On Friday afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions in Ontario’s fight against COVID-19. But let’s not mince words: the premier’s approach will do nothing to actually stem the tide of the pandemic, but it will put the blame on working class people, steal their public spaces, allow profiteers to enrich themselves off employee suffering, and give the police dangerous powers which will almost certainly be levied against the most vulnerable Ontarians.
In short, Ford’s plan wants Ontarians to think that this recent COVID spike is not driven by his monumental failure to protect workers across various industries, but rather by the personal moral weakness of the public. As such, most of the restrictions are aimed at individuals and their personal lives, and not at the industrial sectors that are primarily responsible for driving infections.
While outdoor spaces have been declared off-limits—despite not being a major vector of COVID spread—Ford’s new ‘restrictions’ on the construction industry basically mark every project as “essential” so as to have no measurable effect, even though construction has been a major source of COVID transmission. This flies in direct conflict with advice from many medical professionals, like Dr. Issac Bogoch, who say that outdoor recreation is largely safe, and essential for mental and physical health.
Similarly, and in a now viral clip, Dr. Kali Barrett made it clear that the main cause of COVID’s spread is attributable to the fact that vulnerable working class people, with limited social capital to protect themselves, are being forced into dangerous workplaces and then back into their homes and communities, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk through no fault of their own.
This is not a matter of ‘personal responsibility’: it is a matter of working class people dying and being blamed for their own deaths, with the ‘solution’ being the shutting down of public outdoor spaces. This is on top of the fact that it is poor and working class people who often lack yards and private outdoor spaces, meaning that the closing of parks hurts and criminalizes them most of all.
And that really is the most frustrating part of all of this: so much death and suffering could have been avoided. Doctors and scientists have long warned that Ontario’s government was not doing enough to stem the spread of the virus, and the solutions they did put forward never struck at the heart of the spread.
Looking further back, this is a government that has failed every step of the way to protect workers by denying them paid sick days, and failing seniors by neglecting the inspection of long-term care facilities.
As epidemiologist Dr. Ashleigh Tuite has said, the medical profession has been ignored in favour of sacrificing working people at the altar of capital:
I feel sick… I actually feel sick. Every week we have this buildup, and is this going to be the week where suddenly they get it, and they’re actually going to do something to make this better, and if they don’t get this now they’re not going to get it. It’s been a few hours, but I’m still shaking.
The crux of the issue, as noted in the Toronto Star, is that Ford and his cabinet have “decided to criminalize public space and socialize death and illness in factories and warehouses and construction sites, because the donors must be rewarded. You can’t have paid sick leave, but you can have police.”
These increased police powers may be the most troubling aspect in all of this, because as Ford announced his ineffective restrictions, it was declared by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones that “police will have the authority to require any individual who is not in a place of residence to first provide the purpose for not being at home and provide their home address.”
This is a massive overstep in the use of law enforcement powers, and again shifts the blame for COVID spread from centres of capitalist power to individuals going about their lives, which allows Ford to lecture regular people about their criminality versus actually doing something to save lives. As Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath noted: “He is choosing to blame everyone but himself. He is choosing policing over public health.”
And while it must be said that various police forces across Ontario have suggested they won’t be enforcing this measure (such as Toronto and Kingston), the powers still exist, and will almost certainly bear down on Black, Indigenous, racialized, and poor Ontarians. Even if the policy doesn’t see full implementation given municipal pushback, the fact that Ford attempted to criminalize the vulnerable as a solution to COVID shows his cruelty.
This is all on top of the fact that Ford is refusing aid from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government, who offered to help mobilize the Red Cross to help get Ontarians vaccinated faster. Ford’s response was, simply put, an effort to put politics above the lives of Ontarians because he did not want to admit that he was failing in his duty to vaccinate the province.
Certainly, there are many criticisms which can be levied at the Trudeau Liberals for failing to acquire enough vaccines relative to the United States, but Ontario has a surplus of vaccines right now, and thus clearly needs help distributing them. As Horwath noted, “Ontario is not in a position to reject help right now.”
But this doesn’t let Trudeau off the hook, either. Rather, it underlines that so long as he refuses to use emergency powers, the failures of Ford are impacting his federal performance in fighting this pandemic. As Hamilton NDP MP Matthew Green has noted, Trudeau must at the very least consider Emergency Act powers to enable parallel vaccination plans in Ontario because “Ford is fucking up.”
Indeed he is, and Ontarians are paying the price. If leadership won’t come from the province, it had better come federally, because as Jagmeet Singh noted, it’s “Time to stop talking about jurisdiction. Time to act like this is a catastrophe.”
Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.