[00:00:00] Jordan Heath-Rawlings: “So, Jordan”, you might ask me, “how are things going there in Ontario?”
Bystander: The province is going to hell in a hand basket!
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well, they’re going about, like that. “But wait”, you might add, “I thought your government spent the past week updating all the restrictions to keep this pandemic under control.”
Well, about that.
News Clip: We recognize that that is not the way that that was interpreted by the public.
News Clip: But I, I certainly can appreciate that it didn’t come across that way.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Some of those new restrictions that you may have heard about, they’re already gone. I would explain to you which ones are still in place, but I actually don’t know myself.
That’s not great because I live in Toronto and I’m supposed to be following them. But hey, at least the restrictions, whatever they are, are grounded in science and come from the doctors sitting at the government’s science table. Right?
News Clip: It’s actually the actual opposite of what we’ve are pointing to. Yeah, I can’t [00:01:00] lie, I was pretty desperate. The root cause of the pandemic had not been addressed.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So yes, it’s not great here in Ontario. But, more than’not great’, it’s been an unprecedented week in provincial politics.
Police have basically refused to do the government’s bidding, there has been open discussion of mass civil disobedience by some of the most mild mannered people you’ll find anywhere, members of the government’s science table considered their resignation, and the rules were changing by the hour, and in the middle of all that, the vaccine criteria was lowered, creating a mad scramble for internet appointments.
So what exactly just happened in Ontario? What’s happening right now? And where’s the end of all this? Is it in sight now? Because it’s almost May.
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Cynthia Mulligan is the Queens Park Reporter for CityNews. She is also perhaps the person best [00:02:00] equipped to explain why a Ford government does what it does. Hello, Cynthia.
Cynthia Mulligan: Hello, Jordan.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Have you ever covered a week like this in provincial politics?
Cynthia Mulligan: Well, no, no, not at all. I mean, the only thing that I can say was as, as unprecedented was when Patrick Brown suddenly stepped down. But, but this is so much different, uh, because so many lives are at stake. And it has truly been an unprecedented few days in, in provincial politics like no one has ever seen before.
I mean, we had police openly revolt against a provincial directive. We had the government spinning and, and reversing major, major, a major announcement less than 24 hours later and, and literally brought to its knees with public outrage. So this is absolutely unprecedented.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Maybe take us back, um, one week ago, uh, ’cause I want to kind of walk through how everything happened. So it’s, you know, it’s Thursday [00:03:00] last week, um, cases are really high and people are screaming for the government to do something. What were you, what were you guys at Queens Park thinking? What were you expecting, uh, at that point?
Cynthia Mulligan: Well, we’ve seen this unfold before. Numbers rise, we hear ominous rumblings that the modeling is going to be really bad, they release the modeling, and then Doug Ford comes out, a somber Doug Ford comes out and then makes a new announcement about how they’re going to crack down. So we knew that that was coming. What was unusual is usually the modeling comes out on a Thursday and then, and then the announcement might come out the next day.
But what happened this time is the modeling didn’t come out until the Friday morning.
News Clip: Ontario is already setting records for new cases. Look at where the province is now: an all-time high of more than 4,700 new cases today. But if current trends continue, look at what the modeling forecasts. Cases could soar to 18,000 cases a day with [00:04:00] 1,800 patients in intensive care by the end of next month.
Cynthia Mulligan: And I think that this modeling, um, was so drastic and so dire, uh, and frightening that it put the Ford government into a tailspin. And I think that they were panicked and I think Doug Ford was trying to keep his, his MPPs under control. Um, I have heard, you know, that, that it was incredibly heated with one MPP, a high up cabinet minister threatening to quit. Um, and, and that it was really hard to gain consensus.
And I think that that’s why then everything was postponed until the Friday. And you had these, these new announcements that infuriated the public, because it wasn’t what the science table was advising.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Before we get into the reaction of that though, take me back to that press conference that, it felt like, everybody watched and everybody was, like, reacting to in real time. [00:05:00] What did the government announce and how did it go over?
Cynthia Mulligan: Well, it went over like pouring gasoline on a fire. Everybody was instantly infuriated and upset with the announcement. So Doug Ford came out quite late. It was, it kept getting postponed. It was supposed to initially be at 2:30 in the afternoon, and then it was 3:30 and then it was, you know, he didn’t, he didn’t get up and speak until almost 4:15, which is quite late.
News Clip: My friends, we’re losing the battle between the variants and vaccines.
Cynthia Mulligan: You know, he came out and, and this announcement was made and I think everybody’s jaws dropped because it was so obviously not following what the science table had been recommending or asking for. The government seemed like it was doing the exact opposite and it made absolutely no sense.
News Clip: New restrictions, effective midnight: non-essential construction for things like shopping centers and office towers will grind to a halt. Much construction will continue, [00:06:00] including residential. Box store capacity now down to 25%. All playgrounds to close. No more golf, soccer, or basketball. Outdoor gatherings limited to one household. The Ontario border will close to Manitoba and Quebec, but remain open to workers who have to cross. And police will have enhanced power to crack down on people, even pulling cars over to make sure the trip is essential.
Cynthia Mulligan: And, and, you know, I think people were absolutely infuriated that they could walk out the door and be stopped by police at, you know, for no reason, um, just for walking down the street or going to drive to take groceries to their mother, you know, and, and that didn’t go over well, either.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: In the hours and maybe day following that, you know, it’s one thing to say, like, it didn’t go over well with folks on Twitter who are super tuned into this stuff, and, um, are, are often willing to pick apart any politician’s, uh, actions. But [00:07:00] this was kind of, of a different magnitude, especially the police stuff. Can you maybe describe for folks outside of Ontario what was announced specifically, and then what happened with the cops?
Cynthia Mulligan: So this truly hit a nerve with everyone, and it was almost this collective instantaneous backlash that I’ve never seen, uh, so strongly before. Essentially what, what the government was saying is we want to limit your movement. And, and you have to remember, this is Doug Ford, who has long said he did not believe in a police state. He did not believe in imposing a curfew, but essentially what they were doing was even worse than the Quebec style curfew, where, you know, for awhile there, you couldn’t leave your house after 8:00 PM, they were saying, you can’t leave your house, and if you do, you can and will be stopped by police. We are increasing their powers.
But instantly, I started getting texts from police officers saying, [00:08:00] “That’s, we don’t, there’s nothing in the law that says that we can do this”. And, and police, one by one, you saw local police forces saying we’re not doing that. We are not doing that.
And very quickly, uh, just this steamroller effect started with everybody just piling on the government. It was, it was. I- I’ve never seen so much derision and anger instantly against the government.
Now you have to remember the psyche here as well. People are exhausted, and they’re tired.
Uh, but they’re, they’re also watching everything very closely. We have a very engaged province right now, and they can see that this does not meet any of the criteria that doctors and scientists, uh, and the advisory table have been asking for. And just, you know, less than two weeks ago, I, I asked Doug Ford, are you [00:09:00] following the science or aren’t you?
And he said, “of course, I’m following the science”, but Friday proved they actually were not following the science. And everybody’s suspected that for months and months now, but this was so blatantly obvious, there was no science backing up that playgrounds needed to be closed and people couldn’t walk out their door and that, you know, it was necessary to have people, you know, give them a $750 ticket if they did.
And people were furious because what the government didn’t do was address the areas that the doctors and the health science table have been saying need to be addressed: paid sick days.
You know, I was speaking to a doctor this week in Brampton and he said 70% of the people that he sees in ICU are people saw- either a, uh, an essential worker who works in a factory, or somebody who lives with that person. That’s where the government needs to target its, its efforts. And on Friday it didn’t appear that [00:10:00] it was doing anything whatsoever meaningful to do that.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So what happened then, uh, after the outrage and how did, I guess, the science table react, but also the government itself? Because I’m not sure which of these regulations that were announced on Friday are still in effect in which ones aren’t.
Cynthia Mulligan: Well, pretty much. But, it’s a really good question. It feels like pretty much the, the entire thing was walked back, except for the fact that we are going to have a stay-at-home order for an additional two weeks. It was supposed to be a provincial stay-at-home order for four weeks, and it was extended to six weeks. And that seems to be about all.
But very quickly you saw health experts just, uh, you know, enraged by this. Uh, people on the science table, uh, doctors, you know, the public. And less than 24 hours, the government tweeted that [00:11:00] it was walking these issues back. And it was so fascinating to see on Twitter, local police force after local police force, putting it out there saying, no, we’re not following this.
I mean, that is absolutely unprecedented. For police, the vast majority of police forces, if not all but the OPP saying, no, we’re not, we’re not doing this.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: How did the government handle, uh, walking it back? You know, me and you’ve spoken many times about the Fords, including, uh, Rob and, not a family that’s great at backing down and apologizing.
Cynthia Mulligan: That’s a good point. You’re right. Yeah, usually they double down, but I think even the government itself realized within a very, very short timeframe that this was, uh, absolutely the worst thing that they could have done and that they really, really, uh, lost the public. I mean, you, [00:12:00] you can announce all the measures that you want, but if you don’t have public buy-in, you’ve lost the battle.
Like you will not get people to comply and then you’ve lost control of, of not only your government, but of, of the virus. And I think they completely lost control of the public, uh, in that moment with that announcement. And I think they realized very quickly that they had to backtrack or, or they were just done.
So there was no on-camera announcement. There was no public face. It was just some tweets, which is really unusual. And then on Monday, I mean, let’s face it. Doug Ford has not been seen publicly since.
Now, we know that he came into contact on Monday with a staffer who has since tested positive for COVID. The premier went for a test, he’s tested negative, but now he’s going to be in isolation in his home for the next two weeks. Um, I am told by, by a senior staffer that they are going to equip his home so [00:13:00] that he can hold public news conferences from his home. Um, you know, that’s easy to do. All he has to do is, is, is Zoom. And he can still hold meetings via Zoom.
But we did not see the premier in the legislature on Monday or Tuesday, leaving his ministers to attempt to try and, you know, battle the criticism, um, which I would say was a futile attempt.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What was it like in the legislature, uh Monday and Tuesday?
Cynthia Mulligan: I mean, you know, the opposition was practically hissing at, at, uh, at them. And they’re, they’re, you know, trying to put some form of positive spin on it. The government house leader, Paul Calandra, on, on Monday was trying to say, you know, this was a communication problem. But it was not a communication problem. The problem lay in their decision-making process.
Now I did speak today at length, and listen, I’ve got to tell you, there is a clampdown within the government. They are really trying to stop leaks and [00:14:00] they are really trying to stop people from speaking with the media. I was able to speak to someone very senior in, in, in the inner government today. And that person acknowledged that, you know, they were rushed and that, uh, they made a mistake. And yesterday they had to have a meeting with caucus and calm people down as, as, as one, uh, MPP said before the meeting that there was going to be blood on the floor, before the meeting.
Now I’m told by this source who, let’s face it as kind of trying to spin me as well, that they calmed everybody down and they, they appeased the room and that they promised that they would do better.
Um, and when I say rushed, you know, even that word is getting a lot of criticism because when I tweeted that out, a lot of people are rightly saying, “Why were they rushed? They’ve seen the modeling since February predicting that this would happen”. And, [00:15:00] and there again lies a lot of the anger within the public because in February there was a modeling presented that warned we would be in exactly this situation that we’re in right now with wave three driven by variants, if they didn’t maintain restrictions.
Well, the government didn’t maintain restrictions, it started loosening them. And April 12th, not that long ago, we were supposed to be able to get haircuts. And I remember when the Ford government announced that I was thinking, how is that possible? Like, aren’t you watching these numbers? Because they’re growing, they’re not diminishing, and you’re going to allow people to go inside and get haircuts?
Now that’s debatable about whether how many haircuts can, can actually cause the spread. We know the major spread is workplace transmission in the factories, in the warehouses. But still, it just went completely against what the health science table was recommending.
And even back in February, it said we need paid sick days. They’ve been saying it for months. [00:16:00] So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s almost like the government has been blindly pursuing what it wanted the situation to be, rather than what the actual data was telling them.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So as we talk now, um, vaccines have been opened up, which was a positive thing, uh, that happened over the weekend. But-
Cynthia Mulligan: But even that, even that Jordan, that was really interesting because that went out in, like, an announcement. There was no [public] official standing there saying, “Hey, everybody, we’re doing this”. Like, normally that’s what would happen because that was a good announcement, and you can see that, that this age group really wants vaccines. I mean, there was an incredible shot today, uh, in the Jane-Finch area. And people were lined up for blocks. Some of them were lined up overnight to get these vaccines. People want them. That should have been a triumphant announcement and, and, and very public. And it was just quietly put out there.
This is a government in disarray, [00:17:00] that has lost its way, that is trying desperately now to regroup and, and figure out how to go forward. And the question is, can they get the public trust to buy into what they’re doing or have they completely alienated the public permanently on its handling of COVID?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well that was going to be, sort of, my last question is, is what will it take at this point to build that trust back up? And, um, regardless of whether it works or not, what’s the government doing now? Everything last week either got tossed out or reframed. What’s next?
Cynthia Mulligan: Well, I, you know, I think at some point Doug Ford is going to have to come out, uh, from his home and, and give a very strong mea culpa to the public. I think that he really needs to do that.
Um, I still don’t think that that will be well-received at this point. I think that it will be really, [00:18:00] really challenging for them to turn this around. I think that the only thing that we’ll do that in time is when the vaccinations are, are, are really rolling along faster. I think we did, uh, you know, uh, the last, the last vaccination numbers are 136,000 done on Tuesday.
They need a lot more of those, but they do need supply as well. Uh, you know, they’re, they’re hoping to meet the target of 40% of the adult population vaccinated, uh, within a couple of weeks. They should be able to make that, that would be a victory. But in terms of the confidence of how the government has been listening to science and, and, and, and planning strategically how to battle COVID, I’m not sure they’ll ever win the public confidence back on that.
I think the only thing that would be on their side potentially is time. And, and, you know, it’s a year to the [00:19:00] next election, and they’re going to have to really start hoping that, by then, COVID is, is well behind Ontario, and that they would even have a chance to win the public over. But it’s going to be a real challenge.
When you have the leader of the opposition NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, basically saying that Doug Ford has blood on his hands in the Queens Park media studio, that is such a strong statement. It’s, it’s devolved to that.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’m going to be seeing clips from this week, uh, during the campaign next year, huh?
Cynthia Mulligan: Oh yes. This will be really, really hard for the Ford government to put behind them. And you know, there have been calls for Doug Ford to resign. Today a journalist, uh, John Michael McGrath from TVO point-blank asked the government house leader if he still had confidence in the premier, and he said yes. Uh, but [00:20:00] you know, it’s, it’s, it’s going to be really tough for Doug Ford.
And listen, I’m not trying to, to, um, get sympathy for the Ford government at all, but I will say they are exhausted. You can hear it in their voices when you talk to them on the phone. Um, they have been working around the clock for over a year nonstop, and I think the criticism is weighing heavily.
However, they haven’t followed the science. And if they had, I think they’d be in a much better place right now, in terms of the public perspective.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: They might be exhausted, I’m sure you’re exhausted, I’m sure people listening to this are like, “They’re exhausted?” You know, so it is what it is.
Cynthia Mulligan: Listen, I’m not trying to excuse them or, or give them a pass. I, I’m just telling you what I’m sensing and it’s absolute exhaustion and they need to take a deep breath and they need to get some perspective back.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Cynthia, thank you. One day, we’ll talk to you after a good week for Ontario.
[00:21:00] Cynthia Mulligan: Well, we’ll see when that is Jordan. I’m not sure.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Cynthia Mulligan of CityNews. That was The Big Story. For more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. Find us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN. Talk to us anytime via email, thebigstorypodcast, all one word, all lowercase @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. And as always, we’re in your favourite podcast player. Give us a rating, give us a review, we’ll read it!
Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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