Transcript: Ep. 113 - Re-opening... again | May 25, 2021

STEVE:
Welcome, everyone,
to the OnPoli Podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
Well, the state of emergency
is ending and the province
of Ontario is re-opening.
But not all at once.
The government has outlined
a three stage process
for re-opening.
But at least the golfers
will finally be happy.
It's Tuesday, May 25th, 2021.
So let's get to it.

STEVE:
Well, JMM, have you
played a round of golf yet?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I'll tell you, Steve,
it's like
COVID-19 never happened.
I've played exactly
as many rounds of golf
as I normally would have
if this weren't a pandemic.
STEVE:
(Laughing)
Okay.
So, that means zero.
I get ya, okay.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Zero.
Correct.
It's a nice,
round number, fittingly.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
Well, we can
happily point out now
that Ontario is no longer
the only jurisdiction
in North America forbidding
people from playing golf.
There's quite a bit
of detail to get through here.
So let's do this stage,
by stage, by stage.
Start off by telling us as of
this past Saturday morning,
what is now allowed
that was previously off limits?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Lots of things have re-opened.
Basically,
a lot of the outdoor amenities
that were closed in April
have now re-opened.
So that's basketball courts
and baseball diamonds.
And, you know,
I will say that I definitely saw
some civil disobedience
in Toronto's parks
and playgrounds last week.
That, you know,
I think people were
playing some illegal baseball,
but those are now legal again.
And, marinas
are allowed to launch--
STEVE:
Well, remember, John Michael,
stealing is part of baseball.
Right?
Stealing bases has always...
Theft and crime have always
been part of baseball.
Anyway, I've interrupted.
Go ahead.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, I knew it was dangerous even
to raise the topic of baseball.
Marinas are allowed
to launch boats again
and can serve food for takeout.
Something
that will mean a great deal
in some parts of the province.
BMX and skate parks
are allowed again.
And, you know,
I was reading the regulation
when they made it
public on Thursday
and I had to laugh at this bit.
As of May 22nd, 2021, it is
legal to operate ski hills,
snowmobile trails, and
tobogganing hills once more.
STEVE:
Hear, hear!
Well, that's great news, okay.
Well, now that leads us
to the three stages by which
the province will be re-opened.
And let's
go through them one by one.
Stage one includes what?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The emphasis in stage one
is still very much
on outdoor activities.
But, you know,
some things become possible.
Outdoor gatherings of 10 people,
outdoor dining
of four people per table,
outdoor fitness classes
and personal training.
Those become legal.
Non-essential retail,
that's, you know,
retailers who aren't, you know,
food, or pharmacies,
or the LCBO.
They are still under
some serious constraints.
They can only have
about 15 percent
of their
normal capacity indoors.
And malls are still closed.
But, campsites and campgrounds
do open up in stage one.
STEVE:
And what has to happen
before we can actually begin
the stage one re-opening?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The Province wants at least 60
percent of the adult population
having had their first shot.
And they want some of the major
public health indicators
all looking good.
Things like low numbers
of new cases and ICU capacity
looking much better
than it does right now.
That 60 percent
vaccination threshold,
if we haven't already reached it
as of Tuesday morning,
we will very shortly.
STEVE:
Well, I'm not sure
the low case count
is where we want it
to be right now.
'Cause towards the end of last
week, we were still up around,
well, anywhere
from 2,000 to 2,500 a day.
So, when does The Province
estimate better case counts,
better vaccination rates?
When do they estimate
that could all happen?
JOHN MICHAEL:
You're right that the average,
the seven day moving average
that we've been looking at
basically for, you know,
16 months or whatever now,
is still about
2,000 new cases.
They wanna see that
come down substantially,
and they are sort of
tentatively scheduling
June 14th,
or the week of June 14th,
as the time
that stage one could begin.
STEVE:
And presumably, if we flatten
the curve sooner than that,
it's possible we could go into
stage one sooner than that?
JOHN MICHAEL:
In theory,
I guess it is possible,
but, uh, I wouldn't
expect it to be much earlier.
You know, if cases simply
drop through the basement,
and you know,
we're at zero new cases,
or something like that,
then they might move sooner.
But, I certainly wouldn't expect
much more than a week early.
STEVE:
Gotcha.
Okay, that's stage one.
What's in stage two?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Stage two, again,
the emphasis is still
very much on outdoor activities,
but indoor retail does get
to expand its capacity slightly
to 25 percent.
Personal care services,
where people can wear
masks the entire time,
which means haircuts, folks.
(Laughing)
Those become legal in stage two.
Outdoor theatres,
water parks, amusement parks,
those kinds of things
can re-open
as well as
overnight summer camps.
STEVE:
And again, if everything
goes according to Hoyle,
that would put
the stage two re-opening when?
Sometime in July?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The government
says that they won't be moving
any faster
through these phases than...
at three-week intervals.
They want to give
plenty of time to make sure
that nothing goes badly wrong
when they start re-opening.
So, if we do,
in fact, enter stage one
on June 14th,
that gets us
to stage two by July 5th.
And we know that
the Premier has already said
that they're hoping summer camps
will be able to re-open
in early July.
So that more or less tracks.
But there is another
vaccination benchmark
that we need to hit.
That is 70 percent
of adults with one shot
and 20 percent
with their second shots.
STEVE:
So, a ways to go
before we hit that.
All right, that's stage two.
Stage three,
that re-opening
would include what?
JOHN MICHAEL:
You know, this is
where the indoor stuff
really starts to re-open.
Indoor dining with some limits,
indoor movie theatres,
indoor religious services
at higher capacities,
museums, zoos, aquariums,
all of the things I'm going
to be boring my daughter with
this summer.
We start to have
a lot more options.
And the government does have
another benchmark though.
They want
up to 80 percent of adults
vaccinated
with their first doses
and 25 percent
with their second doses
before we get to stage three.
STEVE:
And again,
presuming we continue
to flatten the curve,
and there's
no fourth eruption of COVID-19,
that would presumably put
the stage three re-opening
late July, early August?
Something like that?
JOHN MICHAEL:
If we spend no more than 21 days
in each
of these previous stages,
my count of 42 days
from June 14th
makes it July 26th.
So, you could, in theory,
see a lot of things re-open
for the August long weekend,
for example.
STEVE:
Okay, a few more
follow-up questions here.
Do we know whether this conforms
to exactly what the government's
so-called science table
of advisors is advising?
Or do we think The Cabinet
is freelancing a bit here?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Sarcastically gasping)
Steve!
Freelancing from the Cabinet?
I'm shocked you would even
suggest something like that.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
You sound like Claude Rains
in
Casablanca
right now.
But anyway, moving on.
JOHN MICHAEL:
"Shocked to discover
there's gambling going on here."
STEVE:
Exactly.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Based on the modelling
we saw on Thursday
and, you know,
the consistent advice
from the science table on,
for example, the safety
of outdoor activities,
you know,
I think it's fair to say
this plan largely conforms
to their advice.
And we haven't always been
able to say that about things
that come out of Cabinet.
Given past events,
I think, uh, you know,
I certainly heard
from a lot of people on Twitter
that worry
the government will be tempted
to re-open things too soon
and risk a rebound in new cases.
And, you know, that is
an epidemiological possibility
despite the high rates of
vaccination that we're seeing.
But, you know,
the modelling showed that
re-opening in early June
presented a risk of the rebound.
And, you know, for now,
the Premier and the government
have decided not to chance it.
They are pushing that re-opening
to the middle of June.
And, you know, the Premier
says it's specifically
because of the modelling advice
that they received.
STEVE:
Well, it's interesting.
The Premier
and his Cabinet and government
are being super cautious
on all of this.
And, it just reminded me
when you said
it looks like August
before movie theatres
will be open.
It reminds me that,
for
The Agenda
TV show,
I interviewed Ellis Jacob,
who's the president
and CEO of Cineplex.
Only 1600 screens
across the country.
You know,
thousands of employees.
And, you know,
he felt pretty comfortable
when I interviewed him
over a month ago,
that they were gonna
see theatres open by June.
But apparently,
that's not gonna happen.
Is it?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Not based on the plan
we saw on Thursday.
And I believe there's
already been some pretty,
let's say,
spirited and negative reaction
from some business groups
who are left out
of stages one and two.
And, you know, I understand.
It's been a really
hard year for everybody.
Including business owners.
But, as you say,
this is the government
being very, very cautious.
STEVE:
Mm-hm, all right.
One of the biggest questions
that went unaddressed
at the government's
announcement last week was:
"What is the fate
of our public education system?"
Now, admittedly, there's
only about six weeks or so
left in the school year.
But is there any indication yet
as to whether or not
the schools might re-open,
even if only for a few weeks?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, no clear indication yet.
The modelling table
had suggested that
re-opening schools,
even in mid-June,
might cause
a six to 11 percent increase
in daily new infections.
I mean, what's interesting
is that Dr. Adalsteinn Brown,
from the University of Toronto,
did present
that potential increase
as possibly manageable
given some of the other things
that are working in our favour
in Ontario right now.
But, the Premier
says he doesn't wanna risk it.
Basically, um, the...
For whatever reason,
the government
is being super cautious,
as we said
repeatedly already now.
And does not
wanna risk that increase.
And, so, for now, schools
are going to stay closed.
STEVE:
Well, okay, let me...
How do I do this?
I'm not second guessing
anybody here, right?
They're the deciders.
They have to make the decisions.
I'm just gonna ask
some questions here.
We know from empirically
provable evidence that COVID-19,
thankfully, seems not to be
fatal in young people.
Young people go to school.
The explanation
I had always heard to date was
we can't have the schools open
and the kids getting infected,
even though
it's extremely unlikely
anybody's gonna
die from it in the schools.
Because the kids
could get infected,
bring the stuff home,
and infect their parents.
But we've now got more than
half the parents vaccinated
with at least one vaccine.
So, the chances of that
happening are much lower.
Am I asking
ridiculous questions here,
or is there a path to this
that is being unaddressed
as we speak?
JOHN MICHAEL:
You know,
one of the hardest things to,
I don't know,
distinguish in the pandemic
has been the difference between
a public health indicator
and a person's own, like,
personal safety, right?
So, the fact that you might have
your first shot of a vaccine
obviously
gives you some protection.
But even people who are not
individually protected
by a vaccine dose
are more protected
when lots of other people
also have that vaccine.
And so, you know, we talk about,
like, the safety of schools.
And, obviously teachers
want to be vaccinated.
And, frankly, at this point,
you know, we even want,
if we had enough
vaccines to do it,
we would want
teenage high school students
to be vaccinated too, right?
Everybody 12 and over.
And that would give everybody
a lot of confidence
and a lot of measures of safety.
But, if case counts are falling,
schools are also safer, right?
If case counts are falling
because lots and lots
of people are vaccinated,
even if every individual teacher
and every individual
high school student
is not vaccinated,
then people are safer.
Obviously,
that doesn't end the argument.
In the same way that, you know--
Well, frankly, none
of these arguments ever end.
STEVE:
Right.
JOHN MICHAEL:
But, I do think it's,
you know, worth considering.
You know, when we talk
about the safety of schools,
we are not simply
talking about whether
every teacher who wants
a vaccine has had one yet.
STEVE:
Well, I raised these questions
because I did have
a conversation
this past week with someone
who's been on
the provincial education scene
for probably half a century.
And she only wanted
to speak on background here.
Doesn't wanna make a fuss.
But, but raised some
interesting questions.
She was adamant
that re-opening the schools,
even if only for a few weeks,
was absolutely imperative.
And interestingly enough, JMM,
it had nothing to do
with academics.
Her argument was strictly
for mental health reasons,
for socialization reasons.
Kids need to be back with kids.
And now that the majority
of adults in the province
have had at least one
vaccination shot,
she says we can
and should do this,
even if it means holding
classes outdoors out of concerns
about old ventilation systems,
for example.
Kids need to be back in school.
And that is apparently not
the provincial government's plan
right now.
I mean, I haven't seen it,
but have you picked up
any indication as to whether
the province is prepared
to revisit this decision
before the school year is out?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Certainly nothing public,
nothing that they...
They gave no sign of it
at the media avail on Thursday.
You know, the Premier
did make an allegation
that teachers unions had
threatened an injunction
if they were forced
to go back to in-class learning.
You know, it may not be obvious
to all of our listeners,
but, like,
a teacher's union can't actually
just get an injunction.
They have to go argue for one
in front of a judge.
And the judge is gonna weigh
things like, you know,
the government's right
to set education policy,
that kind of thing.
So, you know, I'll just say
I'm skeptical of that claim
from the Premier and move on.
But the other thing he said
is that he wants
consensus on re-opening.
And, you know, there are both
medical and political reasons
why he may not
get consensus, right?
There are doctors
in this province right now
who are saying that
re-opening schools is a pathway
to a fourth wave, and you know,
bringing the hospital system
back to the brink of collapse.
There are, you know,
we don't have to credit
every single accusation
made against
the teachers unions,
but I think it's fair to say
there are also political reasons
why the Premier might not get
the consensus he's looking for.
But, you know, when has Ontario
every had consensus in its
education system, you know?
He might just have
to actually make the decision.
STEVE:
I know the answer
to that question.
And the answer is "never."
JOHN MICHAEL:
Right.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
'Cause that's the way
it works in a democracy.
Okay, let's talk vaccines.
As we just indicated,
a significant chunk of
the population now has one shot.
We hear a lot about these huge
number of AstraZeneca doses
that are
in the freezer somewhere
waiting for their fate
to be determined.
Is the province
any closer to a decision
on whether that supply can be
used for people's second dose?
JOHN MICHAEL:
You know,
I told somebody on Twitter
that I would
shut up about this issue
if the government made its
decision by the end of the week
and they did.
So now I have to break that
promise and talk about it
just a little bit more
on this podcast.
(Laughing)
Yes, on Friday morning,
Dr. David Williams announced
that people who had received
their first dose of a vaccine
in the form
of an AstraZeneca shot
between March 10th
and March 19th of this year
will be eligible
to receive their second dose
as an AstraZeneca shot
next week.
So, two important things here.
One, this is going
to hopefully use up the,
I've heard differing numbers,
but between 45 and 55,000 doses
of AstraZeneca that we have
on hand that were in danger
of expiring
and going to waste unused.
The other important thing
to note for our listeners,
some of whom, like you, may have
gotten the AstraZeneca shot,
is that this is
a slightly shorter interval
between the first
and second shot
than is the recommended dose.
For AstraZeneca,
the recommended dose interval
was always 12 weeks.
And so, this is gonna be
something more like 10 weeks.
And, so that's slightly shorter.
Dr. Williams and Dr. Dirk Huyer
both said that, you know,
this is not gonna
massively compromise
the effectiveness
of the vaccine.
And so, if people
want to get their second shot
as an AstraZeneca shot,
people who were at the,
sort of the front of the line,
almost three months ago now,
will now be eligible.
STEVE:
You know,
as you said those dates,
March 10th and March 19th,
the dates within which
people got their first shots.
I started to think to myself,
"I know
I got my first jab in March,
but I can't remember what date."
I'm gonna have
to go back to the calendar
and see if I am, in fact,
eligible
for the second dose of A-Z,
because my first dose was A-Z.
So, okay, thank you for that.
I'm gonna check that
after we're done here.
Now, it wouldn't, of course,
be a Doug Ford news conference
if he didn't take
a poke at the Prime Minister
and urge him
to tighten up the borders.
And of course that happened.
Just a reminder, we are not
being critical of the Premier
for suggesting the borders
ought to be tightened up.
Epidemiologists say the borders
probably should be tightened up
to ensure that
the variants of concern
don't penetrate the province
more than the already have.
And we point this out
because science also tells us
that overseas travel
accounts for about 10 percent
of the positive test cases
we're experiencing.
And yet,
the Premier seems to focus
90 percent of his attention on
"Here's how we're
gonna fight COVID-19 energy,"
rather than
the many other things
that might actually
work more effectively.
It's pretty obvious that naked
politics are at play here.
And the word has gone out
that we're almost at, you know,
t minus one year and counting
until the next election.
So it's a good time
to start fighting
with the federal Liberals,
even if it means taking
tens of thousands of dollars
of PC Party ads out.
Anyway,
lest I get on a rant here,
is there any indication
that the federal government
is prepared to re-examine
the status of overseas flights,
particularly from
COVID-19 hotspots,
such as India
or Brazil for example?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Before I answer your question,
I do want to add one other
sort of wrinkle to this
that I think is worth
our listeners keeping in mind.
That, you know, Doug Ford
is wrong about the salience
of the border right now,
but, as we get more
and more people vaccinated,
and as domestic community spread
of COVID-19 shrinks,
and that's obviously what
we're all hoping will happen
as we vaccinate
more and more people,
the border will actually become
a more important part
of this story
as we go from, you know,
basically just trying to get
our own house in order
to having a mostly
vaccinated population
that we're just
primarily trying to protect
from new variants of concern.
We're not there yet.
And it's not like
you can sort of retroactively
make what
the Premier is saying correct.
But, you know,
trying to think a few
steps ahead in this pandemic,
which unfortunately, will last
long after it's under control
here in Canada.
That was just sort of one thing
I wanted to sort of say.
Your question about flights
from India or Brazil.
The government has--
The federal government,
I should say,
has extended
the current prohibition
on direct flights from India
and Pakistan until June 21st.
This was a measure that was
brought in earlier this year
when India started to go through
its latest really tragic wave
of COVID-19.
You know, lots of people say
this is an imperfect measure.
It only really
bans direct flights.
You can still fly
to a third country from India
and then fly into Canada.
But, that is the current policy.
Another current policy,
the closure of the US border
to non-essential travel
has also
been extended into June.
These are both just maintaining
the existing policies.
These are not changing anything.
So, we haven't really seen
much sign that Ottawa sees
any kind of urgent need
to change much
at either the land border
crossings or the airports.
And, apropos of your comment
that the province's position
on this, how to put this,
may be more about
political science
than epidemiological science,
the Angus Reid research
organization has just come out
with some fresh surveys,
some fresh polling,
indicating that Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau now has
a 43 percent approval rating.
That is up
two points from April.
But maybe more significantly,
it's more than twice as popular
as Doug Ford's
numbers in Ontario.
The federal government
as a whole has a 50 percent
approval rating
on handling the pandemic.
Which we probably don't need to
remind our listeners is, um,
a substantially
higher approval rating
than what Ontario's government
had the last time we polled it.
STEVE:
Well, let me build
a little bit on that as well.
'Cause we might point out
that the same survey
has got the federal
NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh,
with a 46 percent
approval rating,
which is even a little ahead
of Prime Minister Trudeau.
The Conservative Party leader,
Erin O'Toole, has just
a 27 percent approval rating.
And I only mention these numbers
because we know that,
traditionally
in Ontario politics,
there is, from time to time,
a lot of spill over
between the popularity
or unpopularity
of the federal parties
and their leaders
onto the provincial scene.
So, presumably,
this is good news
for the provincial Liberals,
the provincial New Democrats,
not so much
for the provincial Tories.
JOHN MICHAEL:
The other thing that
I think comes to mind
is certainly looking at those
numbers for Erin O'Toole,
is that the current leader
of the Conservative Party
may now be
the second one in a row
to wish that somebody else
were Premier of Ontario
right now.
STEVE:
Well, but as I always mention,
and in the interest of fairness,
right,
polls are a great indication
of what
people thought yesterday.
They're not predictive.
They don't tell you what people
are gonna think tomorrow.
And I well remember when
he was Premier of Ontario,
Bob Rae's line when people
always said to them,
"Here's what the polls say.
What do you think?"
He would say,
"I'm in the business
of trying to change polls."
Right?
So, campaigns change polls.
Policy changes polls.
Good news changes polls.
So does bad news, so...
JOHN MICHAEL:
(Laughing)
Yes, had a lot of that lately.
STEVE:
So, everybody take a chill pill.
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
All right,
let's conclude this podcast
with our favourite quotes,
as we do every week.
We're gonna have that for you
immediately after we ask you
to give us
a rating on Apple Podcasts.
Tell us
what you like or didn't.
Either way it lets
others know about this podcast
and perhaps puts it
on their radar screens as well.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You can also shoot us an E-mail
at onpolitics@tvo.org.
STEVE:
Here now, my quote of the week.
Now, JMM, I think
the easy quote of the week
would've been
Premier Ford's challenging
Québec Premier,
François Legault, to a bet
on the Maple Leafs,
Canadiens playoff series.
So I'm not goin' there.
That's just way too easy.
Instead, you and I have both
decided to focus on the leader
of Her Majesty's
Loyal Opposition.
And I have to say,
one of these quotes
she may like,
and the other one not so much.
Let's start
with the not so much.
Andrea Horvath...
Look it.
Let's just say it.
She's received a lot of
compliments on this podcast
in previous episodes
for using her bully pulpit
as Opposition Leader
to highlight issues
she thinks the government
has screwed up on.
Whether if it's a lack
of a paid sick day program,
or getting teachers vaccinated
so we can re-open schools,
or getting
more help for tenants,
or whatever, myriad issues.
But, Ms. Horvath had
a significant announcement
to make last week in calling for
a full-blown judicial inquiry
into the province's
handling of COVID-19.
She's promised to do it if
she forms the next government.
Steven Del Duca,
the Liberal Leader, heard it.
He's promised
to do the same thing.
And when she came out into
the south lawn of Queen's Park
to make that announcement,
she simply botched it.
She messed up a name
of a couple of her MPPs
who were with her
at the announcement.
She forgot the critic portfolio
for one of those MPPs.
And then when it came time
to announce the full-blown
inquiry into COVID-19,
well, she got that wrong too.
Have a listen.
ANDREA HORVATH:
We have the critic for, uh,
now I'm forgetting one of them.
Oh, Laura Mae Lindo,
the critic for, uh, anti-racism,
and I didn't mention
Bhutila Karpoche,
who is our critic for, uh,
childcare and early learning.
That's why today we are calling
for a full judicial inquiry
into long-term care.
Or, sorry, inquiry
into the entire response
of this government to COVID-19.
STEVE:
Now, pollster Greg Lyle told us
last week on this podcast,
that unlike
in most election cycles,
people are actually
paying attention now,
a year before the next election.
The New Democrats
are the so-called
"government in waiting," right?
They're the official Opposition.
They're only 23 seats shy
of a majority government.
They need to convey
competence at the very least
and that announcement
didn't do it.
Okay, having said that,
JMM, what have you got?
JOHN MICHAEL:
My quote of the week is,
as we say,
also from Andrea Horvath.
And let's say
it's a stronger performance.
She was speaking last Thursday
after the province's
re-opening announcement.
And she was asked
by CP reporter, Shawn Jeffords,
about the Premier's claim
that he needs a consensus
on re-opening schools
and here's what she said.
ANDREA HORVATH:
I mean, I think it's balderdash.
The guy likes
to talk out of his hat
and I think that's what
came to the top of his mind
when that question was asked.
You know, who knows how this
Premier makes his decisions?
I mean, let's face it.
All of the way along
it's been, you know,
a deep dark secret of how,
in terms of how
Doug Ford makes his decisions.
JOHN MICHAEL:
That's NDP leader
Andrea Horvath.
And, Steve, I'm gonna confess.
I picked this clip
almost entirely
because of the use
of the word "balderdash."
STEVE:
Poppycock, my friend.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
Well, that was episode 113
of the OnPoli Podcast.
Produced by Katie O'Connor,
editing from Donny Swanson,
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. 113 - Re-opening... again