SELECT COMMITTEE ON EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OVERSIGHT
2nd Session, 42nd Parliament 71 Elizabeth II
The Honourable Ted Arnott, MPP
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly
Your Select Committee on Emergency Management Oversight has the honour to present its Report and commends it to the House.
Daryl Kramp, MPP
Chair of the Committee
SELECT COMMITTEE ON EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OVERSIGHT
2nd Session, 42nd Parliament
GILLES BISSON SARA SINGH
JOHN FRASER *DONNA SKELLY
*LINDSEY PARK was replaced by DONNA SKELLY on October 20, 2021.
LORNE COE, BILLY PANG and RANDY PETTAPIECE regularly served as substitute members of the Committee.
Clerk of the Committee
PIA ANTHONY MUTTU
Report from the Solicitor General
· Social gathering limits were increased to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
· The limit for indoor organized public events was increased to 50 people.
· Capacity limits were increased for indoor weddings, funerals or religious services, rites or ceremonies to the number of people who can maintain two metres’ physical distance. No capacity limit applied if the person responsible for the location chose to opt in to the proof-of-vaccination requirements.
· Capacity limits were lifted in most indoor public settings where proof of vaccination was required (e.g., restaurants, bars, food and drink establishments without dance facilities; facilities used for sports and recreation fitness activities, including gyms; meeting and event spaces, including conference centres or convention centres; cinemas; casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments).
· Indoor capacity limits were increased to 25% in remaining higher-risk settings where proof of vaccination at the time was still required (e.g., night clubs, bathhouses, and sex clubs; and restaurants where there is dancing).
· Sports arenas, concert venues, and theatres were allowed 50% of the usual seating capacity indoors. The limit of 500 persons in spectator capacity was removed.
· Capacity limits under Step 3 were also lifted in other settings that chose to opt in to proof-of-vaccination requirements.
· As of March 1, 2022, when all public health unit areas in Ontario moved to the Roadmap Exit Step, capacity limits were lifted in all remaining indoor public settings.
· As of March 1, 2022, proof-of-vaccination requirements for all settings where they were required were lifted due to improvements in public health and health system indicators. Businesses and other organizations may choose to continue to require proof of vaccination for access to certain settings.
· Pandemic Measures (Masking Requirements) ― Question: The public, and certain groups such as schools and First Nations communities, have expressed concern about how the decision to lift masking requirements was reached. Could the Solicitor General comment on the data the government relied on in making this decision? Solicitor General’s Response: Along with the ongoing advice provided by the CMOH, the determination was made using local feedback from weekly—sometimes semi-weekly—meetings between myself, the Minister of Health, and the 34 local public health unit physicians and hospitals that were providing vaccines. The CMOH’s recommendation was that, as of March 21, 2022, the “mask mandates” could be removed in most public places, and we followed his advice.
· Pandemic Measures (Masking Requirements) ― Question: Can the Solicitor General provide the Committee with the data used to reach the government’s decision to remove masking requirements? Solicitor General’s Response: That would be a question for the CMOH and I do not want to speak for him. My understanding is that the CMOH “takes multiple inputs and data,” such as COVID-19 hospitalization rates, waste water monitoring, and information about how communities are being impacted when there is an outbreak. We rely on the advice and recommendations of the CMOH and his staff. We also have worked directly with the 34 local medical officers of health to ensure we are getting on-the-ground information.
· Pandemic Measures (Consulting Regional Public Health Units) ― Question: Some regional public health units were “surprised” by the government’s decision to lift masking requirements. Could the Solicitor General comment on the government’s consultation with regional public health units? Solicitor General’s Response: I cannot speak to individual public health units. I know definitively that the Medical Officers of Health in Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa have publicly supported the CMOH’s recommendation and are making the same recommendation to their local councils that lifting the “mask mandate” is appropriate for March 21, 2022.
· Pandemic Measures (Masking Requirements) ― Question: Vaccination rates are the lowest in schools, especially among five to 11-year-olds and children under five years of age. Some experts recommend waiting until after March break to lift masking requirements. In light of the upcoming March break, would the government consider waiting a few more weeks (e.g., two weeks) before lifting masking requirements? Solicitor General’s Response: Presently in the province, there is “not a single” COVID-19 outbreak in a school that led to a school closure. We have always wanted to ensure that schools were only closed when “absolutely medically necessary.” Children in Ontario want to be able to learn with their peers. The CMOH has said he has worked very closely with the Minister of Education to ensure that parameters are in place to keep schools safe. This includes providing free masks for staff, faculty, and students, as well as HEPA filters for classrooms. Those investments are long term so that “no matter what we deal with” there will be protection for students in class.
· Pandemic Measures (Masking Requirements in Schools) ― Question: A parent has expressed concern about lifting masking requirements in kindergarten classrooms. Can the Solicitor General explain how the decision was made to remove a “mask mandate” in classrooms with young children? Solicitor General’s Response: We have invested “record amounts to protect schools and keep students in class.” In 2021, over 73,000 HEPA filter units were deployed to schools, and an additional 40,000 are on their way to classrooms right now. Rapid antigen screening tests have been distributed for symptomatic use in schools and child care centres and optional government-provided PPE has been offered until the end of the school year for students and staff. School boards are required to report absences to public health units for monitoring purposes. Ontario has launched a $175 million learning recovery action plan in reading and math.
· Pandemic Measures (General) ― Question: Can the Solicitor General assure Ontarians that there will not be a reintroduction this fall of the “drastic and extraordinary measures” of the last two years as case numbers “inevitably” rise when people move back indoors and are in closer proximity? Solicitor General’s Response: The more we know, the more we learn. We have learned a lot during this pandemic, particularly in relation to the impact of variants. We have more tools in our toolbox. When we did not have vaccines, we relied on masks, social distancing, and limiting interactions. Now, we have vaccines and some additional tools approved by Health Canada and hopefully by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. We have more than one way to avoid outbreaks and spikes.
· Pandemic Measures (Lockdowns) ― Question: Can the Solicitor General recommend steps to avoid government measures that shut down businesses and places of worship, and restricted people from visiting family members along with the other “extraordinary measures” necessitated by COVID-19? Solicitor General’s Response: The Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act is temporary in nature which is “why it had to be renewed so consistently.” Now, an oversight function exists where the Premier’s representative addresses the Reopening Ontario Act and explains why certain measures are in place. I do not like comparing what Ontario has done with other jurisdictions, but those measures have saved lives. These measures were temporary and had to be regularly assessed and reviewed every 30 days. The government was very cognizant that “when it is appropriate, we want to eliminate them as needed.”
· Pandemic Measures (Modernization in Service Provision) ― Question: Could the Solicitor General comment on some of the “positive benefits” that resulted from the changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Solicitor General’s Response: Some modernization has occurred as a result of our inability to have in-person transactions and that technology can be used in the future. One example is that lawyers can securely communicate with their clients electronically. Inmates in institutions can safely get access to justice through secure conversations with their lawyers using electronic means and through the use of technology to allow trials to be conducted remotely. These changes are going to make a difference with respect to “safety within corrections facilities,” access to justice, and how we use our courtrooms in the future. Ontarians can also register vehicles, renew health cards, and change addresses electronically. We have been able to expedite and improve services to Ontario residents as a result of “the desire to keep moving government forward during a pandemic.”
· Ottawa Police Services Board Resignations ― Question: A Committee member commented that three provincial political appointees on the Ottawa Police Services Board resigned “in one afternoon” after certain information came to light. Where did the request for these resignations come from and how were the resignations communicated to the Solicitor General? Did the Solicitor General make a formal request? Solicitor General’s Response: The City of Ottawa made a determination that it was going in a new direction with the Ottawa Police Service and the Ottawa Police Services Board. A change was made in regards to two municipal Ottawa Police Services Board members and a third, I believe, resigned a few days later. For clarity, the three provincial members submitted their letters of resignation and we accepted. There was no formal request. By changing the chair of the police services board, Ottawa’s mayor made it clear that a new direction was being set for its police board. We are going through the process of recruiting provincial members.
· Pandemic Measures (PCR Test Results) ― Question: A personal support worker has indicated that she is still waiting for the results of a PCR test taken in December. Could the Solicitor General explain the delays in receiving PCR test results? Given these delays, can the Solicitor General comment on how government decisions such as removing the “mask mandate” were made? Solicitor General’s Response: I would hope MPPs assisting constituents are encouraging individuals to access rapid antigen tests and are working with local medical officers of health to ensure PCR tests are being completed on an “appropriate timeline.” Decisions are made with the advice and upon the recommendations of the CMOH and his team as well as with feedback and advice from local public health units provided to the CMOH, and to myself and the Minister of Health, in weekly phone calls.
· Ontario Small Business Support Grant ― Question: Applications closed for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant on April 7, 2021. Some applicants are still waiting to hear back about their approved grants. Could the Solicitor General comment on when these business owners will receive their grants? Solicitor General’s Response: If applicants were successful in the first round, then they automatically received their second tranche of money once they agreed or once they responded to an email sent from the ministry. That work has been ongoing. If there are specific delays and/or appeals, I would recommend working directly with the minister.
· Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant ― Question: Can the Solicitor General explain why small businesses were given “less than 30 days” to submit an application for this grant? Why was there a delay between the grant’s announcement and the opening of its application period? Solicitor General’s Response: The short answer is: speed and efficiency. Many people are very comfortable with technology and made changes to their business to allow customers to access curbside and direct purchases online. We wanted to ensure that businesses were getting support as quickly as possible, and the fastest way was through an online application process. Businesses that had previously been approved were sent a follow-up email prompting them to confirm that they were still operating in order to receive the second round of the grant. The grant, and other programs including energy rebates, delays in filing taxes, and municipal tax relief, were intended to ensure that when businesses could not operate in their traditional manner, they were offered other opportunities.
· Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant (Application Deadline Extension) ― Question: Certain local businesses lack expertise in or access to technology (e.g., broadband service) or professional accounting support. What should these businesses do when they have “less than 30 days” to fulfill their application requirements? Could the Solicitor General comment on whether the government will be extending the deadline for grant applications, which ends tomorrow (March 11, 2022)? Will the government be “including many of the businesses that were left behind”? Solicitor General’s Response: Part of an MPP’s role is to ensure that constituents, businesses, and individuals in need of assistance from their government are getting support from their local MPPs. When new programs and opportunities come forward, MPPs may also communicate information to constituents. To offer an example, we have been actively reaching out to businesses in my community to ensure they are aware of the supports and how to navigate the application process, including providing links. The government has also provided tax relief, municipal relief, and energy relief as well as “outright grants” that small businesses can use for PPE.
· Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant ― Question: A Committee member said that many businesses in certain ridings received emails and other information about when the grant application would open and how to apply, while businesses in other ridings did not. Could the Solicitor General comment? Solicitor General’s Response: Businesses that were successful applicants in the previous round would have received this information. These businesses were notified by the ministry to ensure that they were still operating so that they could get the second round of business support.
· Pandemic Measures (Long-Term Care) ― Question: Could the Solicitor General comment on the current situation in long-term care? Solicitor General’s Response: Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government’s goal was three-part: prevent mortality, prevent serious illness, and prevent transmission. When vaccines were limited, the focus was long-term care residents, long-term care staff, and eventually critical care support workers and primary caregivers in long-term care homes. As the vaccine rollout progressed, there was a focus on education for hesitant communities. Initiatives included pop-up clinics, placing a GO-VAXX bus at particular local community centres, information pamphlets and question-and-answer literature in multiple languages to allow physicians, faith leaders, and community leaders to share information with individuals who may be hesitant. In the City of Brampton, a number of businesses volunteered to have business-based vaccine clinics because their employees had to work in-person and, as a result, were at a higher risk.
· Pandemic Measures (GO-VAXX Buses) ― Question: Could the Solicitor General provide an update on the GO-VAXX bus program? Solicitor General’s Response: The GO-VAXX bus was a joint venture with Metrolinx and worked well in making a difference by bringing vaccines closer to communities and individuals. For certain communities or parts of the province that were “a little more hesitant,” GO-VAXX buses gave individuals “the ability to walk into that GO-VAXX bus, have a conversation with a health care practitioner and get those questions answered.” Anecdotally, at the GO-VAXX bus locations I visited, those conversations led to people getting vaccinated.
· Pandemic Measures (General) ― Question: Given the decrease in COVID-19 cases throughout the province, what goes into the decision-making for a further relaxation of public health measures and whether they will be applied at a provincial or a local level? Solicitor General’s Response: The vast majority of the measures have been lifted and are “closely, closely monitored.” For outbreaks in specific areas, there may be a need for a local public health unit, in consultation with the CMOH, to issue section 22 orders. As well as vaccines, we have other protections and tools such as HEPA filters and different treatments for certain autoimmune patients. We will continue to rely on the CMOH and public health units, “but I do not believe that you will see large outbreaks, simply because, to an earlier point, 90% of Ontario residents over the age of 18 have received their vaccines.”
· Pandemic Measures (Vaccines and Boosters) ― Question: What advice would the Solicitor General give to those who have not yet booked a booster or even the original vaccine appointment? Is the Solicitor General concerned that people may get complacent? Solicitor General’s Response: My advice to someone who is hesitant to receive their vaccine or booster is to have a conversation with their local primary care practitioner—a public health nurse or family physician—and have that discussion with a person who understands the science: “Please do not rely on the Internet.… Go to someone you trust and have the conversations so that you understand both the risks and the benefits of receiving that vaccine.”
· Pandemic Measures (Encouraging Vaccination Coverage) ― Question: Could the Solicitor General comment on who serves as the government’s “champion” for vaccines? Who is the person driving a province-wide campaign to increase vaccination rates including among children and with respect to third doses? Solicitor General’s Response: The champions are the 90% of Ontario residents who have received their vaccine and individuals who have had challenging conversations with their health care practitioners and their hesitant family members, explaining how “critically important” it is to get vaccinated. In Ontario, mandating vaccination is not necessary when people understand that it is in their interest to get the vaccine to stay protected.
· Pandemic Measures (Schools’ Masking Policies) ― Question: The data and evidence show that there are still “elevated cases throughout Northern Ontario.” Will the government permit schools to determine whether they will maintain mask policies? Solicitor General’s Response: As it relates to Northern Ontario, when the vaccines were very limited in supply, the government made a conscious decision to ensure that remote and Northern communities were given access to vaccines. Local medical officers of health have always had the ability to issue section 22 orders, with the oversight of the CMOH, for local outbreaks or issues.
· Pandemic Measures (Reopening Ontario Act) ― Question: The motion to extend the Reopening Ontario Act expires on March 28, 2022. Is the government planning to allow the expiration to occur on that date? Solicitor General’s Response: It is our intention to allow the expiry to happen on March 28. I am not going to predict the future. If the recommendations and advice of the CMOH change, that is a different conversation. As of today, we intend to have it expire on March 28.
· Pandemic Measures (Post-pandemic Support) ― Question: Could the Solicitor General comment on any changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic that will carry on after the pandemic is over to help some restaurants permanently? Solicitor General’s Response: At the beginning of the outbreak, a main street Ontario grant was provided to ensure that smaller businesses that previously lacked an online presence were able to get the skills and training necessary to offer online options. A lot of main street restaurants benefited from the grant, particularly those that were able to transition into a takeout model. Such investments can continue post-pandemic. The Minister of Finance loosened some restrictions that allow, for example, the purchase of an alcoholic beverage with a takeout order. Changes were also made to the pricing of LCBO products that restaurants purchase and resell to their customers. Some of these changes have decreased the cost to businesses. As a government, we are seeing the advantages of some of the changes made during the pandemic and are “keeping them in place permanently.”
· Pandemic Measures (ICU Occupancy) ― Question: With the changes now being made, the removal of the “mandates for masks,” is there an increase in ICU occupancy and is there concern that ICU numbers could become a problem again in the near future? Solicitor General’s Response: The January 2022 COVID-19 numbers related to Omicron “spoke to” the ability of the hospital system to manage outbreaks. Investments were and continue to be made to ensure we have sufficient hospital capacity and health care practitioners who have the tools needed to serve their communities. Investments are being made to train ICU nurses and build additional ICU capacity. There have also been investments in long-term care.
· Pandemic Measures (Travel Requirements) ― Question: Ontario’s requirement to show vaccination certificates in certain public settings has been eliminated. Are there any requirements for those considering international travel during March break to show any form of identification and Ontario identification to prove they have been vaccinated? Solicitor General’s Response: Some parameters remain in place through the federal government. I believe a negative PCR test is required in order to get on a federal airplane, ferry, or train. I am hopeful that as the provinces make changes, the federal government will also “start to act and react to lifting some of the restrictions.”
Terms of Reference*
 The Select Committee on Emergency Management Oversight was reappointed on October 7, 2021, with the same mandate and membership that existed prior to the prorogation of the 1st Session of the 42nd Parliament, and resumed business at the same stage of progress.