Ontario government plans 'imminent' announcement on enhancements to paid sick day program: house leader
Published Wednesday, April 21, 2021 1:11PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 21, 2021 3:02PM EDT
The Ontario government will be making some sort of announcement regarding enhancements to the federal paid sick days program “in the next couple of days,” according to House Leader Paul Calandra.
Premier Doug Ford’s government has insisted for months now that it would be redundant for it to introduce its own paid sick day program while workers are eligible to receive payments through the Canada Recovery and Sickness Benefit.
Critics, however, have said that the federal program is insufficient due to the fact that only provides sick workers with up to $500 per week and requires that they go without pay until their applications are approved.
On Wednesday, Calandra told reporters at Queen’s Park that the Ford government was hoping the “gaps” in the program would have been rectified in the recent federal budget and was “disappointed” to see only minor changes made.
He said that cabinet will now be meeting over the coming days to determine how the Ontario government can supplement the program.
“We want to make sure we address all those shortcomings that we have been talking about but look it is imminent,” he said of a potential announcement. “Obviously it is important for us to get this out as soon as possible in light of the disappointment Monday. But we are going to get it right and over the next couple of days we will come forward with something.”
The lack of paid sick days has been repeatedly singled out as a major issue driving the spread of COVID-19 in essential workers and on Tuesday the panel of scientific experts advising the Ford government released a report calling for a provincial emergency benefit that would offer more money than the federal program and be immediately paid to all essential workers “when they are sick, when they’ve been exposed, need time off to get tested, or when it’s their turn to get vaccinated.”
On Wednesday, Calandra specifically identified the waiting time for the federal program and the fact that workers are not currently paid for time off to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as issues that will be addressed. He said that cabinet will also be considering whether the total amount of money that workers can receive needs to be increased.
That new was welcomed by Mayor John Tory during a subsequent briefing at city hall, who has been a vocal advocate for improvements to the sick day program.
“I think that the real shortcomings with the program from the federal government are that it's not fast enough getting money into people's hands so that they can provide for their families from the first minute that they have a symptom or are tested positive and secondly it's not enough money to allow them to provide for their family,” he said. “So to me, those are the two most important things that should remain in place through until the pandemic is declared over by the health officials.”
Calandra claims premier has done ‘spectacular job’
Premier Doug Ford said as recently as January that that there was “no reason” for his government to supplement the federal paid sick leave program when hundreds of millions of dollars allotted to it remained unspent.
But pressure continued to build on his government as the third wave worsened and earlier this week Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa renewed her calls for a provincial paid sick day program even if just on a “temporary emergency basis.”
The NDP also moved a motion at Queen’s Park on Monday that aimed to create a new provincial paid-sick leave program but it recieved no support from the Tories.
Calandra was asked on Wednesday whether the government made a mistake in waiting so long to act but he defended the delay, noting that the presence of variants of concern in recent months have created a “different dynamic” that have made enhanced supports for workers necessary. .
He also defended Premier Doug Ford’s handling of the pandemic, even as record case counts and surging hospitalization rates increasingly put Ontario’s healthcare system on the brink of collapse.
“The premier has done a spectacular job,” he said.
The Ford government eliminated a paid sick leave program introduced by the previous Liberal government in one of its first acts after taking office in 2018.