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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

"Playing politics" with sick days

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's claim that unions and progressives calling for proper sick days in the province are "playing politics" is reactionary and inane. But the existence of a deeply inadequate federal Liberal sick day program, that the federal NDP took credit for as a "victory" before it was even implemented or the details of it were known, makes matters a little uncomfortable for his critics.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announcing the stay at home order, April 7, 2021 - image via video screenshot

Ontario has entered yet another lockdown with the Doug Ford government issuing a 28 day stay at home order and placing the province under a State of Emergency. While recent numbers have indicated that it is large workplaces that are driving the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the province, as with the previous lockdowns most of these will remain open. This leaves much of the emphasis on individual actions and gatherings.

I talked about some of these issues in an April 6 piece: New numbers in Ontario show large workplaces are fueling pandemic outbreaks.

The new lockdown does, at least, force larger retailers and Big Box stores to close the aisles and sections of the stores that have been deemed non-essential. But despite allowing warehouse and other facilities -- like the Amazon warehouse that has had over 600 cases since the pandemic began -- to keep humming along, the province will not be adding any new sick days or creating a new provincial program to supplement/replace the dreadfully flawed federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB).

The failure of the Ford government to bring in new sick days has been rightly and widely condemned.

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, correctly noted on April 7 that:

Every single expert makes it clear that the people contracting COVID-19 in this third wave are essential front-line workers and members of racialized communities. A stay-at-home order not only fails to deliver what we need to stay healthy – it’s actually just a political move to scapegoat everyday Ontarians..
To be successful, any stay-at-home order must include legislated paid sick days

There is little doubt this is true but Premier Ford has an out. He falls back on the existence of the CRSB. Ford said of the criticisms:

So far 300,000 Ontarians have accessed the program already. So to all the opposition and to everyone that's preaching about the sick days and playing politics, rather than do that, why don't you try to help someone by telling them where they can go.

The "playing politics" line is an old canard that politicians -- especially on the right -- like to throw around to make it seem as if their opponents are motivated by "politics" while they are driven by the "greater good". It is, obviously, a totally inane line whenever used. Everything every mainstream politician does in the public sphere is in some way or another driven by politics. It is literally their job.

And sick days, of course, are very much a political issue.

The problem for many of Ford's progressive opponents is that the CRSB was introduced by a Liberal federal government and is a program that the federal NDP played a very large role in creating, even taking credit for it before it was implemented or its details were known as I noted in the piece NDP claims victory in advance of battle last May.

Since it turns out the program is a Gremlin like lemon with insufficient benefits and what can be Byzantine rules and wait times, the Ontario NDP and labour movement are paradoxically placed in the uncomfortable position of having to call out Ford for telling people to use the very federal program that their federal wing (and they themselves once) celebrated.

There is a profound irony that many Ontario NDP partisans who howled with partisan fury at anyone who suggested the NDP's claims of a federal sick day victory were premature or misguided, are now angry that Doug Ford is saying that it is exactly the kind of sick day victory they had claimed it was back in the day.

Some commentators have noted the contradictions:

Now, due to past partisan blindness, some progressives fighting for a proper and effective government sick day program in Ontario are having to square this undoubtedly uncomfortable circle. It is another example of why leftists celebrating fake half-victories as triumphs to validate their continued support for the federal NDP is directly harmful to working people.



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