Doug Ford's COVID plan? A whole lot of nothing

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces the launch of COVID-19 testing program at Pearson Airport. Image credit: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

Folks, Doug Ford's real agenda for dealing with COVID slipped out Wednesday when someone asked about an "iron ring" he promised for long-term care (LTC) homes. They're as imperilled as in the first wave.

Lacking the balls to deliver the prepared response, Ford tossed to health minister Christine Elliott, who isn't responsible for LTCs. She stepped up glumly and said the ring is there right now -- it's vaccinations. Impressively, she didn't puke as she said it. Whoever came up with that in cabinet must've got three cheers and a tiger.

How shameful. They've given up on doing anything, and are waiting for the vaccines to enact what the government won't. People will die and eventually the vaccines will fix it all. What an abdication.

Someone asked if I think Doug Ford feels ashamed. Who knows? He doesn't seem like someone for whom shame is an option. More a losing-sleep kinda guy, plugging for sympathy because of the crown on his uneasy head. He feels bad, but not enough to do something. He loves saying "the buck stops here," but that didn't cover delaying action till Boxing Day so shoppers could help stores empty their inventories before Christmas.

He looks to me like a guy who sets his moral compass by his buddies. What they think of him is what he thinks of himself. Cronyism as compass. They're mostly businessmen, especially developers. His heart goes out to small-biz owners but doesn't melt for health-care workers or teachers who risk COVID each day. He won't cut them a small break in the form of paid sick leave. He says the feds already give CERB and he won't "duplicate that -- though it'd be very different. Cheapness also characterizes him.

He's capable of decisiveness. He shrank Toronto's ridings in mid-election without warning, while threatening to invoke the notwithstanding clause, Canada's death ray. In mid-COVID he cut local environmental limitations on developers. But regarding the pandemic, his M.O. is: do nothing, then nothing some more, and when that becomes unsustainable, do more nothing but say you're doing something. We now have the ultimate nothing: an unlockdown. It's entirely exceptions.

He says people should "use their best judgment" about what's essential and whether to stay home. So remind me: what is it we need leaders for? I read Bruce Arthur's column on Ford's answers to FAQ and assumed it was a parody. But no! It actually reads, "The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province, each with their own unique circumstances and regional considerations." You're on yer own, folks.

In case my tone seems frivolous, I want to insist that these massive exceptions aren't unjustified. In fact they generally make sense and are humane. If you go looking for an exception to your own requirement to stay home, you'll probably find one. (I did, and felt oddly disappointed.) The problem is there are so many that almost no one really has to stay home and so there'll be no true lockdown, no circuit breaker and no constraint on the pandemic.

The result is that infections and deaths will continue to rocket up, and people will die who could've been saved by a less "sensitive" list. Without vaccines, it would reach such levels -- as it did in Europe last spring -- that draconian recourse would become inevitable. Perhaps vaccines will save us from that, but vast numbers will die who would not have if rules were more cold-hearted.

The point of an emergency lockdown is precisely to resist justifiable and humane exceptions. Why? Because it's an emergency! That decision can only be made from above, by the premier (literally, 'the first'") who has to tell citizens: despite your exceptionable status, you're ordered to stay home, to save lives. If you want to see serious, look at China this week: 100 cases of COVID in one province followed by the most widespread restrictions since spring. They've had less than 5,000 deaths nationally. We're at 17,000-plus.

If it's only about vaccines, you don't need leaders, just competent health professionals to distribute and deliver the jabs. The leader Ford resembles isn't Trump, it's Boris Johnson: buffoon and blusterer, procrastinator and reverser.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image credit: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

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