Premier Doug Ford gets haircut in Essex County, announces more risk funding for farmers

After talking about coming to Essex County for several weeks, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the trip Thursday, stopping for a haircut as he had promised to do.

COVID-19 hot-spot continues to see new cases among farm workers climb

Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited Essex County on Thursday, July 16, fulfilling a promise to get his haircut in the region after it was cleared for Stage 2 of reopening. But the COVID-19 rate among farm workers in the region remains high and local officials are looking for more help. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

After talking about coming to Essex County for several weeks, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the trip Thursday, stopping for a haircut as he had promised to do and making a funding announcement for farmers. 

Ford said he wouldn't cut his hair until all of the province entered Stage 2 of reopening. Kingsville and Leamington in Essex County were both last to make the transition on July 7. 

That's due to the high rate of COVID-19 in the area, mainly among farm workers — many of them in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

"This is the warmest welcome anyone could ask for," Ford told a crowd that had gathered outside of the barbershop he attended. 

But the premier's visit comes as 11 new COVID-19 cases were reported by the local health unit. Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 830 farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Essex County and two men from Mexico have died after contracting the virus. About 150 cases remain active, and the province's emergency management team had already been deployed to help mitigate the spread.

WATCH | Premier Doug Ford visits Mastronardi Barbering in Leamington to finally get a haircut:

Doug Ford fulfilled a promise to visit Leamington and Kingsville after the regions were able to enter Stage 2 of reopening. 1:02

During a stop at Craven Farms in Chatham, Ford announced a top-up to the province's Risk Management Program, aimed at protecting farmers against situations "out of their control" like flooding, drought or disease.

The Ontario government is spending $150 million annually on the program which covers about 80 per cent of commercial operators in livestock and produce industries. 

For the 2020 growing season, the government has added labour as an insurable risk under the program due to COVID-19, and farmers have until July 30, 2020 to apply for the program. 

This announcement comes on the heels of a $19 billion federal funding boost to the provinces and territories, including $7 billion for Ontario. 

 "This funding will support us as we get the economy going over the next six to eight months," said Ford. "This is a great deal for Canada and it's a great deal for Ontario."

But the funding was not what local officials were hoping to hear from the premier, as they have been pushing the Ontario government to appoint a co-ordinator to oversee the different agencies involved in responding to COVID-19 outbreaks on farms in Leamington and Kingsville.

A chance to have that conversation didn't come today. 

WATCH | Here's what Leamington, Kingsville mayors said about their meet with Ford:

Mayors of Kingsville and Leamington didn't get to ask Doug Ford about a co-ordinator for the county's COVID-19 spread on farms. 1:32

"We didn't have the opportunity to bring up any of the issues we would have liked to," said Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald.

"But again it was an opportunity for him to see our communities ... I think that is always good for a person at that level."

The mayor has said the province needs to have full oversight of the outbreaks among farm workers locally. 

"Is the [Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs] in charge? Is [Provincial Emergency Operations Centre] in charge? As the mayor of this municipality, no one's told me who's in charge."

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos said Ford met with small business owners in his town.

Both mayors said they are in frequent talks with the premier's office regarding the state of COVID-19 in their communities. 

The high rate of the disease locally has prevented Windsor-Essex from moving ahead with Stage 3 of reopening along with the rest of the province on Friday. Most of Windsor-Essex entered Stage 2 on June 25.

Emergency co-ordination requested with 'no response' from Ontario

Mayor Drew Dilkens and other political leaders in the area asked Emergency Management Ontario last week for a co-ordinator to oversee the testing and other efforts in the Leamington and Kingsville areas.

It came up again this week in a parliamentary committee meeting related to finance. 

"Have you heard back from those people?" MPP for Windsor—Tecumseh, Percy Hatfield, asked the mayor. 

"Mr. Hatfield, we have not," Dilkens responded. 

WATCH | Hatfield asks Dilkens 'have you heard back' after mayor requests more help:

Mayor Drew Dilkens asked by Ontario Legislative committee why Ontario hasn't responded to calls for a COVID-19 co-ordinator. 2:20

CBC News has tried repeatedly to reach the program co-ordinator, Chris Pittens, over the past two days and have been unsuccessful in getting an answer. 

CBC News also asked the minister of health the question, who responded by listing the entities that are at work in the region. 

"We've been working with the local chief officer of public health in Windsor-Essex, along with Public Health Ontario, with Ontario Health and with teams that we've been sending in there," said Health Minister Christine Elliott on Wednesday. 

When CBC News asked Ford Thursday about the local desires for a co-ordinator, he gave roughly the same answer as Elliott did the day before, citing the various agencies already working on the ground. 

"We're throwing everything in the kitchen sink at this issue," he told reporters. 

Autoworker union hasn't heard from Ford since last year

The president of one of the unions representing autoworkers at FCA Canada's Windsor Assembly Plant says he hasn't heard from Ford since last Easter and is "disappointed" the premier would not make a point to visit the factory which recently lost its third shift. 

"He has not reached back to me, surely he's very busy, but today I see he's so busy he's going to Leamington to get his haircut," said Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy. "It's interesting ...This industry is huge in our province let alone the country."

Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said he hasn't heard from the premier's office since last Easter. FCA Canada's Windsor Assembly Plant just lost its third shift last week. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Some 1,500 positions were on the chopping block, along with hundreds more jobs affected at feeder plants, when the factory's shift finally ended last week. 

Cassidy says he realizes Ford is busy and appreciates the access he has had to the premier in the past and has been in contact with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. But Cassidy wants to see an auto plan. 

"If you want to sell it here you want to build it here," said Cassidy, adding he'd like to see more equipment built in Canada like batteries which currently come from China. 

"Those are things we have to look at, good manufacturing jobs create tax dollars and that's what we should look at."

Ford said he apologized for not going to the City of Windsor on this tour, and promised to call union leaders to discuss the issue and try to "see what he can do" to save the third shift. 


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