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GTHA Mayors and Chairs call for federal and provincial action on sick pay

HAMILTON, ON – On the first anniversary of the identification of the first COVID-19 case in Canada the Mayors and Chairs of the 11 largest municipal governments across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area held their regular weekly meeting.

Despite some positive movement in case counts, the Mayors and Chairs emphasized very strongly that fighting COVID-19 is indeed a marathon and that we are still a long way from the end. Pending vaccinations do offer hope but it was agreed that we must enlist citizens in the task of doing even more to respect public health guidance, especially to stay home.

There was also considerable concern expressed about regional hospital capacity as both a short and longer term issue and the need for additional investment in capacity.

Despite the ongoing lockdown, the GTHA continues to see extremely large and troubling outbreaks in essential workplaces. Despite the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit from the Government of Canada and provisions by the Government of Ontario to protect employment for those who are ill, we know that people continue to come to work with COVID-19. The best advice from our public health professionals right now is to address this issue with improved sick pay benefits for those with COVID-19.

This would at the very least include during the pandemic an enhanced benefit which comes closer to replacing income, a simpler application process and an immediately available benefit. Failure by the federal or provincial governments to address this issue will result in people continuing to avoid testing and continuing to come to work sick.

Updating the sick pay benefits available will save lives and help bring the virus under control faster.

The Mayors and Chairs strongly urge the provincial and federal governments to take urgent action on sick pay. Please step up and make this guarantee for the duration of the pandemic. As the Mayors and Chairs have pointed out many times, failure to address this adequately is putting health at risk and will ultimately lengthen the time needed for other public health measures.

Investing more in pandemic sick pay now is an investment in protecting the health of all our residents and one of the best investments that can be made in expediting the long-term economic recovery of the GTHA and the entire country.

The Mayors and Chairs also discussed the matter of travel and how to best ensure that people coming and going to and from Canada doesn't make the COVID problem worse. It was agreed that stricter travel measures now would be appropriate. And it was agreed that the management of the virus and likely the variant as well calls for additional screening and monitoring measures. The federal government is urged to adopt increased quarantine enforcement mechanisms including technology which do not rely on local officials who are already hard pressed. In addition to the recently instituted three-day advance testing requirement for travellers arriving in Canada, the Mayors and Chairs urged the federal government to consider additional testing measures at the airports to detect the presence of viral variants.

“Despite our best efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread in our communities. In order to break this deadly trend of transmission, we must all continue to stay home except for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping or attending medical appointments. We must eliminate the barriers that discourage people from staying home, such as financial factors, and mandating sick pay as an emergency benefit measure is an important way we can do that. The health and safety of our communities remains our top priority and we urge our federal and provincial partners to aid in sick pay. The health of our economy will depend on a healthy population.”

- Mayor Fred Eisenberger