Premier Doug Ford has tossed a member of his caucus for publicly speaking out against the lockdown orders currently in place for the province to stem the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter issued by his office Friday morning, Ford said that “effective immediately” York Centre MPP Roman Baber will no longer be sitting as a member of the PC caucus and will not be permitted to seek re-election as a PC member.

“Mr. Baber’s comments are irresponsible,” Ford said in the statement. “By spreading misinformation he is undermining the tireless efforts of our frontline health care workers at this critical time, and he is putting people at risk. I will not jeopardize a single Ontarian’s life by ignoring public health advice.”

On Friday, Baber sent Ford a letter saying “the lockdown is deadlier than COVID” and suggested that a slew of other ills such as divorce, depression and bankruptcies are worse than the virus. He also said that the response should be limited to long-term care homes.

Baber is not a doctor or trained health care professional.

Local and provincial health-care professionals have repeatedly stressed that while elderly people and those who are immunocompromised are the ones most at risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus, younger people have also gotten seriously ill and died after getting COVID and have also suffered a range of other complications. The long-term effects of the virus are not yet well understood by medical professionals because it is so new.

Health officials have also stressed that even if the virus affects mostly older people, it poses a major threat to everyone by overwhelming the health-care system and diverting resources needed to treat people with other serious illnesses.

In his statement, Ford said that while he recognizes that lockdowns have a difficult impact on people, it is vital to continue following medical advice in dealing with the pandemic.

“I am the first to recognize that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on people,” Ford said. “However, as Premier, my number one priority is the health and safety of all Ontarians. We must respect the advice and recommendations of public health officials and the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

He added that there “is no room for political ideology in our fight against COVID-19.”

“Rather, our response has been and will always be driven by evidence and data. Furthermore, Mr. Baber has put himself ahead of his PC Caucus team, who have worked around the clock for months to support and protect the people of Ontario through this public health crisis.”

Ford urged all Ontarians to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have bent the curve before and, working together, we will do it again,” he said.

Responding to his ouster on Twitter, Baber called the move “regretful” and said other people in the PC caucus agree with him.

“I don't regret speaking out for millions of lives & livelihoods decimated by Public Health, I serve the public,” Baber wrote.

Baber previously landed himself in hot water in October for encouraging a man waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test to go visit his parents.

The Ministry of Health also released a detailed rebuttal of Baber’s claims Friday, saying that minimizing the risks and impact of COVID-19 is “reckless and irresponsible.”

The ministry also pointed to disturbing new modelling from Ontario’s science table indicating that COVID-19 patients could take up more than 1,000 ICU beds in the province by February.

While a provincewide lockdown has been in effect since Boxing Day, a new stay-at-home order and provincial state of emergency came into effect this week to further limit the spread of the virus as numbers continue to rise.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Williams, has said that the province saw a spike in cases following both Christmas and New Year, attributable to people gathering against public health advice.

This is at least the second time in recent months that Ford has had to discipline a member of his caucus for breaking ranks over the pandemic response.

Last month, Ontario’s then finance minister Rod Phillips was forced to resign from cabinet after taking a secret vacation to the luxurious Caribbean hideaway of St. Barts. Provincial and federal officials had urged the public not to travel abroad.

Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath wasted no time taking aim at the Ford government over the dissent in its ranks Friday.

“Kicking another of his MPPs out of caucus is purely symbolic unless Doug Ford stops listening to the PC caucus members and insiders who share Roman Baber’s views,” Horwath said in a statement.

She called Ford’s current policies “half-measures with contradictions, loopholes and exemptions” and said further measures such as paid sick leave are needed to combat the virus.

“His insiders and lobbyists clearly have his ear while he dismisses pleas from public health experts to make this lockdown count,” Horwath said. “We join those experts in calling for a real lockdown, with critical supports like paid sick leave, more long-term care staff, more isolation facilities and on-site workplace testing.”