QUEEN’S PARK – In an unprecedented move, the provincial government called an emergency sitting of the legislature on Thursday, March 19 in order to pass two key pieces of legislation. One of the bills will help protect the jobs of employees who self-isolate, quarantine or help keep store shelves stocked and a second to give municipal councils the flexibility to continue operations while maintaining social distance.
Both bills received unanimous consent from a legislative body trimmed down to 26 members chosen by mutual party consent to allow physical distance to be maintained.
“I want to thank all parties for coming together to pass this important legislation so we can deliver immediate relief to Ontario workers and families,” said Premier Doug Ford in a news release announcing the passage of the bills. “The health and safety of the people of Ontario is our number one priority and that’s why we are protecting the jobs of workers and making sure that essentials like groceries, household basics and medicine can arrive on store shelves. We must work together as Team Ontario to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve.”
“These are a good first step,” said Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, but noted that there is still a dearth of information on the province’s plans to address issues pertaining to the pandemic. “Premier Ford did indicate that there was more to come. We will be working with the government to ensure that there is more assistance provided to small and medium businesses.”
The changes made to allow municipalities to continue functioning are important, he noted. “But we need to see to the most vulnerable in our communities; those on ODSP and Ontario Works still have to self-isolate, but many lack the resources necessary.”
As for his local constituency work, Mr. Mantha said that his staff is currently telecommuting and have discovered an interesting codicil to the process. “Well it seems like we are being a lot more productive in isolation,” he laughed. “There is a lot more focus going on, I think.”
Mr. Mantha said that it is important that people realize that the province’s supply chains are robust and well-stocked and that there is no need to get carried away and start hoarding. “We have an excellent supply chain.” he said. “Don’t hoard, there are more supplies coming.”
“There are particular times of the month (especially the near the end) where people who are on government assistance need to be able to go shopping for the necessities of life. If there is no produce on the shelves that adds an additional hardship. We are not going to run out of toilet paper or duct tape. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it, leave it for someone who does.”
The Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies) 2020, one of those passed during the emergency session, provides job-protected leave for employees who are in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, or those who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day care closures or to care for other relatives. These measures are retroactive to January 25—the date the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario. This legislation also makes it clear employees cannot be required to show sick notes.
“During this time of great uncertainty, the last thing employees should have to worry about is job security,” said Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton. “People can’t be punished for following the advice of our leading medical health professionals.”
The second act (Municipal Emergency Act, 2020) will ensure that the delivery of goods to Ontario’s businesses and consumers isn’t impacted by municipal noise bylaws that may unintentionally be impeding such deliveries when they are most urgently needed. The legislation also gives municipalities the ability to fully conduct council, local board and committee meetings electronically when faced with local and province-wide emergencies, empowering the government’s municipal partners to respond quickly when in-person meetings cannot be held.
“These changes will assist in getting goods to market in a more expeditious manner. Our government wants to do everything we can to help connect distribution centres with grocery stores and pharmacies to replenish empty shelves more quickly,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark. “As well, we are helping communities respond to this crisis by allowing councils to conduct meetings remotely. These changes empower municipalities to respond quickly and continue to function when in-person meetings cannot be held, and council decisions need to be made.”
Both the Northeast Town and Central Manitoulin councils have tested software to enable remote meetings to take place. Central Manitoulin held its first remote meeting on Monday afternoon.