The Cruelty of Doug Ford’s Leaky Communication Strategy

It is Sunday January 2. Ontario students are supposed to be returning to the classroom in three days, a delay of two days from the original start date, which was announced only three days ago. And tonight parents heard about a cabinet meeting and rumours that school reopening will be delayed two weeks. Yes, three days after being told school would start on January 5, we are now hearing rumours it will not. 

While I can understand policies changing in response to the ever mutating Covid situation, this is not that. At all. The motivation for another possible delay in school openings is not the rate of Omicron transmission, which was at a high level three days ago. Rather, it is social media outrage among the people who will be casting ballots in the June provincial election.

In what has become standard operating procedure, the Ford government held a cabinet meeting to discuss changes to policies announced just this past Thursday not because of new evidence but because voters are mad. There is fierce opposition on Twitter to the Ford plan of a two-day school reopening delay, with parents, teachers, principals, nurses, doctors, epidemiologists, and many others expressing their concerns that schools cannot be opened safely so should not be opened at all, at least not yet. People have been encouraged through social media  to contact their MPPs to express their disapproval of the government plan. Now we have rumours that school opening will be pushed back two or maybe even three weeks. (For the record, I am not commenting on the merits of any changes to school openings, just the way in which they are being communicated.)

So, yet again, we appear to be dealing with the rumour-decision-outrage-rumor-revision cycle we’ve endured since the beginning of the pandemic. As we’ve all come to realize, rumours like the ones we’ve heard tonight do not seep out by accident. The Ford government is a sieve by design; it leaks information while it dithers, hoping to gauge which decision will upset voters the least. And if further anger ensues after Ford et al make a decision? They’ll just change their minds. 

Some might argue that we should disregard rumours and just wait for the actual announcement, or, in the case of the Ford government, the announcement that an announcement is forthcoming at some point in the future. But we know their game. We know that most of these rumours end up being true so once they are leaked, they are nearly impossible to ignore. They float out there, ominously, while we wonder and worry.

Deliberately leaking inflammatory information while failing to confirm or deny any of it increases anxiety and exacerbates an already tense situation. It is callous and cruel to subject people purposely to these uncertainties, yet the Ford government does it time and again.

Today it is parents wondering when schools will open and what arrangements they’ll have to scramble to make for their children. In the past, it has been small business owners wondering whether they’ll be allowed customers in their stores or restaurants or have to close and lay off staff with just a few days’ notice. (Actually, rumour has it they might be affected by today’s cabinet meeting too.) 

We’re all exhausted by this pandemic. What we need right now is a government that calms the waters with firm decisions based on sound policy. What we have is a government beholden to the whims of social media chatter and all too willing to muddy the waters with whispers and media leaks. 

Then again, all these leaks might be just what we need to sink the Ford government in the next election.

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