Transcript: Ep. 114 - David Williams is out as Ontario's top doctor | Jun 01, 2021

STEVE:
Welcome, everyone,
to the #onpoli podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
A lot of
dramatic developments
on the provincial scene last
week. Dr. David Williams,
the province's medical
officer of health,
is leaving his post
earlier than anticipated.
What's the
story there?
Meanwhile, some encouraging news
on the vaccine front.
Everyone who wants one should
have a second vaccine dose
by the end of
August,
but lots of
questions remain,
including, "Should the
public school system
welcome students back into
the classroom any time soon?"
The government got lots
of advice on that last week.
It's Tuesday,
June 1st, 2021,
so let's get to it.
(Music playing)
Well, once upon a
time, Doug Ford said
he wanted Dr. David Williams
to remain at his post
as Ontario's medical
officer of health
for longer than
his contract stipulated,
because, as the
premier said,
you don't change dance partners
in the middle of a dance,
especially when
they dance so well.
Well, clearly, the premier has
had a change of heart,
because yesterday, the
government confirmed
Williams will leave
his post
earlier than his original
September 1st departure date.
JMM, what
happened here?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, the news here
is that Ontario is getting
a new chief
medical officer.
Dr. Kieran Moore is currently
the local public health officer
for the
Kingston region,
and he's been
extremely well regarded
by more or less everybody I've
spoken to in the last year.
He has also spoken with us
at TVO a few times.
We've got some pieces
on the website
if anybody wants
to read those.
And Kingston has really had
one of the best records
for performance
during this pandemic
in terms of
Ontario regions.
They have had far fewer
cases of COVID-19
than either the sort of
provincial per capita average
and certainly far
less than big cities
like Toronto
or Peel Region.
But you know, as you
noted, the timing here
is a bit odd.
You know,
we got a full-on motion
of the legislature
to permit Dr. Williams
to continue to serve
as medical officer of
health until September 1st,
and he now will
not do that.
Dr. Moore is going to take
over later this month,
and you know,
it is a natural
question
to ask, "What
is happening here?"
The most boring explanation--
(Steve laughing)
--might just be that this
is a trick of the calendar.
Dr. Williams's term was
going to end on September 1,
and MPPs don't actually
return to the legislature
until September
13th or 14th.
And if you wanted to have
a replacement in place,
you needed
a vote of MPPs.
So, this
week happens to be
the last sitting week
of the legislature.
It's sort of
their easiest opportunity
to get a replacement
lined up.
STEVE:
That is a very
noncontroversial explanation
for what's transpired.
JOHN MICHAEL:
(Laughing)
Yes.
STEVE:
And I suspect--
Well, you know, there might be
a grain of truth in that.
I'm not necessarily
buying that one,
and I'll tell you, I
read the press release
that the premier's
office put out.
I read it pretty
carefully,
and while it is
filled with plaudits
for Dr. Williams's
performance on the job
over the last
whatever it is--
16, 17 months
that we've been dealing
with this coronavirus
pandemic--
there was actually
nothing in the release
that explained why
he was leaving early.
Now, we've heard--
One of the
rumours, anyway,
is that there is a disagreement
between him and Premier Ford
on the issue of
reopening the schools.
Anyone been able
to nail that down?
JOHN MICHAEL:
No. As far as I have seen,
at least as we're
recording this,
nobody has--
Certainly, like,
none of the papers
have to gone to print
on that, that I've seen,
although it's been busy. I
could have missed it. (Laughing)
And you know,
it's certainly
possible.
We're going to talk
a bit about what advice
the premier has solicited on
education in a minute,
but the...
It's odd, right?
This is why we're
all scratching our head.
The premier has been so effusive
in his praise for Dr. Williams
for so long
that it is weird
to see him leave early.
For the record, the minister
of health was asked about this
after question
period on Monday,
and she said that
this is
entirely Dr.
William's choosing,
that, you know, the timing
worked for everybody.
You know, I suppose
that could be true. (Laughing)
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Well, let's point out
something that you and I both
talked about in our newsletter,
which people can
subscribe to as well--
the #onpoli newsletter.
The fact of the matter is,
before this pandemic started,
I bet you there might
have been 12 people
in the whole province of
Ontario who could tell you
who the medical officer of
health for the province was.
Now, I think darn
near everybody knows
that it was
Dr. David Williams,
because he was on
TV for the longest time
pretty much every day,
telling people what they
needed to know about COVID-19.
However, his performances
were not without controversy,
and perhaps, just before
we leave this subject
and before we talk
about reopening schools
and whether they
will or not,
can I get a final
comment from you on--
What's the verdict
on Dr. Williams?
(John Michael laughing)
I mean, on the one hand,
34 public health units that
he had to be responsible for,
advice that was, you
know, never more serious
that he had to give the
premier on what he ought to do
as it relates
to this coronavirus.
On the other hand, his share of
criticism along the way.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Oh, boy.
In terms of his own
communications style--
(Sighing)
I don't want to be
mean to the guy
as he's heading
out the door,
but I think it would
be fair to say
that Dr. Moore from
Kingston
is widely seen
as a very clear and
effective communicator.
And I think that will be a
substantial improvement
relative to
Dr. Williams,
who was not
always very clear
and just didn't
always speak clearly
about matters where clarity
is really important.
On the other
parts of the job,
you know, the
more substantive--
if you want to call it--
performance issues,
you know, one of the big
questions that I think
historians are going to be
asking-- and frankly,
I'm already thinking
about myself--
is, you know,
"How much
did the medical officer
of health matter?"
Rather, "How much
did the chief medical
officer of health matter?"
You know, every decision
that Dr. Williams made
or could have wanted
to make had to get filtered
through the PC cabinet
and the PC caucus.
You know, I don't know
how effective
a chief medical officer could
be given those constraints,
and we don't have a time machine
to play it all over again.
STEVE:
Yeah. Well, when you
and I are doing this podcast
in 20 years, let's
revisit this subject,
and we'll figure out what
historians had to say about it.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Episode 10,000 of
the #onpoli podcast.
STEVE:
(Laughing)
There you go.
Well, let's move
on and talk education,
and I won't say this
is unprecedented,
what we're about
to talk about,
because despite
what you think, JMM,
I actually did not cover the
Ontario legislature
back in 1867.
(John Michael laughing)
But let's say-- Let's just
put it this way.
I cannot recall any premier
asking so many experts
for such
crucial advice
in such a short
space of time, ever.
So, let's go through this.
Last Thursday,
Premier Ford asked
nearly 50 stakeholders
in health care and
education
for their advice on whether to
reopen Ontario schools,
and he gave them
one day to respond.
One day.
Okay. Tell us
the story.
What was that
all about?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The premier's office released
this very--
I mean, you know, for
a modern political letter,
it's a lengthy and it's, you
know, a footnoted document
that actually,
you know--
At least
as of Friday,
or rather Thursday,
I should say,
it contained, you know, a lot
of very current information
about what's going
on with COVID
and raised a lot
of questions,
in particular about the
newest variant of concern
that is circulating
in Ontario.
This is the
B1617 variant
first identified
in India.
And you know,
ultimately,
to boil it all down,
the letter comes down
to two questions, right?
"Is reopening schools for
in-person learning
safe for students?"
and "Is the
reopening of schools
safe for teachers
and education staff?"
Two big
questions that,
at least as you
and I record this,
neither the premier
nor anybody else in cabinet
has sort of
tipped their hands
as to what they are
leaning towards yet.
STEVE:
And almost 50 stakeholders in
health and education, as we say,
got this letter
asking for advice.
Give us an example of
the kinds of people
who the premier
heard from.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I mean, the letter is
almost, you know, more--
More of its length is devoted
to the list of stakeholders
than the actual
content of the letter.
Three of the
five pages
have stakeholders
listed on them,
and it includes,
you know,
hospital leaders,
pediatric specialists,
all of the province's 34 local
medical officers of health--
including, one
presumes, Mr. Moore--
and also the
big education unions.
So, you know, the premier has
cast a very, very wide net
in terms
of the feedback
on this really,
you know,
crucial education
question
that he's trying
to answer.
STEVE:
And what has
been the feedback
to this very unusual ask?
(John Michael laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, you know, it's been mixed,
I think would
be fair to say.
Some medical officers of
health around the province,
particular in areas
where there's relatively low
prevalence of COVID right now,
are saying, yeah,
they're ready to open.
Dr. Williams was
asked about this last week,
and he says that the
only medical officer of health
who has clearly
said no,
or at least had
said that last week,
was in the Porcupine public
health unit.
This is the unit that
includes Timmins,
and they're having a really
severe outbreak there right now.
And you have
somebody
like Dr. Eileen
de Villa in Toronto,
the medical officer
of health there,
who has, I would say--
(Laughing)
--issued a very
cautious endorsement
of the idea of
reopening schools.
So, very,
very mixed,
and more than
anything, I think,
a lot of people sort
of were, you know,
scratching their heads,
saying, you know,
"Why did you wait so long to
ask for this advice?"
You know, the letter
came out on the Thursday.
People were asked to
give their feedback by Friday,
the last
Friday in May,
and that's not exactly
an opportune time
to make a decision about
whether schools should reopen,
given that we're talking
about just a few weeks
of instructional time.
STEVE:
Well, let's acknowledge
that it's hard to think
of too many instances
where it's a bad idea
to ask experts for advice,
but let's also acknowledge
that if this government
has been susceptible
to criticism,
it's that they've been too
late on too many things.
So, is it fair
to point out
that it's a bit late
in the school year
to be seeking this kind
of widespread advice?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Right, and yes.
And we see--
You know, this is
a bit of a pattern.
You know, they were
late getting a handle
on long-term care homes.
Arguably with how bad the second
wave was in long-term care,
you could say they
almost never did
until vaccines
got around.
They were late to shut down
various aspects of the economy,
certainly in
the third wave.
They were late to reopen
outdoor activities,
even though they were
given clear advice
from the science table
and others
that is was not just safe
to have people outside
but preferable
to have them outside.
And now, you know,
yeah. (Laughing)
I mean, as our listeners
listen to this, it's June 1st,
and we still don't know what
the plan to reopen schools is.
So, you know,
tick tock.
There's, what, 15,
20 days of school left?
STEVE:
Not too much. Right.
So, has the government
given any indication
on when they will decide
about whether schools reopen,
now that they've got all
this fresh advice
on their hands?
JOHN MICHAEL:
A short answer is no.
As of Monday, the premier had
told Citytv's Jamie Tumelty
that a decision was
coming in a day or two.
The minister of health
said much the same thing
after question
period on Monday,
and honestly,
you know,
that seems to me
like the decision
is almost certainly no,
at least
in the GTA.
Schools probably
won't reopen,
or they'll only reopen
in parts of the province
where there's effectively
no COVID at the moment.
And we haven't really gone over
the COVID numbers in a while,
but you know, there are regions
in the province right now
that are having, like, one
or two cases a day.
It's very manageable
in those areas.
The other
thing that-- (Sighing)
It's hard to express
this, in a way,
but reading that letter,
it read to me very
much as a letter
that was laying out
all the reasons
why the government did not
want to reopen schools
and was asking to be convinced
to change their mind, right?
It did not read
like a letter
from a government
that was...
undecided, right?
It read like
a letter that's--
"We've already decided we're
not going to reopen the schools,
but you know,
we're going to ask for one
more round of input
before we make
it final."
STEVE:
Well, one of the
things that surprised me--
And we should say
that, you know,
not all of the letters
and not all of the advice
that these organizations
gave to the government
were made public.
Some of them were. I know
some of the teacher unions,
for example, made
their advice public,
and I can't say that
I was blown away
with how forceful
the advice was.
You know, the letters
said things like,
"If you want to
reopen the schools
and if it's going to be
your decision to do that,
then make sure you
take into account..."
you know, dah
dah dah dah dah.
Teachers
get vaccinated,
the students get
vaccinated, etc., etc.
And you know, I
must say, you know,
teacher unions are rarely shy
about offering their advice
on what they think is best for
the education system,
but I thought the letters
that I read, anyway,
they very much
punted their advice
and wrote a letter
that looked
like they were just sort of
covering their backsides.
I don't know. Am
I too harsh on that?
JOHN MICHAEL:
No. I think there
was a lot of that.
You know, I already mentioned
Dr. de Villa in Toronto,
and I thought that her
submission to the province
was very much in
the same tone.
You know, "This
is your decision.
Don't try and make
it my decision.
I don't want it
to be my decision.
But if you decide
to reopen the schools,
here's what I think:
X, Y, and Z."
You know, I think--
There's not a ton
of profiles in courage
going around on this issue
right at the moment.
I think more
or less everybody
is sort of--
Well, even, you know--
I think we mentioned this
before, but you know,
the premier's request
for consensus
from scientific
advisors on this issue
is sort of like an
excuse to do nothing,
because you're never
going to get consensus.
So, is it all just
a bit of a show
to run out the clock?
I don't know
what the-- (Laughing)
It's Tuesday,
June 1st.
It looks like
that to me.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Well, it's
a good reminder
that at the end
of the day,
one guy is
the decider,
and we'll actually have
more on that
in our quotes of
the week.
Now, let's talk vaccine rollout.
We did hear from the premier
that everyone who
wants one
should have a second dose
by the end of August.
The province
also rolled out
some new slide decks
at a briefing last week
explaining how the
process will go.
It was essentially
a timetable
on when people can get their
first and second doses,
which, of course,
is important,
because the province
can't begin
its three-stage
reopening procedures
until certain vaccination
benchmarks are met.
So, what did we learn
from that briefing?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Basically, the process
for getting your second shot
of whichever
vaccine you received
is going to be much
like the first,
except that we're going to
move through the age ladder,
so to speak, much faster,
because the volumes of
vaccine that we're getting
are much larger
these days.
So, people in Ontario
who are 80 or over
are already eligible
to get their second shots
as this podcast is
in your ears,
and people 70-plus
will be eligible
starting two
weeks from now.
The government
did release
a schedule for
younger age groups,
but I would basically advise
our listeners
not to take it
all too seriously
once you get past
the next two weeks,
because the government
also isn't counting
millions of doses that we
know are very likely coming
but we just don't have
specific set dates for yet.
As those doses are incorporated
into the planning,
a lot of the younger age groups
are going to get moved up.
They are going
to get accelerated.
So, you know,
for people who are,
you know, 60 and under,
I don't think it's
worth, at the moment,
getting attached to specific
dates in the calendar.
STEVE:
Well, I must
say, Mr. McGrath,
you have a really
delightful habit of asking
a really good question at
a really good moment
in the briefings that
have taken place,
and we know about the
first one that went viral,
when you asked Steini
Brown that key question,
you know, "This sure looks
like a disaster pending to me."
Does it to you?"
And he agreed.
You asked another
really good question
in the briefing last
week, and that is
that some people are still
looking to get their first doses
while at the
same time,
others are looking
for their second doses.
So, let me ask you whether you
got a reasonable answer
to that question of
whether there will be
competition for doses, given
that there is--
I mean, there's good supply,
but it's a finite supply,
and presumably much greater
demand for that finite supply.
What did you
find out?
JOHN MICHAEL:
So, just our listeners' benefit,
you won't be hearing a
viral clip of that question,
because this was
a technical briefing
with government officials, and
the rules of these briefings
are that we're
not allowed
to quote them directly
or name them.
That has been the rule through
the pandemic and before.
But the answer I got to that
question was, effectively,
that there are so many
appointments already booked
for younger people getting
their first shots--
And you know, this was being
described to us last week.
There are so many people who are
either booked for appointments
for doses that are already on
hand or very nearly on hand
that people who
start booking
their second
shots this month
are not really competing
for those doses.
They are getting
more recent arrivals.
You know, I guess,
you know, it
was an answer.
It was a good-faith
answer to the question,
but I will say I'm
not fully convinced.
You know, there's still a ton
of people in Ontario 12 or older
who have not yet gotten
their first shot--
millions of
people, literally--
and I have to believe
we're going to see
some kind of friction there
between allocating doses
in terms of who gets
their first shot
versus who gets
their second.
And if we don't
see that friction,
that could also
be a bad-news story.
I'm not
prejudging it.
I'm not jumping to the most
pessimistic outcome here.
But you know,
if there isn't
that competition,
it might end up being because
we don't see as much demand
for first
shots, right?
We've had really, really
good take-up in the vaccine.
You know, lots of people
crowing about how Canada
is exceeding other countries now
in terms of people getting
their first shots.
But that could level off,
and it could level off
at 65%, 70%, 75.
And if it levels off too soon,
the good news will be
that more second shots will be
available to people faster,
but it could also spell a
long-term problem
for the province.
STEVE:
I wonder if I could just maybe
take a moment here
to share my own experience,
because I was in one of those
demographics
that was eligible for a second
shot now,
and I called my local pharmacy
where I got my first shot.
I called the pharmacy three
times, actually,
and every time, my question was,
"Can I please
"make an appointment to get my
second shot now?
"The province has said I am
eligible, can I do that?"
And every time, the answer from
the pharmacist was,
"We'll call you when
we get supply."
And of course I wasn't
completely convinced of this,
and you know, supply can
sometimes come in
and you don't get the call for
whatever reason,
so I wanted to make sure I was,
kind of, on the list.
But Friday night, I got an email
saying "We have got our supply,
"do you want to come in tomorrow
and get jabbed?"
I don't think they said
"jabbed," that's my word.
And then it offered many
different times
during the following day to get
my vaccination,
and I very easily and quickly
picked a time.
I got a confirmation email,
I went in the next day,
I got the jab, I had no adverse
effects at all.
And it all worked,
actually, perfectly.
So I wanted to put that on the
record because, of course,
there has been plenty of
criticism about
the administration of the
vaccine rollout.
So the question is,
the way it worked for me,
is that how it's going to work
for all other demographics
as well?
JOHN MICHAEL:
It might.
Uh, you lucky people who got a
shot of Astra Zeneca
before March 19th are eligible
to get a second shot
on an accelerated window,
just ten weeks between shots.
People who got their first shot
after March 19th
are going to stick to the
12-week interval between doses
that was the original
manufacturer's recommendation.
That's specifically for Astra
Zeneca though,
and part of what's going on
there is that the government
is using up some of the oldest
doses of Astra Zeneca
before they expire.
This is-- everybody I've spoken
to say this is extremely safe
and people shouldn't worry about
it, it's just a matter of,
you know, making sure that none
of these doses go to waste.
Um, for people who got Pfizer
or Moderna,
they are going to be able to
book their second shots
either through the provincial
website,
or they can try contacting the
place where they got their
first shot, some people have
gotten their first shots
of Pfizer and Moderna at
pharmacies.
They might go back to those
pharmacies.
Um, in my case,
I got my Pfizer shot
through a pop-up clinic
that was being administered by
the Michael Garrett Hospital
in East Toronto, so I gave them
my email when I got my shot.
I am waiting for an email to
tell me when I am eligible.
STEVE:
Good luck, hope you get it soon.
JOHN MICHAEL:
May the odds be ever in
our favour, right?
STEVE:
Amen. All right.
Let's talk some numbers here.
We have often talked
on this podcast
about the work of the Financial
Accountability Office.
That's the neutral non-partisan
group of number crunchers who--
they don't report to the
government, they report, rather,
to the Legislature as a whole.
And they have a new report out
on long-term care spending.
Came out last week. What did
that report have to say?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The headline figure from that
report was an estimate
form the FAO that the government
is going to need to hire
over 37,000 nurses and personal
support workers
by 2024 to make good on the
promises it has made
about shrinking the waitlist for
long-term care beds,
and increasing the level of care
that people in long-term care
receive.
Obviously the Premier has made
two very big commitments,
you know, shrinking
the long-term care waitlist
actually preceded the pandemic,
but then since the pandemic
has started,
the Premier has also committed
to substantially increase
the amount of care that
long-term care residents get.
Both of those come with
price tags,
and both of those come with
increased labour that's required
for the province to pay for.
It's a pretty big number,
and you know, it's 2021.
Three years away is 2024,
and the government doesn't have
a ton of time to meet that
benchmark.
STEVE:
Right, I mean, they've gotta
find away to make 12,000--
more than 12,000 people,
nurses and PSWs, per year,
over the next three years.
Not impossible to do,
but requires a, you know,
a good size investment,
and I know that the government
has said they want to help
subsidize the education
of those who want to go into
this line of work.
The issue is, given how hard
this work is now,
will there be enough people out
there to fill those spaces?
I guess to be continued.
The folks at the FAO are
evidently quite busy
because they also put out
another report just yesterday
on spending by the Ministry
of Education,
and what did we learn
from that report?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Maybe a bit of context here,
just to say to our listeners,
the FAO is putting out
a lot of these reports right now
to help support the work
of the Committee on Estimates.
This is the committee at Queen's
Park that scrutinizes
all of the government's requests
for money, basically.
And the long-term care report
and now this education report
are both there to basically give
MPPs useful information
to help as they scrutinize the
government's books.
And so in this education report,
this was interesting
because they basically concluded
that over the next
several years
the spending in the education
industry
is going to grow by about
two percent a year.
That's from 2019 to 2029, 2030.
But the government's actual
budget plan
for the future
actually only calls for
education spending to increase
by an average of 1.2 percent.
So there's a gap there between
what the government says
it's going to spend, and what
the FAO is projecting
is actually going to be
necessary to spend.
So you get a gap of about
2.9 billion dollars
by 2029, 2030.
Overall, the cumulative
spending gap
from 2021 to a decade ahead
is about 12.3 billion.
So you know, pretty substantial
sums of money
in question here.
And the FAO concludes that,
you know,
it's effectively a deficit.
So the government is either
going to need to
increase the funding to the
education ministry,
or it's gonna need to introduce
new spending restraints.
And you know, there is an
interesting little detail here.
A kind of nerdy little morsel
that our listeners
have come to expect.
STEVE:
Oh, well, hang on now.
As usual, this shocks me,
just shocks me, that you have
found a nerdy little morsel
to chew on, so go ahead,
my liege.
Have at it.
(John Michael laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL:
So currently, compensation
for public sector employees
including teachers and other
education workers
is constrained by a law that the
Tories passed in 2019,
which limits increases
in total compensation
to 1% per year.
The current contracts with
teachers expire in 2022,
and the FAO's report assumes
that their next contract
will not be limited by
the current law,
and that compensation will start
growing by about 2% a year.
They are making that assumption
because that's the sort of
historical rate,
that compensation increase.
But they did acknowledge that if
the Tories choose to extend
the current limits
on compensation increases,
that would shrink a lot of the
gap that they're projecting
going forward.
STEVE:
So can we infer from that
that the government
almost certainly will, in fact,
extend those current pay limits?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, technically speaking,
it might not be up to them,
because these contracts expire
in August of 2022,
which is after the next
election.
STEVE:
Ah. So it could be
their problem,
could be somebody else's
problem. And speaking of which,
the podcast is dropping,
as the kids like to say,
this one here that
we're talking on right now,
it's dropping June first.
So you know what tomorrow is,
right?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, it's too early for
Bastille Day,
You've gotta give me a hint.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
Well, tomorrow is June 2nd,
and that means it is exactly
one year until E-day.
Election day, June 2nd, 2022.
So in the run-up to every
election, people, of course,
who are interested in running
for office
will fight for party
nominations,
so they get to carry either the
Conservative or the NDP
or the Liberal or the Green
banner into the next election.
And for several weeks now,
candidates have actually been
running for and winning those
nominations.
There's actually lots of current
MPPs who have got
their nominations, and are ready
to go for next time.
Well, something very unusual
happened last week
in the Northern Ontario riding
of Thunder Bay-Atikokan.
A woman named Maureen Comuzzi
who had the PC nomination
in that riding,
Thunder Bay-Atikokan,
she stepped down
from her nomination.
That's unusual.
What's the story there?
JOHN MICHAEL:
It is unusual,
and it seems to stem
from an issue
in Northern Ontario,
unsurprisingly for the riding.
Uh, the government has
introduced a bill
that will effectively sever
the Northern Ontario
School of Medicine
from Lakehead University.
The School of Medicine had been,
I guess you'd call it,
sort of a joint project between
Lakehead University
and Laurentian, and this will
effectively set it up
as its own university.
The government has its reasons
for doing this,
but in the North, this is seen
as something that could
imperil the long-term future
of Lakehead University
in Thunder Bay, so obviously
as a representative
of that community,
Ms. Comuzzi is worried
about what the government is
potentially doing to harm,
you know, what is a major
employer in that city.
STEVE:
Now a lot of candidates of
course have to fight
against other candidates to win
the nomination.
That was not the case here.
Comuzzi was acclaimed to
her nomination.
I suspect in part because
the name Comuzzi
carries a great deal of weight
in Thunder Bay.
Her uncle, Joe Comuzzi, was a
Conservative MP
in Thunder Bay for 20 years.
Do we have some kind of
understanding
of what kind of impact this
might have for the PC party?
Not just in Thunder Bay
but across Northwestern Ontario?
JOHN MICHAEL:
In the riding of
Thunder Bay-Atikokan,
meaning no disrespect
to Ms. Comuzzi,
but this has probably not cost
the Conservatives a seat
that they were very likely
to win.
The seat was Liberal-held from
its creation in 1999
to 2018, when Bill Mauro
very narrowly lost
to the NDP challenger,
Judith Monteith-Farrell,
who now sits at Queen's Park.
Since 1999, the PC candidate
has never done better
than 23% of the vote
in that riding.
That said, I do think there
is a lot of anger
about some recent actions the
provincial government
has taken in the north.
We've talked about the Northern
School of Medicine.
There is the broader story
about, I guess you could say
the fallout from what's happened
at Laurentian University.
Um, and you know, the government
has some high-profile MPPs
in the north who are, at least
theoretically, vulnerable.
I'm thinking in particular of
people like Greg Rickford
and Ross Romano.
Both hold seats in the north,
and it's at least conceivable
that they could be
defeated next year.
STEVE:
Well, they were both the first
Conservatives in generations
to have won those seats for
the Tories, so yeah,
those are certainly seats
to keep an eye on.
Now let's stay up north while
we're here.
The provincial government also
announced last week
that it would begin the process
of resurrecting the Northlander.
Now I know some people listening
to us right now
will know what that is,
but some won't,
so why don't you give us
the 411 on that?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I feel like we probably have
some rail fans in our listeners.
STEVE:
Here, here!
JOHN MICHAEL:
This was the train that
used to run from Toronto
all the way north to
Cochrane, Ontario,
where it connected with
the Polar Bear Express.
That's the train that connects,
basically the rest of Ontario,
all the way up to Moosonee,
up on the shore of James Bay.
The Liberal government cancelled
the Northlander back in 2012,
but kept the Polar Bear Express
because it's the only
year-round connection for people
in that part of Ontario.
STEVE:
So what specifically
was the announcement
they made last week?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The Minister of Transportation,
Carolyn Mulroney,
committed last week that the
government is going to restore
at least some version of a rail
connection between Toronto
and Northeastern Ontario.
They haven't quite settled on
whether the train will go
all the way to Cochrane again,
like the Northlander did,
or whether it will go
to Timmins instead.
STEVE:
That is a bit of a tough call
for them to make though, right?
Because whether this train goes
to Cochrane or Timmins,
there are pros and cons
in each case,
and obviously big financial
implications in each case.
You want to briefly take us
through some of that?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Sure, the short version
is that if the train
connects to Timmins
instead of Cochrane,
it might be less expensive
over the long term.
Timmins is just a larger city,
and more people will hopefully
take the train.
You know, in general, if you are
connecting bigger cities
to the train rather than
smaller cities,
you'll get more passengers.
Um, but if they restore
the rail link to Cochrane,
then it's going to be easier for
people in points further north
to connect to the train
and head further south.
If they don't run the train
to Cochrane,
people who are getting off of
the southbound train in Cochrane
are going to have to take
the bus to Timmins.
And that's not like,
the most arduous journey.
It's like an hour by bus,
I think,
but it would be an additional
hurdle for passengers.
STEVE:
Okay, with all of this
background in place,
we now ask the tougher question.
Do we really think any of this
is ever going to happen?
(Both laughing)
Now I don't want to sound
like a cynic here,
but making this announcement
a year before an election
could be misinterpreted
for pandering
for northern votes, right?
(John Michael gasping)
STEVE:
I know, I hear the outrage
in your voice,
you can't imagine
that's possible.
But you know, it is not--
it is not an untested technique
for governments to fund studies,
but then when the time comes
to actually spend the big money
to build whatever it is
you've studied, well, "Sorry, we
just don't have money for that."
So what are the chances of this
thing actually happening?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Better than zero, I would say.
(Chuckling)
Certainly you and I can point to
several previous examples
of extravagant promises that
were made in the run-up
to an election that never
materialized.
Off the top of my head,
I can think of the 2014 election
where the Liberal party
under Kathleen Wynne
promised high-speed rail between
London and Toronto.
And wouldn't you know it,
they were still promising
the same thing four years later
because nothing had been built.
I will note, however,
that one thing this project
has going for it is that
in any plan,
the train would necessarily
stop in North Bay,
and you do remember who the MPP
for North Bay is, right?
STEVE:
North Bay, if I recall,
is in the riding of Nipissing,
which means Vic Fedeli
is the MPP there.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes.
STEVE:
Vic Fedeli is a serious
and significant
senior cabinet minister
in this government,
but let's look at
the facts here.
The Liberals cancelled this
thing in the first place
because they felt it was not
financially sustainable.
So did it suddenly become more
financially sustainable
a decade after
they cancelled it?
JOHN MICHAEL:
No, it did not.
The report that the government
issued last week,
this is what's called
an "initial business case,"
where they try to spell out
the pluses and minuses
of a proposal like this,
and they are unambiguous
that this is not a project that
can pay for itself.
This is a project that is going
to cost money to get started,
and it's going to continue
costing money.
It's going to need very large
subsidies over the long-term,
basically no matter what.
That choice between Timmins and
Cochrane is the choice
of whether you are subsidizing
each passenger on that train
by like,
$200 a passenger versus
$300 a passenger.
Over the long-term, that adds up
and it's something
for the government to keep in
mind, but really,
there's just no case to make
here that this is a project
that is going to pay for itself,
more or less
by any metric you use,
as a per capita, per--
or as a per-person expense,
it's going to be much more
steeply subsidized than,
for example, transit projects
around the GTA.
That said, it's still not,
like, that expensive
relative to, you know,
a billion dollars for subways.
Rather, $10 billion for subways
in Toronto,
whether you're talking about
the Scarborough subway
or the Ontario line.
Restoring the Northlander is
going to be at least
much cheaper than that.
STEVE:
And that's a point
worth remembering.
All you people from Toronto.
(Both laughing)
Or Ottawa, southern Ontario,
all of you are thinking,
"What are we spending money and
subsidizing all those lines
"in northern Ontario for that so
few people are gonna use?"
Just remember, every time you
ride the GO Train,
Ontario tax payers
are subsidizing your ride.
Every time you ride the Toronto
Transit Commission,
a streetcar or a bus
or a subway,
or the Hamilton street railway,
or the rapid transit in Ottawa,
the LRT in Ottawa.
Provincial taxpayers
are subsidizing your ride.
Not that much, and not nearly
enough for those--
those local municipalities,
but it is happening.
So that's something-- I'm glad
you pointed that out, JMM,
because that is something we
should keep in mind.
Now 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.
We'd love to know
what you think
of our little venture
happening here.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You can also shoot us an email
at OnPolitics@TVO.org.
STEVE:
Here now, my quote of the week,
and we're going to go back
to Friday's news conference.
Last Friday,
Premier Ford is asked,
by Toronto Star reporter
Rob Ferguson,
about why still no decision
on whether to reopen
Ontario's schools?
FERGUSON:
With what you were saying
just now, are you afraid
to make a decision of your own
on reopening schools?
PREMIER FORD:
No, I've never been afraid
to make decisions.
As a matter of fact, I've made
some of the toughest decisions,
and probably not popular
decisions,
but we're there to protect the
health of the people of Ontario,
and our decisions, as you've
seen, with the advice
of the health experts, have
brought the cases down lower.
All I want, Rob, is--
I know very clearly
where Dr. Williams stands,
but I want the scientists
to weigh in, I want to make sure
the teachers' unions weigh in,
and I want other educational
workers to weigh in.
I just-- you know,
I don't want to rush this.
STEVE:
That's Premier Doug Ford,
responding to the Star's
Rob Ferguson,
on school reopenings
last Friday.
JOHN MICHAEL:
My quote of the week comes
from NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa,
who addressed the Legislature on
Monday before question period,
and spoke about the horrifying
discover of 215 graves
at a residential school
in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Here's part of the speech
he gave to the house.
MAMAKWA:
Speaker...
All Indigenous peoples living
today in Canada
are survivors
of Canada's tools of genocide.
We are survivors
of residential schools.
We are survivors of Indian Act.
We are survivors of the
Sixties Scoop,
and survivors of the ongoing
systemic racism
which attempts to erase us.
But we are still here.
JOHN MICHAEL:
That was NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa
from Monday.
After he finished speaking,
he asked for and received
the unanimous consent of
the house to observe a moment
of silence in memory of the 215
children at the Kamloops
residential school
who never returned home.
STEVE:
You know, there's something
about when Sol Mamakwa
stands in the legislature
to speak.
I know there was a lot
of noise outside,
because there was a big protest
happening,
but inside the Legislature,
you could hear a pin drop.
When he stands to speak,
people listen.
I don't-- you know, you could
count on the fingers of one hand
the number of people for whom
that was the case
in the history of Ontario
politics.
That is really something.
There's a lot of respect
shown to that man
when he gets up on his feet.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And an important speech.
STEVE:
Amen.
Well, that was episode 114
of the OnPoli podcast,
produced by Katie O'Connor,
editing from Donnie Swanson,
production support from Nikki
Ashworth and Jonathan Halliwel.
JMM, as my dad likes to stay,
stay positive, test negative.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Stay safe, Steve.

Watch: Ep. 114 - David Williams is out as Ontario's top doctor