Ontario's auditor general has penned a highly critical review of the Doug Ford Government's response to the months-long COVID-19 crisis.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's report on the pandemic was particularly harsh in suggesting that Ontario's top doctor, Dr. David Williams “did not fully” exercise his powers under the Health Protections and Promotions Act. Lysyk stated that in comparison to other provinces, Ontario was “slower and more reactive,” failing to learn valuable lessons from previous viral outbreaks, such as the 2003 SARS pandemic.
“The SARS Commission’s final report identified taking preventative measures to protect the public’s health even in the absence of complete information and scientific certainty,” the auditor's report reads. “Instead, we found systemic issues and delays in decision-making.”
Lysyk's report highlighted the early stages of the pandemic as a particular area of trouble, with leadership struggling with an outdated emergency plan and a shortage of staff that prompted the hiring of an external consultant, an additional expense of $1.6 million.
It wasn't until weeks after Premier Ford had declared a state of emergency, shutting down much of the province, before the newly-formed COVID-19 Central Command Table held its first meeting. Lysyk was critical of the bloated growth of this group, having started with just 21 people before ballooning to 500, the auditor described it as “overly cumbersome.”
More evidence of the government's slow response was found in the slow decision-making process. For example, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams issued a memo on June 21, eight weeks after the first farm outbreak, “strongly recommending” local medical officers issue directives to decrease transmission risks among migrant workers in the agriculture sector.
The report outlined how an associate of Dr. Williams recommended the mandatory masking of long-term care workers on March 18, near the peak of the crisis that occurred inside Ontario's long-term care homes, yet, according to Lysyk, “no immediate province-wide action was taken.”
Lysyk also found that Dr. Williams “neither played a leadership role nor fully exercised his powers to ensure timely and consistent responses by local public health units and health care providers.”