Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP Ottawa Centre
On Sept. 22, in the midst of rising COVID-19 positive cases, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) invoked a self-isolation order for people demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19. Those who don’t comply could be fined $5,000 per day.
This is a serious matter. For months, we worked hard to flatten the curve, but now we must ensure that commitment holds fast. Dr. Vera Etches and the OPH team are making this clear, and I’m thankful for their leadership.
Having said that, consider the awful choice facing people right now without sick day protection at work. For months, we have insisted that Ontario create a paid sick day program so people can stay home, and avoid spreading the virus.
But as per his habit, Premier Ford waited for the federal government to act. The government he leads has done nothing to expand sick day protection. In fact, his legacy was to strip away the minimal two paid sick days enacted by the previous government.
At the time of writing, the federal government will roll out a paid sick day program through Employment Insurance, but we still don’t know the details: who will qualify or how long people will wait for financial support.
And what else do we know about where COVID-19 has hit hardest in Ottawa?
As Naini Cloutier from Somerset West Community Health Centre notes, 66 per cent of COVID-19 cases are in low-income, racialized communities. Folks in these communities are more likely to hold precarious jobs without paid sick days, like Personal Support Workers, cleaners or grocery clerks.
These folks, Premier Ford says, are our “heroes,” but they don’t have his support when it matters. This is unacceptable. We need paid sick days to stay home right now.
Yes, I can already hear folks lamenting COVID-19 spending to date. To those people I say this: What’s the cost of losing people from marginalized communities to this awful pandemic? The cost of inaction is far too high.
If you need paid sick days, or if you know someone who does, tell them to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will make sure their story is heard by the Ford government.