Susanna Kelley (Moderator): Amidst resignation threats and howls of outrage from Ontario medical officials, the Ford government now says it will consider bringing in paid sick days to help stop COVID-19. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has been pushing this for some time, along with closing non-essential businesses. Would her plan work? We asked David Wills, Chris Loreto and Sarbjit Kaur.

David Wills:

I think to be clear, these are not just the ideas of Andrea Horwath. They are the ideas of virtually every single public health expert.

What is most concerning is the rapid loss of trust in the government’s ability to manage. We have the Auditor General reviewing the hot spot decision making, and the two biggest regions — and the two hardest hit — taking extraordinary measures on their own because they don’t think the province is doing a good job.

This is a sign of being in panic mode — rushed decisions, backtracking, then reacting after rejecting.

Looking at what the NDP proposes, it is clear that the recommended steps will stop spread. And put simply, paying workers deemed to be essential to stay home when they are sick, exposed or need time to get vaccinated is good economic and good public health policy.

Let’s start with the big one — paid sick days.

The Ford government seemed stuck ideologically on this. This would be the game changer in the fight against COVID-19 spread. Right now, far too many workers are in a position where they have no real choice. They go to work — sick or not — or they don’t get paid. And they can’t afford to not get paid.

That’s why we are seeing so much workplace spread of the virus. These people get infected at work, then they bring it home. And the spread continues.

I read a statistic where it is an estimated 60% of workers are in this position. They are deemed essential but are treated as disposable.

The Ford government said Tuesday it would bring in paid sick days, but details were not provided and we need to see how fast it will be implemented and if it is full pay. If it is true paid sick days, I will be the first to say thank you.

The other no-brainer here is paid time off to get vaccinated. We need to eliminate every barrier to encourage everyone to get a vaccine. Not everyone has a car and the system dictates to us when and where we can get vaccinated. For a lot of people, this means missing work and they can’t afford that.

Finally, the police order — which has since been watered down but not eliminated completely — is misguided. The government is perpetuating a false narrative that it is bands of people going rogue causing the third wave. Its own evidence shows it is happening at workplaces.

The government needs to stop blaming others and start acting in the best interest of the public. Everyone sees this — many of the police forces themselves rejected this power.

Chris Loreto:

God bless the Ontario NDP, an inept Official Opposition.

It must be getting a tad uncomfortable on their benches with the Liberals passing them consistently in opinion polls.

Their motions were typically unfocused and presented a grab bag of half-baked ideas.

Let’s look at the five motions.

Motion 1: Sattler’s Paid Sick Leave Legislation

This legislation has very little to do with the current pandemic. If the legislation was to only deal with declared public health emergencies, it may have been something that government could adopt.

This legislation is a stalking horse for bad public policy on sick leave. The legislation deals with regular paid sick leave — advocating for seven days paid and three days off — and the legislation actually prohibits an employer from asking for a note from a qualified health provider. That is simply ridiculous.

Add on this that the legislation wants the Ontario government to pay for this unsubstantiated paid time off.

They are trying to create a new government entitlement though the backdoor — using the pandemic to achieve bad socialist policy.

It would have been better for the NDP to have joined the government in its call to have Ottawa fix its paid sick leave program. For the federal Liberals, it’s all about optics and not real action.

Motion 2: Repeal of Additional Police Powers

The government has moved on this issue, but the same people who were asking for these powers to be repealed were also asking for more to be done on enforcement.

Unfortunately, wave three could have been helped substantially had the federal government closed the border, including air traffic. The feds’ negligence let the variants in. And they stopped screening flights from Brazil because the variants are already here.

Federal negligence in securing our borders is something the mainstream media is failing to report on.

Motion 3: Paid Time Off for Vaccination

Not sure it is required. If we had enough vaccine, we’d be running 24-7 vaccination sites province-wide.

Also, I suspect if we were running 24-7 sites with enough supply, businesses would actually be taking a proactive and coordinated approach to getting their employees vaccinated. With enough vaccine, we could roll out mobile clinics to go the job sites.

Again, federal negligence on the vaccine file is what is causing harm.

If the NDP had any political instincts, it would be using federal Liberal ineptitude to its advantage. But Del Duca skates by them.

Motion 4: Full Shutdown

If the Ontario NDP has a list of non-essential businesses, it would be helpful if they would publish it. I haven’t seen it, so I expect it doesn’t exist.

If the NDP had its way, we’d shutdown the entire economy, destroy more businesses, and then bring on new government entitlements that would crush whatever is left of the economy.

Motion 5: Local Business Supports

Why didn’t the NDP just join the government in calling on the federal Liberal government to fix its wonky commercial rent program and the lousy paid sick leave program that no one can access because it just doesn’t work?

The federal payroll program is one program that seems to be working. Why is the NDP asking for Ontario to set up its own system? Anyone? Bueller?

Feel that? That is the breeze of Del Duca skating past Horwath.

Sarbjit Kaur:

All due respect to Chris, you’re making the same arguments that the Ford government has (unsuccessfully) been trying to make for months.

At some point you have to read the room and figure out: blaming the federal government — that keeps coming the rescue and pouring resources into fighting this pandemic — isn’t going to work.

On the sick days — yes, they could have announced their own temporary pandemic sick day measures and finished this off weeks ago.

Same with time off for vaccination. Their penny pinching doesn’t work during a pandemic when people are panicked and want everything possible to be done to help stop the spread and support the most vulnerable.

As for workplace shutdowns — we’ve seen that having people work from home and closing schools is not enough when you have masses of people working and we know for a fact the spread is coming from workplaces, retails, construction sites — not playgrounds or people out for a walk.

Toronto and Peel have announced that any workplace with more than five COVID-19 cases will be shut down. Is the Ford government not capable of coming up with a similar plan?

Andrea Horwath has forced the government’s hand at the worst possible time. It could’ve acted earlier and avoided the abject humiliation of a weekend of policy reversals on policing and playgrounds and now having to cave on sick days.

They have lost control.  

David Wills:

Reading Chris’ response, clearly Andrea Horwath struck a nerve with the Ontario Conservatives. And it is rich for Chris, who I will guess has the privilege of having paid sick days without requiring a note (like I do) to deny it to those who make lower wages and have basically zero job protections.

This government has a single message — blame Trudeau for everything.

Whether you like them or not, the Ontario NDP has been consistent throughout the pandemic — listen to science, put workers first.

On the police powers, excuse people for not saying thank you to an attempt to take away their rights.

But let’s go back to supporting business. We are in wave three. We are here because we did not learn lessons from waves one and two. Just weeks ago, as health experts were warning of rising numbers and exponential growth in the variants, the Ford government starting easing restrictions against all advice.

The best thing we can do for business is get through the pandemic. Not providing sick days has cost us lives and thousands of cases. Canceling frisbee golf won’t make a lick of difference. Hard decisions need to be made.

We can support businesses through this. And if we did it right earlier it would be easier now.

Chris Loreto:

The Ontario NDP gets so lost in its own agenda, and aims its guns on the wrong things, and continues to surrender progressive ground to the Ontario Liberals by not taking the Trudeau Liberals to task for what their lack of leadership and incompetence has done to Ontario.

David, when will you guys get tired of the Liberals always eating your lunch?

And, let’s talk about the federal government. A 750-page plus spending bonanza of a budget and not a single additional cent for health transfers to the provinces. Think about that one.

Sarbjit, the federal Liberals have missed the mark on most everything and have left it to the provinces to clean up their mess.

And the best your leader could do last week was ask for a democratically elected Ontario government to be removed in favour of a “Czar” to manage the pandemic.

We are all frustrated. But the Ontario NDP and Ontario Liberals have had nothing to add to the pandemic response except apologies for the Trudeau Liberals and using the pandemic as an excuse to try to sneak in long-time agendas.

Sarbjit Kaur:

It’s not the job of the federal government to manage provincial shut downs.

The Ford government had one job. And it bungled it. Again and again.

If the feds have to do everything, maybe we don’t actually need Premier Ford and a Czar would be better?

The Prime Minister has come out looking like hero. He’s sending federal staff (after Ford first refused help from the Red Cross), he’s sending rapid tests and focusing on hotspots — just as the Ford government should have done ages ago.

The federal budget extends financial supports and focuses on big ideas that will position us well for a post pandemic economic recovery.

Meanwhile the provincial government is figuring out what to do about golf courses and fighting over a bit of time off for workers to get vaccinated.

I have some sympathy for the Premier. Even when he tries to do something right — that will give people what they are asking for — the PCs’ communications rollout is poor or something in the mix derails the messaging.

So, the execution is off. It really does seem like the team is dysfunctional. Perhaps there are people within Ford’s party who are not supporting him — during this difficult time — and that’s a real problem.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.

The ONW Salon: Would the NDP Plan for Ontario’s Pandemic Work?

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