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As Omicron sweeps across Ontario, how will it impact Doug Ford's political future? –



Two million Ontario school kids not in class, a near-record number of COVID-19 patients in hospital, and provincewide closures or restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas. 

It’s definitely not how Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives wanted to start off this election year. 

But Omicron doesn’t care about the Ontario political calendar or how beleaguered voters might be feeling after nearly two years of pandemic life: it’s just a virus, a particularly infectious variant spreading through the population “like wildfire,” Ford said Monday.

“We’re going to get hit like a tsunami,” Ford added. “Brace for impact.”  

He was talking about the impact on workforces across Ontario and on hospitals, but his message could just as easily have been directed at his political team. 

While it’s fairly clear what the impact will be in the health system, the impact on Ontario politics is far trickier to forecast. 

WATCH | CBC’s Mike Crawley answers questions about what’s next:

When will Ontario’s COVID-19 public health restrictions end?

5 hours ago

Duration 4:11

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says it’s going to be a tough January because of the Omicron variant. When can we expect things to get back to normal? CBC Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley answers some of the most frequently-asked questions about the road ahead. 4:11

Despite plenty of criticism on Twitter of the Ford government’s handling of the pandemic so far, Twitter isn’t representative of the average voter. 

Every published poll since last spring has showed the PCs leading. Ford’s approval ratings and favourability numbers in published polls remain in the 40 per cent range, and that’s enough for an election win in Ontario politics.

Will this Omicron-driven rise in cases and hospitalizations — or the government’s move to shut schools and ban indoor dining at restaurants in response — spell a drop for Ford in the polls? 

Polling firms that have been tracking Ontarians’ views throughout the pandemic have generally found more voters saying the government was getting it right on COVID-19 restrictions than voters criticizing the measures as either too loose or too tight. 

The chief exceptions: when Ontario neared the second and third waves without imposing significant new restrictions. That’s when the pollsters found growth in voters feeling the government wasn’t doing enough. 

While there may be some people angry at the government over what they perceive as yet another lockdown, that polling evidence suggests the far bigger political risk for Ford and the PCs would have been to do nothing. 

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table urged the government to impose what it called “circuit breaker” public health restrictions back on Dec. 16. In essence, a circuit breaker is what Ontario got three weeks later: the measures that took effect on Wednesday. 

Some two million Ontario students, including four-year-old Sasha Mitsui, are currently learning online as the provincial government has ordered schools closed until Jan. 17. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

We’ll never know what difference it would have made had things kicked in three weeks sooner. We’ll also never know how well Ontarians would have adhered to such measures if they’d been in place over the holiday period. 

As recently as last Thursday, the government seemed headed in the direction of a pretty much normal new year. That’s when Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore announced that school would resume with in-person classes the following Wednesday, only two days later than scheduled. Just 72 hours after that announcement, Ford and his ministers were in an emergency cabinet meeting. 

So, what happened? 

“Ford was inundated with calls from hospital CEOs, labour leaders, corporate presidents and public health officials, warning that Omicron was contributing to mass staffing shortages, which threatened to disrupt the province’s labour force,” writes Robert Benzie, The Toronto Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief, in this story on the reasons behind the government’s moves. 

It’s the first time since the initial declaration of a state of emergency back in March 2020 that the government has brought in significant new restrictions without presenting full-fledged modelling as a justification. 

The modelling presented in mid-December forecast upwards of 10,000 new cases per day by Christmas and that’s exactly what transpired.

A small percentage of those who got infected over the holidays now need care in hospital, but even a tiny percentage of hundreds of thousands of infections still amounts to a lot of patients. The sheer speed of Omicron’s spread also means the nurses and doctors who provide care are getting infected or exposed to COVID-19, stretching Ontario’s burnt-out health-care workforce even more thinly. 

Moore’s forecast that all employment sectors will face 20 to 30 per cent of staff either calling in sick or having to self-isolate due to Omicron factored into the most controversial measure imposed this week, the closure of schools. 

During the pandemic, Ontario has shut down its classrooms and put students into online learning for longer than any other province and more than just about every nation in western Europe

There’s not a great deal of confidence out there among teachers, administrators or parents that regular in-person classes will resume fully on Jan. 17. 

Last June, the Science Advisory Table warned that Ontario’s “relatively heavy reliance on system-wide school closures” risked a range of impacts on kids, including learning loss and deterioration in mental health, in addition to the stress on parents. 

Keeping the schools open amid this Omicron wave would have risked widespread transmission of COVID-19, said a senior political adviser to Ford, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. 

“If we’d opened, we’d have ended up in the same place, and had a tonne of spread in schools,” said the adviser. 

“They were going to close either way. You can’t run a school with 25 per cent of the teachers missing. Nobody likes it, but nobody thinks we have a lot of other options.”  

On Thursday, Ontario reported 2,279 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The province’s record high of 2,360 patients came on April 20, 2021, during the peak of the pandemic’s third wave. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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New documents show census officials concerned about political interference from Trump's Commerce Department – CNN



(CNN)Newly released documents appear to show top career officials at the Census Bureau had drafted a memo of concerns during the Trump administration’s attempts to exert political pressure on the bureau during the 2020 population count.

Other records show career officials alarmed by pressure from political appointees to alter processes for tallying undocumented immigrants and citizenship data that would likely result in GOP gains in the US House of Representatives. The records are among hundreds of documents that the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school obtained in a lawsuit filed in September 2020.
The New York Times was the first to report on the Census Bureau records.
An email among senior officials at the Census Bureau from September 2020 discusses the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau, and what the officials considered to be an “unusually high degree of engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented.”
The email and other documents came out as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit between the Brennan Center and the Department of Commerce, as well as eight other federal agencies. The email shows that the officials drafted a memo and planned to discuss with then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross his apparent interest in areas the Census Bureau officials perceived to be under the bureau’s independent jurisdiction, separate from its parent agency. The issues involved technical aspects of the population count including the privacy of census participants, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals and political pressure for a last-minute push to identify and count undocumented immigrants.
In an email to CNN, Ross said he had no recognition of seeing the memo at any meeting in which the set of topics was discussed with him. The Census Bureau did not return CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
The Census Bureau’s population estimates are used for reapportionment, the process of reallocating House districts among the 50 states. But the Trump administration also wanted the bureau to separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Then-President Donald Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates, CNN reported at the time.
Trump had already sought to use the census as a way to advance his immigration priorities as President. In June 2019, the Supreme Court rejected his administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The FOIA suit ended in October 2020, when the trial court granted the Brennan Center’s motion for a preliminary injunction, forcing the agencies, including the Commerce Department, to produce most of the requested documents to the Brennan Center on a rolling basis. All of the documents were made public last week, revealing for the first time new details about the struggle that senior census officials had faced when counteracting the Trump administration’s political influence at the agency.
Other undated records released as part of the same suit suggest that the Commerce Department planned to have Ross make personal calls to 10 Republican governors in order to lobby them to provide state records to “enhance the frame from which citizenship status is determined.” There was no evidence to suggest that similar calls were made to Democratic governors, according to the Brennan Center’s analysis of the FOIA documents it received.
The records also show that Census Bureau officials tasked with carrying out Trump’s July 2020 memo did not think it was achievable due to timing and technical restraints. In August 2020, emails addressed to then-Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, appointed by Trump, and political appointee Nathaniel Cogley said the bureau “has been consistently pessimistic” about the feasibility of determining undocumented populations and that “under the best, most legally defensible methodology, we are at great risk of not being able to carry out the policy outlined in the Presidential Memorandum by December 31, 2020.”
Another email suggests that political appointees joined the 2020 census count process late in the game when Dillingham introduced two of them to career officials at the bureau in August 2020 “to accomplish much work in a short period of time.” The email states that the two appointees, Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, were “interested in” efforts to produce citizenship data. An internal watchdog report in 2021 cited the two appointees for leading the administration’s efforts to produce a last-minute report on undocumented populations in the final days of the Trump administration.
Soon after the inspector general report revealed the push to produce a tally of noncitizens that career officials said could not be assembled, Dillingham, who denied the accusations of partisan interference at the bureau, resigned nearly a year before his term had been scheduled to end, dashing the possibility of being fired by the then-incoming Biden administration.
Dillingham and Cogley did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. Attempts to reach Overholt have been unsuccessful.
In addition to Ross’ apparent interest in Census Bureau affairs, other FOIA records show the Commerce Department under the Trump administration was in close contact with anti-immigration groups leading up to the 2020 census count.
Records show Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for reduced immigration, emailing directly with Ross in December 2019 about the group’s recent report on “long-term consequences of mass immigration and the apportionment of House seats. … ” The email opens with a reference to a call from Ross.
The FOIA records also reveal a connection between a Commerce Department official and a former Trump adviser known for his work in the administration peddling unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. An email chain shows a Commerce Department employee putting Cogley in contact with the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a member of Trump’s failed voter fraud commission.

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Perspective | Religious opposition to vaccines is rooted in politics, not tradition – The Washington Post



On Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for the nation’s largest employers but allowed the policy to stand for health-care workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. As a result, only 17 million — rather than 84 million — workers will be required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The court questioned President Biden’s legal authority to impose a mandate, placing decisions in the hands of businesses, individuals and state governments rather than the federal government. But the court notably avoided adjudicating the claim that vaccine mandates violate religious liberty — an assertion passionately deployed by religious opponents of vaccines.

Religious exemptions to vaccinations, however, have generally lacked a coherent basis, and those seeking them for coronavirus vaccination face an uphill battle. Religious beliefs have not historically been used as a justification to avoid vaccination, and the recent emergence of religious-based exemptions — animated by partisan politics, fear and debunked scientific studies — is an anomaly. This is not surprising, given that getting vaccinated (to protect yourself and others, especially the most vulnerable) fits neatly into the moral logic of the world’s major religions. This is one reason Pope Francis has called getting vaccinated against the coronavirus an “act of love.”

Mandated public health measures date to the beginning of American history. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington required his troops to be inoculated against smallpox, a process that involved exposing people to the smallpox virus itself. The goal was to produce a mild infection to build immunity, but it carried a non-trivial risk of serious illness or death. Where people objected to inoculation, their concerns were rooted in the potential physical risks.

The first official vaccine mandate in the United States was an 1809 Massachusetts law that granted local health officials the authority to require vaccination against smallpox. Vaccination was safer than inoculation — it consisted of cowpox, a related but less dangerous virus that conferred cross-immunity for smallpox — but it was not without risk, either, and again this inspired some wariness toward it.

Early vaccine hesitancy was thus largely animated by fear of immunization itself. Opposition centered on the claim that the state was forcing individuals to undertake a treatment that was potentially dangerous or, at least, ineffective. And though there were early and small pockets of religious hostility to vaccines, the concept of a “religious exemption” effectively did not exist, and it wouldn’t for some time.

Religious support for vaccinations began to build in the 20th century. After Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine in 1955, many religious believers viewed vaccinations as a gift from God. John Fea, a historian at Messiah University, recently marveled over how newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s chronicled religious leaders of all faiths and denominations, “including evangelical Christians,” talking about the polio vaccine “as a special gift” from God to fight disease.

And this made sense. Before the development of the vaccine, polio ravaged the United States, killing 3,000 children and paralyzing thousands more in 1952 alone. If you were a parent living in the 1950s who viewed the world through a religious prism, it was hard to interpret Salk’s medical innovation in any other way.

But by the 1990s, widespread vaccine hesitancy grounded in religious reasons emerged, growing out of popular anti-vaccine movements that were not religious in nature. Spearheaded by disgraced former physician Andrew Wakefield and endorsed by B-list celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, these movements emphasized the supposed “impurity” of vaccines and the imagined (and sometimes fabricated) risks they posed to children.

The message resonated with some religious communities. Among these groups, vaccine ingredients were objects of particular scrutiny, and anything “unnatural” was seen as a threat to the sacredness of the human body: If your “body is a temple,” everything that enters it needs to be aboveboard.

In the face of this worrying trend, religious authorities of various faiths continue to encourage vaccination, but evidently to limited effect. Today, as we struggle through the worst pandemic in a hundred years, the reality we face is as grim as ever. The people who are vaccine-hesitant no longer constitute a small minority, and more and more are claiming religious exemptions.

As soon as coronavirus vaccine mandates were announced this past summer, affected people petitioned their employers for religious exemptions in droves. A recent survey suggests that as many as 3 in 10 unvaccinated Americans have sought a religious exemption from the coronavirus vaccines. White evangelicals have proved particularly resistant. A Pew Research Center survey from September indicated that up to 40 percent had declined the shot, the highest of any religious group surveyed.

White evangelicals also exemplify the growing politicization of religious identity. They are among the most steadfast supporters of the Republican Party, and around 80 percent voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. This makes it difficult to discern whether individuals are seeking a coronavirus vaccine exemption for a “sincerely held” religious or philosophical belief or oppose vaccination for political or ideological reasons. There is already emerging evidence that flu vaccine uptake has become a partisan issue, indicating that the blending of religious and political beliefs could create serious public health problems in the future.

The trend may be reversible if religious conservatives begin to dissociate their views on vaccines from their political identity. If they look to the moral reasoning and sources of authority within their traditions, they will hear a message on vaccines that differs considerably from those on offer by many Republican leaders. Building on a long history of religious support for vaccination, the message might go something like this: “For the love of God, don’t seek religious exemptions from vaccines.”

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Trailblazer for Women in Canadian Politics, Alexa McDonough, Passes Away at Age 77 – VOCM



A trailblazer for women in Canadian politics has passed away.

Alexa McDonough died this morning at the age of 77 after battling Alzheimer’s Disease.

McDonough made history in 1980, becoming the first female to lead a major political party when she became the leader of the Nova Scotia New Democrat Party, a position she would hold for 14 years.

She would go on to lead the Federal New Democrats in 1995, helping the NDP grow to 21 seats in the House of Commons during her tenure.

She was the recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia.

McDonough will be remembered as a champion for gender equality and social development and programs, as well as a relentless optimist, earning her the nickname, “Iron Angel”.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a celebration of life will occur at a later date.

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