Featured Story Rants

Ford blew it this time but he’ll have another chance to get it right

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

I’m a hard-ass, kick-ass guy.

It doesn’t matter the issue, or the pastime. Whatever it is, I’m either all-in or all-out. No half-measures for me.

Which is why I am so angry about Premier Doug Ford’s announcement Monday that, in an effort to bring COVID-19 under control in Ontario, the whole province will be put in a half-measure lockdown that’s been in effect in Toronto and Peel for the last month and which has done nothing but see the number of cases increase.

Ford and his enablers had people like me expecting big news Monday. Selective leaks had the premier and his cabinet huddling for days, discussing the pros and cons of this and that. And then, when the big moment came, nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

It was like the house is on fire but nobody’s calling the fire department.

I was expecting so much more. The situation is “dire,” we have an “emergency,” we are “in crisis.”

And yet . . . nothing.

When the coronavirus became reality back in March, just about everybody stayed home. If you did have to go out, to the grocery store, for instance, only so many people were allowed in at the same time, which generally meant lineups outside, and only one member of each family was allowed in to shop.

Doctors’ offices were closed and except for pregnant women and special patients (asthmatics who have to be examined regularly, for instance), appointments by phone became (and remain) the norm.  If you got a toothache, you had to get an antibiotic from your doctor because all the dentist offices were shut.

My wife is an essential worker and I drove her to work every day and Hwys 403 and 401 always had some traffic on them but not much. Planes were grounded, for the most part. It took a week, but the air became clean. You could see for kilometres (you never think of the haze that exists until you take most of the cars off the road and the planes out of the air) and the birdies were all so happy they were singing their little hearts out.

And then, over time – summer, really – things pretty much returned to normal. Yes, we all had to wear masks and practice social distancing and things got cancelled to keep people from mingling but I got a haircut for the first time in months (I couldn’t just walk in, as I have for years, by the way; I had to make an appointment and give them my name and phone number before my barber would even fire up her clippers), the lineups disappeared at Loblaws, etc., and I could go in with my wife to help her pick out the best bunches of asparagus. I got my teeth fixed (or some of them, anyway), and there was a whole lot of cars on the 400 highways.

Because all non-essential travel was banned, I couldn’t drive across the border to the United States, although plenty of people did. Half of the people living in Windsor work in Detroit, for instance, so there was lots of cross-border traffic going through the tunnel and over the Ambassador Bridge. And I noticed something every time I drove past Toronto’s Pearson airport while chauffeuring my wife to her office: a huge Emirates airlines plane sitting at Terminal  One. It was there at least once a week, as were other offshore carriers, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it was “essential travel” for all those people to come flying into Canada each week.

As expected, the “Second Wave” kicked in just about when it had been predicted and Ford reacted by imposing his first half-measure lockdown. We know all about that. The small-business killer in action. It didn’t work when first imposed and wasn’t working last week when the COVID numbers were going up, and up, and up. I use my highway observations to gauge success or failure. All I can say is that there was a helluva lot of traffic out there when there was supposed to be a lockdown. Something had to be done because what was being done wasn’t working.

Which brings us to Monday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. Eastern and the Premier opened his mouth and completely blew it. He’d had the opportunity of a lifetime to show leadership and he wound up compromised beyond belief. And he knew it.

To cover up his shortcomings, he decided the time was right to try to pick a fight with the prime minister about screening people for COVID when they land at Pearson. “If he won’t do it, we will,” Ford thundered with about the same resolve as when he warned the outlaw tow-truck industry that, “We’re coming for you,” and nothing has happened with that either.

And Justin Trudeau, who hasn’t done much of anything about this pandemic except give away money, must have been laughing with delight at the stupidity of a provincial premier threatening to interfere with something that comes under federal jurisdiction. Way to go, Doug. You just gave Justin a reason to slap you around and act tough.

It has been as plain as the nose on anybody’s face that the only way to defeat this virus is to go to a total and complete lockdown. And when I say a complete lockdown, I mean complete. The experts can determine the length; I’m concerned about commitment.

During that time, nobody should be at work, or even out of the house, except hospital workers (doctors, nurses, cleaners), police, fire and EMS.

Grocery stores – supermarkets – can keep regular hours, as can pharmacies, but are restricted to 25 per cent capacity. Big box stores like Wal-mart and Costco (25%, etc.) can sell groceries and pharmaceuticals, period. They are forbidden, under threat of heavy fines, from selling clothing or TVs or anything else they normally stock that’s not food. And unless they are in rural areas, all convenience stores must remain closed.

There must be no commerce whatsoever; no “curbside service” or pickups. No gas stations (you’re not supposed to be out, so you won’t need gas) or daycare centres (you’re not working, so you don’t need child care). Public transit will run on holiday schedules for people who really have to be out; if people leave work at midnight or later, the employer can pay for a taxi. All construction, with the possible exception of the Eglinton crosstown project in Toronto, must come to a halt.

Tim Horton’s? McDonalds? Burger King? All closed. You can make your own coffee at home. It’s called instant. This is a war, remember?

Liquor and beer stores can open for limited hours Monday to Friday.

Schools have to stay closed until the lockdown is lifted and kids will have to learn virtually. Meantime, vaccinate all the teachers.

Now, Ford is no different than any other premier in Canada. None really knows what to do. They have all screwed up in one way or another.

But the Ontario premier had a wonderful opportunity Monday to take the lead in this fight, to show the way, and – beyond adding pet stores and hardware stores to the “curbside service” list – didn’t rise to the occasion.

He’ll have another chance, though. When this latest attempt to bring down the numbers fails, as it surely will, he’ll really have to get tough. What you have just read is a blueprint.

norrismcdonald@rogers.com