Ontario Liberals call on government to 'overrule the premier' on paid sick leave
TORONTO -- Ontario's Liberal Party is appealing directly to Progressive Conservative MPPs to “overrule the Premier” and pass legislation to give front-line workers paid sick leave during the third wave of COVID-19.
In a letter addressed to all MPPs, but specifically targeted at members of Premier Doug Ford’s caucus, Liberal labour critic Michael Coteau is urging Queen’s Park politicians to “stand up” to the government and mandate sick leave for employees.
“Let me speak directly to my Conservative colleagues,” Coteau writes. “After the debacle of this past weekend, you owe it to your constituents – and to your own conscience – to do the right thing, regardless of what the Premier’s Office tells you to do.”
The letter comes during a challenging time for the Ford government, which was forced to rescind sweeping new pandemic powers given to police, and reopen playgrounds after a wave of public fury and criticism.
Coteau argues that instead of measures aimed at punishing the public, the government should focus on preventative measures that would help front-line employees stay home if they exhibit symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
Coteau’s proposed legislation, the Paid Personal Emergency Leave Now Act, would give employees up to 10 days of paid emergency leave for a variety of reasons including personal illnesses and medical emergencies.
The bill is set to be debated on Thursday, amid uncertainty over whether the Ontario legislature will continue sitting during the pandemic’s third wave.
The legislation, however, faces certain defeat at the hands of the Ford government which has repeatedly used its majority in the legislature to shoot down similar attempts to legislate paid sick leave in Ontario.
An NDP bill that aimed to give workers seven paid days of emergency leave was swatted down by at least 50 Tory MPPs on Mar. 1.
The party also asked the legislature in February and March for unanimous consent to pass the bill immediately -- each of the nine attempts was derailed by the Ford government which voiced its objection.
Premier Ford has repeatedly pointed to the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit as the vehicle for ill employees to recoup lost wages during the pandemic.
Ford maintains the province fought for the $1.1 billion program, recently telling the Legislative Assembly there is $700 million left unspent.
“I encourage every single Ontarian not to be double-dipping—it doesn’t matter if it says the government of Canada or the government of Ontario. There’s one taxpayer. There’s $700 million sitting there for the people of Ontario to apply,” Ford said.
Critics of the program argue that its retroactive nature requires employees to miss at least 50 per cent of a work week before qualifying for the benefit, and the compensation of $500 in taxable income doesn’t adequately cover lost wages.
While Ford said his government has “followed medical advice from day one,” his party seemingly chose to ignore the pleas of Dr. Steini Brown, Chair of the Science Advisory Table, who said enhanced supports for employees were needed to help tamp down the third wave.
On Friday, Dr. Brown recommended the government implement easy-to-access support for employees to stay home when they’re sick -- advice that wasn’t acted on by Ford’s cabinet which chose instead to focus on random police stops and playground closures.
In his push for paid sick leave, Coteau is asking Progressive Conservatives to vote against their own party and with their conscience.
“All it would take is a handful of Conservative MPPs to overrule the Premier and pass this life saving policy,” Coteau writes.