Lisa MacLeod Ontario's Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport attends Ontario Premier Doug Ford's daily briefing in Toronto on Monday, June 15, 2020. Ontario's minister of sport says the provincial government is examining how a Canadian division in the NHL might work.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario public health to weigh possibility of NHL restart as lockdown looms

TORONTO — Ontario’s minister of sport said the provincial government is examining how a Canadian division in the NHL might work.

Lisa MacLeod said on Thursday that discussions about the league’s return-to-play plan are happening at Ontario’s public health table with the province’s chief medical officer of health, as well as officials from Toronto and Ottawa.

MacLeod said that she expects to join those conversations in the next few days, as will her federal counterpart Steven Guilbeault.

“In terms of (the NHL’s) direct proposal, I believe I’m going to be briefed on that in the next day or so,” said MacLeod.

MacLeod said she spoke to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and is scheduled to again on Friday. She said she has also had conversations with the Ottawa Senators over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several media outlets are reporting the NHL is planning to realign its divisions next season with a seven-team all-Canadian division with no cross-border travel.

The league has targeted mid-January as a potential start date.

However, the Ontario Hospital Association today asked the Ontario government for a strict four-week lockdown in regions with high rates of COVID-19 positivity that would include Toronto and Ottawa.

Also, the mayors of Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., both said on Wednesday that they want a strict four-week lockdown to begin over the winter holidays to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the GTA.

Ontario reported a single-day record of 2,432 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 23 new deaths due to the virus.

The Ontario Hockey League hopes to begin its 2021 season in early February. MacLeod said that the league has not yet been cleared by Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“The health and well-being of all Ontarians is the No. 1 priority of this government and we continue to put measures into place that protect people,” she said.

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