In politics, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Right?

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Queen's Park
The Ontario Legislature at Queen's Park. Toronto, Ontario

Obviously there is a wide range of political perspectives that are aimed to achieve similar goals.  The path to achieving those goals is often far more controversial than the actual goals themselves.

The People of Ontario vote every four years to elect the governing party that they collectively believe have a vision in mind of goals that the people support.  The governing party sets the agenda and determines what they see as the optimum path to achieve the goals.  It is up to the opposition party to offer different perspectives and suggestions to improve the proposed paths that can be followed to achieve similar goals.  In a democracy, such dialogue is imperative for optimum exploration and growth.

The ability to listen attentively and consider alternative perspectives is a sign of strength for most any group, team, business and even government.  Just because ‘your group’ of aligned thinkers didn’t come up with a particular idea doesn’t mean alternative suggestions should be disregarded.  A strong leader is one who is able to listen and consider any ideas and proposals that might improve the success of initiatives.

The problem is that in the world of politics, pride and political games can be obstructions on the road to achieving much needed goals.  It seems eminently clear that such is the case in regard to the need to legislate paid sick days for the people of Ontario.

I’m more than certain that Doug Ford would be very relieved if Ontarians would simply forget his Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, passed in late 2018.  That’s the legislation that the Conservatives passed to reverse Kathleen Wynne’s revision of labour law in an attempt to raise the minimum wage among other things.  Ford gleefully jettisoned from the legislation the meager two guaranteed sick days for low wage earners.

You don’t need a medical or public health degree to understand the concept that, if you are sick you should stay home so that you don’t spread viruses or other contagious diseases to coworkers or others that you come into contact with at work.  This fact has been substantiated many times over including an article appearing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal written by Dr. Jesse McLaren who is an emergency physician from Toronto.

It is estimated that 60 percent of all workers in Ontario do not have paid sick days now.  Worse is the fact that the percentage of low-income workers is much higher.

If one looks back at who made the government’s list of essential workers when the pandemic began, the list was heavily loaded with those at the low end of the pay scale – workers such as convenience, drug and grocery store clerks, take out restaurants and coffee shops, commercial cleaning staff and personal support workers.  These are people who are much needed to perform very necessary duties during pandemic.  They are right front and center dealing with the public and preventing them from contracting the virus.  Yet, as low income earners, they’re the very ones who can least afford to take time off for illness.  Therefore they have little choice but to go to work sick where it is almost a certainty they will spread the virus.

Paid sick days have been endorsed by mayors, municipalities, medical officers of health and public health experts, as well as the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.  Even former Ontario Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown, now the Mayor of Brampton, supports this concept.  Surveys show that there is very strong broad-based support for the concept of paid sick days.

New Democrats well understand the important role that such works play in our economy.  They truly are essential in every respect.  We have been fighting both Liberal and Conservative governments to do the right thing because we believe public health trumps money and politics. In a very real sense, it is an easy way to stop the spread of viruses and save lives.

As per our promise to Ontarians that, as the Official Opposition, we will not just oppose but propose bills to improve life for Ontarians, NDP MPP Peggy Sattler called upon all MPPs of every party to agree to expedite her bill, the Stay Home if You are Sick Act, by giving unanimous support recently.  The act would provide 7 permanent paid sick days, and 14 additional days during the pandemic.

Sattler said that thousands of low-income paid workers, “have cared for our seniors, cleaned our buildings, made our meals, and bagged our groceries.  We know this legislation will save lives, and help to end this pandemic.”  With unanimous support the bill would have become law just days later.

Rather than putting the health of Ontarians ahead of money and political games, the Ford government voted down Sattler’s bill.  But for tens of thousands of Ontarians, this is no game.  It’s a matter of health – maybe even life and death.  And it is no time for partisan politics either.  What is right for the people of Ontario is just that – right.  No one should have to choose between keeping their community safe or keeping the lights on and their family fed.

As a result, rather than giving up on the goal of sick days for Ontarians, Andrea Horwath and the NDP are launching their Paid Sick Days Now campaign.  It is the duty of our government to do everything it can to protect us.  New Democrats will continue to call on Doug Ford to do what is right.  The government has the trunk load of money from the federal government to help fight COVID-19.  It’s time to open the chests and invest in the health and safety of every Ontarian.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.  You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député
Algoma-Manitoulin

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