need both the protections
for workers for paid sick leave
so that they can take the right
action when they feel unwell
without having to worry
for their family's welfare.
And, of course, we need vaccine.
I think
the important part about vaccine
that we all need to understand
is that it is an absolutely
important strategy.
But it is one that has
its greatest effects,
it has its fulsome benefit,
weeks down the road.
So, the ability to stay home
from work when you're sick
is a today strategy.
Vaccine is a strategy that
protects better for tomorrow.
JOHN MICHAEL:
That's Dr. Eileen de Villa
speaking in Toronto on Monday.
STEVE:
And, that was episode 106
of the OnPoli Podcast.
Produced by Katie O'Connor,
and Matthew O'Mara this week,
who also, provided of course,
his regular
editing wizardry as well.
Production support
from Nikki Ashworth
and Jonathan Halliwell.
JMM, as my dad likes to say,
"Stay positive.
Test negative."
JOHN MICHAEL:
Stay safe, Steve.

Watch: Ep. 106 - Everything old is new... again