There are some good signs that the case count of COVID-19 infections is going down, but we are still far from the end of the line. Perhaps that’s why Ontario Liberal leader sent an open letter to his fellow opposition leaders this Monday to ask for their support in getting paid sick days back on the agenda, which is only the latest proposed measure to get such a vital protection for Ontario’s workers.
“I know that every resident in our province wants to do what they can to stop the spread of this deadly virus,” Steven Del Duca said in his letter. “Sadly, too many have been put in an impossible situation and have been forced to choose between their health and supporting themselves and their families. In a province as prosperous as ours, especially during a crisis, no one should have to make this choice.”
Del Duca, who does not presently have a seat in the Ontario Legislature, then announced that his colleague Michael Coteau will introduce a private members’ bill when MPPs return to Queen’s Park on February 16. This bill, Del Duca said, will give Ontario workers 10 provincially-funded sick days every year.
“As you both know, Ontario Liberals made paid sick leave a reality for Ontario workers in 2018, only to have it slashed later that year by Doug Ford,” Del Duca said. “I believe that the people of Ontario expect their political leaders to put partisanship aside and work together to produce positive results whenever possible, particularly in challenging moments. Surely, this is one of those times, and I am prepared to collaborate with you to do what needs to be done.”
Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner agrees.
“Paid sick days for workers is vital, especially during a public health crisis,” Schreiner said in a statement. “It is wrong that workers in Ontario do not have this protection. And they are forced to choose between their health and paying the bills when they are sick.”
The Liberal bill would be the third private members bill introduced to give Ontario workers paid sick days. Schreiner’s own Bill 200 was referred to standing committee after being passed unanimously in second reading in October, and in December London West MPP and NDP critic for Employment Standards Peggy Sattler introduced a bill that would guarantee 10 personal emergency leave days per year, plus 14 days of paid leave during any infectious disease emergency.
“I’m eager to work across party lines to legislate 10 provincially paid sick days for Ontarians, and I call on the Premier to bring back the legislature now so that we can get it done,” Schreiner added. “Paid sick days are essential to reducing the spread of COVID and safely reopening our economy and communities.”
While Del Duca and Schreiner are talking about sick days, Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath spent her Monday morning trying to direct the government’s attention to faster distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care homes.
“We have to do far more than just wait for the vaccine in long-term care homes,” Horwath said in a statement. “Especially with the more infectious B117 variant knocking at the door of long-term care homes, we have to hire thousands of staff, put infection prevention and control experts in every home, give all staff paid sick days, and call in the Canadian Armed Forces to give us more capacity to care for residents who are crying out for basic care and comfort.”
Over the weekend, it was reported that Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit had detected a potential COVID case from the U.K. variant of the virus at Bradford Valley Care Community, which would be the second instance of this more virulent strain of COVID-19 to occur in Ontario long-term care homes.
“With doses sitting in the freezer, there is no reason seniors in long-term care should wait another three weeks for the light at the end of the tunnel. Those shots should be in vulnerable arms no later than Friday,” Horwath added.
According to the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker set up by Health Canada Ontario has distributed over 411,000 vaccine doses, but only 286,000 have so far been administered.