Paid sick leave continues to be a contentious point of discussion in Ontario, with the provincial government now offering to double the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), if administered by the federal government.
On Monday, The Globe and Mail reported Ontario's Conservative government has requested that the federal government increase the CRSB payment to $1,000 per week, instead of $500 a week, for four weeks, with the provincial government funding the increase.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not express that the federal government will be making that change, but continued to say that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, is working with the province directly.
"As we see the news from Ontario and across the country in places affected by this third wave, our heart goes out to the families facing tragedies, the essential workers in workplaces who are worried about bringing home the virus, who are continuing to need to go to work," Trudeau said. "This is one of the reasons we brought in a federal sick leave program that individuals could directly apply for many months ago."
"We know that it’s an important piece of the puzzle...One of the most efficient ways of doing that is obviously to work through employers, as we have through federally regulated work places, and I know the deputy prime minister is working directly with the province of Ontario to ensure that the right supports get there for people as quickly as possible."
In a statement to CBC News, Katherine Cuplinskas, spokesperson for Freeland, told the news outlet that "when Ontario is ready to mandate sick leave in provincially regulated businesses, as we have done for federally regulated businesses, we will be there to help."
How does the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit work?
Employees and self-employed individuals who cannot work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19, or have an underlying health condition that "puts them at greater risk of getting COVID-19," can apply for the CRSB.
Each person can receive $500, $450 after taxes, for one week. If an individual's situation extends beyond one week, they need to apply again for up to a total of four weeks.
"If your application requires further validation, processing may take up to four weeks from the time we receive your documentation," the information from the federal government states.
Direct deposit through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can take between three and five business days, and a mailed cheque should arrive in 10 to 12 business days.
What has the Ontario government said about paid sick leave benefits?
Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government will be "bridging the gap" in the CRSB, and will work on a solution to "fill those gaps" for everyone in the province.
"I want workers to know, as I have right from the beginning, I will always have your back," the premier said.
Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has indicated that paying essential workers to stay home when they are sick, if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or when they need to get vaccinated, is an important component to fighting the virus in the province.
"SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads when people go to work sick or after having been exposed to the virus," the recommendations from the advisory table read. "Workers who do this, often do so because they have no choice: they must feed their families and pay their rent."
"Compared to other models that appear to have limited spread, the federal program is cumbersome and does not provide enough financial support. An emergency benefit that offers more money, is easily accessible, immediately paid and that, for the duration of the pandemic, is available to essential workers – when they are sick, when they’ve been exposed, need time off to get tested, or when it’s their turn to get vaccinated – will help limit spread."
How are Ontarians responding?
Following the death of 13-year-old Emily Victoria Viegas, the Children's Health Coalition is calling on the Ontario government to "prioritize" paid sick leave and vaccines for essential workers in hot spots.
"The most effective strategy we have to protect kids is to protect the adults around them," the statement from the Children's Health Coalition reads. "The Ontario government must urgently prioritize paid sick days and vaccines for essential workers in radicalized and low income hot spots."
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath released a statement on Tuesday saying that Ford is "playing political games with paid sick days."
"Essential workers are still waiting for the paid sick days Doug Ford finally promised last week," the statement reads.
"He’s playing political games, and Ontarians are paying a devastatingly high price. Simply contributing to the federal program will solve none of the problems workers are currently facing. The federal program is not paid sick days, period."
Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca also tweeted that Ford has "broken that promise" of introducing a paid sick leave program.
Ontarians, including medical professionals, continue to call for the province to legislate a provincial paid sick leave benefit.