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Haldimand-Norfolk looks at ways to walk back medical officer of health appointment

Dr. Matt Strauss, Haldimand-Norfolk's new acting medical officer of health, has tweeted criticisms of mask mandates and lockdowns. The board members who hired him say they didn't realize the extent of it.

Dr. Matt Strauss, who's tweeted criticisms of mask mandates and lockdowns, says he's changing his tone

Dr. Matt 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)

Some members of Haldimand-Norfolk's board of health are looking for ways to overturn the hiring of their new acting medical officer of health, who's used social media to criticize COVID-19 public health measures and say he'd sooner give his kids COVID-19 than a Happy Meal.

Coun. Amy Martin of Port Dover says she wasn't fully aware of the nature of the tweets by Dr. Matt Strauss, who the board hired this week as the top public health doctor for Haldimand and Norfolk counties.

Martin said at a Tuesday board of health meeting that she knew he'd published some articles, but didn't know about tweets like a recent one that says "Live free or die."

The board, which is in essence Norfolk council, will now discuss the hiring at a meeting with lawyers on Monday, and invite Haldimand County too. Martin was part of the unanimous vote to hire Strauss, but says she regrets it now.

"I'm looking to staff to open this up and direct us on some options immediately," she said.

"Simply put, [his comments are] not reflective of my position on COVID-19," Martin said. "They are not reflective of the leadership our communities, both Haldimand and Norfolk, are in need of."

Strauss starts the job on Sept. 14 in an area with one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Ontario.

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

Promising a different tone

Strauss hasn't responded to CBC News requests for comment.

But in a recent piece for the Port Dover Maple Leaf, he says he uses science to weigh the harms and benefits of lockdowns and mask mandates — just like he does all aspects of treating COVID-19.

"I welcome conversation and fair criticism of these science-based views," he wrote. "Such discourse is part of the scientific process. The politicization of my appointment and ad hominem attacks against me, conversely, are not. In fact, such attempts are themselves anti-scientific. Science is not a popularity contest, nor is it an agglomeration of credentialed opinions."

He also says his attention-grabbing tone will change.

"It has sometimes behooved me to use sarcasm or eye-catching analogies," he said. "In my new office, it will not."

In a similar article, Mayor Kristal Chopp called recent criticism from Liberal MPP John Fraser over the appointment of Strauss "preposterous and cheap political theatre."

Chopp butted heads with some board members Tuesday, saying they should have used their county-issued devices to research Strauss. "You were also given a tablet by the taxpayers of Norfolk County and I would think that you knew how to Google," she said. 

'Eminently qualified'

Coun. Linda Vandendriessche from west Norfolk said she's been inundated with resident complaints. She doesn't use Twitter, she says, but it should be up to staff to look at a candidate's social media usage.

"I am very, very upset and my phone doesn't stop," she said. "People don't stop. They're very upset. But to say that we knew exactly, that would mean we knew what his comments were. I did not."

Heidy Van Dyk, Norfolk County's acting general manager of health and social services, says Strauss's social media use wasn't one of the conditions of his employment, but was discussed during the interview process.

Coun. Chris Van Paassen, who represents an area west of Simcoe, said he backs Strauss's hiring. He wanted to invite Strauss to next Monday's meeting, but the board rejected it 6-3.

Strauss is "eminently qualified," Van Paassen said.

"I thought that's what science is about, questioning things," he said. "But he's not allowed to do that" without "the great woke left [disagreeing with it]."

Local decision

As for the province, the Minister of Health doesn't approve acting medical officers, only full-time ones, said spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene.

"The local board of health in Haldimand-Norfolk voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Strauss as the acting medical officer," she said in an email. "The province did not have a say in this decision."

Strauss replaces Dr. Alex Hukowich, interim acting medical officer of health since May.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai announced his departure from the job in March. He didn't cite a reason, although he clashed with some board members over his section 22 orders mandating that farmers only house three migrant workers to a bunkhouse to protect them from COVID-19.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly said Dr. Matt Strauss described business owners who open in violation of public health orders as "heroes.'' In fact, Strauss used the term to describe a gym owner who said he would keep his business open under the Reopening Ontario Act, which allowed facilities to continue to serve people with disabilities.
    Sep 16, 2021 8:13 AM ET

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