The Ontario government is turning down a request by Toronto-area mayors to implement a mandatory mask order for all large municipalities, saying a provincial masking policy "isn't necessary."
In a joint statement issued on Monday, the Mayors of Toronto, Markham, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga called on the government to issue a "mandatory face covering measure" for indoor settings in the province's most populated regions.
"We are at a critical time in the fight against COVID-19. We must do everything we can to avoid flare-ups of the virus in our communities," the statement reads.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told CTV News Toronto on Monday that local medical officers of health have the power under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act to impose their own mandatory mask orders "ensuring responsiveness to local needs without applying same policy to regions with little to no COVID."
The push for a mandatory mask order was initially raised by Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti as his city entered the second stage of the province's reopening plan in mid-June. At the time, Scarpitti argued that residents in Toronto, which was still a hotspot for new COVID-19 cases, could easily travel north and possibly spread the virus.
Since then, however, Scarpitti has convinced other mayors to launch a joint offensive -- asking the province to implement a regional masking policy, while also promising to implement local bylaws if the Ford government doesn't act.
"We want to see consistency across the GTA," Scarpitti told CTV News Toronto on Monday. "The rule of requiring masks indoors should be on a much wider basis than even the region of York, making it less confusing for the public."
While the mayors argued residents would be better served with a uniform approach, they also made an economic pitch to a premier whose primary focus is on the health of province's economy as well as that of its citizens.
"The whole idea behind this is let's get into phase three sooner rather than later," Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said Monday. "So perhaps we can open some of those restaurants [for] internal dining rather than just patio dining."
Ontario's Associate Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, indicated that while "everything is under consideration" the province is still "strongly recommending" the use of non-medical masks in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
"Certainly we would consider every option ... but depending on the evidence. If we see a lot of people are not complying it may be better to [make it] mandatory. But at this point we're sticking with strongly encouraging," Yaffe said.
Yaffe said case numbers, general observations by the provincial COVID-19 command table and anecdotal evidence could be determining factors in crafting such a policy.
Ford has repeatedly made the argument, both in public and in private conversations with local politicians, that a mandatory mask order would be difficult to enforce in northern Ontario, citing that as the chief reason why his government has been reluctant to issue such an order.
Crombie points out a number of municipal bylaws are difficult to enforce, but the laws are still on the books regardless.
"Pets on a leash would be difficult to enforce, certainly smoking is difficult to enforce, but we know it's the right thing."
Markham, Mississauga and Brampton are now preparing bylaws to make masks mandatory in all indoor settings, mirroring their policy requiring face coverings on public transit which comes into effect on July 2.
Toronto is set to discuss the issue at a City Council meeting this week.