On Monday, Doug Ford announced that he would be extending Ontario’s State of Emergency for another 28 days. This allows the government to continue to have emergency powers, extending the physical distancing rules, as well as the prohibition on social gatherings of more than five people until May 12th. Although the State of Emergency is already in place, it requires a vote by the legislature to be extended. Only 28 of the 124 MPPs were in the legislature today to ensure physical distancing rules were followed. Click here to view my remarks in the legislature today as I thanked the many essential workers supporting us and to hear the recommendations I provided for how the government should support college and university students in Ontario.
The Emergency Measures Bill formalized the six-month waiver of OSAP payments and interest, made changes to deal with pending suspensions of students in elementary and high schools, and gave municipal governments the power to meet electronically. These were good first steps, but considering the pandemic, I was hoping the government would be taking more concrete steps for those experiencing homelessness, college and university students, and especially, our seniors.
We have recommended a full set of proposals calling on the Provincial Government to fill in any gaps where federal funding does not provide adequate support. More information is provided below.
Long-Term Facilities and Seniors
Our long-term care homes have become the new epicentre of this crisis with more than 90 outbreaks across the province. This afternoon, it was announced that the government would issue a new order to deploy more staff to long-term care homes and will also make it mandatory that those workers only report to one facility each. The Official Opposition has been asking the government to take strong action to increase testing of healthcare workers and residents at long-term care homes. In addition to taking immediate action to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario’s long-term care homes, we are calling for a comprehensive provincial plan to protect our seniors during this pandemic, including suspending medication dispensing fees and co-pays for Ontarians 65 and older and banning new or increased fees in long-term care, retirement homes and other settings supporting senior care.
Rent Subsidy and Direct Income Support
We continue to hear from people who are struggling to pay their rent during this crisis. The Official Opposition is calling for a provincially-funded rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, for each of the next four months for those experiencing unemployment or lost income as a result of COVID-19. You can show your support by signing this petition calling for rent subsidies (which helps both renters and landlords) and this petition to make evictions illegal. In addition to the rent subsidy, we’ve been calling for direct emergency income support of $2000 as a provincial supplement to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit which doesn’t provide full coverage. We’re also calling for insurance relief through a 50% reduction in auto insurance costs as physical distancing has led to less driving and fewer accidents on the road, and drivers should see some of this benefit.
Need legal advice? Pro Bono Ontario is offering support for landlords and tenants at 1-855-255-7256 Monday to Friday, 9:30 am – 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
Small Business Supports
The Official Opposition has been calling on the Provincial government to provide much needed help for small and medium-sized businesses, non-profits and charities in Ontario. Our proposals include providing a 75% rent subsidy, up to $10,000 a month for three months for businesses that have a substantially lower income as a result of COVID-19, as well as a plan to work with other levels of government to immediately halt the collection of all payroll, property, sales, and income taxes from small and medium-sized business. We need to provide support now so once this pandemic is over, our small and medium sized businesses can re-open to serve Ontarians.
Construction and Short-Term Rentals
While the list of essential construction has been reduced to include major infrastructure initiatives related to transit and healthcare projects, residential construction that started before April 4th is still being permitted. We’ve received many calls from those self-isolating and working from home that the around-the-clock construction noise has been very distracting and disturbing their ability to stay at home. Downtown Toronto has the highest density of condo construction and we continue to call for a reduction in essential construction to protect the health of the workers, as well as the peace of mind of the residents who live beside construction sites.
The Ontario government has banned short-term rentals, including Airbnb, except for those who are in need of housing during the emergency period, such as frontline workers and those who are self-isolating. Hotels and motels are allowed to remain open and face no restrictions.
COVID-19 in Ontario
The number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario continues to rise, but the rate of rise is slowing, which means the actions that we are taking are helping. In addition to physical distancing, the Ontario government is working on securing critical medical equipment and supplies (see the Ontario Together web portal, and Ontario Together Fund to offer help). Officials are predicting a spike in numbers this week, but this will likely mean that we will soon see the situation begin to improve. The World Health Organization has laid out six criteria for countries to consider when lifting lockdown restrictions.