Haldimand-Norfolk keeps new acting medical officer of health despite his anti-lockdown comments

Haldimand-Norfolk’s board of health voted 8-1 to keep Dr. Matthew Strauss as their acting medical officer of health after facing heavy criticism for hiring him and previously looking for a way to overturn the decision.

Strauss has previously opposed lockdowns and has said he’d rather give his kids COVID-19 over a Happy Meal.

When he was initially brought on, the Ontario Liberals called on the health minister to veto his hiring.

After the board of health and Haldimand County councillors discussed the hiring at a meeting with lawyers on Monday — much of it in a private session — Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt said he was involved in the interview process and there were two highly-qualified candidates.

He said some of the concerns raised about Strauss included “some comments on social media that were edgy.”

“I think that both myself and [Norfolk] mayor [Kristal] Chopp and many other politicians in the past couple of years could probably have fingers pointed at them for edgy comments, edgy actions … we have all had a difference of opinion on how this pandemic has been managed,” Hewitt  said.

But still, Hewitt said he flagged the comments to the board of health, which is essentially Norfolk council, and the board ultimately chose him.

Hewitt said that he would support whatever decision they made, but said he struggled with comments that Strauss’ opinions came as a surprise because they were already flagged.

Cathy Case, Haldimand’s general manager of corporate and social services, said the governance model within the board of health is flawed and doesn’t give Haldimand enough say.

“We believe this issue could potentially reflect that exact concern we have,” Case said.

Board of health members and Norfolk mayor Chopp defended keeping Strauss.

Michael Columbus, Ward 3 councillor in Norfolk and a board of health member, said Strauss supports vaccination and also said a letter he sent to the board of health on Tuesday (which wasn’t made public) helped clarify his past social media posts.

“There’s a lot more to being a medical officer of health than just the COVID issue,” he said.

Dr. Matt Strauss says he’s toning down his tweets critical of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 now that he’s Haldimand-Norfolk’s new acting medical officer of health. (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit)

Norfolk’s Ward 6 councillor Amy Martin opposed keeping Strauss on Monday.

CBC News has reached out to Strauss for comment. Tuesday is his first day on the job and his area has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in Ontario. 

Before starting, he said he wouldn’t offer the same “sarcasm or eye-catching analogies” in his role.

He’s an assistant professor of medicine at Queen’s University and previously an assistant clinical professor at McMaster University. He’s also practiced as an internist and medical director of critical care at Guelph General Hospital.

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