CUPE Ontario says the Conservative government’s economic update today missed an opportunity to provide immediate and direct financial support for thousands hurting due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to adequately increase health care funding.

“People are worried about rent and mortgages, about putting food on the table, and about securing their quality of life in the future,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “Supporting Ontarians who are facing real, financial hardships, and ensuring a strong public health care system are most important and yet the Ford Conservatives just said they’ll spend far more on businesses than on people.”

The union has previously called for immediate financial support from the provincial government of at least $2,000 for those who are unemployed and cannot rely on EI benefits. This is separate from and in addition to the Federal Government’s recently-announced $2,000/month benefit. Additionally, CUPE Ontario is calling for a wage subsidy for employers to keep workers on their payroll; and where that’s not possible and there are layoffs, the province should support employers with a Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Plan (SUBP), a measure which allows them to top up employees’ EI benefits.

This contrasts with the government’s update, which does not include direct financial support for all Ontarians. “It’s unthinkable,” said Hahn, noting a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that says nearly half of studied households have less than a month’s worth of savings. “If British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec can do it, we can too.”

“It’s not even clear to us that the funding for businesses will be used to ensure a wage subsidy that keeps workers on the payroll,” said Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario. “This is an issue of balance – we can’t spend so much more on businesses than on people.”

“We also didn’t see the kind of direct support for the frontline public services that people rely on every day – especially in a time of crisis,” said Hahn, noting that there was no mention of funds for personal support workers who are in short supply. “This government can and must support frontline workers by ensuring they have the proper safety procedures, personal protective equipment, and critical training.”

“The province’s decade-long underfunding of hospitals and long-term care homes, and the privatization of other health care services, has made communities more vulnerable to the impacts of crisis situations like this pandemic,” according to Rennick.

Rennick adds that the province could also do more to support municipalities, social services, and all public services since Ontario’s communities rely on a network of public services that were already underfunded.

“If the Ford Conservatives really value the health of Ontarians, they need to make a historic investment,” said Hahn, specifically pointing to hospital spending of less than $1-billion, which falls short of the $1.4-billion increase in spending from 2017 to 2018. “This is a crisis like we’ve never experienced, and this government is just not investing enough money for our health care.”

The union says the government also missed an opportunity to guarantee the jobs of public sector workers like British Columbia has; and for all workers to receive paid sick days, something even the conservative C.D. Howe Institute is advocating. Like H1N1 in 2009, COVID-19 will disproportionately impact Indigenous Ontarians in both infection and mortality rates, so the province should respond with an equity lens, according to Hahn.

“We’ll only get through this if we’re really there for everyone, all Ontarians,” said Hahn. “Our union, as well as community organizations and individuals across the province, have shown solidarity in such inspiring ways. Now’s the time for this government to join us with real, meaningful action.”