Ontario needs paid sick days that are easily accessible and have ‘no strings attached,’ NDP says

TORONTO — The leader of the Ontario NDP says she is “troubled” by the premier’s repeated attempts to blame the federal government for the province’s lack of action on paid sick days as Doug Ford tells reporters that his government will soon release details of its long-awaited program.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday outside his late mother’s home, where he is self-isolating after being exposed to COVID-19, Ford said his team is still hammering out what will be included in the province’s paid sick leave program, which he claimed will be “the best program anywhere in North America, bar none.”

“We worked months, publicly coming out, again our minister of labour, our minister of health, myself (have) come out numerous times. There is $700 million dollars that had been sitting there from the federal government since September and the system was broken,” he said.

“They made a quick little fix but it wasn’t there. We kept asking them to tweak the changes and when the budget came out, there wasn’t any changes, and so we are going to take action ourself (sic).”

Critics of the federal program say it is insufficient as it only provides sick workers with up to $500 per week and requires that they go without pay while they wait for their application to be approved.

For months, public health experts, members of the province’s own Science Advisory Table, and the official opposition have spoken out about the need for a provincial program above and beyond the Canada Recovery and Sickness Benefit (CRSB). Workplace outbreaks have been a major source of infection in the province and experts have repeatedly warned that the situation would not improve until workers have better access to paid sick days.

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.

On Monday, the NDP introduced a motion for paid sick leave in the legislature, as the opposition has several times in the past year, and the Ford government once again voted it down.

“I was shocked that instead of getting that action today, we got a promise that at some point there is going to be some action. This is something the government should have done a long, long time ago, to bring paid sick days to Ontario,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told CP24 on Thursday.

“They need to be easily accessible paid sick days with no strings attached. No doctors notes, no qualification. If you are sick, you should be able to just call in and just know that your pay pack is protected. It’s not rocket science. We have a bill in the legislature right now that has been there since December to do exactly that. The government could pass it today. But they just stubbornly have been refusing.”

On Wednesday, House Leader Paul Calandra promised that enhancements to the federal program would be announced “in the next couple of days.”

Ford offered little in the way of new details during his press conference on Thursday morning.

“We were hoping we could work with the feds to fill that bridge, to fill that gap,” For said.

“When someone goes and gets tested, they don’t get paid for two or three days. We are going to fix that program. I don’t believe in putting the burden on the backs of business throughout this pandemic… We will come up with this program and again, it will be the best program in North America. We are working on solutions as we talk right now.”

But Horwath said comments made by the premier and his government indicate that the program may not be all that has been promised.

“I’m pretty troubled by the way the government is doing a couple of things; still couching this as a failure of the federal government instead of taking some responsibility. Still pointing to the federal program, and filling gaps, tells me that the premier of this province and his cabinet still don’t get what we need here in Ontario,” she said.

“We will wait and see until whenever they make their actual announcement but the time has been ticking for a very long time and many people have lost their lives, and whole families are now in the ICU, families of essential workers are in the ICU struggling with COVID-19 trying to breathe. It’s horrifying what’s happening out there.”

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