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Ontario's experiment in self-destruction
In a now-infamous column in The Atlantic – written back in those halcyon days where we viewed NPIs (read: lockdowns) as sacred and unquestionable – a journalist castigated “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice” as the state looked to reopen.
And then something funny happened. In the months to follow, the apocalypse never came. Georgia ended up with fewer COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people than 18 other U.S. states. Many of those states had the strictest of lockdowns.
Today in Atlanta, the Braves are now playing baseball in front of 40,000 cheering fans.
If Ontario Premier Doug Ford was capable of recognizing these myriad, incongruous moments, or if he’d even taken the time to read the now dozens of studies that highlight the rather dubious efficacy behind small business lockdowns, school closures, and particularly any limitations on the safety of the great outdoors, perhaps Ontarians wouldn’t once again find themselves welded inside of their own homes.
But after 15 months of zero lessons learned, Ontario feels like it’s back to square one, when in reality, we’re so close to the finish line.
It never had to get this bad.
As much as the premier has been preyed upon by every union, special-interest, and conflict-of-interest under the Toronto sun, of late, he only has himself to blame.
Why is that?
Doug Ford has a problem. And no, it’s not just Ontario’s notoriously over-stuffed, and mismanaged hospitals, although that has certainly compounded the province’s present-day calamity in regards to a worrying, end-of-respiratory-season hospitalization peak, and a relentless, daily ‘messaging apocalypse’ carried out by government, media, and a rotating cast of television doctors with side businesses.
His problem lies in that ‘messaging apocalypse’. Even as the province begins to turn the corner, Ford is – somewhat ironically – utterly immune to inspiring positivity.
This Friday, not one day after New York City announced a hopeful “full reopening” for summer, Ford held a press conference from home, and inexplicably decided to start sounding the alarm on the threat of a “fourth wave”, and “deadly, vaccine-resistant variants”.
If this was a clumsy attempt to shift some of the blame back onto Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for what Ford perceives as a failure to secure the border, it’s irresponsible at best, and dangerous at worst. One should not be fomenting fears at a moment when the provinces should be encouraging the efficacy of vaccines as an option for those who want one, and laying out clear exit strategies for Canadians to follow.
As the National Post’s Chris Selley has pointed out numerous times, “This province’s ability to maximize misery while minimizing results and refusing to keep anything in perspective should be bottled and fired into the sun.”
This was one of those moments. This was the new ‘premier dad’ at his absolute worst. It’s often hard to believe that Ford occupies the same landmass as a BC Medical Officer of Health who speaks positively about being in a “post-pandemic world this summer”, and who actually encourages happy, healthy outdoor behaviour. (As of writing, golf, tennis, basketball, and most forms of outdoor recreation are still banned in the province of Ontario.)
As the likes of Selley, Furey, Lilley, and Randall Denley noticed in the early days of COVID-19, something was rotten in the state of Denmark when it came to Ford’s stage presence. An early pandemic darling for his can-do attitude his empathy for those who were as scared as he was, Ford would still stride to the podium like he was in the midst of passing a kidney stone. And eventually, as the needs of greater public health – like Ontario’s millions of missed cancer screenings, and a major mental health crisis – started to push the premier to (rightfully) reopen the province, his status as a pandemic darling began to wane.
His new friends abandoned him in record time. And his once rock-solid ‘Ford nation’ base felt increasingly alienated by his tepid endorsements of small businesses, and his continued myopic approach to lockdowns.
15 months later, and that hasn’t changed, even as the world has changed around Ontario.
At this point, that should only be hard to believe for those who haven’t been paying attention.
We now know definitively that you’re supposed to put resources before restrictions. That you should never close schools. And for the love of all things good and holy, you need to let people exercise and stay healthy when they’re faced with an endemic virus with a proven track record against those dealing with obesity and high blood pressure.
Going forward, this leaves Ontarians in an uncomfortable position. Either the premier’s hyperbolic, hyper-negative messaging on ‘fourth waves’ and the futile nature of vaccines shows that ‘premier dad’ really does care more than others, or, he really does plan on being one of the last leaders in the free world to move on from COVID-19.
Rational Ontarians, of course, know that it’s likely the latter.
If only he’d just come out and say it: he’s not ready to move forward, or to get back to normal. It’s hard to begrudge someone their fears, frustrations, and resentments, especially after a 2020-21 was spent fielding demands, anguished cries, and vile abuse.
But he owes it to Ontarians to just come out and say it.
“Folks, I’m not ready. In fact, I don’t know when I’ll be.”
Either set a date for reopening, or set them free.