PCs back down in the face of a firestorm of criticism over new Covid restrictions

By Alan S. Hale and and Allison Smith April 19, 2021

There are bad news days and there are Bad News Days.

The PCs reaped a whirlwind of intense backlash this weekend after announcing new Covid restrictions Friday that seemed to please no one. With criticism coming from all corners and legal challenges looming, the PCs spent Saturday backpedaling on measures announced just one day prior.

The most heated anger was targeted at an emergency provision to close playgrounds and another that gave police stop-and-frisk powers. The former was revoked Saturday, while the PC’s “refocused” the latter by dictating that police officers should only question individuals they suspect are participating in an organized public event or social gathering.

That came after almost every police department in Ontario publicly stated they would not use the expansive powers the province was granting them to enforce the stay-at-home order — which has been extended by another two weeks until at least May 20. Among the province’s 44 municipal police departments, 42 said they would not stop people to demand their identification or purpose for being away from home.

“The Toronto Police Service will continue to engage, educate and enforce, but we will not be doing random stops of people or cars,” said the Toronto Police’s official Twitter account.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association dubbed it a “Black Friday” for civil rights and threatened a legal challenge, but has since put that on pause after the province’s changes.

The Ontario Provincial Police, meanwhile, indicated its officers would be willing to use the new enforcement powers. The OPP is also tasked with setting up checkpoints along the Quebec and Manitoba borders starting today to ensure no one is entering Ontario without a valid reason, such as work.

“As your premier, it falls on me to make the difficult choices; it falls on me to do what’s necessary,” said Premier Doug Ford on Friday, stating his government’s goal was to increase compliance with stay-at-home rules.

Few changes to quash workplace outbreaks
Meanwhile, the medical establishment — including members of the government’s own science table — remains furious that few changes were made to shut down non-essential workplaces where Covid is spreading.

Covid cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions all hit record highs this weekend and are projected to keep climbing unless much tougher measures are enacted, per the latest modelling. “Weak measures” combined with 100,000 vaccine doses administered daily will result in up to 30,000 new cases per day by June.

ICUs will have more than 1,000 patients by the end of the month, no matter what.

“It was one of the darkest days professionally and personally.” Dr. Peter Jüni from the science table told CBC while on the verge of tears. “It’s wrong. It’s just wrong,” he said of the PC’s decision to keep non-essential workplaces in operation while continuing to hold out on paid sick days.

Another science table member, Dr. David Fisman, told Global News Premier Ford has “the science absolutely upside-down,” saying the focus should be on workplaces and other indoor settings.

Even one of the PC’s own, Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas, broke ranks by questioning why the government moved to restrict outdoor activities.

“As the doctors have made it clear they do not feel the data supports this, I cannot help but wonder how this decision came to be made without data and without their support,” wrote Mitas in a letter to the rest of the PC Caucus. “I am vehemently against this decision.”

The PCs placed some restrictions on the construction sector — halting building on hotels, malls and office towers — but most sites that commenced work before this Saturday are cleared to keep operating, including in residential construction.

With City of Toronto data showing Covid outbreaks at sports equipment, mattress and armoured vehicle factories, many critical care physicians want all manufacturing that isn’t directly related to food and medicine production temporarily shuttered.

On Friday, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told reporters the province is doing everything it can to keep workers safe.

PCs in electoral trouble as Liberal support climbs: polls
Meanwhile, three new polls show the PC Party’s once healthy lead over its rivals shrinking as the Covid pandemic rages out of control.

As the government flounders, polls suggest the Liberals are benefiting the most.

A fresh Abacus Data poll has the Progressive Conservatives and the Grits tied with 34 per cent support. This represents a 15-point increase for the Liberals since their drubbing in the 2018 election, and a five percent increase since Abacus’s last survey in January. The PCs have fallen seven points since the election but have held steady at 34 per cent support since January.

Meanwhile, the centre-left Liberals seem to be funnelling support from the New Democrats and the Greens. Abacus has the NDP at 23 per cent support, which is an eight-point decrease from where they were after the election and two points lower than January. The Greens are at five per cent, which is a three-point decrease from the firm’s last poll in January.

The PCs still lead the Liberals by four points in the vote-rich 905, while the Grits have more than double the support in Toronto when compared to the New Democrats, who currently hold most of the city’s seats.

A separate poll from EKOS has the Liberals trailing the PCs by about five points — but the governing party showing a downward trend while OLP and NDP support is on the rise.

“[The PC’s] comfortable lead has been eroding progressively as the pandemic evolves and confidence with Ontario’s handling has dropped sharply. The 13-point lead is now under five-points,” said EKOS founder Frank Graves.

Finally, a third poll, released by Innovative Research on Friday, found the Liberals ahead of the PCs by a hair; 29 per cent compared to 28 per cent, with the NDP at 21 per cent and Greens at eight per cent.

All of the surveys were conducted prior to the PC’s latest public health announcement.