A member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force has resigned from her role after travelling outside of the country during the holidays.
Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of auto-parts manufacturer Linamar Corporation, on Tuesday said she spoke with Premier Doug Ford and retired General Rick Hillier, who chairs the task force, and made the “difficult decision” to step down from her role. She said she did not want her travel to “cause distraction” from the work of the task force, which is helping to chart Ontario’s vaccine rollout plan.
The Globe and Mail inquired on Tuesday about Ms. Hasenfratz’s travel after learning that she was in Barbados over the holidays. Ms. Hasenfratz did not say in her statement where she travelled. Public health officials have for months been urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.
“While it is true that I travelled outside the country over the holidays, I followed all pandemic protocols of both countries and remain in quarantine today as public health guidelines require,” Ms. Hasenfratz said in a statement to the Globe and Mail.
“I regret my decision to travel, and I apologize to the Premier, General Hillier and members of the Task Force for any impact this may have had on their work.”
The nine-member task force, chaired by Mr. Hillier, was struck in early December to advise the government on planning and executing the province’s complex COVID-19 immunization program. The meetings have all taken place virtually as a result of the pandemic.
In a statement, Mr. Ford’s office said the Premier accepted Ms. Hasenfratz’s resignation on Tuesday “after it was brought to his attention that she travelled outside the country in December.” He said she has apologized for her decision to do so.
“Thanks to the efforts of all Ontarians, we are starting to see early signs of progress in bending the curve. Now is not the time to let up. We continue to urge everyone to stay home,” Mr. Ford said.
A spokesman for Mr. Hillier declined to comment.
In late December and early January, a slew of politicians acknowledged travelling abroad, beginning with Ontario MPP Rod Phillips. He resigned as finance minister after revealing that he travelled to St. Barts over the holidays. Two Ontario hospital CEOs have also lost their jobs as a result of travelling during the pandemic.
Linamar is an auto-parts manufacturer that has also retooled operations to make ventilators. In September, Linamar received $2.5-million from the government’s Ontario Together Fund, which helps businesses produce personal protective equipment, to retool its assembly line to manufacture components for 10,000 ventilators. Ms. Hasenfratz has been CEO at Linamar since 2002 and is also the chancellor at the University of Western Ontario.
The other members of the task force are former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders; Ontario’s chief coroner Dirk Huyer, who is co-ordinating the province’s outbreak response; Homer Tien, a trauma surgeon and president and CEO of Ornge, which provides air ambulance services; Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist and assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario; Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network; Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald; Regis Vaillancourt, director of pharmacy at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario; and Angela Mondou, president and CEO of Technation, a national technology industry association.
The Globe and Mail has asked the Premier’s Office whether any other members of the vaccine task force travelled. Dr. Bogoch told The Globe he has not travelled.
Task force members who are not employed in the Ontario Public Service are paid a per diem of $398.00. Mr. Hillier is being paid $20,000 a month to run the task force.
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