PEI

Health Minister James Aylward's decision 'stunningly irresponsible,' says Official Opposition

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker describes Health Minister James Aylward’s decision not to go directly home and self-isolate following an international trip as a “stunningly irresponsible act.”

‘I would like to hear from Mr. Aylward'

'We all make mistakes but this was a serious breach,' said Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker about Health Minister James Aylward’s decision not to go directly home and self-isolate following an international trip. (CBC)

P.E.I.'s Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker describes Health Minister James Aylward's decision not to go directly home and self-isolate following an international trip as a "stunningly irresponsible act."

Bevan-Baker was reacting to Aylward's self-isolation following a health recruitment trip to Ireland.

"We all make mistakes but this was a serious breach at a time when each and every one of us has a personal responsibility to make sure that what we're doing here is successful," said Bevan-Baker, adding he'd like to have seen an early admission and a frank apology from Aylward.

"Given how egregious this is I would like to hear from Mr. Aylward, whether he feels it is still appropriate for him to occupy his position." 

Aylward returned to P.E.I. in the early hours of March 13, got a few hours sleep, then went into the office, according to Premier Dennis King.

King told CBC it was the province's chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, who told Aylward to go home that day and self-isolate for 14 days. Aylward did head home, but on the way he made a couple of stops, including to a grocery store.

The premier said he was disappointed in his health minister's "lapse in judgment."

CBC News requested an interview with Aylward but he has not yet responded.

Liberal health critic Robert Henderson, a former health minister, said by the end of February the coronavirus had spread through parts of Europe and Ireland had a case so he questions why the recruitment trip went ahead. 

Some Islanders have been fined for those same lapses in judgment.— Liberal health critic Robert Henderson

Henderson said the seriousness of the coronavirus situation should have been on the health minister's radar when he returned home on March 13. 

"The premier has been very stern with Islanders but yet he comes up with an answer that, well, it was a momentary lapse in judgment where some Islanders have been fined for those same lapses in judgment," said Henderson.

"The fact that it took a month before the premier came clean on this and the fact it took a reporter to nudge it out of him sort of makes you wonder if it ever would have come to the light of day."

Health Minister James Aylward returned home March 13. Premier Dennis King says it was the province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, who told Aylward to go home and self-isolate for 14 days. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

During her briefing with the media Thursday, Morrison said Aylward returned to P.E.I. during the early stages of the pandemic, and that he likely wasn't alone in not understanding what self-isolation required.

It was a few hours after Aylward was sent home on March 13 that Morrison first announced that all those arriving on P.E.I. from another country would be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

It's a message she continued to repeat in the coming days, emphasizing that travellers should not make any stops on their way home — not for gas or groceries. 

'Grey area'

King said he's not looking at disciplinary action against Aylward. He also said at the time there was a grey area around what people were supposed to do.

The premier said he told Aylward he was disappointed in his actions.

"When you're in leadership roles, like we are as politicians on Prince Edward Island, people are right to hold you to a higher standard and on this particular case I think he missed the mark."

'His absence was already being noted'

Premier Dennis King says he has confidence in his health minister, that he's doing a good job and is working around the clock. (Ken Linton/CBC)

The premier said he has confidence in his health minister, that he's doing a good job and is working around the clock.

Bevan-Baker said Aylward has been "largely absent" during the whole pandemic. 

"Across Canada and around the world people in his position have been stepping up and taking leadership roles," he said.

"We haven't seen that from minister Aylward so his absence was already being noted and for his presence now to be part of a story like this is again deeply disappointing."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

 

About the Author

Wayne Thibodeau

Prince Edward Island

Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca