When & How Leaders Lose Trust and Credibility
"A written statement walking back the earlier comments just doesn’t have the same impact as a live announcement. "

When I was a young boy and I scraped my knee, I trusted my mother to clean it, cure it and keep an eye on it. When I needed advice about being a dad, I trusted my father to impart on me his experiences. I was also fortunate to have a family doctor that was a trusted medical advisor, and teachers who were trusted educators that provided lessons beyond the classroom. I grew up during a time when leaders at home and in the community had inherent trust.


The COVID 19 pandemic hasn’t just been a communicable, infectious, respiratory disease, although that is ultimately what we have been primarily fighting. The pandemic has also exposed a side of humanity that has shown intolerance, impatience, and vitriol during a time when empathy, community, and trust could have advanced the cause beyond the trends of a hashtag suggesting we were in this together, when there were really a lot of people in it for themselves, including some of our community leaders. In fact, the pandemic exposed how poorly some of our elected leaders are at communication, transparency, and planning.


On December 30th, 2021, the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) for Ontario, Dr. Kieran Moore announced that a return to school would be delayed until January 5th, 2022, and the rationale was that it would allow more time to put additional safety measures in place. Those safety measures included the deployment of additional HEPA filters, 3 ply masks for students, and N95 masks for educators. Ontarians have been hearing about HEPA filters since August 2021 from the Minister of Education, Steven Lecce who has had untimely stretches of absence. Unbelievably there are still HEPA filters to deploy in the first few days of January to make schools safer. Oh, and those N95 masks, are the same masks that in the fall, educators were not permitted to wear.


On December 31, 2021, Dr. Moore announced that Ontario would be changing (reducing) PCR testing eligibility, largely under the pressure of not being able to keep up with testing demand and to preserve testing resources for those that “need it most”. Throughout this pandemic we have often had to wait for another announcement or statement to clarify what was clarified in the first announcement. Whoever “most” is, seems to be undefined. It was also announced that isolation for those fully vaccinated was reduced to 5 days and unvaccinated 10, but it remained unclear how some of those people may know they have COVID19, if they can’t all have access to testing. Perhaps the ongoing ambiguity is intentional, so it is easier to pivot later.


Meanwhile during this time, antigen tests that were being handed out at Toronto’s Union Station, malls, and other public spaces where people were lining up in war-like food lines, also saw COVID19 scalpers scoop them and resell them online, so the tests didn’t all get to where they were supposed to go, you know, to “the people”.


On January 3, 2022, Premier Doug Ford announced that school openings would be delayed until January 17th. That is the same Premier who had targeted that date as the day vaccine passports could be eliminated from bars, restaurants, and fitness centres sometime in the late fall as the certificate and passport system sputtered into existence with more announcements and re-announcements. In delaying the school start to January 17th, the Premier said, "The immediate goal of these measures will be to blunt the latest wave so we can ease the pressure on our hospitals." That is an important statement to remember.


On January 11, 2022, the Ontario government announced that parents may not be notified of COVID 19 exposure in a child’s class. Tests kits will also not be provided to students who were possibly exposed, so there is no way to confirm all school exposures either.


On January 12, 2022, Minister Lecce resurfaced after a public engagement absence since the announcement of online learning in December, alongside Dr. Moore to confirm that in-class learning would resume on January 17th. On this same day, it was reported that Ontario had 3,448 people in the hospital with COVID19 and 505 ICU admissions. On January 3rd when the Premier announced delaying school to January 17th to help relieve pressure on hospitals because of the COVID19 “tsunami”, there were 1,232 people hospitalized and 248 in the ICU. Remember when I said to remember that important statement from January 3rd? Well, the province now has 3 times the amount in the hospital and double the amount in ICU. The tsunami is here, and the schools are going back to in-person. It’s unclear how there is less pressure on hospitals and how returning students is better now than on January 3rd.


Also announced today, in the bag of mystery and mayhem is a change in course on notifications of COVID19 in schools to parents, which is now back on the table (the most used table in the history of tables). Now, when a threshold of 30% illness is achieved at a school, notifications will go out. Where the 30% came from remains unclear. What is also unclear is how 30% will be determined if testing remains somewhat random and limited to school children.


On January 13, 2022, School Boards sent out communications to parents outlining options for online versus in-class teaching. The online options of the York Catholic District School Board limit live instruction to three courses: language, math, and religion. For all other courses, the cameras would be turned off and the students would work on their own. It is unclear why cameras can’t be left on for the duration of the school day immediately. My exchanges with one school principal resulted in it being noted as a board decision. The communication also had no reference to any safety improvements that have been implemented over the course of the past few weeks. School boards all seem to be implementing a different approach, which does cause concern for equal education.


Meanwhile, we also know that nurses and doctors are burning out and there is a medical resource crisis, possibly further hampered by Bill 124.


What can’t be lost in all this chaos is Dr. Moore, a professional who had days if not weeks to prepare for the January 12th announcement to Ontarians and he still managed to make a big mess of it. During what appears to be a partisan announcement, he suggested that there would be no mandate for students to be vaccinated because it was still a “new vaccine” and that “greater experience” was needed before “we’d ever mandate it”. This is the same Dr. Moore who has previously encouraged students, along with Premier Ford to get vaccinated. Either Dr. Moore is confused, tired, or placating to a political base using his medical authority. Although later in the day he issued a written statement to “clarify” his remarks, it all felt a little too late because it was. A written statement walking back the earlier comments just doesn’t have the same impact as a live announcement. Ontario’s CMOH has sent too many mixed messages. Regardless of what side of the COVID19 belief system you subscribe, this is a leader who has come to lack credibility.


When you write this all down and look at the chronology of events and announcements, if even only in this short period of time, it’s clear that after 24 months of pandemic experience, Ontario still lacks a consistent plan from leadership that has been absent, negligent, or too consumed with re-election. Add to that a CMOH who has lost control of the situation, is more concerned with a political mandate over the health and safety of children and the citizens of Ontario or is perhaps incapable of doing this job at the provincial level, and you have a recipe for dissension amoung citizens fuelled by mistrust.


Communication has been slow, mixed, and in long stretches, non-existent. Transparency has been at times opportunistic and at other times overlapped with untimely announcements that announced nothing but more announcements, with retracted or re-clarifications that followed in written statements. Planning has been poorly executed, often left to reactive measures instead of proactive where abundance of data has been ignored in the preference of what seems to be alternate agendas. All of this as approximately 10,445 people have died, 34,000+ people hospitalized, and almost 1 million people contracted COVID19, a communicable, infectious, respiratory disease of which according to the Education Act of Ontario, requires incidents in a school environment to be reported.


This isn’t about supporting one political party over another. It’s also not about whether you believe in vaccines or to challenge anyone’s freedom of expression. This is about how fundamental trust and credibility in leadership is lost. A trust and credibility that has been compromised over and over during this pandemic at the expense of every single Ontarian, regardless of who and what you support. It is also the perfect example of when and how leaders lose trust and credibility.


This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of  The Monthly Social Podcast. It may also be heard on The Path Radio Mix Online. You can read other opinion articles on the blog page.


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