In a Thursday morning press conference, Ontario’s embattled premier Doug Ford appeared to choke up as he apologized for moving “too fast” to enact a police state to enforce new COVID-19 restrictions that no experts called for last week.
“Simply put, we got it wrong. We made a mistake. These decisions, they left a lot of people very concerned,” he said. “I’m sorry, and I apologize to each and every one of you.”
After months of refusing to implement paid sick leave, which doctors and labour experts have said will help curb the spread of COVID-19, Ford said the province is now working on “filling those gaps.”
Notably, the announcement came as Ford was isolated at his late mother’s home because he was exposed to someone who had COVID-19 at his workplace. Aides were reportedly rushing to teach him how to use a laptop from home as he uses an outdated BlackBerry for work.
“It is not lost on me that unlike many people, I’m able to isolate and continue working,” he said on the Zoom press conference. “It isn’t enough to know you can't lose your job, you also need to know you won’t lose your income.”
Ford’s voice shook and he repeatedly took sips of water as he talked about families who’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones without being able to hold their hands and healthcare workers who’ve been “pushed to the absolute limit.”
As the premier went to tearfully discuss how the pandemic has affected “every single person,” the live feed cut out for several moments.
During the media scrum, Globe and Mail journalist Laura Stone grilled Ford on specifics around his mea culpa.
“I’m wondering if you can tell Ontarians what exactly you’re sorry for?” Stone asked. “You talked about off the top essentially instituting province-wide carding which all the police forces came out immediately against. Is that what you’re sorry for? Are you sorry for closing playgrounds? Are you sorry for not limiting essential business as scientific advisors have called for? Are you sorry for not implementing paid sick leave for the past year? What exactly are you sorry for and what are you going to do about it?”
In response, Ford said his government “moved too quick” to limit mobility in the province in response to modelling numbers that showed Ontario could see up to 15,000 COVID-19 cases a day. He has been criticized for moving too slowly to curb workplace spread.
He also said he never directed police to card people, even though the order he issued Friday, which has since been walked back, allowed police to stop and question anyone.
“This is about mobility,” he said. “This is not about telling people you can’t go walk in the park or take a jog or ride on the bike.”
On Wednesday, VICE World News reported on an Ontario Provincial Police officer recorded on video shoving a child off a scooter at a skate park as part of Ford’s latest crackdown on outdoor activity.
Ford said he’s gotten advice from “hundreds” of doctors. He alternated between saying Ontario’s had some of the toughest lockdown measures in the world and saying he doesn’t want to take on “draconian” measures like curfews.
Ford did not comment on the fact that he cancelled Ontario’s paid sick leave program after he was elected. He said his paid sick leave program will be “one of the best” in North America, although he offered zero specifics on what it might look like or when it would come into effect.
The Ontario premier has previously pushed back on calls for paid sick leave for the province’s workers, saying the federal government’s sick leave benefit was adequate. But on Thursday he reversed course, saying his plan, whatever it is, would fix the gaps in Justin Trudeau’s plan. The federal plan is retroactive, meaning workers receive their benefit after they’ve missed work. Provincial paid sick leave would mean workers can stay home without their paycheque being affected.
A recent poll showed paid sick leave to be incredibly popular among Ontario residents.
Asked about the calls for his resignation and his “raging ineptitude,” Ford said he’s not one to leave anything.
“We’re going to continue to lead and get through this pandemic.”
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