Ontario Premier Doug Ford, through insincere sobs, told reporters this week that his government was working on paid sick leave legislation — and then announced three hours later that they won’t be requiring employers to fund paid sick leave. 

On the other side of the country, British Columbia Finance Minister Selina Robinson stated that the province isn’t considering paid sick leave — then, six hours later, the province indicated they might be doing something after all. Both provinces have pointed to Ottawa, arguing that the feds needed to enact sick pay. 

But sick leave is a labour issue, which provinces can legislate freely. Refusing to cough up for paid sick leave shows that provincial governments care more about business and “the economy” than stopping spread. (Never mind that you don’t have an economy if all your workers are ill or dead.) Provinces can mandate that businesses pay employees, or set up provincial programs to fund them; waiting for Ottawa to act is an excuse to do nothing.

Paid sick days are important. A 2010 report from the Public Welfare Foundation in the United States found “not having paid sick days is associated with an 18 percentage point increase in ill employees spreading diseases at work.” That means workers are more likely to make other workers sick — who may then come into work, unable to take unpaid time off to recuperate, continuing the cycle. 

A recent study found a quarter of workers interviewed in Ontario’s Peel region with COVID-19 symptoms went to work, because they couldn’t afford the time off. This is even more worrying given the rise of B.1.1.7 and P1 variants in Canada, which are more transmissible than earlier dominant strains. 

The current Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) isn’t enough. As PressProgress explains, it’s temporary, only applies to people sick with COVID-19 and it can pay out less than the minimum wage — not enough to live on, especially if you’re already barely scraping by on minimum wage. It’s also done through an application process, which can be buggy and further delay payment.

Before Ford’s 2018 election victory, Ontario workers did have guaranteed sick leave — up to 10 days per year, including two paid days. That was rare in Canada. Currently, the only provinces with paid sick leave are Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Quebec offers two paid sick days to any employee who’s been at a job for more than three months; P.E.I. will give you three unpaid sick days after three months on the job, and one paid sick day if you’ve been employed by the same company for more than five years.

A 2009 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research compares sick leave in 22 countries, and shows how Canada is lagging behind on short-term sick pay: only Canada, Japan and the U.S. have no payment for a five-day flu. By contrast, 11 countries force the employer to pay, three fund sick leave with social insurance and four have some combination of employer-funding and social insurance. (A 2018 report by the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA noted “no known policy changes” since 2009, though this may not still be true in the COVID landscape.)

It looks like Ontario will be announcing some kind of addition to the CRSB. But that’s not enough. Labour groups and unions know that paid sick days stop spread, keep people healthy and ultimately save lives. Refusing to fund sick days while keeping congregant workplaces open is rubber-stamping unnecessary suffering. 

This Week From Passage

Doug Ford Is A Mass Social Murderer.” Davide Mastracci.

Friedrich Engels coined the term “social murder” in 1845 to refer to the way that governments can unnaturally shorten workers’ lives through denying them “necessities of life,” forcing them into “conditions in which they cannot live.” Ford nixed paid sick leave in 2019, and has repeatedly ignored calls to reinstate the program. Deaths from COVID-19 contracted in the workplace aren’t accidents. They were deliberate. 

The Ontario NDP Have Failed To Be The Opposition We Need.” Nora Loreto. 

Andrea Horwath has led the ONDP for 12 years, and it’s taken the party 14 months to come up with a “plan to save Ontario.” Their so-called plan is vague, limited and reactive. The policies are still designed to help businesses more than individuals. A progressive opposition needs to be opposing government policies, offering radical changes and motivating their grassroots forces to stand against power. 

The Liberals’ Budget Doesn’t Even Live Up To Their Own Low Standards.” V. S. Wells.

What was on your wishlist for the federal budget — Pharmacare? Paid sick leave? A wealth tax on billionaires? Affordable housing plans? A Green New Deal and $20 minimum wage? We got none of those things. The federal budget was austerity dressed up as new spending. It talks of a world where one day Canada might be able to afford things, but does nothing to make the present day better for everyday people and workers. 

Laurentian University Is A Casualty Of The Neoliberal Assault On Higher Education.” Adam D.K. King.

Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have spent decades underfunding Ontario’s higher education system. Laurentian University — a multilingual school in Sudbury that serves many working-class students — ended up declaring bankruptcy under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Adam D.K. King explains why this sets a dangerous precedent in viewing universities as for-profit businesses rather than publicly funded institutions, and what that means for both staff and students. 

Don’t Be Fooled By Doug Ford’s Crocodile Tears.” Robert Hiltz.

It takes a certain kind of person to pretend to cry over human suffering when that pain is a direct result of the actions you have taken, and continue to do. Doug Ford announced a superlative sick leave plan for Ontario, but one without details, timelines or specifics. He apologized for people getting mad at his plans, not for having bad plans. He put on a show to distract from a disaster he created. 

Elsewhere In Canada

B.C.’s 2021 Budget Will Support Low-Income People. But Experts Say It’s Missing Some Important Items.” PressProgress.

Whose idea was it to drop the federal budget and the British Columbia budget in the same week? Well, B.C. is making public transit free for under-12s, allocating $80 billion for a housing affordability plan and increasing income and disability assistance by $175 per month. But as this analysis points out, disability assistance has actually been cut from its $300 pandemic top-up, and the promised $400 renters’ rebate didn’t show up either. There’s also shortcomings in the budgeted education and child welfare funds, as The Tyee reports.

Biden’s Earth Day Summit Shows Canada Is Stuck In The Slow Lane On Climate.” Eric Doherty, Ricochet.

In the U.S., President Joe Biden announced a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that shifts federal funding to public transit and away from highway expansion. This is important, Eric Doherty explains, because building new highways doesn’t spread the current traffic across more lanes: it creates more traffic, and more greenhouse gas emissions. In Canada, governments consistently tell us that highways reduce emissions and so continue to greenlight road expansion in the name of climate change. If America can do better, why can’t we?

Doug Ford Scrambles To Learn How To Work From Home After Aide Tests Positive For COVID-19.” Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson, Toronto Star.

Do you remember on Wednesday when everyone was freaking out about the fact that Doug Ford exclusively uses a series of refurbished 2014 BlackBerry phones? This is where that’s from. Also, he apparently doesn’t know how to use a laptop. And he runs Ontario, you say. 

Around The World

Derek Chauvin’s Guilty Conviction Is Not Justice For Systemic Police Violence.” Jameelah Nasheed, Teen Vogue.

Derek Chauvin being found guilty for George Floyd’s murder is not justice. Justice would be Floyd still being alive. Justice would be Daunte Wright still being alive, not the cop who shot him bailing out of jail on a second-degree manslaughter charge. Justice would be 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant still being alive, not killed by police and called a “young woman” by the Columbus mayor. On our side of the border, justice would be Eishia Hudson and Chantel Moore and Julian Jones and countless other Black, Indigenous, disabled or mentally ill people surviving police encounters. Having your life be at the mercy of armed police is not justice. Accountability for murder is not justice.

Don’t Ignore The Ongoing Crisis In Yemen.” Walker Bragman, Jacobin.

Yemen’s civil war is funded by external powers. Iran supports the Houthis, who took over the government in 2014. Saudi Arabia — supported by the U.S. and using Western weaponry, including from Canada — supports the disposed Yemeni regime. As Walker Bragman explains, the war is long, violent and messy. Countries lend aid to different sides in the hopes of extending their own influence, while civilians are left to starve or be shelled.

Ideas & Culture

The Impossibility Of Ethical Recreation On Stolen Land.” Nick Martin, New Republic.

Climber Richard Gilbert recently defaced a series of Fremont petroglyphs with climbing bolts in a Utah park. His ignorance — or deliberate malice — opens a larger conversation about how recreational tourism and American national park system interact with Indigenous peoples and their stolen land. Nick Martin notes that conservationists and environmentalists may have embraced Indigenous land management in the past decade, but the same isn’t true of industry forces or political systems. 

The Girl In The Kent State Photo.” Patricia McCormick, Washington Post.

I, like many people, first saw the Kent State photo in a history textbook. “I’m a living person,” Mary Ann Vecchio says with a laugh. “And I’m in a history book! Not many people can say that.” Vecchio was only 14 in the photo that made her anonymously famous, a runaway from Florida who’d ended up in Ohio on the day that the National Guard shot dead four students. Patricia McCormick traces how the trauma of that day impacted Vecchio’s childhood — and still haunts Vecchio decades later.

One Last Thing

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably stumbled across Vaccine Hunters Canada (VHC) by now. If not — they also have a website. VHC is a community dedicated to helping eligible people in Canada find vaccines. Keep an eye on them. The vaccine roll-out is bound to get more chaotic as it scales up over the coming months and more people become eligible, and you might be able to find a shot close-by.

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