December 7, 2020, Premier Doug Ford and Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, General (retired) Rick Hillier, provided an update on Ontario’s plans to distribute initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable populations and those who care for them.
Premier Ford and General Hillier were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, and Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones. Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford, General Hillier, and Minister Elliott responded to questions from media.
Earlier today, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk tabled her 2020 Annual Report, which audited a wide range of organizations and programs, including the oversight of retirement homes and condominiums, coordination of Indigenous affairs, and the delivery of virtual health care. In addition to its 13 value-for-money audits, the Report included a section on government advertising, which found that the government spent more than double on advertising in 2019-20 than in 2018-19. The Report also included follow-up reports on recommendations from previous Annual Reports, which found that the government needs to do more to implement agreed-upon recommendations.
Initial Recipients of COVID-19 Vaccine
This afternoon, Premier Ford and General Hillier announced Ontario’s intent to prioritize the vaccination of vulnerable populations and those who care for these populations, upon the province’s initial receipt of COVID-19 vaccines.
As recommended by the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force, groups to receive early doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will include:
- Residents, staff, essential caregivers, and other employees of congregate living settings (such as long-term care and retirement homes) that provide care for seniors;
- Health care workers, including hospital employees, other staff who work or study in hospitals, and other health care personnel;
- Adults in Indigenous communities, including remote communities where risk of transmission is high; and
- Adult recipients of chronic home health care.
Ontario will also prioritize vaccine rollout in regions with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection, including in Red-Control and Lockdown regions.
Early doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are expected to only be available for non-pregnant adults over the age of 18, based on clinical trials. Eligible age groups may change as more information becomes available.
Pending Health Canada approval, the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Ontario as early as next week. According to Premier Ford, early shipments will be limited, and “far from the millions needed for mass immunization.” General Hillier noted that the timeline for vaccinating the first Ontarians will be between seven to ten days after the first doses arrive.
General Hillier added that Ontario’s approach to COVID-19 vaccine distribution will be comprised of three phases:
- The first phase will include sufficient doses for 1.2 million Ontarians, prioritizing vulnerable populations and those who care for them. The phase will take place in the first quarter of 2021.
- The second phase is expected to begin in April 2021 and last between six to nine months. During this phase, a greater quantity of vaccines will arrive. Vaccines will be allocated depending on priority populations (after vulnerable populations and health care workers) set by Cabinet and the Vaccine Distribution Task Force.
- The third phase will be similar to regular immunization efforts, such as those that occur for the annual flu vaccine. During this phase, special vaccination sites established in phases one and two will be closed and Ontarians will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at pharmacies or clinics.
Questions from Media
Proof of Vaccination
When asked whether settings such as workplaces, schools, or long-term care facilities would be permitted to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, Premier Ford responded that the vaccine will be optional and that the government will not force Ontarians to be vaccinated. Minister Elliott added that Ontarians who choose not to be vaccinated may be subject to travel or other restrictions beyond the control of the Ontario government.
Auditor General 2020 Annual Report
This morning, Auditor General Lysyk tabled her 2020 Annual Report, which included 13 value-for-money audits, a review of government advertising, and follow-up reports on previous audit recommendations.
Value-For-Money Audit Findings
Key findings from the 13 value-for-money audits included in this year’s report are outlined below. The full report can be accessed here.
- Blood Management and Safety: The audit found that neither the Ministry of Health nor Canadian Blood Services (CBS) gathers important information about the supply and demand for blood components and products used by hospitals, including how blood products and blood components are used for specific health conditions.
- Curriculum Development, Implementation and Delivery: The Report concluded that the Ministry of Education does not have formal processes in place to assess when curriculums may require updating. Processes used to evaluate curriculum teaching are inconsistent and neither the Ministry nor school boards are aware of whether curricula are taught consistently or to a high standard across Ontario.
- Indigenous Affairs: Findings included that the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs does not lead or coordinate Indigenous programs across government. The Report also found that access to government programs and economic development opportunities in Indigenous communities is inhibited by poor broadband Internet access.
- Information Technology (IT) Systems and Cybersecurity at Metrolinx:The audit found that IT glitches cause train delays more often than necessary, resulting in lost revenue. In addition, there is a lack of enterprise-level IT coordination within Metrolinx, which has resulted in redundant system purchases, project delays, and cost overruns.
- Metrolinx Governance and Operations: Findings included that Metrolinx was aware that the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project would cost more than the $1 billion that it publicly reported. The on-time performance of train and bus services was also found to be comparable to that of similar transit systems.
- Museums and Galleries: Findings included that inventory management and valuation practices needed improvement at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
- Supportive Services for Adults with Developmental Disabilities: Adults with developmental disabilities face increasing wait lists for the full range of services, despite increased funding levels. Due to a lack of oversight and measurement of service agency performance, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services is not aware whether the funding and services provided for adults with development disabilities is effective in meeting their needs.
- Virtual Care and Use of Communication Technologies for Patient Care: Despite the growing need for virtual patient care, which was exacerbated by COVID-19, Ontario does not yet have targets or goals for this service. It is recommended that the government ensure better integration and coordination of the Ontario Telemedicine Network and Telehealth Ontario, as well as develop a more effective oversight process for physician billings for virtual care.
- Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO): The AGCO does not focus on compliance and was found to have only followed-up on two-thirds of complaints about cannabis stores in the past two years. The AGCO was also found not to fill gaps in processes required to address the risk of money laundering in casinos.
- Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO): Findings included that the BAO does not effectively protect people who are purchasing funeral services and products after a loved one has passed, given that key purchasing information, such as price lists, is not required to be easily accessible to the public. Members of the public are often subject to high-pressure sales tactics and there are no industry standards on packages, fees, deposits, and cancellation policies.
- Condominium Oversight in Ontario: The Report concluded that many condominium purchases may not fully understand the financial implications, including maintenance fees and reserve funds needed for repairs that are associated with buying this type of home. Further, condo owners have difficulty accessing condo corporation information and records.
- Electrical Safety Authority (ESA): Findings included that the ESA needs to do a better job in preventing illegal electrical work and that the ESA conducts many unnecessary inspections that do not improve public safety.
- Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA): The audit found that an increasing number of people living in retirement homes require a higher level of care suitable to that provided by long-term care homes.
Review of Government Advertising
In addition to its 13 value-for-money audits, the Report included a section on government advertising. Findings within this section include that the government spent $27.3 million on 645 ads reviewed by the Auditor General in 2019-20, in addition to $8.2 million on search services and digital social media ads that are exempt from review, and $2.0 million on COVID-19 advertising. A total of $37.59 million was spent on advertising in 2019-20, more than double the total of $16.39 million spent in 2018-19.
In addition, about 35 per cent of the government’s reviewable advertising was deemed to be partisan, and would not have passed the previous version of the Government Advertising Act, 2004. However, as a result of changes to the Act in 2015, the Office of the Auditor General no longer has the discretionary authority to determine what constitutes partisan advertising.