Betty Disero supports local business.
The Lord Mayor chose not to sign an open letter that was organized by St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and dated Feb. 24, endorsed by every one of Niagara’s mayors except for Disero, but her choice was not because she’s anti-business, or against businesses reopening, she says.
Last week, when the letter was made public, there was an expectation the province would move Niagara into the red zone, and also some concern that Niagara’s acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, would object, supporting instead a continued grey lockdown.
The province did move Niagara into red, and Hirji has expressed his concern about variants rapidly spreading and causing a third wave, but he was clear that he had only been asked to supply the “context” for the data that was considered by the province when the decision to move the region into a less restrictive zone was made.
The letter, says Disero, praised Niagara Health and Public Health for protecting residents, and Niagara residents for stepping up to contain the spread of COVID-19.
It didn’t mention Hirji’s concerns, or that of any of the medical experts in Ontario who have expressed similar fears.
Disero wants it made clear she is not anti-business, that she didn’t refuse to sign because she was opposed to having Niagara move into red and businesses being allowed to reopen. She just doesn’t think it’s her job as a politician to try to influence decisions made by medical health experts.
It was a tough decision not to sign, she says, and she’s hoping not to become “a target,” accused of being anti-business for being the only only one not to sign.
“I know everybody’s tired, I know everybody’s frustrated, everybody wants to get back to the way things used to be. But I also think we need to listen to the qualified professionals,” she says, referring not just to Hirji, but other medical experts across the province who have the same concerns.
Hearing Niagara had moved into red Friday, she says she is happy with a decision that was based on the Ontario medical officer of health recommendation.
“I’m not opposed to red, if that’s what the medical officer of health is saying is the right thing to do. I just don’t think it should be a political decision.”
When asked at last Thursday’s regional council meeting about moving into the less restrictive zone, Hirji said he was not “super confident” about reopening, that he continues to be worried about variants spreading quickly. Last week the number of variants in Niagara went from six to 17, and by Monday, had risen to 33.
Disero says she’s somewhat concerned that Hirji is not
“super confident,” it’s the best thing to do, but she is also relieved that the provincial medical expert does have confidence in the move.
“It’s a matter of two different experts interpreting information differently,” she says, which is not unusual in this pandemic.
When asked about the opinion of the York Region medical officer of health, who said he thought York, with higher numbers than Niagara, was ready to move to red, Hirji said that was a “minority opinion” that other medical experts do not agree with, and have cautioned moving forward with reopening without knowing the fast-spreading variants are under control.
Disero has said repeatedly that businesses should be getting more financial help from the province. The town has done everything it can to support local businesses, and she personally has as well all through the pandemic, advocating for more financial support, and going to bat for particular businesses who thought they were unfairly shuttered as non-essential.
“Ive been very supportive of anything we can do to help businesses in different ways throughout this pandemic,” she says.
She will also do anything she can to support vaccination efforts, the next step in combatting the virus.
And she reminds residents they still need to be cautious, especially with businesses reopening, to do everything they can to stop the spread.
Regional chair Jim Bradley was not asked to sign the letter, but said he wouldn’t have if asked, explaining he wouldn’t go against the recommendation of the region’s medical officer of health.