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COMMENTARY | Ford needs to act, Oosterhoff needs to go

I t seems like just yesterday that Premier Doug Ford was calling partygoers, “A few fries short of a happy meal.

It seems like just yesterday that Premier Doug Ford was calling partygoers, “A few fries short of a happy meal.”

Now, when the partygoer is Sam Oosterhoff, Niagara West’s Conservative MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, along with a group of his friends and family, Ford says, “Hey guys, everyone makes mistakes.”

Ford is referring to the photos Oosteroff recently posted to Twitter showing a group of approximately 40 of his family and friends gathering at Betty’s Restaurant, in Chippawa. As they packed tightly together for the photographer, no one was social distancing and no one was wearing a mask.

Screencap of MPP Sam Oosterhoff's Facebook post of photos taken of partygoers sans masks or social distancing. Oosterhoff later deleted the post, but not before several users had reposted it elsewhere. TWITTER

Oosterhoff’s actions cannot possibly be called a mistake. Any thinking person would take less than a second to be horrified by the photo in question, and realize that it was wrong. Sam Oosterhoff and this group of people simply chose not to follow public health guidelines, not to respect the safety of others, and to flaunt this disrespect on Twitter.

The owner of Betty’s Restaurant, where the party took place, is on public record stating that his staff asked the Oosterhoff party to follow provincial and Niagara Health guidelines, and they did not.

A COVID mistake is when you have watched your two-year-old granddaughter play in her backyard while maintaining your distance, doing the best you can to keep everyone safe; and then, when she trips and strikes her head, you instinctively reach out to comfort her. That’s a mistake.

Oosterhoff’s actions were not a mistake. Even without the warning from Betty’s staff, it is incredulous that at least one person in the Oosterhoff group did not know that what they did to achieve the photos defied common sense and was in contempt of the public safety during this pandemic. Did Sam Oosterhoff, the leader of our local Conservative riding, speak out to his group? Did he even attempt to encourage his group to follow the rules? We’ll never know.

It is this same duplicity—Premiere Ford’s unwillingness to call out this member of his own legislature—that drives me, and so many other Ontarians, crazy.

“Premier Dad,” as he became known for his folksy, straight- from-the-heart news conferences, needs to give Oosterhoff a “time out” for the balance of his term.

By not immediately demanding that Oosterhoff resign, Premier Ford has diminished the value of his own words, and shown clearly that he is not prepared to treat all Ontarians equally.

Day after day, in countless addresses to the people of Ontario, Ford has stood at his microphone and chastised those that have failed to follow provincial COVID guidelines and rules. The street parties thrown by young people were his early target, as were private weddings and birthdays parties attended by too many people. As summer came and went, beach time and picnics attracted his wrath—each group of offenders being called out with a version of his trademark, “What don’t you get?” and, “There will be consequences.”

And now, when Sam Oosterhoff shows the incredibly bad judgment to gather indoors without social distance, without masks, Ford will not act, and there have been no consequences.

This has nothing to do with political partisanship. It has only to do with the integrity of Premier Ford’s response to Oosterhoff’s failure to comprehend how reckless his actions were, and how he and his family and friends have blatantly disregarded the standards to which his own government demand all others in Ontario adhere.

Apologizing and saying that he should have worn a mask for the photo is an insincere abdication of personal responsibility by Osterhoff, and indicates that he is incapable of understanding the fears and needs of the Ontario population at large.

How can he, as Member of Provincial Parliament, be part of any policy decisions regarding COVID that affects school children, the business community, or public health system? Oosterhoff has spent the last seven months immersed in Ontario’s battle to fight this virus, and get our children back to school safely, and yet displays no understanding of the situation and his responsibilities.

Whether parent and child, partners in marriage or business, or society at large, without trust, we simply cannot function. We cannot make positive strides in our society, we cannot better ourselves and help one another to fulfillment. We certainly cannot protect ourselves from COVID in the most effective way without trust in our leaders.

Premier Ford, you said there must be consequences. Yet, for a sitting member of your government, you have imposed none.

I don’t expect perfection from my government, and I understand partisanship. I don’t expect politicians to weigh decisions with only my interests at heart. However, I do expect them to follow their own policies, and act in their best interests of coronavirus safety for all Ontarians.

This case involves no grey area. It is so clear cut, yet in this most straightforward of cases, without partisan implications, you have broken your word to the people of Ontario by failing to act. We deserve better than an MPP that is, in your own words, “A few fries short....”

Columnist John Swart writes on health and wellness issues for the Voice.