Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has rejected a deadline extension request from the province's long-term care COVID-19 commission, citing the need for timely advice amid the pandemic's second wave.
The commissioners, led by Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, sent a letter to the Minister of Long-Term Care on Dec. 9 to ask for more time to complete its final report and properly review the 5,880 pages of transcripts from dozens of interviews.
The commission's letter argued that pushing back the deadline from Apr. 30 to the end of 2021 would allow the inquiry to properly investigate how the the virus was able to devastate nursing homes during the second wave, despite the premier's promise of an "iron ring."
"As wave 2 continues to spread in the community and LTC homes, we continue to gather new information and gain valuable insights into the spread of COVID-19 in LTC homes," the letter reads. "This will better inform our findings and recommendations in our final report."
The commission also points the finger at the Doug Ford government for "significant delays" in obtaining pertinent information at the center of the commission's investigation related to the second wave including "measures taken to prevent, isolate and contain the spread of COVID-19."
The request for an extension was rejected on Dec. 23 by Merrilee Fullerton, the minister responsible for long-term care, who said the recommendations from the commission are urgently needed.
"As Ontario deals with this next wave of COVID-19 throughout the province, the duration of which is unknown, the need for timely and focused advice is even more acute," Fullerton said in a letter.
"We look forward to receiving the Commission’s final report and recommendations by April 30, 2021."
Services Employees International Union Healthcare, which represents more than 60,000 frontline health-care workers in Ontario, said they were “outraged” by the rejection, but not surprised.
“This is why our union instead called for a public inquiry, not a commission, so that families could learn the chain of failed decisions that led to so many avoidable deaths,” SEIU Healthcare president Sharleen Stewart said in a statement released Monday afternoon.
Back in May, the Ford government rejected several calls for a public inquiry, which would have been governed under the Public Inquiries Act, opting for a review of the system instead.
Premier Ford said at the time that a public inquiry would take too long to deliver the recommendations.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had also called for a public inquiry months ago and said Monday that the rejection letter shows that the Ford government is "trying to hide something" related to the province's response to COVID-19 in long-term care.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the rejection letter shows that the Ford government is "trying to hide something" related to the province's response to COVID-19 in long-term care.
"Everybody has to be concerned about the value of a report that has to be rushed to the finish line because Doug Ford doesn't want it to be as thorough and as complete as possible."
Fullerton's letter said if the commission felt additional issues "warrant further examination by government beyond April 30, 2021" it should be highlighted as part of the final report in the spring.