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EDITORIAL: Taking control of the narrative (Sept. 2022)

September 27th, 2022 · No Comments

The province is dissolving Ontario’s independent COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and replacing it  with, what one member described, as its exact antithesis. The science table didn’t hesitate to bring attention to facts the government didn’t want to hear, but which the public needed to know. 

Just 48 hours before the surprise decision to shutter the body, the table’s new chair, Dr. Fahad Razak, penned an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail calling on the government to take COVID-19 more seriously. It seems the government, and Premier Ford specifically, does not like being called out. He’s got a fresh approach that hinges on pretending there’s no pandemic. Got a positive test? No worries, you can go back to work or school after your symptoms cease. The premier and his loyal puppet, chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, want you to ignore the science that says you are still contagious. This is not the flu.

Ignoring science and silencing those that espouse it, is Ford’s prayer book for the fall. The next COVID-19 wave will be greeted with the sheer will of denial. It’s not hard to predict the speech that will come soon after:

“Folks it breaks my heart to tell you this, but the chief medical officer of health leaves me no choice. Effective immediately we are locked down again. Please only shop at big box stores.”

Those who have watched the work of the U.S. Congress’s January 6 committee may have seen them interview the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. Milley told the committee that the only order the White House gave to the military while their legislature was under attack was “to take control of the narrative.” This is exactly what Doug Ford is trying to do. 

The science table’s advice and guidance over the past two years has sometimes run contrary to government actions. A key instance of this divide came in February 2021 as the province was preparing to ease health restrictions during a temporary lull in new cases, as new variants were beginning to emerge. The table’s then co-chair, Adalsteinn Brown, was asked by a reporter if the table was “predicting disaster” if the government did not change course. Brown replied in the affirmative.  The government moved ahead with its plan; what followed was the third wave, which at its apex saw 900 patients admitted to the ICU. The government reimposed public health orders. Brown was right. 

The new “science table” will not be allowed to choose its own subjects of study, will not speak directly  to the public, and will just feed the province’s media message through public health, under the thumb of Moore, himself under the thumb of the premier’s office.

The now defunct COVID-19 Science Advisory Table was a loose collection of a few dozen volunteers (all unpaid, but most were on the payroll of a university or health institution). It started at the University of Toronto, and it gave itself a mandate that stressed independent thinking and transparency. It was in part created by a vacuum resulting from the inaction of Public Health Ontario (PHO). PHO was itself created as a result of the province’s bungled response to the SARS crisis. It has a $165 million budget and did nothing in response to the COVID-19 crisis and appears to continue to do nothing. Are we expected to see PHO’s next move as a welcome alternative to the science table? Based on what track record?

Will PHO stand up to its political masters and act in the public interest? Likely not, as we live in a world where the premier’s critics are roundly silenced.


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