Doug Ford's contempt for workers shows in his treatment of sick pay

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford at the Humber River Hospital Mass Immunization Centre in Toronto. Image credit: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

The ugliest phrase to escape Doug Ford's lips, IMO, was double-dipping. (Versus the silliest: that's when he said he couldn't close more businesses because Vic Fedeli told him northern trees are in the aspirin supply chain.)

He spoke it passionately. That's why he'd have nothing to do with providing sick pay for over a year. Those workers already got money through a federal CRSB grant. Double-dipping implies crafty and lazy. They're not gonna make a fool of him, those "essential" workers. It drips with contempt, the kind of thing he and his developer pals might say as they kick back, though they themselves apply to as many different government programs as they can find.

I mean, is it double-dipping in the job market when these workers do two or three jobs, as they often must out of need? But what's really bizarre is Doug has now proposed creating a double-dip by "topping up" the federal CRSB with a big pot of Ontario money, so long as the feds dole it out. It's just a question of where the DD gets done: behind the counter or at the ice-cream counter itself.

Yet for workers, almost nothing will change. The bill isn't even written yet. The province only covers a piddling three days directly, enough for a test or a vaccine. Then if you're sick you have to go online, find the federal website, fill out the form, prove you lost work and wait awhile for some money. And only if the feds agree to go along with this half-baked plan, which they still haven't. At best, they've kicked all the problems three days down the road.

Folks, it's paid sick leave, not an arts council grant. Applying for arts grants is a career in itself. They can take months or more. You need samples, references, reviews. You know you might not get it, but at least you've had the privilege of trying for something that expresses who you are. You're not just delivering pad Thai on a unicycle. (Which can be creative, but still.)

Yet Doug won't streamline it. For the first three days you just stay off. The province passes a law ordering your boss to pay you, then the boss applies to the province and they cover costs. Easy-peasy. But after that the worker has to go online and ask for the money that the province promised to provide, then wait for it to arrive. Why not just extend the principle so the boss pays up to 10 or even 20 days (i.e., a month) and gets reimbursed by the province?

That seems obvious for a government that guards its constitutional zones zealously. Why insist that Justin do it for you? Maybe Doug just doesn't want to deal with these wiley, greedy, essential workers. He was backed into a minimal three days, but after that he throws a pot of money ($1 billion) on the table and says to Justin: You look after it, I don't want any more to do with them.

Contempt re-enters through another door. Besides, Doug's already promised not to "impose any additional burden on the backs of Ontario businesses that have been ravaged" by COVID. Let the workers, not their bosses, fill out those forms.

People keep saying sick pay should be seamless, but what does that mean? It means you're hired by a boss. You go to work, then you take a sick day because you're sick. And it gets into your paycheque without you doing anything except telling the boss, not some politician who you never see at work, much less filling forms online for them. Seamless means it all happens in the workplace. In Canada, these workplace relationships are basically a provincial responsibility, which it would be nice to see Doug Ford accept.

We tend to think of essential workers as doctors or firefighters. But these people clean, they deliver, stock shelves -- and few of us would be here now without them. Essential often amounts to poor and desperate. Yet contempt for them shows in the lack of urgency about this matter, and trying to shunt it to Ottawa. There's still nothing in writing, as my deadline approaches.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image credit: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

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