Toronto

Public Health Ontario to take over expert table of COVID-19 pandemic advisors

Public Health Ontario says the group will still be made up of independent, non-partisan and volunteer experts and be transparent about its reporting and conflicts of interests.

Move to fold science table into agency is 'another step in the wrong direction,' critic says

Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, pictured here, and Public Health Ontario vice-president Dr. Brian Schwartz will be co-chairs of the science table. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Public Health Ontario is taking over operation of Ontario's expert group of COVID-19 pandemic advisers.

The agency announced Thursday it would host the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table on a permanent basis starting on April 4. 

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto had previously overseen the group of independent scientists that provided research and modelling on the disease in Ontario.

Public Health Ontario says the group will still be made up of independent, non-partisan and volunteer experts and be transparent about its reporting and conflicts of interests.

It says the science table and Public Health Ontario will develop new terms of reference so the group is "sustainable over time" and can scale up if necessary in the event of future public health emergencies.

Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and Public Health Ontario vice-president Dr. Brian Schwartz will be co-chairs of the science table.

The move was met with criticism by the NDP and Green Party.

"I'm concerned that this move could limit the independence of the Science Table, which has been an important voice throughout the pandemic," said Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner in a statement Thursday.

"We can't have science being muddled by politics, there's too much on the line."

Schreiner said Ontarians deserve transparency and independent science based recommendations they can trust," and he called on Premier Doug Ford to explain the decision.

France Gélinas, the NDP's health critic, called the move "another step in the wrong direction," noting the ways in which the Ford government has already limited access to COVID-19 data, from eliminating school reporting to restricting access to PCR testing.

"The Science Advisory Table has been instrumental in giving Ontarians a clear picture of where we are in the pandemic without government rhetoric or political spin. Ontarians put their trust in the Science Table to tell us all about forecasts, and what the province needs to do to avoid the worst," Gélinas said in a statement Thursday.

"Doug Ford's choice to weaken and undermine the Science Table's independence has people worried, for good reason."

With files from CBC News

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