Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, was the face of countless formal updates about the province's COVID situation, regularly providing journalists and the public with case numbers, trends, and his expert opinions on the latest data. The Auditor General also found that it was the province, not Dr. Williams that finally issued an emergency order to make the wearing of masks mandatory.
"Despite COVID-19 being a public health pandemic, we noted that those with public health expertise did not play a leading role in the ministry's response", the report said.
"COVID-19 spread was not effectively curbed in thousands of cases because of the combined impact of delays in laboratory testing, case management and contact tracing", the report says.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released a report on COVID-19 preparedness and management in Ontario on Wednesday.
The governing Progressive Conservatives took issue with many parts of the report, with Premier Doug Ford dismissing it as "21 pages of inaccuracies" while accusing Lysyk of overstepping her authority.
"The auditor general's job is not to be the chief medical officer, not to be the ombudsman, not to sit there and give us health advice", Ford said.
"Stick with looking for value for money".
The premier further suggested that co-operating with the audit process had siphoned government resources away from tackling the pandemic.
While noting that the government has taken several steps to improve COVID-19 testing in the province the AG slammed the government for not taking action on past recommendations until the pandemic hit. "We have seen history repeat itself during the pandemic", she says. In fact, by the end of January 2020, more cases were confirmed in about 20 countries, including Canada, where the first case was confirmed in Ontario on January 27.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday morning, Elliott was also critical of the audit, calling the report a "disappointment" that mischaracterized the province's response.
On Monday, NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh said her party had "concerns" about the re-appointment of Williams, and that a "non-partisan" discussion was needed about Williams' performance.
Lysyk said her audit discovered delays in decision making by the Ford government and health officials. This bombshell detail comes at the same time that the Ford government is attempting to extend Dr. Williams tenure until next September. It also says numerous recommendations made after the SARS outbreak in 2003 were never implemented.
Among the recommendations from the SARS Commission were reforms to streamline operations and management of the province's 34 public health units, which continue to function independently, often without sharing best practices, she said.
As part of an effort to keep frontline workers safe, the Ford government announced new COVID-19 rapid tests to provide faster results in regions of high transmission and rural and remote areas.
"The SARS Commission's final report identified taking preventative measures to protect the public's health, even in the absence of complete information and scientific certainty, as the most important lesson of SARS", Lysyk said in a statement.