News from the Park – Beginners’ Luck

Golf season is officially over.  Have you ever noticed that for real golfers, as a breed, have a harder time dealing with the offseason than pretty much any other sport on earth?  It’s true.  One of my friends says that once his kids are out of the house and he has an empty nest, he has detailed plans on how to convert his basement into an indoor golfing facility with putting greens, a driving range with a net, and a swanky watering hole with a big screen TV that will only show golf channels.  I think he and I will become closer friends in the future…

Recently my friend told me about a day when he and his son took his younger daughter golfing for the first time.  The father and son were doing all they could to be encouraging and positive with the young woman so that she could learn to love the sport as they do.  The guys went first, the whole time talking their way through the process of driving the ball from the tee.  Both made pretty good shots and complimented each other.  Then the daughter went up and they gave her lots of tips and guidance.  Then, their jaws dropped so hard they had to wipe grass stains from their chins and replace the divots.  Right down the fairway like it was following a GPS to the green.  The son kind of grimaced looked at his dad and said, “Maybe Catherine should take up tennis instead.”

Of course, they all attributed it to beginners’ luck.  It happens to most of us at some point in our lives when we try doing something we’ve never done before.  Of course, people swear that there really is no such thing, but I say they are wrong to some degree.  I say wrong to some degree because there are scientific and psychological factors at play that actually give beginner’s luck some validity.  Without going into detail, factors such as lack of any experience or knowledge help beginners believe that anything is possible.  Also doing something new gives them a shot of adrenaline and makes them hyper-aware.  They listen intently to knowledgeable and experienced experts and try to follow their directions and advice to — a tee.

I raise the issue of beginner’s luck because there is an element of that in the way Ontario handled the first wave of COVID-19; to be more precise, how Doug Ford handled the first wave.

When the first wave hit Ontario, it was uncharted territory for our leaders at every level of government.  No one had ever had to battle such a monstrous force.  Political leaders were the ones in the position to make decisions but wisely deferred to public health and medical experts for advice.  I have to admit that in the end, Ontario was overall pretty successful in flattening out the first wave infection rates.  Ontario benefited from Doug Ford’s beginners’ luck for the same reason that my friend’s daughter did on the links.  Ford committed to listening attentively to and following the directions of his public health and medical advisers to the letter.  The focus of the objective was to flatten the curve.  Ford did not allow himself to become encumbered with groups, lobbyists or individuals who understandably had their own concerns and agendas to press.  Such influence is normal and expected.

Now, I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you what happened as the golf game progressed that day and how things continued in the days to come.  Of course, the girl’s success saw a downward trend because she started to be affected by so many other influences and detractors around her.  She started taking advice from lots of other people and she also started to follow her own inclinations and processes.  Hence, the end of beginners’ luck.

Now Ontario finds itself in the midst of a second wave that makes the first wave look like a rehearsal.  I’ve often said a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  With five or six months of “COVID-19 experience” under his belt, Ford allowed himself to be distracted by a wave of advice and requests from scores of groups and individuals that each have their own perspective and agenda.

When the infection rates started to double and triple, Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott said repeatedly that they were continuing to adhere to the advice of medical experts when they canceled public health measures in the province’s hot zones.  They gambled with people’s lives and now experts project Ontario could hit 2,000 new cases a day next month.

On November 3rd Ford assured Ontarians that, “This framework was developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Public Health Measures Table, local medical officers of health, and other health system experts.” The next day he said, “Everyone had their input on it.  I think they did an extremely good job.” And on the 5th he told us, “We have well over 100 docs giving us all this information.  You know, it’s not just Dr. Williams.”

On the same day, Christine Elliott told Ontarians, “We take advice and recommendations from Doctor Williams, from the public measures table, there are a number of other doctors that feed into that table that provide us with that advice.”

Unfortunately, the above assurances were not true.  How believable are these statements when hundreds of doctors and public health officials signed a letter advising Ford and Elliot that the advice they were following was not based on realistic science?  The Ford government has, in fact, taken their eye off to the ball (i.e. flattening the curve), focusing on keeping their Conservative friends happy and on saving a buck – money that was given by the federal government to help fight the virus.

Andrea Horwath publicly questioned the credibility of Ford and Elliott’s statements.  “With the province in crisis and experts speaking out against the Ford government’s penny-pinching everyone-for-themselves strategy in the battle against COVID-19, is Dr. Williams telling Doug Ford that he should do these things?  Or did Doug Ford decide to do these things, and order Dr. Williams to justify them.”

Ford loves to sound tough promising to lockdown the province in the blink of an eye if the numbers cross the threshold.  The problem is that Ford won’t share what his threshold for lockdown is.  Not only is Ford refusing to reveal the threshold, but he is muzzling the experts who are advising his government on this by making them sign non-disclosure agreements.  What happened to the promises of transparency and clarity?  The only reason someone is forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement is if they have information that someone has something damaging to hide.

Unlike the first wave, in this second wave, Ford is caving into political pressure.  In recent weeks, Ford has been moving in the opposite direction, opening things up by using a ‘red zone’ category which relaxes public health protections compared to the stronger Stage 2 restrictions. By relaxing public health restrictions too fast, Doug Ford is gambling with people’s lives.

It may be fine to put your faith in beginners’ luck on the links or when playing card games.  But I’m not sure that Ontarians want to put their faith in a government that takes their eye off the ball and counts on beginners’ luck.  We need leadership that shows strength, clarity, transparency, compassion, and vision.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha