Another day, more education questions
It has become part of the Premier Doug Ford's daily routine: he gives his daily press conference and faces a volley of questions about whether the province's school reopening plan is sufficient.
When one reporter pointed out that there are high rates of parents electing to keep children at home in at-risk areas of Toronto, the premier scoffed at the idea that the province isn't doing enough to create confidence in the plan among some Ontarians.
"I totally disagree," he began, before proceeding to rattle off statistics on government investment in its reopening plan, like hiring more nurses and cleaners. "I will not spare a penny, which I haven't," although teacher unions and the opposition have repeatedly called on the government to lower class sizes in part by hiring more educators.
The premier proceeded to blame the media — who he has often praised during the pandemic — for the negative outlook on school reopening, although he has acknowledged that outbreaks in schools is inevitable. "You hear a lot of fearmongering on TV, and for that I apologize to the kids."
Ford passed on his own message to students instead. "Kids, I just want to tell you I wish you all a great year. Make sure you practice social distancing, make sure you wash your hands."
Williams gets the premier's endorsement
The premier gave a vigorous defence of Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who has been criticized for his leadership by the likes of Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario CEO Doris Grinspun and epidemiologists Dr. David Fisman and Dr. Colin Furness, each questioning his judgment and specific comments he has made.
But the premier is not questioning Ontario's top medical voice during the pandemic. "I have all the confidence in the world in Dr. Williams," he reiterated, doubling down on comments he has made before.
As if to dismiss the dissenting voices, the premier claimed that the criticism isn't justified. "They've been calling for Dr. Williams' head since the beginning." Grinspun made her call for Williams to resign public just this week, although she has expressed her concerns to the government privately throughout the pandemic. What got Grinspun to cross the bridge to call publicly for Williams' resignation was comments he made last week which she interpreted as blaming health-care workers for picking up coronavirus cases in the community after relaxing their vigilance.
Fisman, a leading epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, questioned Williams' competence during the pandemic as far back as April.
Ford defended Williams' work ethic, saying that he takes "real offence" at criticisms of the doctor, and adding that "it's so easy to play armchair quarterback."
Don't pass the doobie
Asked about the uptick in coronavirus cases in Peel Region, the premier had a clear message for people in the populous area who might be thinking about long weekend get-togethers. "Anyone who is thinking about having a big shindig this weekend, forget it. Cancel it."
Ontario saw 148 new cases of coronavirus in its latest numbers, with nearly half of those in Peel Region. The premier bemoaned this update as a "slow creep" upwards and said something needs to change.
"Something is broken when you have 3 per cent of the population with 40 per cent of the cases."
Toronto also had 41 new cases, and Ottawa had 12.
The premier singled out backyard festivities as the culprit for the worrying trend. "You cannot be holding these parties in the backyard. I cannot stress that enough."
As if to make his comments more memorable, the premier commented on specific actions that people should avoid when they are in the backyard. "They shouldn't be sharing anything. I don't care if it's doobies, joints, whatever you want to call them or drinks. Just don't share."
There are other worrying signs in Peel. 680News first reported that at least two Peel District School Board employees, including a teacher, have tested positive.
We both agreed that we need to strongly limit social gatherings given the spread of #Covid_19
I also want to thank the Premier for his support of my request for a second testing centre
— Patrick Brown (@patrickbrownont) September 4, 2020
Shortly after the premier's press conference Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown took to social media to show that he's on the case and that he advocated for a second testing centre in one of Ontario's most populous cities.
The uptick comes during the same week that Toronto's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa warned that a second wave of the coronavirus is "inevitable" based on the experience of other jurisdictions, and shortly before Ontario sees schools and universities reopen.
COVID Alert App
The premier offered an update on the Covid Alert App, which has so far seen over two million downloads.
But although it was made to be a tool for all provinces, only Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador have so far used it.
"I believed everyone was on board," the premier said, expressing some surprise that his provincial counterparts haven't pushed it yet. "It just makes us a lot safer."
He added that there will have to be more dialogue on the issue. "I'll have to talk to the other premiers again and find out the issue."
Quebec Premier Francois Legault previously said that privacy concerns mean that his government won't back the app, although he added the decision could be revisited in six months. He and Ford will meet at an Ontario-Quebec summit next week.
Mask funding announcement
The premier's daily press availability took place in Bracebridge, where he visited the local company Smart Safe Science.
The premier announced that the province would invest $2 million from the Ontario Together Fund into the company to help ensure a steady supply of locally-made personal protective equipment, with Ford touting Ontario's manufacturing capabilities and the need to be self-reliant when it comes to PPE.
Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli was also on hand and praised the company for producing a mask that is lighter, more breathable, and adheres to an individual's facial structure. "This mask will help reduce chronic mask fatigue syndrome" that's felt by front-line health care workers, Fedeli said of the new design.