Long-term care commission drops
The Ford government released details of its independent commission into Covid’s impact in long-term care on Wednesday. But opposition critics say it isn’t up to snuff when it comes to accountability and transparency, and stakeholders suggest it won’t do much for what’s needed now or to brace for a second wave.
High-profile associate chief justice Frank Marrocco, who also defended the province during the Walkerton inquiry, will lead the commission alongside Angela Coke, a former deputy minister, and Dr. Jack Kitts, who was president and CEO of the Ottawa Hospital up until June.
Their final report is expected to land on the government’s desk by April 30, 2021, and will be made public after that (they can also submit interim reports and recommendations to the minister of long-term care).
While the commission will have the power to compel witnesses and documents and hold public and private meetings, it cannot make recommendations or draw conclusions regarding civil and criminal responsibility.
They also aren’t obligated to make general recommendations to the government. Should they decide to, Premier Doug Ford said “we’ll take them up on it” — but stopped short of making the recommendations binding.
Ford reiterated the possibility of referring matters in long-term care homes to police. “And if they find there’s been neglect then they should be charged, it’s as simple as that.” Ford has also said he’s willing to appear as a witness if summoned.
But unless cabinet waives confidentiality to produce those documents and minutes, the commission is “toothless,” charged Liberal Leader John Fraser.
Commission will have inquiry-level power to compel cabinet docs
When it comes to compelling evidence, the commission is governed by the same rules as an inquiry, which are designed to protect cabinet confidentiality only when its importance outweighs a legal obligation to disclose all relevant records. That said, cabinet has the opportunity to resist because the documents are protected by a legally recognized privilege.
One inquiry expert told Queen’s Park Today that there is typically a tussle over cabinet documents, but in the end, the inquiries usually win.
Nevertheless, NDP Attorney General critic Gurratan Singh said the crisis in long-term care deserves more than closed-door meetings and findings that aren’t binding.
“What is required is as much openness and as much accountability and as much independence as possible, to ensure that the questions are answered with respect to why seniors were put in such deplorable situations and why our province needlessly lost [more than] 1,800 of the folks who built this province,” Singh said at Queen’s Park.
Meanwhile, long-term care homes and unions representing their employees say that while the commission is welcome, urgent action is needed as a buttress against future flare-ups.
Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, said that means shoring up the PPE arsenal, prioritizing testing in LTC and recruiting new infection control specialists. “While the review is important, we must also prepare for a potential second wave now.”
In a joint statement, SEIU, CUPE and Unifor said they look forward to having their members’ voices heard by the commissioners. “The reasons and source of confusion and chaos must be understood so that this never happens again. No government official and no corporate decision-maker should be shielded from the commissioners’ investigation.”
The commission will be housed under the Ministry of the Attorney General. There’s a budget and the commissioners will be compensated, but no details yet.