As the war between Queen’s Park and the City of Toronto continues, public health funds seem trapped in the crosshairs. Tensions between the City and the Province have been a constant source of difficulty for Doug Ford in his first year as Ontario’s Premier, and one figure stands out as a perpetually unconstructive actor.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto is the highest public health authority of Canada’s largest city. She has stepped into the spotlight yet again for criticizing Ontario’s plan to liberalize alcohol consumption in the province.
Ford has made loosening rules surrounding alcohol sale and consumption an oddly conspicuous part of this government’s mandate (if not an outright distraction from some of his less popular policies), but nothing being proposed is anything to raise an eyebrow at. Allowing supermarkets and convenience stores to sell it, allowing retailers to sell it earlier in the day and allowing casinos to advertise their already existing offer of free drinks to guests are all reasonable, and are practiced in other provinces.
Justifying her concerns are basic facts about alcohol – it causes disease, it’s addictive, and it’s associated with ill-behaviour. All of this is contained in the report brought to the Toronto Board of Health, which accepted it.
De Villa habitually joins Councillor Joe Cressy, a member of the Toronto Board of Health, in press conferences, lobbing back at the PC Government over changes to municipal funding and other public health-related topics. Cressy is one of Ford’s biggest critics and a member of Toronto’s cluster of downtown NDP-leaning politicians.
The difference is that this is Cressy’s job, and notwithstanding how little I agree with Cressy’s positions, he is indeed a politician, elected (in theory) to politically represent Toronto residents on council and its boards. That also includes politicking in matters of intergovernmental affairs, such as policy affecting the city being rolled out at Queen’s Park.
The Medical Officer of Health is not a politician. She was not elected to advocate or lobby. She was appointed to serve the elected representatives and administer their programs. The crisscrossing between these two roles is problematic at best.
This is especially true when this person’s politics and viewpoints do not even conceivably line up with those of the population she is tasked to serve. I am referring, of course, to Dr. de Villa’s viewpoint that the federal government should legalize all drugs, from methamphetamines to heroin to cocaine to ecstasy.
Never mind the truly disastrous implications of this idea (taken from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s platform). Even suspend disbelief that Toronto’s highest medical authority wants to proliferate brain-destroying, life-ruining substances. Forget the hypocrisy of holding this policy position while proverbially clutching her pearls at the thought of marginally more convenient consumer access to alcohol. Look past the fact that her arguments against looser alcoholic rules (more access equals more use) can effortlessly be applied to the substances she seeks to legalize.
Is it not highly inappropriate for an unelected officer of the City of Toronto to essentially lobby the federal government on health policy? This person is not who Torontonians elected as their voice in Ottawa. That is what we elect Members of Parliament for. De Villa denigrates Toronto’s credibility by straddling the line between politics and public service.
This is not the job of Toronto’s highest public health authority. Toronto Public Health should be focusing on enforcing health and safety in Toronto, eating establishments, ending the stigma surrounding mental health, and promoting a healthy immunization schedule. Leave the politics to the politicians.
De Villa needs to decide whether she wants to be a politician or a public servant. Blurring the lines between the two with political agitation disguised as “advocacy” will only lead to an increasingly strayed relationship between Toronto and Queen’s Park, as well as make a mockery of our municipal health services with unconstructive politics.