Should Doug Ford resign over his COVID-19 leadership? Ontario's crisis is '100 per cent of their own making,' political expert says

It’s been a catastrophic few days for Doug Ford’s government, with calls for the premier to resign growing amidst a third wave which has been bungled. Ontario Liberal leader, Steven Del Duca has led the calls for Ford to step down.

“I am calling on Doug Ford to do the honourable and right thing, to recognize his own limitations and to resign,” said Del Duca in a statement.

While Del Duca takes aim at the top boss, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Solicitor General Sylvia Jones to be removed from her post following the decision and justification she gave to increase police powers during the pandemic.

“For the Solicitor General of the province of Ontario to invoke a police state? Absolutely abhorrent and yes I believe she needs to go, absolutely, no doubt about it in my mind,” said Horwath on Monday.

Ontario Science Table member was ready to walk

The calamity started on Friday during a press conference in which the Ford government announced they would give police forces more powers to enforce the stay-at-home order by stopping anyone at any point, while also calling for playgrounds to be shut down. Both moves were highly scrutinized to the point the government reversed course within 24 hours.

In the case of increasing police powers, the Ford government is describing it as a “miscommunication”. But, for those who scrutinized the policy move, they cited that it missed the mark, because it came during a social justice movement where Ontarians have been made more aware of police targeting of racialized people and amid a pandemic where minorities are dying at disproportionate rates.

While they did reverse course, “more than half a dozen members” of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table told the Globe and Mail they were displeased with the policy decisions taken by the Ford government, with several insisting they wanted to resign in protests, but feared the government would go further in the wrong direction. Dr. Peter Juni, director of Ontario’s Science Table told CBC News he was “at a loss what to do” and that he was “ready to let go” and move on, but ultimately decided against it.

“It became very clear that probably if I would do that, it would make things even worse because that would be a vacuum. And the same holds, I think, for many of my colleagues who have become friends, meanwhile, at the science table,” he told CBC News on Sunday.

Juni also noted that the government ignored essential workers with their policies by not enacting paid sick leave, which the Science Table has recommended. He noted that the pandemic has been littered with inequities and introducing policing would further that inequity. Lastly, he noted that closing outdoor spaces was a move that was not supported by the Science Table, and while it’s doable for those who have a backyard, it negatively affects a lot of Ontarians. Juni did support the travel restrictions and desire to increase work inspections, but again reiterated that stopping people randomly on the street is not going to get Ontario out of the situation they’re in.

Veteran journalists baffled by Ontario's leadership moves

Immediately following the Friday press conference, Paul Wells, a writer at Maclean’s magazine appeared on CBC News. The longtime political journalist took aim at the Ford government’s mishandling of the pandemic response leading to a third lockdown in a year.

“Given the stakes and extend of the disarray that we saw today, this was perhaps the worst press conference I have ever seen as a professional journalist,” said Wells. “This was a government announcing that it was tightening restrictions for the third time in three weeks while the pandemic runs away from it.”

With the majority of cases in recent weeks and in the third wave coming out of congregate work settings, and the province not making vaccines available to those essential workers and workplaces failing to protect their staff, Wells took aim at comments made by Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton who claimed “my top priority is to keep workers safe in Ontario,” during a separate press conference on Friday.

“The Labour Minister claimed that they’re doing everything they can to protect the health and safety of all workers in the province—that is a flat lie,” said Wells, as his voice grew audibly louder. “As far as I’m concerned he should be out of cabinet by sundown for that remark.”

McNaughton has not been removed from his cabinet post in the Ford government. Wells then took aim at the Ford government’s desire to hand more power to police to perform random checks, which critics argue would likely have led to more targeting and carding of Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

“They want to go after people out for a stroll, the police will have the authority to stop, interrogate and ticket anyone for any reason they’s catastrophic,” he said.

“In any other circumstances, a government that performed as badly as this government performed today should resign or be defeated in the legislature,” said Wells wrapping up his comments.

The problem with the Ford’s government’s attempt to increase powers didn’t sit well with legal experts and people from BIPOC communities, but also with police agencies, as more than a dozen came out publicly saying they would not be using the increased powers they were given.

“Honestly, I’ve seen 45 years of politicians and this government is the worst just when good governance is needed the most. Another obvious reversal after a ridiculous move,” wrote Don Martin, former host of CTV’s PowerPlay on Twitter.

From cabinet meetings that went on for hours, to public outcry forcing them into changing policy, while the pitchforks are out for Ford, the premier was absent from public appearances leaving the questions of policy reversals to be answered by Health Minister Christine Elliot and Government House Leader Paul Calandra.

Third wave is '100 per cent the crisis of their own making'

“I think it was disastrous and I think how the government responded, it realizes that,” said Erin Tolley, associate professor of political science at Carleton University.

While the premier was nowhere to be found on Monday, he shared a photo of himself on Twitter, indicating he was speaking with the Canadian Ambassador to the European Union to secure more vaccines. Tolley noted that this third wave has been different from the first time around, when the premier was releasing his cherry cheesecake recipes — now the focus is on how he’s dropping the ball.

“This government didn't cause the first wave of the virus, arguably it probably didn't cause this second wave either, but this third wave, the situation we're in now is a 100 per cent the crisis of their own making,” said Tolley.

Like Juni and others within Ontario’s health sector have reiterated before, the province was advised against reopenings back in February. At that time, variants of concern were emerging and given their increased transmissibility and danger, modelling created by the Science Table showed a third wave would likely overwhelm Ontario’s intensive care units (ICU) if not managed properly. While that has become a reality, it points to a very clear disparity between Ontario’s top health advisors giving the province sound advice of keeping restrictions in place, but the Ford government swerving and pushing for re-openings instead resulting in a third lockdown.

“If you are choosing to ignore expert advice, then you have to take responsibility for it. Trying to frame it as a communications disaster, it’s that, but it’s also a policy disaster,” she said.

Erin Tolley is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University
Erin Tolley is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University (Erin Tolley)

Leading up to Friday, the premier and others teased that restrictions would be coming in, but nobody expected it to take the route that it took. Tolley admits that Ford’s desire to be well-liked could be factoring into the decision-making process.

“He's a populist premier, he sort of is known as a person who wants people to like him and the policy levers that needed to be pulled in order to stave off a third wave were not ones that fit with the government’s ideological position,” said Tolley.

With COVID-19 frontline doctors like Dr. Michael Warner and Dr. Abdu Sharkawy amongst others sharing candid stories about their patients in ICUs suffering and railing against the government's decisions in a public forum, Tolley notes it does significant damage to the Ford government’s credibility.

“Ontarians trust doctors a lot more than they trust politicians, so when they’re speaking out candidly about situations, people are going to side with them,” she said.

With cabinet meetings going on for several hours, Ford and Elliot seem to be on opposing sides when it comes to publicly framing help from the federal government. The premier has blamed the current situation in Ontario on the Trudeau government’s inability to procure vaccines, which experts disagree with. But, on Monday, Elliot said the province was receiving help from the federal government and were “very grateful” for the assistance.

Tolley looks at the Elliot and Ford situation as one of two ways: the health minister is stepping out against the premier, or that she is taking a more public-facing role, and in turn, will hold responsibility for the failures during the pandemic.

“She has to tread carefully because political infighting during a crisis situation is something she would think carefully about,” said Tolley.

But, while Elliot and Calandra faced the music on Monday and the former could be the one to bear the responsibility, Tolley notes that Ford often says the buck stops with him — and this time is no different.