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Michael Taube

Through all the political and personal inconsistencies we’ve witnessed during COVID-19, there has been some consistent messaging: practise social distancing, wear a mask in public spaces and crowded areas, wash your hands regularly and go outside as much as possible.

With nice weather having arrived, this is the perfect opportunity for Canadians to take leisurely walks, long treks, visit parks and playgrounds, hike steep hills and mountains, ride bikes and play sports.

Unless you live in Ontario, that is.

Golf courses, tennis courts and basketball courts have been closed to the public since April 17. Even when playgrounds were briefly closed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and quickly reopened after a massive public outcry, the provincial government didn’t reverse course on other venues.

The Opposition NDP’s motion to reopen these outdoor amenities was defeated by a margin of 63-21 in the Ontario legislature on May 17.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott told the media “today is not the day to open everything up,” and said she felt “it would be irresponsible for us to do that today.” At the same time, she suggested the government was “following the evidence on a daily basis, and it will happen on or before June 2.”

Let’s accept the fact that Ford and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives would obviously prefer to be the ones to reopen outdoor amenities instead of an opposition motion. Since the provincial stay-at-home order is slated to end on June 2 (although it’s been extended once already), there are slightly over two weeks left.

When do they plan to lift the ban? Within 24 hours, within a week, during May – or the day before the stay-at-home order concludes?

And why were golf, tennis and basketball halted to begin with?

To say that everyone from political commentators to health professionals has been baffled by this decision would be a massive understatement. There’s no scientific evidence, academic research or medical explanation as to why this has occurred in Ontario.

The provincial government would likely argue that health, safety and escalating daily COVID-19 cases were major factors in the decision. While all of this is important, there’s no specific correlation between these concerns and playing sports outdoors.

I’ve played all three sports since I was young. And I can attest that social distancing is remarkably easy to achieve in golf (huge amounts of space between players and groups) and tennis (anywhere from two to four people on a court at a time). While there can obviously be more people on a basketball court, the chances of huge gatherings watching a five-on-five pickup game are almost next to nil.

To assume the number of COVID-19 cases would suddenly spike if outdoor amenities were reopened isn’t valid.

What about Ford’s comments when it comes to golf?

“I talked to my buddies,” the premier said on May 13. “I know what happens. You know, they pick up another buddy, two or three, they go out golfing, and there’s nothing wrong with golfing; the problem is the mobility. Then after golf they go back, they have a few pops. That’s the problem. That’s the issue.”

By “pops,” of course, he’s clearly not referring to Coke or Pepsi!

As I recently mentioned to Global News Radio 640 Toronto host Alex Pierson and Canadians for Affordable Energy president (and former Liberal MP) Dan McTeague during our weekly panel, it’s a valid assessment. Anyone who’s ever been golfing knows the 19th hole in the clubhouse – a bar, pub or restaurant with a liquor licence – is a friendly atmosphere after a few hours on the links.

Where I disagree with Ford is that this would be a problem. No, it wouldn’t.

Most Ontarians have been following the rules during the stay-at-home order. They simply want to get out, play golf, tennis or some other activity with a small group of people, and go home. They want some exercise and fresh air, and nothing more.

While it would be nice to have a few libations with family and friends, that’s not an option right now – and they know it.

Since the very beginning, Ford and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives have mostly acknowledged and supported the science related to COVID-19. They’ve respected the advice of many doctors and healthcare professionals during this difficult global pandemic.

Why won’t they listen to them with respect to reopening outdoor sports?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.

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