Ontario and federal government toss paid sick leave 'hot potato'
Both levels of government are asking the other to take the lead.
In an April 22 letter to federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland from Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the province is prepared to immediately double the Canada recovery sickness benefit for every Ontario resident, instead of launching its own paid sick day initiative or making businesses provide paid sick days to employees.
The federal government said its wage subsidy program is already in place to help employers pay workers who are on sick leave. And the Canada recovery sickness benefit is designed to support workers who don't have a regular employer, or as a stop gap until their province mandates paid sick days. The federal government has said 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”.
In a press scrum Tuesday, Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton confirmed reports that the Ford government wrote to the federal government offering to top up the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB), doubling the maximum amount from $500 to $1,000 a week, before tax.
The way Ontario sees it, the federal government would continue to administer the program with Ontario chipping in the cost of boosting the benefit. "$12.50 an hour is pitiful," McNaughton said, referring to the hourly breakdown of a CRSB payment for a lost week of work. "It is an injustice to workers across the province. We're stepping up with hundreds of millions of dollars to double this program make it retroactive for 60 days to ensure that workers across the province have one month of paid sick days at $1,000 per week."
It appears the federal government isn't willing to embrace the province's plan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the media Tuesday that the deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland is working with the province on the issue. Meanwhile, her office issued a statement suggesting that cooperation has strings attached: "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."
Trudeau also emphasized that he wants the province to mandate paid leave, something that falls under its jurisdiction. "As we've said, we are there to help Canadians, we have people's backs and we need to work together. Provinces need to look at the way to deliver it simply, directly through employers, which the federal government can't do."
The prime minister's comments touch on one of the main complaints about the CRSB. There is low uptake of the federal benefit because it is not automatic — employees must apply and wait for payment, whereas an employer-based program could see employees simply call in sick and continue to receive their usual paycheque. The Ford government's request would not fix that flaw.
Ontario Chamber of Commerce Letter on the Issue