Today Doug Ford finally went through with something he has been dragging his feet on for weeks. At least, kind of.
The Ontario premier put the two worst hotspots in the province, Peel Region and Toronto, into a 28-day lockdown eerily similar to what we faced in the spring.
The only difference is this time both schools and childcare centres will remain open. That includes Humber College, which is providing on-campus instruction for specific courses.
So, what changed? It couldn’t have been the modeling pointing towards a rise in cases to over 6,000 a day with no changes, because that was known this time last week.
Could it have been Prime Minister Justin Trudeau giving the premiers the political backup they needed by saying in his address to the country Friday that shutdowns would be good for business in the long run? Certainly a possibility.
But the reason could be that Ford had finally begun to lose some of the goodwill his behaviour in the first shutdown earned him.
Both he and his Conservative government received praise for their handling of the pandemic’s first wave, reflected in their approval numbers.
Abacus Data reported Ford’s approval rating had shot up to 46 per cent in May from 23 per cent in March, eventually climbing all the way to 60 per cent.
This steep climb is only topped by the drop in his disapproval rating, which went to 25 per cent from 61 per cent, eventually settling at 15 per cent, within two months.
But as the months went on and the pandemic persisted, Ford’s focus seemed to change from handling the virus to restarting the economy, and in the middle of a massive second wave, he found himself losing ground.
Abacus Data reported in October Ford’s approval rating had dropped eight points to 52 per cent, and his disapproval was up nine per cent to 24. Those numbers held into early November when they were last reported.
How did this happen?
A focal point of the criticism towards the Ford government was its handling of the reopening of schools, with slightly more than 40 per cent disapproving of how it was handled.
This was before Wednesday’s announcement by Stephen Lecce, Ford’s minister of education, saying an extended winter break was “not necessary at this time,” just a day after he said it was being considered.
Schools are also remaining open in this newest shutdown, despite households being prohibited from mixing.
According to information provided by the province almost 10 per cent of Wednesday’s cases were school-related. There are 670 publicly funded schools with an active case, and three are closed outright.
Even worse, a 67-year-old child and youth worker with the Toronto Catholic School Board became the first school staff member to die from COVID-19, an official from the school board announced Wednesday.
The decision to keep schools open was made by Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer for the province.
“Dr. Williams came back and said ‘no, this is the safest place,’ again reacting quickly, being decisive in the right way,” Ford said in his Wednesday media conference.
But his insistence on being decisive in “the right way” brings up the question: what does the right way mean?
“The right way” was clearly not the new COVID-19 framework system the province released at the beginning of the month which received immediate criticism from experts. The Ontario Medical Association called the outline lax.
This criticism was also surrounded by reports the plan did not have input from the province’s public health agency, which Ford denies.
Still, his government changed the framework last week, significantly lowering the thresholds for each level, pointing to his initial decision being decisive in the absolute wrong way.
And now Toronto and Peel are locked down after weeks of squabbling with the federal government over jurisdiction, humming and hawing about a potential lockdown, all while that province passed 100,000 total COVID-19 cases and ICU occupancy reached a critical level.
What Ford did Friday was the right choice. But even in doing the right thing he raised eyebrows, either by leaving schools open or allowing people currently in a lockdown to drive 20 minutes in any direction and not face the same restrictions.
Ford is now facing his defining moment as premier. He needs to band the province together to defeat this virus. The question is does he have what it takes to get the job done.