Sai Rathakrishna, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The Ontario legislature approved a legislation that would provide three paid sick days for workers, a plan that Ontario Premier Doug Ford previously claimed would be “the best program anywhere in North America, bar none.” The details of the program were unveiled by the Ford government during an April 28 press conference in response to mounting pressure from political leaders, health care professionals, and labour advocates to implement a paid sick leave program as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19 across the province.
The program will run until September and aims to provide relief for workers who are experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19, caring for an ill child, experiencing a mental health issue, or have scheduled an appointment to receive a vaccination. Workers facing any of these circumstances are guaranteed payment of up to $200 for each missed day. It is not necessary to claim the three days consecutively. A letter from a physician is also not required.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only Quebec and Prince Edward Island mandated paid sick leave, providing three paid sick days for employees working in federally regulated industries. Upon taking office in 2018, the Ford government repealed the 2-day paid sick leave formerly mandated by the previous Liberal government.
Despite earning approval from opposing parties, opposition leaders say that the new sick leave program does not go far enough. After the bill was proposed, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath called the bill “pitifully inadequate,” adding that the government “could have and should have implemented paid sick days in our province from Day 1.” Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca echoed Horwath’s sentiment, calling for ten paid sick days instead of three. “The length of time it takes for an individual to get tested, to get in the clear, to potentially isolate, all of this is how we landed on the number 10,” said Del Duca in an interview with CTV News.
COVID-19 data modelling presented by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table on April 29 projects that without stronger measures in place, the province will see more than 2,000 cases per day in June. Throughout the next month, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care could remain around 800. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, Co-Chair of the Ontario Science Table, maintains that these numbers can be avoided with the implementation of stricter measures, including “effective sick pay,” more vaccinations, and lower mobility.
During a virtual press conference held on April 30, Premier Ford defended his government’s legislation against the findings of the Science Table, insisting that the decision to grant three paid sick days was made in consideration of advice from medical advisors as well as Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Ford also expressed that workers in Ontario can receive up to $4600 rather than the $600 approved in the official legislation, with the aid of the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB). He told reporters that his government is working alongside the federal government to “double up” payments to the CRSB from $500 to $1,000 per week before taxes. “We want to double up what the federal government’s doing, we’re filling the gap and the totals up to $4,600 and I think that’s fair for a lot of people to get them over the hump.”
Ford’s claim is contradicted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement during a press conference on Friday April 30. “That’s not something that the federal government can deliver, with the exception of federally regulated industries.”