Opinion

Adam: Ford government’s show of humility may be a good start toward better COVID policy

Every leader in the world handling the pandemic has made mistakes. But Ontarians have no choice other than to trust the Conservatives, who are at least correcting some of theirs.

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A little humility makes a better leader, and it was heartening to see a contrite Premier Doug Ford acknowledge mistakes in the government’s handling of COVID-19 measures, and apologize to Ontarians.

“We got it wrong, we made a mistake and for that I am sorry and apologize to every one of you,” an emotional Ford said Thursday.

Acknowledging that he, unlike many workers across the province, can self-isolate without any fear of losing pay, he also said the government is considering some form of paid sick leave, something Ford had resisted for months. He did not, however, reveal a specific plan. Let’s have one soon.

After House Leader Paul Calandra and Health Minister Christine Elliott’s mea culpa a few days earlier – which Ford would have approved – it would have been untenable for the premier to not publicly take responsibility.

Calandra had said publicly that the government needs “to do a better job.” And it would have looked bad to let only cabinet minsters face up to the government’s mistakes. Ford is, after all, the boss, and part of the mark of leadership is the ability to take personal responsibility when things go wrong, learn from them and become stronger. On Thursday, the wheels slowly began to turn in the right direction.

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There is no doubt that Ford’s political future is hanging by a thread, and politically, his apology was an important first step in what is now a political reclamation project. The timing couldn’t have been better. Actually, it was a masterstroke. Speaking to Ontarians from home while isolating because he came into contact with an aide who tested positive for COVID-19, makes him a lot more sympathetic and relatable.

The chastened Ford who laid bare his emotions was far from the garrulous premier who spent time last week shifting blame. Everything has a political tinge, and his handlers would have come away from Thursday feeling a lot better than they have in a long time.

The pandemic has certainly tested every leader, and facing such an unprecedented challenge, mistakes are inevitable. But the problem with the Ontario government during this third wave of COVID-19 seems to be confusion over what to do when the science is clear. The government often doesn’t seem to know what it wants, and doesn’t appear to listen to those who know. Ford has to become a better crisis manager. He cannot make similar mistakes again.

The government can’t be bumbling its way through its pandemic response. It can’t be taking three tries before getting its COVID-19 measures right. We can’t have decisions that are made one day and retracted the next. When that happens – and it has happened too many times for comfort – it feels like a government unsure of its footing, and what Elliott admitted earlier this week about the government’s decision-making said it all. The fact that the government didn’t even see coming the furor over police powers is troubling. And to learn that chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams and other health advisers did not recommend new police powers or closure of playgrounds, makes you wonder who the government listens to.

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Every leader in the world handling the pandemic has made mistakes. Someone like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is now held up as an exemplar of good COVID response, was not so exemplary at the beginning. He faced heavy criticism for mishandling the pandemic, but obviously learned from his mistakes and grew into the job. Ford has a chance now to do the same thing.

The pandemic is still surging, and there are more important decisions to make. Some public health units are already taking unilateral action to fight COVID-19 and Ford needs to take control. We can’t have public health officers across the province charting different courses because that only breeds chaos.

Ontarians have no other choice but to continue to rely on his leadership. There is a long way to go before this scourge is over, and let’s hope Ford is now up to the challenge

Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Reach him at: nylamiles48@gmail.com

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