Denied COVID-19 request wasn't about 'going rogue,' says Kingston mayor

Mayor Bryan Paterson is urging the province to take second look at a request to give regions like his more autonomy in how they handle the presence — or absence — of COVID-19 in their communities.

Bryan Paterson hopes province will reconsider regional reopening

People walk their dog past a COVID-19 warning sign in Kingston, Ont., on March 24. The eastern Ontario city's mayor says he's hopeful Premier Doug Ford will take a second look at a proposal to give regions more say over their COVID-19 restrictions. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

The mayor of Kingston, Ont., is urging the province to reconsider a request to give regions more autonomy in how they handle the presence — or absence — of COVID-19 in their communities.

Mayor Bryan Paterson was among the municipal officials who signed a letter penned this week by Dr. Kieran Moore, head of the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Health Unit, asking the Doug Ford government to implement a regional approach to easing COVID-19 restrictions.

The proportion of COVID-19 cases in the Kingston region is less than one quarter of the provincial average. As of Friday, in fact, all 61 people who'd been diagnosed had recovered.

Ford quashed the health unit's request, however, stating that "we have to run the province as one unit" and claiming people from Ottawa and the Toronto area would "flock to Kingston" if restrictions there were scaled back.

"I respect the premier's answer on this, but to be clear, I don't think that the ask was fully understood," Paterson told CBC Ottawa's All In A Day on Thursday.

"This wasn't about our region going rogue. It wasn't about trying to open up restaurants early so that people from the GTA or from Ottawa could come and have dinner in Kingston. It was really more a public health ask."

A 'more nimble scale'

The letter, dated May 5, argues that giving regions greater control over COVID-19 measures would allow for outbreaks to be handled on "a smaller, more nimble scale," while also respecting the "social values of the community."

Paterson told All In A Day that Moore — who worked on the front lines during the SARS epidemic — felt it could be more "efficient" to decentralize the response to future waves of the virus, particularly if they're felt more or less severely in different parts of Ontario. 

"Maybe it's lifting restrictions when the numbers go down, but conversely — if another wave comes — being able to respond by re-imposing restrictions," Paterson said.

"Being able to do that on a regional basis might be easier than trying to apply that consistently across the entire province."

As for the spectre of visitors suddenly descending upon his city for dinner, Paterson said the province needs to tackle the question of travel within Ontario "regardless of whether we have a regional approach or not."

The province is not giving Kingston permission to ease some of the COVID-19 restrictions in that area. 7:51

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