Ford disputes Toronto Sun column suggesting Treasury Board shot down LTC minister’s pre-Covid funding request

By Sabrina Nanji June 26, 2020

Premier Doug Ford is denying a report that suggests his cabinet ministers rejected funding requests to shore up staffing in long-term care homes before COVID-19 hit in favour of cost savings. 

According to Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley‘s Wednesday night report — which is based on unnamed sources — Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton twice asked for cash to stabilize staffing levels in the run-up to the pandemic, first in February as part of internal pre-budget consultations and again as COVID-19 revved up. Fullerton’s requests were reportedly rejected by Treasury Board. 

But by midnight, Lilley’s column had been yanked from the Sun website — though it still appeared on some other Postmedia sites including the Kingston Whig-Standard and Simcoe Reformer. The article reappeared the next day moments before the premier’s daily presser at 1 p.m., and Ford addressed it unprovoked. 

“I’ve got to address a story that was floating out there, first of all, that’s what I want to do,” Ford said in response to a question about prepping LTC homes for a second COVID-19 wave. He didn’t explicitly name the story — which was republished with a new headline that removed the phrase “Ford government” — but he strongly hinted at it. 

“We all have a responsibility to do our due diligence, and I guess Postmedia, they ended up scrapping it, but it kind of got out there anyways, and it was riddled full of errors and it’s simply not true — about us saying we aren’t going to fund hiring staff at long-term care,” Ford said.

The Toronto Sun has long ties with the Ford camp. Ford’s chief of staff Jamie Wallace is the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief. 

The premier went on to say the government has already put up $243 million to help the sector cope. 

Asked to clarify what specific problems Ford had with the original article, his spokesperson Ivana Yelich said “the premier’s comments stand.” 

Opposition critics said Ford owes the public a better explanation. 

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca addressed the allegations in the story Wednesday night. “Doug Ford, [Treasury Board President] Peter Bethlenfalvy and [Finance Minister] Rod Phillips were told urgent action was needed to prepare for COVID-19. They put the lives of our seniors at risk and many paid with their lives. All to save a few dollars.”

The next morning NDP Leader Andrea Horwath scoffed at the “iron ring” Ford promised to protect the elderly. “While Doug Ford talked in public about putting an ‘iron ring’ around seniors, behind the scenes, insiders are saying he repeatedly rejected the funding and staffing measures that would have saved lives.”

As of Thursday, 1,689 long-term care residents in Ontario have died from COVID-19. 

Queen’s Park Today has reached out to the Toronto Sun for comment and will update this story with any response.