By: Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader
Eganville — When Ontario Premier Rob Ford came out with an announcement on Friday bringing in stricter measures to try to contain the burgeoning COVID-19 outbreak in the province there was a very mixed reaction among Ontarians, with several local mayors agreeing there were some items they questioned but all expressing support for the premier.
Some of the areas of greatest discontent by the public and also expressed by local politicians were the increased powers given to by-law officers and police to stop people and ask what they were dong outside the home when the province is in a Stay-At-Home situation. Others were upset about restrictions on outside movement including playgrounds, golf courses and activities with others outdoor.
Despite the widespread concerns, Renfrew County mayors who were randomly polled were hesitant to criticize the premier, noting most would not want to be in his shoes in this exceedingly difficult time.
Confusing for Residents
Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy was reticent to complain about how the provincial government has handled lockdown and stay-at-home orders but did say the timing made it slightly problematic.
“I think the way it came down was confusing,” she said. “At four o’clock on Friday afternoon trying to close down playgrounds was extremely bad timing for our small municipalities to get our staff out to close the playgrounds.”
It was also confusing for parents taking their children to the park and finding tape closing the playgrounds and because of this, and other reasons, a lot of ratepayers have been calling her with questions on the weekend, she said.
This is the second time an announcement came right before the weekend. The previous time was Holy Thursday and there was a lot of confusion then too.
“If I am confused, and my council is confused, how am I ever supposed to ask the general public to understand the message?” she asked. “I need to be there for our people as well and people are reaching out.
“All in all, he is probably doing the best he can,” she said of Premier Ford. “He is probably exhausted. I hate to come down on him at this time.”
She noted she was unsure if other mayors would feel that way and said it would be interesting to see what would happen at a province-wide session with all 444 mayors and the premier on Tuesday morning. Dealing with the COVID pandemic is crucial, she stressed.
“We are in a scary situation,” she said. “What he did is appropriate in some sectors, but I don’t agree with closing golf courses and tennis courts.
“As the weather gets nicer, people want to do more things outside,” she added.
It would make much more sense to have the Amazon warehouses and Canada Post warehouses on modified duties to limit transmission, she said.
“I’m glad they closed down non-essential goods in big box stores,” she said.
There have been some errors like how policing powers were accelerated, she said, pointing out many police departments also questioned this.
Mayor Murphy urged area residents to keep following the provincial and health unit directives.
“If we take this seriously, we will get through this,” she said.
Like others, she said she is suffering from COVID-fatigue.
“I’m missing human contact and the connection with residents,” she said. “And our events, like Canada Day or the opening of McRae Park. The events are the bright spot of government.”
No Criticism From Stack
Arnprior Mayor Walter Stack has a reputation as a straight shooter, but he did not really have any words of criticism for Premier Ford or the Ontario government’s handling of the pandemic.
“I would not want to be in their shoes,” he noted when reached by phone while doing some outside chores on Monday. “We are living through something for the first time and it is hard.”
Mayor Stack said while there might be some more “practical” solutions from a business perspective, he just wants people to follow provincial and health directives and for the pandemic to be over with.
“It has been two years since we have seen our grandkids now,” he noted.
With his grandchildren living in Saskatchewan, there had been some hope they would be able to see each other this summer, but with provincial borders shutting down and uncertainties about the summer, he said he feared it might be a bit longer.
With Arnprior just at the eastern edge of Ottawa, there is a lot more mobility there going to the Nation’s Capital and this is an area that has had more COVID-19 cases than the county has seen.
“People go there for health care and work and entertainment,” he said. “When the city gets closed down, there is a risk they come to us.”
Mayor Stack said he is urging people to follow the guidelines established during the pandemic.
“It is frustrating anyone of adult age can’t buckle down until this is under control,” he said. “I talk to some people who don’t believe this is real.”
Mayor Stack said he has not heard a lot of negative opinions in Arnprior about the provincial response or the most recent lockdown and stay-at-home order.
“I have tremendous respect for Premier Ford and the government,” he added. “You will not get complaints from me.”
Peckett Urges Vaccination
Neighbouring Mayor Tom Peckett of McNab/Braeside also deals with the proximity to Ottawa, but he was especially frustrated to see some of his municipal residents having to go to the city for their vaccines. He wondered if more could be done to make sure the County of Renfrew received enough doses for its citizens.
“I don’t understand why people in the county are having to wait until the end of May to get vaccines,” he said. “That is not acceptable.”
However, Mayor Peckett was not criticizing Premier Ford for this, but did not mince words on criticizing another leader.
“If I was Prime Minister Trudeau, I would have locked down the airports a long time ago,” he said. “I think Premier Ford is doing the best he can. He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.”
Mayor Peckett added while he knows more must be done in hard hit areas to keep the virus contained, he was somewhat disappointed to see the province-wide approach brought in.
“I was slightly disappointed an area that are behaving themselves and following guidelines like we have done in Renfrew County, that we are caught up in the lockdown, but I understand it,” he said. “I did not agree with the police being able to stop people randomly, but I see they have taken that away.”
Unfortunately, people have not been following the directives, he said.
“Human nature is a lot of people are doing what they want,” he said. “They are endangering the lives of others, some in their own family.”
Vaccination is important, he added. Mayor Peckett said he was pleased to receive his dose of the Pfizer vaccine on April 15 in the county, since he falls in the appropriate age bracket. He said he had no reaction at all.
For those hesitating to get the vaccine, he said they should not.
“Don’t be foolish,” Mayor Peckett said. “Get your vaccine.”
The Golf Course Can Wait
Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet is known to be an avid golfer, perhaps in part due to his Scottish heritage, and pre-pandemic was known to travel stateside for some spring golf, but with the warm days of spring he had no criticism for Premier Ford shutting down the golf courses.
“There will be lots of time to golf when this is all done,” he said.
While some people are upset about the golf courses being shut down, Mayor Sweet was not complaining.
“That is too bad,” he said. “I am as anxious as anyone to get out there, but I want to do it safely.”
He pointed out golf is a very social sport and part of it is the after-golf beer, so if there needs to be a control on that, so be it.
In fact, Mayor Sweet was very reluctant to criticize Premier Ford for his decisions.
“I don’t know if I can criticize the premier,” he said. “I do think he is doing what is essential. The challenge is to get people to understand we are in the middle of a pandemic.”
Some people just are not taking the provincial, municipal or health unit directives seriously, he noted.
“Are there inequities?” he asked. “I suppose there are. We all have to do our best.
“Premier Ford has been a straight shooter in this situation.”
Like others, Mayor Sweet did question some of the police powers to stop people.
“We do have to stay home,” he said. “The big challenge is one size does not fit all.”
While some areas have done a better job than others in abiding by regulations, this can be frustrating, he said.
“We are all tired of this situation,” he said. “If we toe the line for four, or five or six weeks, we can have the freedom to do more things.”
Mayor Sweet pointed out he desperately needs a haircut.
“Talk to my hair,” he said. “My hair signifies that.”
Because of his age, Mayor Sweet was able to get a first dose of the vaccine a few weeks ago and he could not be more pleased.
“I’m anxious to get my second dose,” he said. “I trust in the science and those who are more educated in these things than I am.”
With a bit of discomfort in the injection site, he said it was no different than a flu vaccine.
Listen To Science Advisors
Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue, who is busy in calving season, took a few minutes to share his opinions while checking on his herd.
“The premier had to respond to the surging numbers,” he said. “Within the military they say, you can’t fight the last battle and this is different from what we experienced a year ago.”
Mayor Donohue said he is concerned it was premature to come out of lockdown in February when the variants of concern were already present in the province. While the County of Renfrew saw very few cases last year at this time and it took a long time to reach 40 cases, now it seems like they are 40 new cases each week, he noted.
“COVID has bared its fangs and showed it is capable of mutating,” he said. “Our experience locally is quite concerning to see seven hospitalized and three in intensive care.”
As well, there has been a false sense of security with the arrival of vaccines, even though many people have not received a first or second dose of a vaccine, he said.
“Wishful thinking that the vaccines had arrived has put complacency to the test,” he noted.
Mayor Donohue pointed out while he does not have access to either the provincial or federal scientific advisory table, the premier, as well as the prime minister do. The rise in cases was foreseeable according to those advisors and provincial leaders need to listen to them, he added.
“We need to remove the fuel from the wildfire,” he said.
The province is now considering paid sick leave and this is a good move, he said. This way employees don’t have to worry about putting food on the table or paying rent if they suspect they are ill. He said it was also good to see the province reverse the closure of playgrounds and he hopes they will do the same with golf courses.
As spring calving season continues on the Donohue farm, he said people need to follow the provincial directives during this crucial time with the contagious variants.
“This will continue to suck up the oxygen in the room until we have herd immunity,” he said. “Hopefully, that is Canada Day. I don’t know if it is that day or if we can plan activities, but I’m hoping we make great strides by early summer and we can return to normal.”
By: Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader