Premier Doug Ford confirmed the province is working on a paid sick-leave program for Ontario workers after months of refusal, however, did not say when it will actually be announced.
Ford said people forced into quarantine should not have to worry about their jobs or income, while speaking from his own self-isolation on Thursday after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.
He said the province is now working on a solution because the federal government didn’t expand its own policy. However, when pressed on when further details would be released, Ford would not confirm a date.
The Ontario government had stated earlier in the week it was hoping the federal budget that was announced on Tuesday would fill in “gaps” in its program.
However, once announced, the budget did not implement any changes to the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), which pays $500 per week ($450 after taxes) for up to four weeks for anyone required to quarantine because of COVID-19. The feds had, however, been discussing possibly expanding the EI sickness benefit.
Ford fought back tears as he also apologized for increasing police enforcement powers and closing playgrounds last Friday amid surging case numbers and hospitalizations in the province.
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The powers would have allowed for police and bylaw officers to stop anyone in the street and ask them why they were not at home and where they lived.
Ford said his government moved too fast and got it wrong.
“Simply put, we got it wrong. We made a mistake. These decisions left a lot of people very concerned. … They left a lot of people angry and upset. I know we got it wrong. I know we made a mistake and for that I am sorry and I sincerely apologize,” he said.
The criticism was quick in response to the new measures, with several police forces in the province saying they will not be conducting random checks.
“I will always try to do what’s right,” Ford continued. “If we get something wrong, we’ll fix it.”
Ford had steadfastly refused to introduce a sick-leave program despite COVID-19 outbreaks in workplaces.
His turnaround came Thursday at his first news conference since he announced new COVID-19 regulations on Friday that sparked a furious backlash.
Ford said it was not lost on him that he is able to isolate and keep on working.
“For too many people right now, that’s not the case.”
Advocates previously said under the federal program, workers need to apply after being sick and they need to have been away for a majority of days they were scheduled to work in a week. Many have raised that it can take weeks to get reimbursement.
When it comes to a provincial sick leave program, advocates said they want to see it operate like a wage continuance. Such a mechanism, if approved, would see workers be paid as normal if they have to stay home.
When asked by the media if he feels he still has the “moral authority” to lead as premier after members of the opposition and several critics called for him to resign, Ford rejected that assertion.
“They have the right to voice their opinion. I can tell you, our team is strong, our team is united,” Ford said. “We’re going to continue to lead and get through this pandemic.”
“I’m not one to walk away from anything, we’re going to continue to lead through the pandemic as we have right from the get-go.”
The response to Ford’s press conference was swift.
Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP party, said Ford is just continuing to refuse to “act to stop third-wave devastation.”
“On Friday, Doug Ford set people up to be ravaged by the third wave. Today, he didn’t give them anything to save them,” she said in a press release Thursday.
“Every day, people go to work with COVID symptoms because they can’t afford to take a sick day. Vulnerable people and our frontline heroes cannot get a vaccine,” Horwath continued.
Leader of the Green Party Mike Schreiner said Ford is “finally” realizing “the privilege he has over workers living paycheque-to-paycheque” in a press release issued shortly after the premier concluded his news conference.
“The fact that it’s taken thousands of deaths and a raging crisis in Ontario for the Premier to realize this is appalling,” Schreiner continued. “Ford needs to stop playing politics by blaming the federal government and the CRSB. Workers have needed paid sick days since last year.”
CUPE Ontario, the union that represents 280,000 public sector workers, said it wants action not apologies.
“Yet again Ontarians were on the edge of their seats waiting for a commitment to deliver what we need to stay safe, only to get absolutely nothing,” said CUPE President Fred Hahn in a press release Thursday.
“The chorus of voices calling for paid sick days is roaring over Ford’s inaction.”
The government’s science advisors said earlier this week that the province is facing its most challenging health crisis and measure such as paid sick leave, the closure of non-essential workplaces and restricting movement were urgently needed.
Ontario reported 3,682 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the provincial total to 432,805. The death toll in the province rose to 7,829 as 40 more deaths were recorded, a third-wave high.
–With files from The Canadian Press and Ryan Rocca