Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins on ebola, babies and why he hates talking about marijuana

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins on ebola, babies and why he hates talking about marijuana

Q&A: The Public DefenderEbola has killed 5,000 people, and there’s now a confirmed case in New York City. On a scale of one to 10, how concerned should Torontonians be?
I’d say a two. It’s natural to be concerned, but Ontario is prepared.

Imagine someone walks into St. Mike’s Hospital with a fever and says he’s been in Liberia working with Ebola patients. What happens next?
He’s immediately put in isolation, probably in a negative-pressure room, and tested for Ebola. Two nurses, wearing masks, goggles, visors and impermeable gowns that leave no skin exposed, attend to him. Meanwhile, a Toronto lab conducts the test, which takes a matter of hours, and we do a confirmatory test in Winnipeg as well. If it’s negative, great. If not, the person stays in isolation and receives treatment.

The New York doctor, who’d been working with Ebola patients in Guinea, was able to waltz through U.S. security and go bowling, take taxis, ride the subway. Shouldn’t he have been quarantined as a precaution?
If he’d been showing symptoms, yes. But people are only contagious once they’re symptomatic. Automatic ­quarantine dissuades health-care providers from volunteering in Africa, which is crucial to stopping this disease at its source. The vast majority of experts agree that the best approach is ­self-monitoring: take your temperature twice a day and report to Public Health if it goes up.

What is it about Ebola that causes such intense panic?
The mortality rate, which is higher than 50 per cent. I think it’s also the dramatic symptoms: very high fever, severe ­diarrhea, vomiting and internal bleeding. It’s absolutely frightening.

As co-founders of War Child Canada, you and your wife, Samantha Nutt, have worked all over Africa. Have you ever seen Ebola close up?
No, but just about everything else. Malaria, meningitis—you name it, I’ve seen and had it. They’re all pretty bad, right?

In non-Ebola news: you’re deep in contract talks with the Ontario Medical Association. Isn’t it a conflict of interest that you are also a member of the OMA?
No, I think it’s an asset because I can understand the challenges that doctors face.

CAMH recently recommended legalization of marijuana. What do you think about that?
It’s an important national conversation of which CAMH is a vital part.

You wouldn’t be the first politician to admit to smoking the devil’s lettuce, and yet you refuse to comment on that score. Why?
Well, I dunno. Do you smoke?

Me? No, though I have.
I just think it’s an outdated question and an odd one to ask.

But…you just asked me.
Well, yes, but only so you could understand what it feels like.

The thing about your non-denial is that readers automatically think: oh yeah, this guy gets high for sure!
Ha! Well, they can think what they want.

Fair enough. You and your wife—both doctors—used midwives to deliver your son, Rhys, at home. Why?
Largely because of our experience around the world—most babies are born that way.

You didn’t feel the urge to scrub in?
No, and I don’t think Sam would have welcomed that. I held her hand and supported her, and when she was ready, I ran downstairs and made her a bacon and egg sandwich.

Do you support Ontario midwives’ argument that they’ve been subject to gender discrimination and unequal pay for decades?
It’s before the Human Rights Tribunal, so I won’t say much beyond the fact that I respect their work, and want to address their needs and challenges, including financial ones.

You’re 53 but look more like 42. Care to share any age-defying secrets?
Thanks. I try to maintain my optimism and idealism. I work out every day. I run. I surf, too, though not very well. I’m the fittest I’ve been in decades. I am surprised, though, five years into politics, that I haven’t gone fully grey. I’ll wake up one day and it’ll have happened.

Anything else you want to discuss?
Yes. Marijuana.