When it comes to science, the numbers usually speak for themselves. But sometimes, as a journalist, you have to double-check what they’re saying. And on Feb. 11, in response to a presentation from Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, that’s exactly what a TVO reporter did. “Am I missing something here, or is this presentation actually predicting a disaster?” The presentation suggested Ontario’s case counts were still dangerously high, and removing restrictions and reopening the economy, as the Ford government was planning to do, would send them skyrocketing. “No,” Brown said, “I don’t think you’re missing anything.”
The consequences of the Ford government’s refusal to listen to people like Brown are as painfully clear as Brown’s presentation. Once the number of people in Ontario’s ICUs passed the 800 mark, doctors would be forced to make unthinkable decisions about who gets care and who doesn’t. “That is a place where clinicians have to make hard decisions you would never want them to have to make,” he said on April 1. “You will see loss of life."
In hospitals across Ontario that’s exactly what has happened, as the number of people in ICUs blew past 800 on its way to a high of more than 900 earlier this month. For doctors charged with advising the Ford government, it’s been a particularly frustrating experience. “I think it’s an issue of weighing things differently,” Brown told the CBC’s Andrew Chang in a recent segment on The National. “When we’re giving this advice, we’re really focused on getting the pandemic under control. They’re weighing other things when they make those decisions.”
In other words, the Ford government was prioritizing the needs of small business owners and the economy over the health, safety, and even lives of Ontarians. It’s not clear whether this is because the Premier didn’t actually understand the science being presented to him, or refused to accept its glaringly obvious conclusions. Such are the dangers of electing a college dropout whose work history is limited to the business owned by his family.
But what makes his government’s ghoulish tradeoff even worse is it doesn’t deliver any of the benefits promised by its proponents. Take Sweden, which took a Ford-esque approach to managing the pandemic and resisted restrictions or lockdown measures at almost every turn. Its reward? A COVID-19 death rate that’s anywhere from four to 10 times higher than its Nordic neighbours and an economy that shrank at the same rate as Finland and Norway and far faster than Denmark. “In other words,” Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith wrote, “the Swedish experiment failed. Lockdowns were good.”
And even when the Ford government belatedly took some precautionary measures in the face of a spike in cases even it couldn’t deny, it still got almost everything wrong. As Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of Ontario’s science advisory table, told The National, “this pandemic, in this province, (was) being driven by essential workers and their families who are out there, and I just didn’t see any of that being acknowledged. Instead, what happened is we closed playgrounds.”
Thursday's announcement about the latest attempt to reopen Ontario’s economy will speak volumes about whether the Ford government has learned anything over the last few months. But one thing is already painfully clear: when presented with a choice between saving lives and opening businesses, the Ford government made the wrong one. Even when it was clear paid sick leave would help the essential workers and vulnerable communities being hardest hit by COVID, the Ford government repeatedly stalled. The only question that’s left for Ontarians is one they may not want to ask: how many dead people will it take for this premier to resign?