Coronavirus Canada Updates: Ontario’s new stay-at-home rules are clear as mud

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Coronavirus Canada Updates: Ontario’s new stay-at-home rules are clear as mud
Coronavirus Canada Updates: Ontario’s new stay-at-home rules are clear as mud

A day after issuing a “stay-at-home” order with so many asterisks, caveats and exceptions that pretty much everyone was left wondering how it will actually change their daily lives, Premier Doug Ford tried to change the channel to vaccines.

His vaccine message at least has the advantage of being easier to understand. It is, in a nutshell, this: We’re organized. We’re ready. We need Ottawa to deliver more doses.

But clamouring for faster vaccine supplies — something Ottawa already agrees is vital and is working overtime to procure — is hardly the best use of the Ford government’s time. Especially when there are so many measures that should be taken immediately (and need to be understood) to slow the trajectory of this terrible pandemic.

Those measures are almost all entirely within the province’s control and the government is not delivering anywhere close to what’s needed. Its latest lockdown rules are such a mess that even Toronto Mayor John Tory says he can’t understand what they mean for the city.

If Tory, who is a lawyer by trade and has been immersed in bureaucratese for decades, can’t understand these new rules, what hope is there for the rest of us?

“The public shouldn’t be expected to do what I’m doing here which is reading a 40-page document from the government of Ontario which is putting forward these regulations,” Tory said on Wednesday morning.

He’s right. They shouldn’t. But what’s even worse is that even after reading that document, Tory, city lawyers and the head of Toronto’s pandemic emergency response, Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, still didn’t know what to make of it.

The province seems to just be hoping it can throw out some dramatic-sounding statements and scare people into doing the right thing and stay home.

“There is no confusion,” Ford stated emphatically. “I hear some elected officials, local ones and other ones, say, ‘oh, it’s confusing.’ Folks, there is no confusion here, it’s very simple. Stay home. Stay home. That’s it.”

It’s all so clear, apparently, that people like Tory who suggest it’s not are the ones who “aren’t being responsible,” according to Ford.

That’s ridiculous, of course. So was Ford’s breezy statement that the stay-at-home order “is the law and it will be enforced.”

Enforced how, exactly?

Ontario says people need to stay home “with exceptions for essential purposes … for exercise or for essential work.”

What is an essential item? An essential trip?

“The Government of Ontario cannot determine what is essential for every person in this province.”

Super. We can already see the pitched battles between the public and police or bylaw officers over whether they’re out for an essential purpose or not. If the government can’t define it, good luck trying to issue tickets over it.

How about essential work?

“Anyone who can work from home must now do so.” But, here again, the province isn’t deciding who that might be. Instead, it is “relying on the best judgment and common sense of employers.”

This, coming from the government that has already complained that mobility data shows that “grey zone” restrictions — its previous ramp-up of lockdown rules — did not result in more people working from home. And pointed out that as many as a third of Ontarians are ignoring public health advice that would decrease the spread of COVID-19.

Yet now the government’s big plan is to rely on employers and everyone else using “judgment and common sense.”

This is a complete abdication of the government’s responsibility. And when these new rules fail to curb the spread of the virus, which seems all but inevitable, Ford will have to search for someone to blame.

He’s already blaming workers for bringing COVID into long-term-care homes when it’s his government that failed to produce the necessary package of measures to protect the vulnerable in care homes.

It shouldn’t be up to millions of individual Ontarians to parse out how the stay-at-home order changes their lives. The government has a responsibility to provide rules that make sense, are easily understood and can be followed.

So far, the Ford government has failed on all counts.

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