Two million Ontario school kids not in class, a near-record number of COVID-19 patients in hospital, and provincewide closures or restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas.
It’s definitely not how Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives wanted to start off this election year.
But Omicron doesn’t care about the Ontario political calendar or how beleaguered voters might be feeling after nearly two years of pandemic life: it’s just a virus, a particularly infectious variant spreading through the population “like wildfire,” Ford said Monday.
“We’re going to get hit like a tsunami,” Ford added. “Brace for impact.”
He was talking about the impact on workforces across Ontario and on hospitals, but his message could just as easily have been directed at his political team.
While it’s fairly clear what the impact will be in the health system, the impact on Ontario politics is far trickier to forecast.
WATCH | CBC’s Mike Crawley answers questions about what’s next:
Despite plenty of criticism on Twitter of the Ford government’s handling of the pandemic so far, Twitter isn’t representative of the average voter.
Every published poll since last spring has showed the PCs leading. Ford’s approval ratings and favourability numbers in published polls remain in the 40 per cent range, and that’s enough for an election win in Ontario politics.
Will this Omicron-driven rise in cases and hospitalizations — or the government’s move to shut schools and ban indoor dining at restaurants in response — spell a drop for Ford in the polls?
Polling firms that have been tracking Ontarians’ views throughout the pandemic have generally found more voters saying the government was getting it right on COVID-19 restrictions than voters criticizing the measures as either too loose or too tight.
The chief exceptions: when Ontario neared the second and third waves without imposing significant new restrictions. That’s when the pollsters found growth in voters feeling the government wasn’t doing enough.
While there may be some people angry at the government over what they perceive as yet another lockdown, that polling evidence suggests the far bigger political risk for Ford and the PCs would have been to do nothing.
Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table urged the government to impose what it called “circuit breaker” public health restrictions back on Dec. 16. In essence, a circuit breaker is what Ontario got three weeks later: the measures that took effect on Wednesday.
We’ll never know what difference it would have made had things kicked in three weeks sooner. We’ll also…