Premier Doug Ford’s government has fired the Ontario COVID Science Advisory Table, an independent and voluntary group of experts. They have, since July 2020, undertaken modeling and provided independent advice to the provincial government and the public about measures to curb transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
Dissolved, or not?
In an open letter, the expert group said it learned during a meeting with Ontario Public Health in August 2022 that it was being “dissolved.” The change is to take effect on September 6. Asked about it at a scrum in Niagara Falls, Premier Ford said that the advisory table was not dissolved. He insisted that a new panel, whose members, and mandate have yet to be determined, will have a new and better home within Ontario’s health department.
The expert panel said it was being dissolved. Doug Ford said it was not. Who do you believe? . . .
(I thought so).
The public letter from members of the panel on August 26 was restrained. “We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served Ontario since July of 2020,” they wrote. But they also had some parting advice: “Science matters, equity counts, transparency is critical, independence must be both perceived and delivered, timeliness and relevance are essential.”
Toronto Life interview
Dr. Fahad Razak, the panel’s scientific director, was more direct in a later interview with Toronto Life magazine. The journalist asked: “Why does PHO need a new committee when we already have—or have had—a science table for two and a half years?”
Dr. Razak replied: “That is an important question. It’s just not one I have an answer to. Based on meetings we had earlier in the month, my understanding is that the new group will have a very different membership and a very different presence in terms of reporting its findings to the public.”
The journalist asked: “If a government is in a position to decide what information the public has access to, is it not reasonable to assume that it might want to publicize favourable information and suppress anything that could make it look bad?” Dr. Razak replied: “I mean, that’s the worry always—not just regarding this pandemic. Historically, that’s the tension with government and information: the control of that information.”
Controlling the narrative
Doug Ford does not like independent advice. He wants to control a narrative that says the pandemic is under control, and that we must learn to live with it.
Of course, we must. But how best to do so? The Ford government’s approach has been to stop testing for the virus, to end mandates for masking and proof of vaccination, to say that people no longer have to isolate, even if they have the disease. You can, if you wish, take COVID to work, to school, to church, to a restaurant, pub, or sports venue.
Still with us
COVID-19 has been devastating and it is still with us. A coronavirus dashboard operated by Johns Hopkins University provides the following information. Canada has had 4.2 million cases and 44,000 deaths. In Ontario, the figures are 1.4 million cases and 14,000 deaths. A seven-day rolling day average that ended on September would extend to 1,350 deaths a month in Canada, which, if multiplied for 12 months means 16,000 deaths in the next year. Of those at least 4,100 would be in Ontario.
Writing in The Globe and Mail on August 27, health reporter Wendy Leung said: “Without further attempts to reduce the spread of the virus, Canadians and policy makers have tacitly accepted that these deaths, along with the amount of illness and social disruption COVID-19 still causes, are simply a part of life now.”
Leaders lack ethics
Ford is not the only leader to have failed us. Think Saskatchewan. Think Alberta. This refusal to lead and the lack of ethics are costing lives. Our hospital systems are collapsing, due mainly to the pandemic. If the emergency room is even open where you live, best take your lunch and your cot because you will be there all day. Hallway medicine has now backed up into ambulances, with patients stored in vehicles idling in the parking lot, unavailable to anyone else who may be struck by illness or an accident.
We can no longer count on some of our provincial governments, who have the constitutional responsibility to provide health care. We are on our own at best, and at worst, governments will even withhold crucial information from us. The kind of information provided for the past two years by the Science Advisory Table.
The tamest thing to say in response is that history will not be kind to the likes of Doug Ford.
Photo credit for Dr. Fahad Razak: St. Michael’s Hospital