Ford not yet ready to place additional restrictions on Halton Region, says local opposition a 'unique situation'
The Ontario government is no longer planning an imminent announcement on whether to move Halton Region into a modified version of Stage 2 with Premier Doug Ford telling reporters that the lack of support among local politicians makes it a “unique situation.”
Ford had said on Friday that officials were going to meet this past weekend to discuss the rising case counts in the parts of the GTA that remain in Stage 3 with a decision on whether to impose additional restrictions expected to be announced today.
His office, however, confirmed to CP24 on Monday morning that no such announcement was coming.
The pivot came one day after a group of Halton Region politicians wrote an open letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams pleading with him not to impose additional “blanket measures” on the region.
Ford has since revealed that the letter was written at his urging following a conversation he had with Oakville Mayor Rob Burton over the weekend.
“Mayor Burton called me and said ‘Hey I don't think we're at that point’ and this is unique because when it came to Ottawa, when it came to Toronto, when it came to Peel, when it came to York, all the mayors agreed. In Halton it is unique because we have none of the mayor's agreeing, we have the regional chair not agreeing and our MPPs not agreeing. So I suggested they write a letter,” Ford said during his daily COVID-19 briefing at Queen’s Park on Monday afternoon.
Halton Region’s seven-day rolling average of new cases is currently 28, which is exactly what it was at this point last week.
Meanwhile, in the only other part of the GTA still in Stage 3 cases are on the rise.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Durham Region is now up to 40, a roughly 43 per cent increase compared to this time last week.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, Ford said that he will “fight all day for any region” when it comes to keeping businesses open but he conceded that when the number of cases “get up as high as in Peel or Toronto you have to come to reality that something has to take place.”
“So far in those four regions it (the justification) is there, I can’t argue the point but can I argue the point in other regions that are close? Yeah and I will all day long because it is all about supporting the small businesses and people and jobs,” he said.
Ford has previously called the level of infection in Halton Region “concerning” but he has also vowed to listen to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams in determining what to do.
In a separate briefing on Monday, Williams confirmed that he has made “no recommendations” to move Halton, or any other region, back into a modified version of Stage 2 as of yet.
Williams did, however, say that Halton was “on the border edge” when he recommended that York Region be moved into a modified version of Stage 2 earlier this month and may yet face additional restrictions.
“When we came up to look at the next cadre in York it was clear it was going and in my mind Halton was on the border edge there, not the same category as the other four, and discussing with the local medical officer of health she was also not convinced yet of that type of measure” he said. “So we said OK lets wait and see how your data flows over the next week or two.”
Oakville’s mayor says residents have listened to Ford’s warnings
The Ford government initially moved Toronto, Peel and Ottawa back into a modified version of Stage 2 on Oct. 10, ordering the suspension of indoor dining at bars and restaurants and the outright closure of gyms, movie theatres and casinos. It then did the same for York Region one week later, citing a positivity rate that had moved past its’ “high alert” range of 2.5 per cent.
In an interview with CP24 earlier on Monday morning, Burton pointed out that Halton Region’s seven-day average has now been below 30 for three consecutive days, something that he said is an encouraging sign in terms of reducing the spread of the virus.
“People, not just the restaurants but the small businesses, the movie theatres, everybody in Oakville, listened to the premier last week when he said don’t make me shut you down, get your numbers down and they did,” Burton said. “You kind of hope that when you have been good you don’t get sent to your room.”
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward also spoke with CP24 earlier on Monday and said that the situation in Halton is different than it is in the so-called hot spots of Toronto, Peel, Ottawa and York with fewer infections “by a longshot.”
For his part, Ford said that while he will always listen to epidemiologists and public health experts, he believes that he also has a responsibility to take the input of mayors and other local officials into account.
“Every single time we go to roll back I have contacted all of the mayors and everyone was in consensus, so when they aren’t it is concerning to me,” he said.
It should be noted that several mayors have previously spoken out against increased restrictions in their communities.
In fact, just one day before Toronto, Peel and Ottawa were moved into a modified version of Stage 2, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie held a news conference where she said that new restrictions were not “warranted or needed” in her community.
Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas also said on Twitter on Monday that he voiced his concerns about York Region being moved back into a modified version of Stage 2.
“I was not in favour of this decision,” he said.