Ontario golf courses will remain closed during COVID-19 stay-at-home order, solicitor general says
May 12, 2021
There’s no mulligan looming.
Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are not going to give themselves a do-over and reopen Ontario’s golf courses until the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Despite a furor from golfers and some unrest within the Tory caucus, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Tuesday that shutting down activities like golf was about limiting mobility and socializing.
The province’s science table of doctors and epidemiologists, which pressed Ford for the controversial April 16 stay-at-home order that is likely to be extended to June 2, has insisted outdoor sports are safe.
That prompted Jones to fire back at the volunteer panel over what she characterized as contradictory advice.
“The science table also was very clear that they did not want people to be moving around, to be transmitting through movement between regions, communities,” the solicitor general said. “Those two issues together are actually fighting against each other.
“We don’t have a golf course at the end of every street, so we have to make sure that people continue to understand that the stay-at-home order is in to avoid unnecessary movement,” said Jones.
“Frankly, a lot of outdoor recreation -- when you go long distances to participate in those -- encourages the movement that we don’t want and that leads to transmissions.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath blasted the Tories, noting “they make decisions that make no sense and then they have to pull them back.”
That was a reference to the government’s April 17 retreat on a plan to have random police checks and ban children from playgrounds in efforts to keep Ontarians at home.
“A decision like this about outdoor activities is not what the science table recommends, but the government’s doing it anyway,” said Horwath.
“This is why we say that the way the government has handled this virus has been confusing, it has been poorly communicated, and it has not been transparent,” she said.
“Perhaps the government has dug in (on golf) as a way to deflect off of the mistakes they made in terms of their decision with the current stay-at-home order.”
Liberal house leader John Fraser said it is obvious the Tories are gun-shy about reopening anything even as new daily cases gradually decrease.
“Right now, the easiest thing for them to do is don’t move, because we’re not where we need to be in cases, so there would be some risk in that,” said Fraser.
“It’s not an easy thing and the reason it’s not an easy thing is that the government didn’t take strong enough measures in February when they were warned about what would happen,” he said.
“Now the government finds itself in a bind.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the Tories need “to follow the science.”
“The science advisory table is saying outdoor activities are safe if they’re done safely, so they should be reopened in a way that people can do them safely,” said Schreiner.
“Focus on areas where the virus is spreading, not on where it’s not spreading,” he said.
As reported by the Star, Tory MPPs are getting an earful from constituents who want to hit the links.
Some past financial contributors are demanding to be removed from donors’ lists, MPPs have privately confided.
But Ford’s office told them again Tuesday that closing golf courses -- along with tennis and basketball courts -- has limited mobility and curbed socializing.
“The stay-home order is working,” said a senior official, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations.
Indeed, there were 2,073 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, below even the best-case scenario outlined in the science table’s modelling estimate of April 16 that led to the current restrictions.
“When you’re supposed to stay home, you shouldn’t be driving around to golf courses -- and it’s not just playing golf, it’s the socializing before and after that’s a concern,” the insider said.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said Monday that he would like to see new cases “well below 1,000” a day before lockdown measures are eased.
Ford is expected to officially announce an extension to the stay-at-home provisions later this week, so they would last through June 2.
Meanwhile, Golf Ontario, which represents the industry, insisted “golf is safe and it is incredibly important for the mental and physical well-being of so many. It is time to reopen safe outdoor activities.”