Susanna Kelley (Moderator): Doug Ford has announced that Dr. David Williams is retiring and will be replaced by Dr. Kieran Moore. Dr. Williams was criticized for his role in the pandemic’s handling in Ontario over the last year. Will a new MOH make a difference in the crisis or are we so close to being out of danger that it will not matter? We asked David Wills, Chris Loreto and Sarbjit Kaur.

David Wills:

First off, I want to thank Dr. Williams for his 30-plus years as a public servant. It is important to acknowledge a career in the public service, including his service in Ontario’s north.

Second, I want to applaud the choice of his replacement. Dr. Moore is accomplished and well spoken. He has been unafraid to act quickly, shutting down businesses and mandating masks, for example, before other parts of the province. And his region fared better than most because of it.

I’m not qualified to comment on either one’s credentials as a MOH, so I will share my insights in their roles as communicators.

First off, this was not Dr. Williams’ strength. Too often he was confusing and not clear in his messaging, which opened to the door to political interference.

When you look at the strong MOHs we have in this province — Drs. DeVilla, Loh and Moore to name but three — they all have one thing in common.

They give advice based on science and largely ignore the politics at play municipally, provincially and federally.

Dr. Moore will bring that to Ontario.

While it may seem like Ontario is nearing the end of the pandemic, any decent public health expert will tell you that is far from the truth. COVID-19 is rampant in most of the world and we will need a strong leader to give advice — no matter how uncomfortable — for months and years to come.

Chris Loreto:

I too want to thank Dr. Williams for his service to the province, particularly over the last year and a bit. I also want to thank him for agreeing to defer his retirement to get us through most of the pandemic.

I am hoping we are nearing the end; that we are on the verge of a two-dose summer, and that life will come back to normal this fall.

I think having a new MOH at the table will help to bring the fresh voice and perspective needed to finish this pandemic off once and for all. For this I pray, anyways.

Will his presence make a fundamental difference? In the short-term, I do not believe so.

It is in the longer-term, distilling the lessons learned from this pandemic that is where I think Dr. Moore can have his greatest impact.

As much as I want COVID-19 to end, it is likely that it will be something we contend with forever, getting regular boosters to keep it under control.

I would like this MOH, working with a broader provincial team, to be responsible for preparing us for the next pandemic — learning from our mistakes and preparing the infrastructure (broadly defined as people, processes, technologies, and equipment) to successfully weather the next pandemic.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Dr. Williams certainly put in his time and deserves a rest!

I agree that he was not the best communicator and that’s really essential to have as part of the role in a pandemic — when providing information and direction is critical in gaining trust and demonstrating competence.

Having said that, switching to Dr. Moore at this point is rather late in the game. I don’t think it will really erase the mistakes of the past and the feeling that the province really dropped the ball communications-wise.

Certainly, the Ford government must be hoping some new faces and voices will help Ontarians forget some of the horrors of this horrendous pandemic — but I don’t think memories are that short.

And if the entire government doesn’t function better (as a team) Dr. Moore may find it challenging to do much better than his predecessor. Sometimes performance depends on what and who you’re working with!

DavidWills:

His number one challenge will be to build back public health.

Too much was ignored by this government and the one before. We were not prepared, and his challenge will be to fight for resources to make sure we are prepared, because there will be a next time.

Public health investment pays off big time, but you don’t get to reap the reward until much later. We need to go back and learn from the SARS report, and learn from our mistakes with COVID-19. Then we can be ready.

In the short term, I am hoping he remains a straight shooter — telling the elected what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. If we stay the course we will get some freedoms back, but I know he will be quicker to sound the alarm bell if needed.

That’s what Ontario needs from him.

Chris Loreto:

 I don’t believe that Dr. Williams told the government what it wanted to hear. I believe he gave them his best advice using information he got from the science table.

Do let me be controversial here. It is for governments to decide policy and to make decisions and not to yield that responsibility to unelected technocrats.

I think one of the things we need to understand coming out this experience is how to balance public health, economic health, and population mental health better in the future.

I would also like to put the last few weeks in perspective. For all the guff Premier Ford took on his decisions in early April, this stay at home order, focusing in on reducing mobility, seems to have worked. Cases were under 1,000 Tuesday.

There is real hope on the horizon. The worst case was avoided — and I am assuming my colleagues won’t give the government one lick of credit for that. But they do deserve credit — not just the blame.

Now, let’s get second doses in arms (I am cheering for federal procurement here) and get the economy re-opened.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Chris, I don’t think anyone gave Ford guff for the April lockdown — people were upset that we opened up too early and had to go back in lockdown in spring when we could have just stayed in lockdown a bit longer in the winter.

And then when the lockdown happened the criticism was mostly around tennis and golf courses and other irrational aspects of it.

I agree with you on the decision-making responsibility. Whoever puts their name on the ballot and is accountable to the voters makes the decisions.

Politicians do have to balance many interests that are not always visible to someone looking at an issue from just one perspective.

However, considering all the information and having good people providing advice and being able to come to a (good) conclusion is the magic of leadership. And if you’re putting people in roles of responsibility and not listening to them — you might as well just put a potted plant there and be done with it.

What I’ve seen with this government time and time again is it has information, experts, advice and plenty of input available to it — but when it comes time to take all that and make good decision — it falters.

It will be interesting to see if Dr. Moore can work with a government that isn’t likely to devote the effort and resources to reforming long term care, investing in healthcare, helping workers and tackling those big structural issues.

More likely they’ll want to hope everyone forgets this whole debacle and concentrate on getting re-elected — maybe offer more buck a beer.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.

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