Ontario to replace Dr. David Williams as chief medical officer of health

Dr David Williams-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Williams, pictured at a news conference last June, said in a statement that it was an honour to serve and thanked the people of Ontario ‘for the resilience they have displayed throughout this pandemic.’ (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The Ontario government will replace Dr. David Williams as chief medical officer of health in June, the province’s health minister announced on Sunday.

Province waiting on experts to weigh in as decision on school reopening looms

Williams is set to retire on June 25, Christine Elliott said in a news release. He will be replaced by Dr. Kieran Moore,  currently the medical officer of health for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health. Moore is expected to step into the role on June 26.

Williams, who was set to retire months ago but delayed the move because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has held the position for five years.

Premier Doug Ford’s government will table a motion in the legislature on Monday to formalize the appointment, according to the news release.

Moore is expected to work with Williams as he gets used to the job, starting June 7.

“Moore’s years of experience working in public health will be crucial as we begin to gradually lift public health measures,” Elliott said.

Moore thanked the government for the “great honour,” saying he does not take the responsibilities of the job lightly.

“If appointed as the province’s next chief medical officer of health, I would remain steadfast in my commitment to fight COVID-19 and I would provide all necessary advice to the government to ensure the health and safety of all Ontarians,” Moore is quoted as saying in the release.

Among other duties, the chief medical officer of health provides advice on public health matters to the health sector and government. The appointment is normally for five years, with a second five-year term possible.

Elliott thanked Williams for his service, highlighting “his dedication to safeguarding the health and safety of Ontarians during his many years of service.”

Williams said it had been an honour to serve in the role.

“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 in these challenging times,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

Criticism over communication, approach to crisis

While the government praised his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, critics have taken aim at his communication style and questioned his ability to stand up to Ford.

Williams has also been faulted by critics 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.

Ontario to replace Dr. David Williams as chief medical officer of health-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Dr. David Williams, right, appears at a news conference with Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health. Williams will be replaced as chief medical officer of health in June. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a news release on Sunday that she welcomes the idea of a new chief medical officer of health and wondered aloud why another top official is leaving before the pandemic is over. She noted that retired Gen. Rick Hillier, formerly in charge of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, has also left.

Horwath, the leader of the provincial Opposition, said chief medical officers of health are chosen by an all-party committee — but said Ford has skipped that process in selecting Moore.

“Why is Doug Ford skipping that process to ditch another player at the core of his team? He certainly has some explaining to do,” Horwath said in the statement.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement on Sunday that the party supports the appointment of Moore and wishes Williams all the best.

“I would like to reinforce the importance of Dr. Moore’s independence, and his ability to speak truth to power fearlessly,” Del Duca said in the statement.

“Doug Ford can never again be allowed to ignore the advice of Ontario’s top doctor.”

Williams didn’t stand up to Ford, nurses’ association says

As well, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario had been calling for Williams to be removed almost since the start of the pandemic, saying he failed to grasp how serious the situation would become.

Doris Grinspun, the head of the association, said many of 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.

Other critics voiced concern about his handling of issues beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zoe Dodd, with the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, said Williams failed to come to grips with the opioid crisis. In some communities, she said, overdose deaths have outstripped pandemic fatalities under his watch.

“Dr. Williams has been negligent in his role,” Dodd said on social media. “When COVID hit, we all knew that this man was going to be a puppet for [Ford].”

Change comes as Ford wrestles with school reopening

The announcement comes as the premier struggles with whether to send students back to school for the final weeks of the academic year. Williams, who supports doing so, said returning to classrooms can be done safely.

Other experts, however, have expressed reticence, saying COVID-19 still poses a significant threat and that the risks of allowing students back in school are too great.

The province is currently due to enter the first stage of a three-step reopening plan in mid-June.


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