National Post (Latest Edition)

Essential workers’ paid leave rejected

- Shawn Jeffords

• The Ontario government rejected efforts to support essential workers with paid sick leave Monday while admitting its now-reversed moves to close playground­s and grant police sweeping enforcemen­t powers had been a mistake.

Health experts and advocates have been calling on the government to bring in paid sick days and shut down non-essential workplaces for weeks, saying the measures could help the province fight soaring COVID-19 cases that are threatenin­g to overwhelm the health-care system.

The Progressiv­e Conservati­ves rejected Opposition motions on both issues, with government House Leader Paul Calandra saying he expected the federal government to announce further enhancemen­ts to their sickday program. “We expect that those changes will include a paid vaccinatio­n day for essential workers, and that it will include an eliminatio­n of the gap between when workers apply and receive benefits,” he said.

Calandra also said some of the restrictio­ns announced by Premier Doug Ford on Friday had been a mistake but had been introduced to limit public gatherings and mobility.

“(It was) poorly communicat­ed, poorly executed, and ultimately, I think we made the right decision in turning back on that.”

Among the measures announced Friday were a closure of all playground­s as well as an order giving police the right to stop anyone to ask why they were out and request their home address. Both were rolled back over the weekend.

The co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table said he nearly resigned out of “desperatio­n” on Friday when he saw that the province had not followed some of his group’s most basic recommenda­tions, including advice on protecting essential workers.

Dr. Peter Juni said the science table did not recommend closing playground­s or giving police wide-ranging enforcemen­t powers and had instead recommende­d paid sick days for essential workers and the temporary closure of more non-essential workplaces.

Asked Monday if Ontario needs to close more non-essential businesses, the province’s top doctor said it is something the government could look at.

“What some people may not think is essential, someone else may say ‘that is so essential,’ and the people want that service available to them,” said Dr. David Williams.

“So it’s not a clear-cut answer in some people’s minds.”

Toronto’s top doctor said Monday that Ontario needs provisions that allow workers to self-isolate and avoid spreading the virus to others.

“This includes paid sick days — even on a temporary emergency basis, so that people can afford to stay home if they’re sick,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said. “The science supports this.”

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