Susan Delacourt: Voters care about vaccination passports. Our leaders need better answers

Finally, it’s here: the great Canadian election debate over vaccination passports. Well, maybe it’s the beginning of one. Just short of two weeks into the campaign, divisions have emerged between three main parties on the question of what kind of vaccination proof is going to get Canadians past the pandemic. At this stage, the choice appears to boil down to this: one passport for the nation, many different versions or none at all. Justin Trudeau is in the “many” camp. The Liberals have now rolled out a proposed “proof of vaccination fund” for provinces to come up with their own systems of immunization ID. It’s not the pan-Canadian vaccination card that could be a political asset to Trudeau at this point in the election, but it is in keeping with his standard approach to COVID-19 relief: Ottawa pays, the provinces play. It was left to New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh to champion one national vaccine passport. “I think the federal government should just do it,” Singh told reporters on Friday. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just have one central document that we get from the federal government and we can use in any province we travel to?” The practical details of this plan were not immediately revealed by Singh. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, however, had even less to say about vaccination passports altogether. “If the provinces make decisions on proof of vaccinations, vaccine passports, we will support and respect what the provinces decide to do,” O’Toole said. That is not a position on vaccine passports. It is more of an evasion for now. So here’s another way to draw some lines around the three leaders’ opening positions on vaccination passports: NDP, easy to say; Liberals, hard to do; Conservatives, hard to say. The Canadian public is having an increasingly important conversation about whether vaccination passports would be practical — and it’s a conversation that should be finding its way into a serious federal election debate. In fact, the public and businesses may be out ahead of the politicians on this one, as people wrestle with how to navigate their way between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. For months, polls have been showing increasing approval for vaccination passports, which is creating a demand for some kind of proof of vaccination in all walks of life. In Ottawa, where I live, the idea of provinces going their own ways in issuing vaccination proof is a messy prospect, given how many people cross back and forth between Quebec and Ontario every day. Perhaps that’s one reason why Doug Ford held out for so long against some kind of certificates for Ontarians. Trudeau clearly relishes the prospect of painting Conservatives — whether it’s Ford or O’Toole — as passport-hesitant, which he equates with vaccine hesitancy and resistance to science in general. The Liberal leader has been shadowed on the road by an obnoxious group of anti-vaxxers who shout racist remarks, and Trudeau doesn’t mind being seen on the opposite side of that particularly toxic bundle of intolerance. The problem with the vaccination-proof fund is that it’s absolutely invisible to average voters. As I and others have argued, . Retired general Rick Hillier, formerly head of Ford’s vaccine task force, complained Friday on CBC Radio that Trudeau’s government was “too bureaucratic.” He was talking about the Canadian efforts in crumbling Afghanistan, but the criticism touches more largely on why the Liberals are having trouble making themselves heard in this election. A vaccination-passport fund. Too bureaucratic, maybe? After six years in government, Liberals know that they can’t just go out on the road and blue-sky about a national vaccination passport, as Singh did on Friday. Nor can Trudeau just say the provinces can go their own way, without any details on Ottawa’s role in the passport debate, as O’Toole has. But “it’s complicated” doesn’t make for a lively or creative discussion about what the post-pandemic future looks like — which is supposed to be the point of this election. Vaccinations are part of that immediate future and perhaps this emerging discussion on passports — one, many or none at all — may give Canadians some clue about why we’re in a campaign now. A debate over mandatory vaccinations might have done that too, but it too got bogged down in complications and non-answers all around in the opening days of the campaign. The first leaders’ TV debate is less than a week away. The unfolding discussion about vaccination passports might be a hint for where the debate could get interesting. Susan Delacourt is an Ottawa-based columnist covering national politics for the Star. Reach her via email: or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt

Comfort is the key for Collingwood fashion boutique Vaiya

Big plans for a little store in Collingwood were interrupted by a pandemic. Carolina D’Andrea, owner of at , closed her One Love shop and moved into her new digs in December 2019. “I redesigned my business for this new location. And that was all kind of around this space. It was all supposed to be comfort clothing, but also travel-friendly wear,” she said. “I was going to go more in a direction of cruise wear, travel basics, comfy things. I was going to bring in … bags and things that were more on that travel theme — because at One Love, I would have a lot of people coming in saying, ‘I’m going away; I need something comfy.’” A travel theme turned out not to be the answer, however. “One of the great things that sort of staged me with my business is comfortable casual wear suddenly became what everybody wanted. We were always into basics, natural fibres, linen, cotton and bamboo, so the stuff I had was very lockdown friendly — or Zoom-call friendly.” During the COVID-19 shutdowns, D’Andrea set up social media accounts and was able to do short videos showing her casual yet comfy clothing online. Additionally, she doubled the number of mannequins in her store window and changed their outfits regularly, which led to phone calls from people wanting the fashion for themselves. “Fortunately, because I had an existing customer base and was already bringing in some really good pieces and a bit of active wear, and just like a good mix of things, it worked. Even my footwear collection was always about comfort, so people are now prioritizing comfort more than they ever did before,” she said. “And I think more people are more mindful of not buying fast fashion. They’re more conscientious, they don’t want too much synthetic. They don’t want throwaway clothes. They want good stuff that will last and I have that.”

Phosphorus recycling facility for Lake Simcoe ‘overdue’: Bradford councillor

A Bradford West Gwillimbury councillor’s motion to ask York Region to expedite the planning and construction of the proposed Holland Marsh phosphorus Recycling Facility was unanimously passed by council.  Coun. Jonathan Scott’s motion also called on the provincial government to help fund the project.  Scott partnered with Georgina Coun. Dave Neeson to move the planning and construction of the facility forward. The proposed facility is meant to reduce phosphoros run-off from the Holland Marsh agricultural area into the Holland River and Lake Simcoe by up to 85 per cent, removing an estimated 2.5 tonnes each year. The facility is a proposal of York Region to be built in between Bradford and King Township. The federal government is contributing $16 million toward the estimated $40-million project.  The project is on hold because the region was planning to include it as part of the overall Upper York Sewage Solution, which has been paused indefinitely. “One question led to another, and I eventually was able to speak with officials at York Region and realized that because of this broader debate about the (UYSS), this project was unfortunately stalled within that broader debate,” Scott said. Scott and Neeson discussed how to move the construction of the facility forward. “The phosphorus treatment plant is so beneficial and so overdue because of our 12-year commitments to reduce phosphoros under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, that we decided to try and do what we could to push it forward,” Scott said. Scott said he’s optimistic the facility will be built, because he said all levels of government are aligned on the issue of the phosphorus recycling facility. “I think the key that could unlock this whole thing is if the province agreed to pick up some of the capital costs and then, frankly, York Region would have no excuse to not remove this part of their overall scheme and move this forward independently,” he said.  Neeson said the recycling facility is an important step forward for the entire Lake Simcoe watershed. “This facility will be a game-changer for the entire Lake Simcoe watershed, and we need it to proceed,” Neeson said. “A wide variety of Lake Simcoe watershed residents and stakeholder groups are united in supporting our motion, and we hope the region and the province are listening.” Jack Gibbons, chair of Lake Simcoe Watch, said the facility has been three decades in the making. “We need to take many actions to reduce phosphorus pollution in Lake Simcoe and to reach the government of Ontario’s target of limiting phosphorus pollution to 44 tonnes per year,” he said. The facility is the single largest pollution reduction option that is available in Lake Simcoe and is a project that should be pursued, Gibbons said. It’s “absolutely disgraceful” that the facility is still just being talked about, he added. Gibbons said he’s optimistic about the prospects of the facility moving forward with Scott and Neeson pushing for it. “I’m very hopeful that we are going to make progress,” he said. King Township Mayor Steve Pellegrini said it’s been both the Liberal and Conservative governments that have stalled on the issue, and so he remains neutral in that respect. “I’m not here to point fingers at any government, because it’s been both the previous and current sitting provincial governments that have not dealt with the (environmental assessment),” he said.  Pellegrini said the stalling of the project is disappointing because of the money that has been spent, and now there’s no solution.  The motion will be brought to Georgina council on Sept. 17 by Neeson. STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reporter Laura Broadley heard about the push by Bradford West Gwillimbury and Georgina councillors to move the Holland Marsh phosphorus recycling facility forward. She interviewed Coun. Jonathan Scott, Jack Gibbons and Mayor Steve Pellegrini.

‘They have great stuff’: Collingwood second-hand shop popular destination for parents

It pays to have a second-hand shop handy when you’ve got two little boys at home. Ask Jill Mercer, who was at buying a round play seat for her four-month-old baby Hank. “My first son Max didn’t like his ExerSaucer, so I brought it here and got a credit, which I’m using now to buy an ExerSaucer for my second son,” Mercer said. “We’ve bought a lot of stuff here; my mom comes all the time. They have great stuff.” After being in business for seven years in Wasaga Beach, owner Kim Blakeney moved the gently used children’s clothing shop to Collingwood three years ago. Since the pandemic started, parents have been asked to bring in clothing and leave it until staff has had a chance to determine what they can or can’t sell. The parent is then invited back to the store to review what Little Labels will keep and see what their store credit or dollar amount will be, Blakeney said. “We only accept one bin at a time, but there are people who roll up with these huge garbage bags and just tons and tons of stuff. Especially now … because they couldn’t do anything for two years almost,” she said. “We had to stop (accepting clothing) for just right now because we had to get caught up.” Blakeney will accept fall and winter clothing again soon, she said, adding toys are not seasonal and she will usually accept them, except for bikes or wagons, which they can’t store at their Hurontario Street location over the winter. “We get some really unique one-offs that don’t last long. As soon as we put them in the window or front of the store, they’re gone.” Blakeney picked up an approximately three-foot-long white wooden boat that had been dropped off that morning. “It’s a little rocking boat. People love the wood, maybe because it sometimes just reminds them of the old days. It will go fast — all the wooden toys do,” she said. For more information, visit .

‘It’s irresponsible to be having an election right now’: Is campaigning safe in Barrie, Simcoe County?

Doug Shipley feels the difference at the door. A veteran of prior municipal and federal campaigns, the is used to the clichéd shaking hands and kissing babies aspect of electioneering. But in a pandemic, the mindset has shifted — for himself, his family and a team of volunteers. Now, when he gets to a door, he knocks on it, immediately takes a few steps back and apologizes for getting into the occupant’s personal space. And there will be no bands of volunteers from his campaign shuttling voters to the polls this year. “We’re still going to some doors, but not as many,” he said. “We’re masked, we’ve got hand sanitizer with us, we’re not shaking hands or greeting people. It’s just a different campaign. Someone comes to the door and says someone in that house has COVID; if you don’t think that weighs on your mind, absolutely it does. I’m very concerned. I’m double-vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it. I have a wife and kids at home. We shouldn’t be having an election right now.” Shipley says his campaign is relying more heavily on telephone calls, mail-outs and social media than in past elections. But he’s been told by a few volunteers that they just don’t feel comfortable helping out this time. “I don’t think campaigning has really changed in 150 years; maybe it’s time to redo the whole thing,” he said. “A lot of people are disappointed this election was called — the timing and reason for it. People have opened up their eyes. By now, I probably would have shaken 15,000 or 20,000 hands. It’s odd to me.” The for running safe debates and polling stations. But with , some consternation is being expressed by medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner over whether in-person voting, protesting, debating and campaigning can ever truly be safe during a pandemic. “It was a concern to me and my (medical) colleagues,” he said recently. “This needs to be managed well. There’s still the potential for gatherings.” Liberal candidate , who also ran in previous municipal elections, says she hasn’t had an issue recruiting volunteers and is “in awe” over the number recruited to her campaign. But there has been a noticeable shift in tone between municipal and federal politics. “The division is really strong,” she said. “Nobody has really come out and said what the issue is. We’re in a pandemic and people are really struggling with staying home. I feel there’s a lot more anger out there.” Saari says her signs have been damaged and a 12-year-old volunteer was yelled at while walking down the street recently. “The negativity is something I’m not used to,” she said. “I can take it. I just wasn’t prepared for it to happen to my volunteers. These people are volunteering and I wish people would have more respect.” NDP hopeful , a rookie candidate, said her team is working remotely instead of through a typical campaign office. “When we do meet, we are outdoors and distanced and masked,” she said. “It’s irresponsible to be having an election right now. We’re in the middle of a crisis.” The riding’s returning officer did not reply to Simcoe.com’s request for an interview to discuss voting safety and whether Elections Canada is having difficulty finding staff to work local polling stations. And People’s Party candidate could not be reached for comment.

Explainer: What is happening with the Cherry Blossom Village project?

Cherry Blossom Village is a 33,000-square-foot ‘residential care facility’ planned for The facility will support children, youth and adults with complex special needs, including autism, said Ted Walker, mayor of Tay Township. Founded by Howard Bloom, clinical director, and Dr. Robert Cooper, the village will consist of 24 private live-in suites and 10 single-resident homes to support 34 residents.  Bloom founded a similar community in Oro-Medonte called . Cherry Blossom Village will have a farm-based learning program combined with recreational skill building and strong community engagement, Walker said.  The project is moving forward after receiving a (MZO) on Aug. 27.  What is an MZO? An MZO is a measure Ontario’s can use to zone the use of any land in the province.  These orders bypass a municipality’s normal planning approval process; including public consultation and appeal. Why request an MZO for Cherry Blossom Village? Bloom applied for the MZO. Walker explained that the property is zoned for agricultural use and that hasn’t changed under the MZO. It was the number of buildings — the 24 private live-in suites, 10 personal homes and ancillary building for offices and recreational amenities — that, without the MZO, would have required bylaw, zoning, and official plan amendments, he said.  “It’s just something that was not anticipated before in zoning and bylaws and official plans,” Walker said. Changing the official plan and zoning bylaws to accommodate the facility would have been a lengthy process, he said. “This helps speed it up because the need is there now,” he said. How much time was shaved off? It’s hard to say, Walker said. “A lot of that depends on what might come up during the consultation process and things like that,” he said. Was the public excluded from providing input? No. Although not required under MZO approval, the township sent notice to all property owners within 120 metres of the subject lands and published the MZO request in the newspaper.  They also held a public meeting in August 2020. Bloom spoke about the project and took submitted comments, Walker said. “We wanted to assure ourselves that it is something that would be supported by the community,” he said. How does the community feel about the project? There were no strong objections at the public meeting, Walker said.  What’s the economic impact of this development? The facility will employ staff for its farm operation and over 120 full-time staff including: child and youth care practitioners, developmental service workers, personal support workers, and recreation therapists as well as facility service and culinary staff. “It’s going to be a very positive impact on the local economy,” Walker said.  What happens with the project now that MZO approval is in hand? The next step is to submit the site plan for township approval, Walker said. It could be another two years before shovels are in the ground.  — With files from Frank Matys

At least 860 people have died of COVID-19 in Ontario hospital outbreaks. What we now know about the ‘unmitigated tragedy’

At least 860 people have died of COVID-19 in an Ontario hospital outbreak, according to a new public health report that reveals a far larger death toll than had been previously known. The total, contained in a Public Health Ontario (PHO) epidemiological summary updated earlier this month, means Ontario hospitals have been the province’s second-deadliest setting for COVID-19 outbreaks in the pandemic, behind long-term-care homes and ahead of retirement homes — but with little of the public reckoning seen in those sectors. “There’s no other way to depict this other than a completely unmitigated tragedy,” said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious diseases consultant at the University Health Network and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. The death toll highlights the changes hospitals need to make to better control the spread of respiratory diseases now and in the future, he added. Another serious respiratory disease is “invariably, inevitably going to be coming our way at some point in the future,” he said. In recent months, Ontario’s public health officials have defended the province’s hospital safety protocols against criticism they have not been changed to reflect growing evidence of COVID’s airborne risk; the province’s health officials remain steadfast this was the right call. The province’s key guidance on protecting hospitals from the virus relies instead on familiar “droplet and contact” protections — exemplified by surgical masks, face shields and physical distancing — and mandates stricter airborne protocols — such as the exclusive use of N95 respirators and negative-pressure isolation rooms — only for specific medical procedures. Marlene Chorley, whose father Rob Chorley died after catching COVID at Mississauga Hospital last February, on Wednesday said it was “shocking” to learn so many others have suffered the same fate. The Chorley family says they were told little about how Rob, a 67-year-old retired Air Canada worker, could have contracted the virus in hospital. What they do know is that he was exposed on Feb. 22 while in hospital to have a small tumour removed from his spine and within days of testing positive, he started to have trouble breathing. He died at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital on March 22. “These are statistics, but these are real people that are dying,” she said. The province’s guidelines are formulated in a document known as “Directive 5,” which is supported by the large majority of infection prevention and control experts who manage outbreak response inside Ontario hospitals. Critics, however, say the rules are at odds with the latest research. Last month, a major review in the journal Science pointed to several lines of evidence that each offer “strong and unequivocal evidence for airborne transmission.” In a new peer-reviewed study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases this week, a separate team of U.S. researchers was able to collect and culture COVID-19 aerosols from the breath of people wearing surgical or cloth masks, a finding that suggests “that the virus is evolving toward more effective dissemination through aerosols and demonstrates that infectious virus can escape from loose-fitting masks.” The authors conclude: “Therefore, until vaccination rates are very high, continued layered controls and tight-fitting masks and respirators will be necessary.” In a written response to the Star’s questions, Bill Campbell, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health emphasized that hospitals are required “to adhere to all components of Directive 5 on required precautions and procedures for health and safety and the use of personal protective equipment.” Campbell noted the province’s chief medical officer of health has issued a directive mandating hospitals to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees. Ontario is “doing better than other jurisdictions because we have kept public health measures in place, including maintaining indoor masking and capacity limits, while continuing to roll out first and second doses as part of our last-mile strategy,” he said. Hospital outbreaks are declared after two or more patients contract the virus within a specified area, such as a unit or floor, and both could have reasonably been infected in the hospital. Campbell noted that the PHO report refers to all outbreak-associated cases linked to a declared hospital outbreak, but may not necessarily reflect where the person acquired the infection. The fact Ontario’s hospital infection control experts have not acted on the evidence for airborne spread shows they are “absolutely in denial,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. The infection control field is “going to be on a multi-year reckoning when COVID is over and done,” he said. “There’s an avalanche of evidence now from everywhere,” Sharkawy added. Unlike with long-term care, Ontario does not publish a detailed list of hospital outbreaks on a facility-by-facility basis, making it impossible for the Star to do the kind of in-depth analysis it has done on COVID outcomes in nursing homes. The province first published topline data on COVID deaths in hospital outbreaks earlier this year, revealing there were 297 deaths among patients who caught the virus in a hospital outbreak from the start of the pandemic to Dec. 26, 2020. After this, the Star was able to use local health unit data to confirm a total of at least 500 deaths in Ontario hospital outbreaks through late June 2021 — a finding that revealed hundreds more patients had died after catching COVID in a hospital outbreak in Waves 2 and 3. That analysis was missing data from several of the province’s larger health units, and the new PHO report reveals a substantially larger toll over a similar period — 6,292 infections and 860 deaths from the beginning of the pandemic through July 5, 2021, near the end of the third wave. The difference since the earlier PHO report — 563 patient deaths — again highlights that hundreds more have died after catching COVID inside an Ontario hospital since Directive 5 was last substantively changed last fall, and after the arrival of the more transmissible Alpha and Delta variants. (The latest number is likely still an undercount, as it does not include any developments in the last two months). The new PHO report also finds Ontario’s hospital outbreaks have tended to be larger and longer-lasting than reported outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes, the other settings the province classifies as “congregate care.” Campbell, the ministry spokesperson, noted that the two PHO reports reflect two very different times during the pandemic. “The original PHO report reflects a period of time prior to the Delta variant, when COVID-19 was less transmissible,” he said. “The more recent report reflects the high transmissibility of the Alpha and Delta variants in the community.” In May, the province defeated a court challenge calling on the chief medical officer of health to update Directive 5 in response to the virus’ airborne risk. Among other things, the Ontario Nurses’ Association asked a judge to enforce a mandate to use N95 respirators, which are rated to filter smaller particles that can bypass surgical masks. “This high number of deaths in hospitals tells us that COVID-19 is indeed airborne as the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) warned from the very beginning of the pandemic,” ONA president Vicki McKenna said Wednesday. “It didn’t have to be this way and the government was advised many times.” Although studies have shown surgical masks do reduce transmission, they are otherwise not designed to prevent airborne spread; standard guidelines for controlling known airborne diseases, such as measles and tuberculosis, demand N95s or better, strict isolation protocols and a focus on ventilation. Supporting the province against the nurses’ court challenge, 29 infection prevention and control professionals representing 24 Ontario hospital networks signed their names endorsing Directive 5 and stating their opinion that COVID is primarily spread by “droplet and contact” route, rather than airborne transmission. Directive 5 saw its last major update in October, however, the basic reliance on “droplet and contact” protocols, with situational exceptions, have remained unchanged since spring 2020. For Sharkawy, the death toll shows Ontario has “betrayed” the trust patients placed in hospital care amid the pandemic. He recalled, in particular, a female patient of his who had been at Toronto Western Hospital waiting on transfer to a different facility. The woman caught COVID-19 in a hospital outbreak before she could be transferred, and died following a “precipitous” illness, he said. “It was such a bitter pill for me to swallow, knowing that we let that happen, that she probably would have been just fine had we had the right set up, the right design, the right level of tightness and seal around our patients,” he said. Correction – Sept. 16, 2021: This article has been edited to correct that Rob Chorley contracted COVID-19 at Mississauga Hospital, not Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. The article has also been updated to make clear the PHO report on COVID-19 outbreaks includes all cases linked to a declared hospital outbreak, but may not necessarily reflect the location where each person acquired the infection.