Ford ousts MPP from caucus over open letter pushing for end to COVID-19 lockdown

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has kicked York Centre MPP Roman Baber out of the Progressive Conservative caucus for sending an open letter that calls for the province's lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions to end.

York Centre MPP Roman Baber posted letter online this morning

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has removed one of his MPPs from the Progressive Conservative caucus. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has kicked York Centre MPP Roman Baber out of the Progressive Conservative caucus for sending an open letter that calls for the province's lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions to end.

In a statement issued Friday morning, Ford called the comments from the two-page letter "irresponsible," saying Baber will not be allowed to seek re-election as a PC member. 

"By spreading misinformation he is undermining the tireless efforts of our frontline health-care workers at this critical time, and he is putting people at risk," Ford said. "I will not jeopardize a single Ontarian's life by ignoring public health advice.

"There is no room for political ideology in our fight against COVID-19 — rather, our response has been and will always be driven by evidence and data." Ford said.

"Furthermore, Mr. Baber has put himself ahead of his PC Caucus team, who have worked around the clock for months to support and protect the people of Ontario through this public health crisis."

In Baber's letter, posted on Twitter today, the MPP argues that while the virus is real, "the fear of COVID is exaggerated.

"Lockdowns are deadlier than Covid. I wrote a respectful letter to Premier Ford, asking to end the lockdown," he said in a tweet.

Baber wrote that the virus is not as deadly as first thought and claimed Ontario's hospital capacity is "better than pre-pandemic." So far, more than 5,200 Ontarians have lost their lives to the virus. 

In response, the Ministry of Health circulated a fact sheet disputing or outright debunking many of the central claims in Baber's letter. You can read the full text of the ministry's response at the bottom of this story.

CMHA says it 'unequivocally' supports lockdown measures

Moreover, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) issued its own statement, saying that Baber "mischaracterized" its research on the connection between the pandemic and "suicidal ideation" among adults in the country.

"At a time when so many Ontarians are struggling, we are disappointed that the MPP has for political purposes misconstrued statistics about the sensitive subject of suicidal ideation," said Camille Quenneville, CEO of the organization.

"We unequivocally support provincial lockdown measures to protect the health and safety of Ontarians and to help ease the monumental burden our front-line health care workers are facing every day," the statement continued.

Baber's claims come as provincial officials and health experts alike have warned that Ontario's health-care system is on the brink of being overwhelmed. 

The province began warning hospitals to prepare for the transferal of patients across and out of regions just over a week ago, and is now telling ICU doctors across Ontario to prepare to use critical care triage to determine who will receive life-saving care when ICU resources are limited.

"The public needs to understand they're at risk of not getting the care they need," Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, told CBC News Thursday.

Warner said implementing these criteria would mean that not every patient who needs critical care — related to COVID-19 or not — would get that critical care if triage comes into effect.

"It makes me very uncomfortable, it's morally distressing and it's terrible for patients," he said.

In a series of tweets posted later this morning, Baber said he doesn't regret "speaking out for millions of lives and livelihoods decimated by public health" and that he "couldn't watch the suffering anymore."

He called Ford's move to turf him from caucus a regretful decision "since many colleagues agree with me."

2,998 new COVID-19 cases, record-high testing

Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 2,998 cases of COVID-19 this morning, as well 100 additional deaths of people with the illness.

The further deaths are the most recorded on a single day since the pandemic began, though the Ministry of Health said that 46 occurred "earlier in the pandemic" and were included today due to a "data cleaning initiative" by the Middlesex-London Health Unit, but offered no further details.

The previous single-day high came on Jan. 7, 2021, when 89 deaths were reported. Ontario's official death toll is now 5,289.

Today's new cases include 800 in Toronto, 618 in Peel Region and 250 in York Region.

Other public health units that saw double- or triple-digit increases were:

  • Waterloo Region: 161
  • Niagara Region: 153
  • Windsor-Essex: 148
  • Hamilton: 138
  • Ottawa: 133
  • Durham Region: 113
  • Halton Region: 81
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 73
  • Middlesex-London: 61
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 51
  • Lambton: 36
  • Eastern Ontario: 27
  • Brant County: 25
  • Huron Perth: 20
  • Southwestern: 19
  • Chatham-Kent: 18
  • Haldimand-Norfolk: 18
  • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge: 13

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)

The new cases come as Ontario's network of labs processed a record-high 76,472 test samples for the novel coronavirus and reported a test positivity rate of 4.6 per cent, the lowest it has been in nearly three weeks.

The seven-day average of new daily cases dropped to 3,273, while the number of active cases provincewide fell for a fourth straight day to 28,825.

The number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals decreased by 10, down to 1,647. Of those, 387 were being treated in intensive care, one fewer than yesterday, and 280 required a ventilator to breathe.

Another 15,609 doses of vaccines were administered yesterday, the province said. A total of 174,630 shots have been given out so far in Ontario, and 17,094 people have been fully vaccinated with both doses.

The federal government said Friday that global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer will temporarily reduce shipments of its vaccine to Canada because it is pausing some production lines at its facility in Puurs, Belgium, to expand long-term manufacturing capacity.

"Pfizer believes that by the end of March it will be able to catch up, such that we will be on track for the total committed doses for Q1," Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said, referring to the first quarter of the calendar year.

In a statement, Ford said the province is "evaluating" the possible impact of the news.

"We will adjust as necessary, recognizing the fact that Ontario will soon have a baseline capacity to vaccinate nearly 40,000 people a day with the ability to triple or quadruple this capacity with notice," the statement said. 

"I know the federal government is working to secure more supply and when they are able to deliver more vaccines, Ontario will be ready to administer them."

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With files from Adam Carter and Lucas Powers