From time to time, Regional Council is subjected to “letter campaigns” where someone has circulated a specific message and encourages their contacts to email this message to Council. As a result, we end up getting the exact same email (word for word) from a variety of people. Recently we have seen some of these campaigns targeting our Medical Officer of Health, either critical of policy or, more alarmingly, attacking him personally.
In response to these emails, I’d like to provide some clarification about the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) and the role of Council with respect to Public Health in response to the circulation of misinformation.
The role of our local public health unit and our local MOH is to apply a regional lens to the overall health of Niagara’s population. If there are circumstances that warrant a separate and distinct set of recommendations or directives, the MOH is empowered by the Health Protection and Promotion Act to take that action.
Actions such as these are taken in consultation with a variety of stakeholders including the Science Table, other public health units or MOHs, affected parties (such as school boards) and the local board of health (Regional Council). These actions are always informed by data and science. These tools have been implemented across different regions during the entire pandemic. It is not unique to Niagara.
Regional Council does not direct the Medical Officer of Health. They are an independent medical doctor that has the capacity to make decisions for the health of the Region. Regional Council acts as an advisory board only. I would be very concerned if Regional Council had this power as not one member of Council is a medical doctor, nor do we have the specialized knowledge or expertise with respect to epidemiology that would qualify someone to make these types of decisions. Politics should not factor into the science of public health decisions, especially partisan politics. This is why autonomy was built into the legislation that governs public health and the MOH position.
We know changes are coming March 1 from the Province. The specifics of what that means has not been communicated yet. Once the regulatory language is shared by the Province, Public Health can better determine what, if any, recommendations, or directives are necessary. However, once that is determined, Regional Council does not have the ability to override those decisions despite information that has been circulating.
I know it’s been a very long two years. It certainly seems like the end of the pandemic is near. This was always a marathon, not a sprint! I like many of you will welcome some normalcy in our lives. For the many people out there that have been diligently following public health advice, thank you for your patience and your diligence! Thank you for getting vaccinated! Your efforts have helped us get closer to a finish line and hopefully will lead to a spring that is filled with friends, families, and long overdue in-person celebrations!