auditor general ontario

New report shows Ontario's COVID response not actually led by chief health expert

Ontario's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been investigated by our provincial auditor general, and some of the findings, released on Wednesday, are quite unexpected and paint a pretty unflattering picture.

For one thing, the province's top health official, who the majority of the population assumed to be the key advisor in how we move forward, was not actually found to be as in control as we thought.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, was the face of countless formal updates about the province's COVID situation, regularly providing journalists and the public with case numbers, trends, and his expert opinions on the latest data.

But, according to documents released by non-partisan auditor Bonnie Lysyk, Williams "did not lead" the province's fight against the communicable disease: he didn't chair meetings of Ontario's Health Command Table, didn't "fully exercise his powers" under emergency orders, and was not behind major decisions such as our regional approach to reopening and provincial masking rules.

His control of some things was even "further diminished" in August, when Lysyk notes that the Ministry's Health Services Emergency Branch changed hands from Williams to another politician who is not a doctor or health official.

And, his insights were often contradicted by Doug Ford and other elected officials in their own public statements and press briefings — such as when Ford told families to "have fun" and "go away" for March Break, while Williams was asking people to avoid non-essential travel.

The reports also go on to note that Public Health Ontario also "played a diminished role" in the provincial government's decisions surrounding COVID-19, especially when contrasted to how we handled SARS years prior.

And, things in general have been pretty unorganized, unclear, impromptu, "slower and more reactive" compared to the procedures of other provinces in Canada.

The switch from the original staged reopening framework to the new colour-coded one — which has already itself been amended at least once — has been particularly confounding to residents and those in the health system alike.

Our testing and contact tracing also consistently lagged for the majority of the year which, in the auditor's opinion, meant the province was not able to contain the spread of the virus as well as it should and could have.

"Local medical officers of health were confused by provincial politicians delivering public health advice in place of the chief medical officer of health," the findings of the three separate reports state.

"Impacted stakeholders were not always made aware of provincial decisions that impacted their operations prior to these decisions being announced publicly. This left these parties unprepared to act in a timely manner."

Lysyk's hundreds of pages on Emergency Management — Pandemic Response, Outbreak Planning and Decision-Making, and Labratory Testing, Case Management and Contact Tracing certainly don't make Ontario seem on top of things as far as our handling of the virus is concerned.

And, though the past cannot be changed at this point, she hopes that her findings can be useful and that "decision-makers are willing to learn from the past and recognize that improvements continue to be required."

Ford responded to the report in his daily press briefing today, calling it "inaccurate" and stating that he has "some serious problems" with the information it presents.

Lead photo by

Maryland GovPics


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