By Randall White
The Monday after Ontario’s latest coronavirus lockdown took effect, one aggrieved parent on Twitter complained: “I’m pulling my kid out of school next week … This Premier has lost control of the situation.”
Similar concerns were expressed in the mainstream media. Recent headlines include “Ontario’s ‘emergency brake’ not enough, critics say” and “In Doug Ford’s Ontario, COVID-19 lockdowns have become meaningless.”
These were followed by “Top doctors in Toronto, Peel Region, Ottawa ask Ontario for stay-at-home order to slow COVID-19” and then “Ford issues another stay-at-home order, declares state of emergency.”
The story will carry on and grow still more complex over the next several weeks or months or even longer. But at this point it may be worth asking at greater length: Has Queen’s Park actually lost control of the 2021 third-wave of the pandemic?
If you just look at Canada’s four largest provinces you might guess the short answer could be yes.
As of April 8, daily average pandemic deaths in the last seven days per 100,000 people in Ontario came in at 0.12. This was slightly higher than BC at 0.10, Quebec at 0.07, and Alberta at 0.04. (All the smallest Atlantic provinces except New Brunswick were at zero.)
But if you just broaden your vision a little, due south, Ontario looks better — even with the vast U.S. vaccine supply (apparently also now picking up in Canada.)
For comparable daily average pandemic deaths per 100,000 people next door, note New York state at 0.40 (more than three times the Ontario number), Michigan 0.36, Pennsylvania 0.21, and Ohio 0.16.
Ontario’s current coronavirus circumstances look better still when compared with some places further away.
Take Italy, for instance. As of April 8, daily average pandemic deaths in the last seven days per 100,000 people in Emilia-Romagna came in at 1.05 (almost nine times the Ontario number.) Lombardy was 0.91, Piedmont 0.83, and Tuscany 0.78.
Numbers only tell one side of any story. There is no doubt much current frustration in all parts of Ontario over what increasingly seem inconsistent COVID-19 messages from Queen’s Park.
Some might argue that the Ford government finally does the right thing, while also telegraphing its strong urge to do the wrong thing (for understandable reasons.) And this is bound to confuse the democratic citizenry, concerned about both health and the economy.
At the same time, even in Canada, Ontario is far from the only place facing a new wave of pandemic distress in April. BC health minister Adrian Dix recently complained: “I’m not one bit happy about where we are at now.”
And even Ford Nation is not exactly trying to turn Canada’s most populous province into a U.S. red state like Texas or Florida.
As aggrieved parents on Twitter confirm, however, questions are increasingly being raised about the Ford government’s handling of COVID-19.
This is reflected in a recent Research Co. online poll. Respondents who say they’re satisfied with their provincial government on the issue range from 72% in Atlantic Canada to 37% in Alberta. BC is at 65% and Quebec 58%. Ontario comes in second last, at 45%.
At the same time again, opinion polls suggest as well that the Ford PCs are still most likely to win the next provincial election on June 2, 2022 (while the Trudeau Liberals are well ahead in Ontario federally.)
Léger’s latest Ontario provincial survey reports PC 38%, NDP 28%, LIB 23%, and GRN 8%. (The latest Abacus federal numbers for Ontario are LIB 44%, CON 28%, NDP18%, GRN 6%.)
Political historians may be reminded of how the Mike Harris Conservatives won back-to-back majority governments at Queen’s Park in 1995 and 1999, while the Chrétien Liberals won 101 of 103 Ontario federal seats in 1997 and 100 of 103 in 2000.
Yet the next provincial election is still more than a year away. And some current global pandemic numbers show how even places that once seemed far behind have now rushed ahead of Doug Ford’s Ontario.
The United Kingdom is a case in point. Its COVID-19 numbers once looked grim. Then its world leadership in vaccine administration seems to have changed everything.
Again, on April 8, daily average pandemic deaths in the last seven days per 100,000 people in Ontario came in at 0.12. The comparable numbers for the United Kingdom were Wales 0.06, Northern Ireland 0.05, England 0.05, and Scotland 0.04.
Whatever else, there remains some room for improvement north of the Great Lakes.
Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.