But it’s too late to undo the damage already done to public confidence over the premier’s epic mishandling of the third wave of the coronavirus
Doug Ford got his COVID shot. Finally, someone in the premier’s office understands something about optics and the need for the premier to at least look like he’s leading by example.
Ford received his jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine at an Etobicoke pharmacy Friday morning. “Our government is moving quickly to get vaccines to where they will have the greatest impact,” the premier said in a statement released shortly after the photo opportunity. We won’t get into the fact here that it was a little more than a week ago that Ford was throwing shade AstraZeneca’s way.
But (there’s always a “but” with Ford) it’s too late to undo the damage already done to public confidence over the premier’s epic mishandling of a third wave of the coronavirus and vaccine rollout.
On the same day Ford rolled up his sleeve, Ontario recorded the second-highest number of new COVID cases in a single day (4,227) since a state of emergency was declared last March. It’s no coincidence. Neither is the fact that 65 per cent of Ontarians in the latest Angus Reid poll now think the premier is doing a “bad job” of handling the pandemic. EKOS released preliminary data Friday night showing the PCs polling behind the Liberals in Ontario for the first time since Ford was elected in 2018.
In that context, Ford rolling up his sleeve for the cameras looks like the desperate act of a desperate man who has lost total control of a public health crisis. No tweet from the premier pleading with people about how “serious” the current situation is will change that now.
After months of dicking around with mock lockdowns and sending kids to school amid successive waves of the virus, Ford has completely burned what little political capital he had left. Now he has a COVID revolt on his hands.
Earlier this week, the medical officers of health in Toronto and Peel broke with the province and invoked special powers to close schools, despite the fact Ford and his education minister, Stephen Lecce, continue to insist they’re safe. They’re not.
But the danger is that the public has now seemingly tuned Ford out. If the response on social media to the province’s stay-at-home order imposed Thursday is any indication, most folks have had enough. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given the mixed messaging we’ve been getting for months now – the stay-at-home order came just days after the Ford government announced what was being termed a four-week “emergency brake shutdown.”
Backlash on social media is by no means a completely scientific measure of public sentiment. Neither are reports and images from a number of news organizations suggesting that many people are not taking heed, despite the stay-at-home order. The streets seem to be just as full of people going about their business as per usual. Toronto police have taken notice, issuing a statement to say that the stay-at-home order will be enforced.
Ford announced Wednesday that the province would start vaccinating the hardest-hit areas, but that was not in their detailed plan released the previous day. Ford is flying by the seat of his pants. That he has sat on vaccines in freezers for weeks would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
Medical officers of health in Toronto and Peel, the province’s hardest-hit areas, have been pleading with Ford for weeks about the need to target hotspots, only to watch variants of the virus allowed to run amok. It’s the chaos theory of management.
Those who know Ford from his days as a Toronto city councillor when li’l brother Rob was mayor will be familiar with that. Back then, the council of the day found ways to work around the incompetence. Similarly, Toronto Public Health has quietly been working around the province’s more ill-advised moves throughout the pandemic, using what vaccine supply it has been given more recently to vaccinate in priority areas.
But now we’re dealing with a public health crisis and a province of 14.5 million people. The stakes are life and death. And Doug Ford is not just one councillor among many. He’s calling the shots.
Public confidence in our leaders was always going to be crucial to winning the fight against the coronavirus. When the virus first hit, most were inclined to give Ford the benefit of the doubt that he was in fact listening to the advice of public health professionals.
It turns out he was either way more over his head than even his harshest critics could have imagined, or willfully negligent. To be sure, no one in the PC caucus or cabinet has seemingly seen fit to question the premier’s incompetence. If anything gets us through this it will be the sacrifices made by Ontarians, not anything Ford has done.