COVID-19 | When Ontario Acts and Quebec Waits

Of the 432 million paid by the federal government to ensure a “safe return to class”, Quebec would have used only a tiny part of it to improve ventilation in schools, our colleague Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot recently taught us.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Ontario, for its part, deployed funds from Ottawa in the fall of 2020 to install 70,000 air purifiers in its classrooms.

Which province made the best decision? The future may tell us. But this case is not unique and it is part of a trend.

Since the start of the pandemic, Ontario has been rapidly adopting new tools to combat the virus. Quebec, on the other hand, studies them at length before implementing them – or, most of the time, rejecting them.

We had already underlined this dichotomy last year.

Since then, examples have multiplied. Ventilation in schools. Deployment of rapid tests. Virus monitoring in wastewater. Wearing of the N95 mask by the teachers. These are all issues in which Ontario has acted more quickly than Quebec.

That does not mean that Ontario is always right. But time shows that Quebec’s wait-and-see attitude comes with risks.

The Quebec approach is not without merit. She avoids jumping headlong whenever a solution described as magic pops up on the radar (sometimes accompanied by lobbying from her salespeople).

In the case of air purifiers, for example, Quebec has an INSPQ report that concludes that these devices can do more harm than good. It would be difficult to position them well in a class when we do not know which students are infected.

Quebec says that air exchangers, which replace stale air with fresh air, are preferable to those that purify it. Very good.

The problem is that after two years of the pandemic, barely 435 of these air exchangers have been installed in the classrooms. This is less than 0.5% of the 90,000 teaching premises.

The Ministry of Education affirms that if there are few air exchangers distributed, it is because the school service centers ask for few. Knowing that the majority of schools in Quebec do not have mechanical ventilation, it is intriguing.

Are the tens of thousands of teachers involved all happy with the solution of opening the windows in freezing weather every time the infamous CO reader2 show a problem? It would be surprising, and these are not the echoes that journalists on the ground collect.

It is therefore not known precisely why the demand for these devices does not come. But we note that far from being proactive in deploying them to places at risk, the Ministry takes refuge in a wait-and-see posture.

Yes, it is possible that the future will prove Quebec right. Perhaps it will be discovered that the pupils contaminate themselves especially during recess. Or when they take off their masks for dinner. Or out of school. And that all the exchangers or air purifiers in the world do not change anything.

The fact remains that, while Ontario takes the risk of doing too much, Quebec is taking the opposite bet.

We have seen this clearly in two other files: those of rapid tests and monitoring of COVID-19 in wastewater. Quebec has long doubted these solutions, while time has shown that they could play an important role. The case of N95 masks for teachers remains to be decided.

The other problem with Quebec’s attitude is political. Asking the public to make efforts while having to defend their own inaction in several cases is difficult.

The pandemic is not over. It is not too late to question our decision-making process in the face of uncertainty. The INSPQ produces solid and well-documented reports, but these often arrive late. Would a group of experts like the one advising the Ontario government bring more flexibility?

One thing is certain, Quebec must be more transparent with regard to the use of the sums paid by Ottawa. Nearly half of the kitty was granted to school service centers without anyone knowing what they did with the money. To say that the CAQ promised better accountability than at the time of the school boards…

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