A federal Conservative politician has broken ranks with his party to speak out against strict COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario.
David Sweet, who represents the Hamilton riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook, said it’s time for a more focused approach in the province, protecting those most at risk and leaving those at low risk to go back to some normalcy.
“Seniors, long-term care homes, congregate settings; helping people that have pre-existing conditions that feel unsafe with income helps. That’s where the focus should be with efforts and resources,” Sweet told Global News on Thursday.
While he is a member of the federal government and most health protocols have been left up to the provinces, Sweet said he believes the Ford government should move Ontario to the green prevent level on its COVID-19 response framework.
“We’re saying go to green because green still has plenty of public health safety restrictions, but allows businesses to open, allows young people to have regular sports etc.,” he said.
A big part of Sweet’s rationale is the impact on the economy. At the green level, businesses would still need to strictly screen employees’ health and keep physical distancing measures in place.
While jumping straight to green might be a bit too fast for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the head of the organization said he feels the current measures are doing a lot of irreversible harm to entrepreneurs.
“We need a slow and steady approach, but progress each and every week to be able to reopen more and more businesses and start to lower the restrictions as COVID vaccinations increase,” Dan Kelly, the CFIB’s president and CEO, said.
“Ontario has been way too slow.”
Sweet revealed his stance in a news conference at the Ontario legislature building on Wednesday with independent MPP Roman Baber, who was kicked out of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party caucus in January for similar views.
Earlier that month, Sweet resigned as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee when he was found to have taken an unauthorized vacation in the U.S. over the holidays. He said he is not running again once his current term is up, but noted that has nothing to do with why he is speaking out.
Despite breaking off from the party line and that of most municipal and provincial medical officers of health, he will not be punished for his comments.
In a statement, Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole said he respects the work of Canada’s premiers and doctors and that “after a year of the pandemic, people are frustrated and tired. Frustration is understandable but it should not lead to counterproductive behaviour.”
Sweet insisted his views are formed by “reading papers, epidemiological studies … listening to constituents, looking at what’s happening to our businesses.”
He said he is not an anti-masker and not a conspiracy theorist, but that he believes “extending lockdowns like this, the consequences are greater than what would happen without them.”
Asked if there are other politicians in Ottawa who feel the same way but won’t speak publicly, Sweet replied, chuckling, “out of 338 members of federal Parliament, I can’t believe I’m the only one that thinks this way.”
Sweet’s comments represent another public clash of opinion and mixed messaging involving politicians and health experts.
The constant cycle of hopeful highs and disappointing lows that often leave regular citizens unsure of what to believe can be a huge negative for one’s mental health.
“Right now, people are really feeling very taxed by the uncertainty and we’re not receiving the kind of support for those emotions that we should be receiving,” Mark Henick, author of So-Called Normal: A Memoir of Family, Depression and Resilience, said.
The mental health advocate told Global News depression and anxiety are on the rise, leading to mistrust, conspiracies, and self-harm. Henick said a large part of that comes from an overload of new, conflicting information on everything from lockdowns to the vaccine supply; throw social media into the mix, and it’s a lot to handle.
“Our brains crave clarity, our brains are lazy, we don’t like all this uncertainty. So we need clarity, we need decisiveness, but we also need better mental health supports for people, understanding that this is a very normal expression,” he said.
Henick said politicians and corporations need to stop using mental health for insincere, feel-good messaging and make help more accessible.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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