Ontario’s health minister announced Sunday that the Ontario government will replace Dr. David Williams as chief medical officer of health in June.
Kristen Elliott said in a press release that Williams is scheduled to retire on June 25. He will be replaced by Dr. Kieran Moore, current medical officer of health at Kingston, Frontenac, Lenox and Addington Public Health. Moore is expected to take over the role on June 26.
Williams, who was due to retire months ago but delayed the transition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, held the position for five years.
Premier Doug Ford’s government will present a proposal in the legislature on Monday to formalize the appointment, according to the press 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 critical as we gradually begin to lift public health measures,” Elliott said.
Moore thanked the government for the “great honour,” saying he does not take the job’s responsibilities lightly.
Moore was quoted as saying, “If I am appointed Chief Medical Officer of Health for the province, I will remain steadfast in my commitment to fighting COVID-19 and will provide all necessary advice to the government to ensure the health and safety of all Ontarians.” Saying in the release.
Among other duties, the Chief Medical Officer of Health advises on public health matters to the health sector and government. The appointment is usually for a term of five years, with the possibility of a second five-year term.
He thanked Elliot Williams for his service, and highlighted his “dedication to maintaining the health and safety of Ontarians during his many years of service.”
Williams said it was an honor to serve in this role.
“I would also like to thank the people of Ontario for the resilience they have shown during this pandemic and for the support they have given me in these difficult times,” he said in a statement Sunday.
Criticism of communication, approaching the crisis
While the government has praised his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, critics have targeted his communication style and questioned his ability to stand up to Ford.
Critics also criticized Williams for failing to enforce stricter restrictions before a surge in COVID-19 cases earlier this year. In the end, the county was forced back into lockdown and school closures last month as hospitals were overrun.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a news release Sunday that she welcomed the idea of appointing the chief medical officer for health and wondered aloud why another senior official would leave before the pandemic ended. She noted that retired General Rick Heller, the former responsible for launching the Ontario vaccine, has also left.
Horwath, the regional opposition leader, said that chief medical officers for health are chosen by an all-party committee — but said Ford skipped that process in selecting Moore.
“Why would Doug Ford skip this process to abandon another player at the heart of his team? He certainly has some explaining to do,” Horwath said in the statement.
Ontario Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca said in a statement Sunday that the party supports Moore’s appointment and wishes Williams all the best.
“I would like to reinforce the importance of Dr. Moore’s independence and ability to speak truth to authority without fear,” Del Duca said in the statement.
“Doug Ford can never be allowed to disregard the advice of Ontario’s top physician.”
Nurses Association says Williams didn’t stand up to Ford
In addition, the Ontario Registered Nurses Association has called for Williams to be removed almost since the beginning of the pandemic, saying he failed to understand the severity of the situation.
Doris Grinspoon, president 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 start and throughout the pandemic, or he didn’t have the personality to say to the prime minister, ‘This is the way it should be’,” Grinspoon said on Sunday.
Other critics have expressed concern about his handling of issues beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zoe Dodd, of the Overdose Prevention Society in Toronto, said Williams had failed to get his opioid crisis under control. In some communities, she said, deaths from overdose exceeded deaths from an epidemic under his supervision.
“Dr Williams was negligent in his role,” Dodd said on social media. “When COVID hit, we all knew this guy was going to be a puppet [Ford]. “
Change comes as Ford struggles to reopen school
The announcement comes as the prime minister struggles to get students back to school in the final weeks of the school year. Williams, who supports this, said a return to the classroom can take place safely.
However, other experts expressed reservations, saying that COVID-19 remains a significant threat and that the risks of allowing students to return to school are too great.
The county is currently scheduled to enter the first phase of its three-step reopening plan in mid-June.