Criticized Williams out as Ontario top medical health officer; Kieran Moore in
Williams faulted for failing to push stiffer restrictions ahead of surge
By Colin Perkel
TORONTO — Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is set to be replaced in the coming weeks, the province announced on Sunday, in a move that drew praise from critics of the outgoing top doctor’s performance and style during the COVID-19 crisis.
Health Minister Christine Elliott issued a statement saying the government would move a motion on Monday to replace Dr. David Williams with Dr. Kieran Moore, whose proposed appointment effective June 26 appeared to be generally welcomed.
“Dr. Moore’s years of experience working in public health will be crucial as we begin to gradually lift public health measures,” Elliott said. “I would like to thank Dr. Williams for his dedication to safeguarding the health and safety of Ontarians during his many years of service.”
Williams became chief medical officer under the previous Liberal government in February 2016. Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government reappointed him in November. He was slated to stay until Sept. 1, but will now retire as of June 25.
While the province praised his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, critics have taken aim at his rambling communication style and questioned his ability to stand up to Ford.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, for example, had been calling for his ouster, saying Williams failed to grasp how serious the situation would become. Doris Grinspun, head of the association, said his decisions appeared to have been politically motivated.
“Either he didn’t have the foresight to use the precautionary principle from the beginning and throughout the pandemic, or he didn’t have the character to say to the premier, ‘This is the way it needs to be,”’ Grinspun said on Sunday.
Criticism on more than COVID-19
Other critics voiced concern about his handling of issues beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zoe Dodd, with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, said Williams mismanaged the opioid crisis. In some communities, she noted, overdose deaths have outstripped pandemic fatalities.
“Dr. Williams has been negligent,” Dodd said on social media. “When COVID hit, we all knew that this man was going to be a puppet for (Ford).”
Moore has been medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health since July 1, 2017. He has a record in public health and emergency medicine.
He has received praise for mitigating the worst of the pandemic in his eastern Ontario region — particularly in nursing homes — by taking decisive action such as mandating lockdowns and the use of protective gear.
Grinspun called Moore’s appointment “brilliant.”
In a statement, Moore said it was a “great honour” to be tapped for the role.
“I would remain steadfast in my commitment to fight COVID-19,” Moore said. “I would provide all necessary advice to the government to ensure the health and safety of all Ontarians.”
Williams has also been faulted for failing to push stiffer restrictions ahead of a surge in COVID-19 cases earlier this year. Ultimately, the province was forced back into lockdown and closed schools last month as hospitals became overrun.
New case counts, however, have fallen sharply in recent weeks as an initially slow vaccine rollout gained steam. The province on Sunday reported 1,033 new COVID-19 infections, a far cry from the more than 4,700 reported in mid-April.
Ontario, currently due to enter the first of a three-step reopening plan in mid-June, also reported 18 more virus-related deaths, while intensive care occupancy was at 614.
The announcement of Williams’ departure comes as a reluctant Ford struggles with whether to send children back to school for the final weeks of the academic year. Williams, along with most of his counterparts, has said classes could resume safely.
Other experts, however, warn COVID-19 still poses a significant threat. Ford himself has expressed concerns over new variants and a projected case jump if in-person classes resume.
New Democrat opposition Leader Andrea Horwath called it “fishy” another person in a COVID-19 leadership position was leaving before the pandemic was over. She noted former general Rick Hillier, initially in charge of the province’s vaccine rollout, left his post in March.
Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberals, welcomed the change, saying Moore should “speak truth to power fearlessly” and Ford should listen.
Moore will work with Williams starting June 7 to ensure a smooth transition, said Elliott. Williams said it had been an honour to serve.
“I also want to thank the people of Ontario for the resilience they have displayed throughout this pandemic and for the support they have shown me,” he said in a statement.
Among other duties, the chief medical officer advises the health sector and government on public health matters. The appointment normally lasts five years, with a second five-year term possible.