Hamilton

Haldimand-Norfolk keeps new acting medical officer of health despite his anti-lockdown comments

The board of health for Haldimand-Norfolk in Ontario has voted 8-1 to keep Dr. Matthew Strauss as the acting medical officer of health, despite his anti-lockdown comments, after it faced heavy criticism for hiring him and had looked for a way to overturn the decision.

Dr. Matthew Strauss's 1st day on the job with Ontario area's board of health is Tuesday

Dr. Matt Strauss is staying on as the Halidmand-Norfolk acting medical officer of health serving several Ontario communities. (Twitter)

Haldimand-Norfolk's board of health voted 8-1 to keep Dr. Matthew Strauss as their acting medical officer of health after facing heavy criticism for hiring him and previously looking for a way to overturn the decision.

Strauss has opposed lockdowns and said he'd rather give his children COVID-19 over a Happy Meal.

When he was initially brought on, the Ontario Liberals called on the health minister to veto his hiring.

After the board of health and Haldimand County councillors discussed the hiring at a meeting with lawyers on Monday — much of it in a private session — Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt said he was involved in the interview process and there were two highly qualified candidates.

He said some of the concerns raised about Strauss included "some comments on social media that were edgy."

"I think that both myself and [Norfolk] Mayor [Kristal] Chopp and many other politicians in the past couple of years could probably have fingers pointed at them for edgy comments, edgy actions … we have all had a difference of opinion on how this pandemic has been managed," Hewitt  said.

But still, Hewitt said he flagged the comments to the board of health, which is essentially Norfolk council, and the board ultimately chose him.

Hewitt said he would support whatever decision they made, but said he struggled with comments that Strauss's opinions came as a surprise because they were already flagged.

Cathy Case, Haldimand's general manager of corporate and social services, said the governance model within the board of health is flawed and doesn't give Haldimand enough say.

"We believe this issue could potentially reflect that exact concern we have," Case said.

Board of health members and Chopp defended keeping Strauss.

Michael Columbus, Ward 3 councillor in Norfolk and a board of health member, said Strauss supports vaccination, and also said a letter he sent to the board of health on Tuesday (and that wasn't made public) helped clarify his past social media posts.

"There's a lot more to being a medical officer of health than just the COVID issue," he said.

Strauss says he's toning down his tweets critical of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 now that he's Haldimand-Norfolk's new acting medical officer of health. (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit)

Norfolk's Ward 6 Coun. Amy Martin opposed keeping Strauss on Monday.

CBC News has reached out to Strauss for comment. Tuesday is his first day on the job and his area has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Ontario. 

Before starting, he said he wouldn't offer the same "sarcasm or eye-catching analogies" in his role.

He's an assistant professor of medicine at Queen's University in Kingston, and previously was an assistant clinical professor at McMaster University. He's also practised as an internist and medical director of critical care at Guelph General Hospital.

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