Premier Ford takes 'responsibility' for Ontario's long-term care sector, gets called out for 'hollow gesture'
TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his minister of long-term care and accepted responsibility for the future of the sector, after a report detailed the government’s missteps when COVID-19 ravaged the province’s nursing homes where nearly 4,000 residents died.
Ford, who returned to Queen’s Park after isolating at an Etobicoke residence for two weeks after a COVID-19 exposure, expressed “full confidence” in Minister Merrilee Fullerton and said the blame should be directed towards him instead.
“I know it’s easy for the Leader of the Opposition to blame my great minister, but the buck stops with me; that’s who it stops with. It stops with me and I’ll take responsibility,” Ford said during question period.
The acknowledgement comes days after the COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission concluded that the Ford government was slow and reactive when responding to COVID-19 and failed to learn the lessons of the first wave, leading to a greater loss of life during the second wave.
While the premier called COVID-19’s rampage in long-term care a “terrible situation” -- which Ford noted also took place in homes across Canada, in the U.S. and around the world -- he stopped short of apologizing or taking responsibility for actual loss of life.
Instead, the premier said his government is focused on repairing a system that the commission described as neglected.
“We are going to make sure we fix it. I will take personal responsibility. We will make sure that we have rapid builds. We’re going to make sure we hit our target of 30,000 new beds over the next 10 years. We’re well on our way. This will never happen again,” Ford said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called it a “hollow gesture” from the premier with little accountability attached.
“For him to flippantly say ‘I take responsibility’ but then not act, then not show the people of Ontario that he's prepared to fire the minister, who allowed all of this to happen. It's an insult,” Horwath told reporters at Queen’s Park.
Fullerton defended her actions, on Wednesday, by saying “there’s enough blame to go around” while at the same time saying it is “not productive” to lay blame.
Fullerton, herself, has pointed the finger at the previous Liberal government, the NDP and public health officials while also saying community spread and variants of concern worsened the situation in long-term care homes.
Fullerton said she does take responsibility for the well-being of residents and staff in long-term care.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the minister’s continuous deflections raise concerns about the government's commitment to fixing the long-standing issues in the sector.
“I don't have confidence and I don't think that people of Ontario have confidence that she can truly fix long-term care, and she should get out of the way and there should be somebody put in place, who will take responsibility, who will be held accountable, and who will commit to implementing the recommendations in the LTC commission report,” Schreiner said.