Premier Ford says Ontario MPP who posed maskless in group photo will not be demoted
TORONTO -- The head of Ontario’s hospital lobby is calling for a Niagara PC MPP to be punished after he was seen in pictures at a banquet hall standing shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other people without wearing masks.
Sam Oosterhoff posted several images of him posing with about 40 other people at an unnamed banquet hall over the weekend.
In the now-deleted photos, Oosterhoff, who serves as parliamentary assistant to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, is packed tightly with other people for several group photos.
“Great evening, take your pic(k),” Oosterhoff wrote in the post with four associated images.
The photo prompted Ontario Hospital Association President Anthony Dale, who is already a vocal critic of the Ford government’s handling of the fall second wave, to tweet that Oosterhoff should lose his position as parliamentary secretary as a result.
In response, Oosterhoff’s office told CP24 the banquet hall was following rules for distancing but he should have worn a mask when grouping together with others for a photo.
“This was an event at a staffed banquet hall, with under 50 people, including 5 tables distanced and limited to under ten people at each,” he told CP24. “However, I should have worn a mask when we took a quick pic, given the proximity of everyone, and I apologize for failing to do so.”
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said Oosterhoff would not be demoted or face any other punishment for the photo.
“He’s a great representative, I am proud to have him on the team and he will continue to be the (parliamentary assistant) to the minister,” Ford said. “He’s doing a great job.”
The picture became fodder in question period on Monday, with NDP leader Andrea Horwath asking the premier about the photo.
"This weekend two government MPPs wrote the premier warning that people may start ignoring public health advice and the member for Niagara West, as we all saw, literally posed for a photo where he violated public health guidelines with over 40 of his friends and family. So why is the premier’s own team challenging and outright ignoring his directions." she asked.
Government House Leader Paul Calandra replied that he and Ford had spoken with Oosterhoff and accepted his apology.
Niagara Region has seen higher numbers of infections in recent days, but remains one of 29 regions where banquet halls are allowed to operate, provided physical distancing and hygiene guidelines are maintained and no more than 50 people attend.
The region had 112 active cases of novel coronavirus infection on Sunday night, with 68 deaths and three people in hospital receiving treatment.
A parliamentary assisstant is paid an additional $16,600 on top of a $116,500 salary for MPPs.
--With files from 610 CKTB’s Bonnie Heslop