Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Green party Leader Mike Schreiner have tested positive for COVID-19, disrupting their campaigns and renewing attention to the pandemic as an election issue two weeks ahead of voting day.
Both Ms. Horwath and Mr. Schreiner carried out their campaign announcements remotely Thursday after sharing their test results and that they were isolating.
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca continued their in-person campaign events on Thursday, each publicly stating that they tested negative for COVID-19.
On Monday, the four party leaders appeared together for a televised debate at TVO studios in Toronto. Mr. Del Duca said Thursday that debate participants wore masks indoors at TVO, except at the podium for the live exchange hosted by journalists Steve Paikin and Althia Raj.
The NDP and Green leaders’ positive COVID-19 results are a reminder that the pandemic is not over despite the silence around the unresolved issue, according to John Atkinson, executive director of the Ontario Public Health Association. On Wednesday, Public Health Ontario reported 1,565 new COVID-19 cases.
“It also illustrates the lack of the leaders in the parties talking about the importance of public health and community health,” Mr. Atkinson said, adding that past funding cuts to public health, in conjunction with the pandemic, have “weakened” local units. While public-health staff were redeployed to address COVID-19 for the past two years, areas such as immunizations, food safety, addiction and disease prevention have suffered, he said.
Mr. Atkinson would also like to hear more from the party leaders about how public and community health is going to be strengthened and rebuilt to not only prepare for the next health crisis, but to address the current challenges.
As advance polls open across the province, Ms. Horwath expressed disappointment on Thursday that her northern Ontario tour was halted because of her positive COVID-19 test. She appeared in a scheduled Sault Ste. Marie announcement by video from Ottawa. Brampton NDP candidates, meanwhile, were in Vaughan to announce plans to cut Highway 407 tolls for all trucks and transport vehicles. The aim is to move truck traffic onto the private highway for a decade at least, which the NDP says would ease gridlock by redirecting thousands of vehicles each day and cut costs for truckers.
While Ms. Horwath said she was experiencing symptoms, Mr. Schreiner said he was feeling fine and committed to adjusting his campaign when he spoke over Zoom Thursday. He announced his party’s plans for water protection that include a moratorium on gravel mining until proper environmental protections are set up.
“Let’s be clear, Ontario Greens are committed to stopping Doug Ford from paving over our future,” he said.
Mr. Ford was in the Niagara area Thursday to announce plans to build a new and expanded highway bridge over the Welland Canal for Toronto-bound vehicles and rehabilitate the existing Garden City Skyway Bridge to better serve Niagara-bound commuters. Twinning the bridge, he added, could also benefit cross-border trade.
Asked if Ms. Horwath and Mr. Schreiner’s positive COVID-19 results would change his campaign approach, Mr. Ford said: “No, we’re always going to continue to follow the protocols of the chief medical officer.” The PC Leader encouraged Ontarians to continue to follow medical advice from officials.
During Mr. Del Duca’s announcement in Mississauga Thursday, the Ontario Liberal Leader said he had left voicemails with his Green and NDP leadership opponents, wishing them well, later stating during media questions that COVID-19 goes beyond partisan politics. As a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, Mr. Del Duca said he will adhere to health guidelines and test himself daily.
“We still have to be aware of the fact that we’re not all the way through this yet,” he said.
Mr. Del Duca restated his party’s affordability promises such as “buck-a-ride” transit and cutting HST from prepared food purchases under $20. He also said the Liberal Party would reduce the gas tax by 5.7 cents a litre and the fuel tax by 5.3 cents a litre by July 1 – in line with legislation the PCs put forth last month.
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