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Ford needs a better read on the pandemic situation

With public expectations admittedly low, Doug Ford earned kudos for his actions early on in the pandemic. For the most part, he let the experts do the talking, acting in accordance with the scientific advice he was given.

Rather than make himself the center of attention, unlike some politicians in other jurisdictions, he surprised many Ontarians by being demure.

That positive image has taken a beating of late, however. That’s in part because many of us are simply fed up with the pandemic, the restrictions and what has become endless droning from all concerned: politicians, bureaucrats and health officials alike. We want solutions, not more limitations, and certainly not more excuses for why we’re getting more limitations and not solutions.

That might not be fair, but that’s human nature. And it’s clear there will be plenty of finger-pointing and recriminations once the crisis has passed and we see the fallout – and the bill – from the effort to curb the spread of the virus.

That said, Ford hasn’t been helping himself lately by talking tougher and threatening to sic the police on a public increasingly frustrated by lockdowns and small business owners increasingly on the edge of losing what they’ve built for what at times looks like little in the way of benefit.

Yes, the number of COVID-19 cases is growing. Yes, there are new, more virulent variants with which to contend. Yes, there is more stress on hospitals. But, warranted or not, the public perception is that the virus is not as scary as was first believed – that’s largely a matter of becoming acclimatized to the stress of the situation, but it’s in that environment politicians such as Ford must act.

Of course, it’s not usually wise to govern by choosing popular moves over scientific evidence. As we’ve seen in the U.S., state governors’ decision to end mask mandates, social distancing and other public health measures on ideological grounds mean nothing to the virus: it went on spreading, regardless.

Good governance, then, means walking a fine line between putting useful restrictions in place – bringing the public on board from the start – and doing something simply to appear to be doing something. Right now, the public perception is leaning towards the latter, meaning Ford doesn’t have all the people on board.

The opposition’s call for Ford’s resignation is simple politicking, but it is indicative that sentiment has moved away from the earlier impression of the Premier’s effectiveness.

Just now, Ford has to demonstrate clearly that the rules he’s put in place are absolutely required, making a meaningful impact – i.e. saving hundreds, if not thousands of lives – that significantly outweigh the damage being caused. Not the inconvenience, though that is a consideration for any official looking to stay on in that capacity, but the economic, emotional and psychological damages that have most certainly accompanied the pandemic and the official response thereto. 

That’s a tall order.

But when the backlash results in public protests even in this region, something has to be done to restore public trust.

The number-one solution is vaccinating everyone. The rollout has not been smooth, though that’s not all on Ford. He and his fellow premiers are undoubtedly encouraging Ottawa to increase supply, at which point the bulk of provincial resources should be focused on the logistics of getting shots into arms.

Get that done in short order, and the government’s woes should disappear. Right now, however, that doesn’t look likely. Told to be patient, Ontarians may see a late-summer target as a bridge too far, despite that fact we’ve been dealing with this crisis for more than a year already.

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