Auditor general criticizes Ontario's McKinsey-crafted pandemic response structure

27 November 2020 3 min. read

A scathing report from the province’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, criticized the Ontario government’s pandemic response structure for being led by political staff instead of medical experts. The structure was developed by US-based management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

At the top of Ontario's pandemic response hierarchy is the “Central Co-ordination Table,” which is co-chaired by two political appointees: the government’s cabinet secretary and the premier’s chief of staff. The table doesn’t include any key public health officials, according to Lysyk, such as chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams or representatives of Public Health Ontario.

“The Chief Medical Officer of Health did not lead Ontario’s response to Covid-19,” Lysyk stated.

The auditor also noted that Ontario’s approach to the pandemic has been marked by “delays, conflict, and confusion.”

The province has recorded more than 3,500 Covid-19 related deaths and 109,361 confirmed cases. The current seven-day average for daily new cases reported is 1,427 – with provincial government modeling projecting 9,000 new cases per day by the end of the year.

Auditor general criticizes Ontario's McKinsey-crafted pandemic response structure

The political, and specifically Progressive Conservative slant of Ontario’s response plan was evident when the province earlier this month released its colour-coded Covid-19 plan, which required a ludicrously high 10% positivity rate to institute “red-level” controls such as indoor dining and gym-use prohibitions.

That 10% positivity figure, which was roundly blasted by medical experts, was quickly reduced to 2.5% in the ensuing days as caseloads spiralled in the GTA. But the fact that the government was bold enough to float such lenient thresholds speaks to either the politically compromised or completely ineffectual nature of the chief medical officer in the province’s pandemic response – as well as a wider lack of medical evidence-based decision-making at Queen's Park.

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious diseases specialist, told CBC News that the chief medical officer position is too close to the government to provide independent, arm’s length advice. “It's very hard for that role to be outspoken and maybe publicly disagree with the government," he said.

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), called for Williams’ resignation in September, criticizing him for being a poor communicator and moving too slowly on preventative measures.

McKinsey at the centre

As per usual, the mustache-twirling villains at the centre of the story are McKinsey, the world’s most expensive consultants and the ultimate alleged string-pullers within the darkened halls of government offices and corporate skyscrapers. The company has been chided by The New York Times and The Atlantic for helping Saudi Arabia target dissidents, holding a tone-deaf corporate retreat near a Uighur detention camp in China, and destroying the middle class.

McKinsey was called in earlier this year by the Ford government to develop the organizational structure for the pandemic response for a fee of $1.6 million. The consulting firm was also hired to support the government’s Covid-19 recovery planning, for a fee of $3.2 million.

"It is clear that [the government] spent millions to create a dysfunctional structure, where decisions are being driven by politics and not public health," said Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party.

McKinsey has racked up a sizeable number of contracts advising governments globally on their pandemic response. The firm has scooped up more than $100 million in US local, state, and federal pandemic response-related consulting contracts, according to a July report from ProPublica.

A strong part of McKinsey’s pitch is its anonymized databases, which it has amassed through its large volume of public and private sector consulting projects, including an immense amount of global and community epidemiological data on the pandemic.