After months of calls from health-care workers and advocates to institute paid provincial sick days amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government maintained its stance and didn’t include such a program in the 2021 Ontario budget.
During a budget lockup Wednesday afternoon, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy defended the government’s decision to not enact a program provincially that would allow for quicker access to paid time off.
He said the program wasn’t needed because the federal government already has a COVID-19-related support program for workers who need to take time off.
“That program exists and it’s over a billion dollars … this is a program for 20 paid sick days. I’ve gone on the website, check out the website. It’s very easy to use,” Bethlenfalvy said.
“Let’s not confuse everybody. There’s money available. There’s a great program.”
He also touted the government’s investments in COVID-19 testing for workers as well as establishing isolation centres if need be.
Ahead of the budget, opposition parties pushed for the government to require employers to provide paid sick days in an effort to help people in COVID-19 hotspot regions to slow the spread of the virus.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the absence of guaranteed paid time off to get COVID-19 vaccines as well as having the access to leave.
“Everyday folks who struggle to pay the bills, they need to have every barrier reduced,” she told reporters.
When asked about the program being left out of the part of the province’s financial blueprint, Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca called the decision “stubborn” and “ideological in nature.”
During the second wave of cases in January, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said at the time more must be done to help residents comply with public health rules in the face of rising cases, including instituting paid sick days.
Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly resisted calls to put in place a provincial regime of paid sick days. He too has been touting the federal government’s COVID-19 benefits for residents. In the past, he called for a shortened application period.
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit pays $500 per week for up to two weeks for anyone required to quarantine because of COVID-19. The federal 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.