TRISH ALTASS: We need improved covid supports for parents & families

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Island schools this past week is incredibly stressful for parents and families. They are dealing with the very real risk of their children getting sick, not to mention the potential loss of much needed income as parents care for their children.

The outbreak also shines a spotlight on the weaknesses of the King government’s pandemic planning and support for parents and families.

The province’s Special Leave Fund aims to support workers who slip through the cracks of the federal COVID programs. However, it relies on businesses to apply on behalf of their employees. It does not allow workers to apply for themselves. This has been a barrier with other programs.

The criteria to access the program are also too restrictive to meet the diverse needs of Island workers affected by COVID. Government needs to make its programs more flexible and responsive to the needs of Island workers.

When the issue of legislated paid sick leave was brought forward by the Green caucus during the last sitting, the King Conservatives chose to do nothing.

Legislated paid sick days will provide more predictability, reliability and comfort for workers than a limited special leave fund with constantly changing criteria. Government could also introduce complementary supports to assist small businesses during the implementation of this leave. We are now in a fourth wave of the pandemic and still have no commitment to move forward with this policy.

The Green caucus is supportive of a vaccine passport to ensure the safe continuation of economic activity in the province. The success of vaccine passports rely in part on a meaningful engagement with workers and the business community. However, we are concerned this engagement may not be happening.

Previous experience has taught us that major changes to public health policy, delivered without sufficient notice or engagement, can be highly stressful for those expected to implement and enforce those policies. The responsibility of enforcing government policy has often been left to workers who are among the least paid in the province. Not to mention they are often not appropriately prepared or supported to do that enforcement.

One only has to look at the confusion and difficulty experienced when mandatory masks were unexpectedly dropped in July. In this example, workers and businesses were given little more than an hour’s notice of the changes being announced by government.

Premier King should not use his briefing appearances to beg employers to accommodate affected parents and workers. Instead, the Premier should instead use his appearances to announce new, aggressive policies that support Islanders. With the King government covering only 2% of pandemic recovery costs—the least generous commitment of any provincial government in the country—they undoubtedly have room to do more. Anything less is an abandonment of responsibility.