As the Ontario government announced a state of emergency and other measures aimed at slowing the increase in coronavirus cases, additional paid sick leave supports and a ban on residential evictions were noticeably excluded.
“We have a stay-at-home order and a go-to-work order, which is going to be a big problem in terms of the spread of COVID-19. The loopholes remain significant in the government’s plan announced today,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday afternoon.
Premier Doug Ford announced the government is declaring a state of emergency and is issuing an order requiring residents to stay at home starting on Thursday, except for essential activities such as accessing health care or shopping for groceries, and further delaying in-person classes for students in some hot spots.
Ford announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, one of the experts behind the projections, said that if the province’s COVID-19 positivity rate is at five per cent, Ontario will see more than 20,000 new cases a day by the middle of next month. If the rate climbs to seven per cent, that means the province will see 40,000 new daily cases.
The projections also indicated deaths from COVID-19 will exceed those in the pandemic’s first wave unless there is a significant reduction in contacts between residents.
Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said on Monday that more must be done to help residents comply with public health rules in the face of rising cases, including instituting paid sick days, bringing in eviction protections, and making isolation hotels available.
“It’s not going to be an easy few weeks,” Yaffe said.
“But what these trends demonstrate is that further actions are necessary.”
During her news conference, Horwath reiterated previous calls for paid sick leave and reinstating a ban on evictions. She said both measures are critical for lower-income residents in the province.
“It is the wrong thing to do to not allow people to have the economic security that they need to do the right thing if they become ill, if they show symptoms, if they’re asked to quarantine, these things can … be done reliably by people if they know that they’ll still be able to pay the bills at the end of the month,” she said.
“It’s utterly shameful and irresponsible that Premier Ford refuses to acknowledge what virtually everyone under the sun is saying … There has to be, as of right, paid sick days for every worker in the province of Ontario — not some process where you have to make applications and maybe in a couple of weeks you’ll be able to get a little bit of money.”
Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, emphasized the need for paid sick days for workers.
“It’s unconscionable that this government is yet again failing to take the advice and to keep us safe,” he said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory echoed the call for action to stop evictions, saying the Ontario government should “solidify its commitment” to do so as the jurisdiction falls under provincial responsibility.
“People should not be put out of their housing during a health emergency,” he wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
With respect to the issue of sick days, Ford touted the federal government’s COVID-19 benefits for residents and called for a shortened application period.
“We aren’t going to duplicate areas of support … they have that paid sick leave and that’s very important,” he said Tuesday afternoon when asked if the current federal benefits are enough.
“That will get people over the hump for a couple of weeks. If it extends (beyond two weeks), there’s EI benefits.”
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit pays $500 per week for up to two weeks for anyone required to quarantine because of COVID-19. The government said it was intended to help workers who might have been exposed to the illness and whose employers do not offer paid sick leave.
Ford also promoted past provincial announcements of supports.
“We’re going to be there for the people in all different types of fashions no matter if it’s making sure that people can’t be evicted from their homes, making sure we give parents $200 for every child that is in school, the electricity rates — we’re keeping the electricity rates low, we’re doing everything we can,” he said.
Although Ford briefly referenced evictions, there wasn’t a firm commitment on Tuesday to stop evictions from happening. A press release issued by the Ontario government said officials are “exploring all options available to put a temporary residential evictions moratorium in place” and they “will have more to say in the coming days.”
The Ontario government issued an updated statement hours later, saying, “The enforcement of residential evictions will be suspended until ordered otherwise by the court. Tribunals Ontario will not issue any new eviction orders until further notice. Sheriff’s offices have been asked to postpone any scheduled enforcement of eviction orders.”
However, that wording was removed from the news release Tuesday evening. A spokesperson for Ford told Global News officials are “still finalizing the specific mechanism to stop enforcement of evictions.”
— With files from The Canadian Press