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Ontario Hansard - 03-March2020


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is also to the Premier. As concern about the novel coronavirus spreads all over the world, Ontario’s public health officials are doing an extraordinary job keeping people informed and safe. They have a consistent message for people when they fall ill: Stay home.

Unfortunately, in Ontario, government changes to employment standards make it harder than ever for working people to do that when they need to. What is the government’s plan to ensure that people are able to stay home when they need to?

Hon. Doug Ford: We had a great announcement yesterday about having a central command table. The Minister of Health is working hard, getting briefed every day. I just ended up getting briefed again this morning. We have all the confidence in Dr. Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. They’re communicating right across the province with other chief medical officers of health. We’re going to be doing our due diligence to make sure that people in Ontario are safe.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Well, Speaker, just last month, 175 health workers, including physicians, nurses and public health professionals, wrote the Ford government and implored them to reinstate flexible personal emergency leave days and end mandatory sick notes. They’ve warned the current provincial labour laws are “a serious threat to the health and safety of Ontarians.”

Yesterday, the Premier said he was taking the threat posed by the coronavirus seriously. I think he’s just repeated that by pointing to the command centre that has been set up. So my question is, will he listen to the concerns raised by these health professionals and deal with the sick notes and flexible days off, sick days off for workers in Ontario?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Long-Term Care, to reply on behalf of the Premier.

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Thank you to the member opposite. I want to first thank all the people who are working in health care, providing front-line care, and our public health agencies, who are working so hard every day to be prepared in an instance like this. I want to make sure that we value what they do, and that’s what we’re doing.

Our government is committed to making sure that we support our communities, our population across Ontario and our front-line workers. We’ve added three new types of leave to the Employment Standards Act: sick leave, family responsibility leave, bereavement leave. Medical notes are not automatically required for those leaves of absence. Instead, employers have the option to require reasonable proof of the circumstances that entitle the employee to leave.

Although the risk to Ontarians—and I think this is a really important emphasis—is low, it is important that we take decisive action and take leadership. That’s what this government is doing in this preparedness process. We are supporting our front-line workers. We are committed to making sure our Ontarians have a proper plan to stay safe—

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you.

Final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: The government says that they are taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously, and health professionals are saying that Ontario’s current laws encourage people to go to work sick, putting themselves and all of us at risk. There’s no better way to value the professionals that the minister was talking about than taking their advice.

New Democrats are ready to work with the government to ensure expedited passage of legislation to enact flexible personal emergency leave days and an end to mandatory sick notes, even if it’s on a temporary basis. We can pass legislation in this House in one day. Will the government consider this?

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton: Again, thank you for that question. I’m going to reiterate the importance of what our government is doing to show support for our front-line support workers and our communities across Ontario. I’m a little disappointed that the NDP is trying to play politics.

I was a family doctor for almost 30 years, and so I understand the importance of support for our front-line providers, absolutely. Everyone should take comfort in knowing that our skilled health care providers are bringing all their experience. Our government is supporting them and committed to supporting them every day that they provide that front-line service to our communities across Ontario and our people of Ontario, who we are making sure we have support for and are prepared for. Minister Elliott, the Minister of Health is doing an amazing job across Ontario preparing, with her leadership, with this government. I want our front-line support workers—

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The next question.

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