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Doug Ford removes York Centre MPP from caucus after anti-lockdown letter

Last Updated Jan 15, 2021 at 4:27 pm EDT

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks during a press conference during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Friday, November 20, 2020. Ontario is moving the COVID-19 hot spots of Toronto and Peel Region into lockdown starting Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Summary

York Centre MPP Roman Baber called on Premier to end the lockdown, saying it is ‘deadlier than COVID.’


Province and other healthcare officials staunchly refuted Baber's claims


Ford called Baber’s comments irresponsible and accused him of spreading misinformation


The Conservative MPP for York Centre has been removed from caucus after releasing an open letter calling on the premier to end the lockdown, saying it is ‘deadlier than COVID.’

In the letter, Roman Baber claimed Ontario’s hospital and ICU capacity are actually better than in the last three years and that the crisis is largely limited to long-term care homes — assertions the province and a number of healthcare officials have staunchly refuted (see fact sheet below).

Dr. Abe Oudshoorn, Assistant Professor at the School of Nursing at Western University, was one of a number of doctors who took to social media to challenge Baber’s claims, pointing out the MPPs numbers just don’t add up.

“One of the concerns that many of us have had throughout the pandemic is the downplaying of the seriousness of these conditions. I was really concerned when I saw this letter that the statistics are off by an order of magnitude of 100,” Dr. Oudshoorn tells 680 NEWS. He points out that Baber’s statistic of .054 per cent when it comes to infection fatality rates for people age 70-plus is actually 5.4 per cent.

CityNews checked the source material that Baber linked to, and found that he added a per cent sign to what was a ratio that the CDC had published.

“Changing the magnitude by a 100 fold is going to be the difference between a few dozen people having died versus thousands of people having died. It just greatly downplays the absolute seriousness of COVID-19,” said Dr. Oudshoorn.

Baber also stated that with all long-term care residents in the province’s hot zones scheduled to be vaccinated by January 21, there’s much less justification for the lockdown.

Dr. Oudshoorn says the problem with that logic is the evidence showing that the condition is spreading widely amongst all of the population.

“It’s really important for everyone to know that while the majority of deaths might be amongst those 60-plus, there’s infection happening amongst the whole population. These massive underestimations in his numbers, I’m just afraid it will cause people not to take this seriously as they should be.”


RELATED: Stay-at-home order now in effect across Ontario


Barber also stated that the lockdown has caused “an avalanche of suicides.”

In its fact sheet, the province replied: “Based on preliminary data and analysis, the Office of The Chief Coroner for Ontario has not observed an increase in the number of suicides that occurred from January 2020 to June 2020, when compared with data from recent years.”

The CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario Division, released a statement throwing support behind lockdown measures and deriding Baber’s letter, saying it “mischaracterized CMHA research.”

“The data shows that suicidal ideation has increased but that’s due to the overall impact of the pandemic,” Camille Quenneville wrote. “At a time when so many Ontarians are struggling, we are disappointed that the MPP has for political purposes misconstrued statistics about the sensitive subject of suicidal ideation.

Quenneville did note the mental affects the pandemic is having on citizens and confirmed an increase in overdoses and substance abuse.

“We are also in continual conversation with government officials about how the pandemic is impacting the mental health of Ontarians. People have become more stressed, worried, and depressed since the pandemic began. Substance use is also up and, tragically, opioid overdoses have increased at alarming levels.”

Dr. Oudshoorn adds that Baber’s letter does a disservice to the multitude of frontline healthcare workers who have been battling this virus from the very beginning.

“It’s really disappointing to see people in our government using this information and sharing that publicly. …it’s just really shameful to have folks giving misinformation that might make our jobs harder and might make this worse for everyone.”

 

Premier Doug Ford released a statement Friday morning, saying Baber will no longer be sitting as a member of the PC caucus and will not be permitted to seek re-election as a PC member.

“I am the first to recognize that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on people. However, as Premier, my number one priority is the health and safety of all Ontarians. We must respect the advice and recommendations of public health officials and the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” Ford’s statement read.

“Mr. Baber’s comments are irresponsible. By spreading misinformation he is undermining the tireless efforts of our frontline health care workers at this critical time, and he is putting people at risk. I will not jeopardize a single Ontarian’s life by ignoring public health advice.”


RELATED: COVID-19 cases in Ontario could hit 12K per day if U.K. variant spreads: modelling


Baber told 680 NEWS he’s spoken to the premier “extensively” over the course of this situation prior to sending his letter, and called Ford’s comments about misinformation “dangerous.”

“It’s a little early for me to digest the politics of the situation,” said Baber regarding his removal from caucus. “I think it’s important that voices are heard and I think it’s important that we get a conversation going about where we are, and not just the risk of this very real virus, but a public conversation about the danger of the lockdowns.”

Deputy premier and Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott says she and the Ford government were caught off guard.

“I knew that he wasn’t completely happy with what we were doing but I certainly never anticipated that he would come forward publicly like this,” Elliott told 680 NEWS.

“His [actions] disrespect families that have lost a loved one.”

Later Friday morning, the province released a fact sheet disputing Barber’s dubious statistics, and even poking fun at a glaring spelling mistake in his letter. (Read fact sheet below)

MPP Baber Fact Sheet by CityNewsToronto on Scribd

This is not the first time Baber has landed in hot water. He was forced to backtrack two years ago when he yelled “what are you still doing here?” to former Premier Kathleen Wynne during a heated debate in the legislature.

Baber, who was elected to the legislature in 2018, is the fourth member to be expelled from Ford’s caucus – joining Belinda Karahalios, Randy Hillier, and Jim Wilson.

Last June, Karahalios was kicked out of caucus by Ford for voting against a sweeping law that extended pandemic emergency orders. Karahalios, who represents a Cambridge riding, had said she opposed the measure because it gave Ford’s government too much power.

Hillier was first suspended and later permanently expelled for comments he reportedly made to parents of children with autism.

Wilson resigned from cabinet and the Tory caucus “to seek treatment for addiction issues.” He has since returned to the legislature and sits in the back row as an independent.