It’s difficult to keep up with all of the COVID-19 related developments in Ontario and Federally.  Here are some of them (by no means all) in a somewhat chronological order.

On March 11, 2020 the Federal government announced changes to Canada’s sick leave benefits under the Employment Insurance Act to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic – these appear to be limited to “workers in quarantine or who have been directed to self-isolate”.  It seems that these employees can apply for Employment Insurance (“EI”) sickness benefits without waiting the mandatory one-week waiting period.  This will allow them to be paid for the first week of their claim.   The government announced that they “are exploring additional measures to support other affected Canadians, including income support for those who are not eligible for EI sickness benefits.”  Given that many businesses are closing or slowing down, and having to take drastic measures that they never anticipated in better times (i.e. layoffs), perhaps the government will waive the waiting period for those who are laid-off or suffer a break in earnings?  We will have to wait and see.  (see How EI benefits for COVID-19 quarantines will work under the new rules).  

On March 12, 2020 the Ontario government announced that funded elementary and secondary schools would close for 2 weeks after the March Break and start back up on April 5, 2020.  Many private schools followed colleges and universities have cancelled in-person classes and professors, including yours truly, are implementing plans to continue teaching online.  Given the pace of actions being taken by governments and the news, one wonders if schools will reopen on April 5, 2020 as planned or at all this year.

On March 15, 2020, Premier Ford indicated that he asked his team to draft legislation that, if passed would amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to provide job protection for certain workers impacted by COVID-19.  This would include according to the press conference, protecting jobs of employees who are unable to work, such as workers who have been quarantined or asked to self-isolate.  The amendments would also remove the requirement for doctor’s note for those with COVID-19 symptoms, and would protect jobs for parents and others who have to stay home from work with children because of the closure of schools.  The job protection under these amendments would remain in effect so long as the disease persists.  The legislation would be retroactive to January 25, 2020 and would remain in effect until such times as the disease is defeated.

On March 17, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that it was declaring an emergency under section 7.0.1(1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.  The order was confirmed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and will remain in effect until March 31, 2020 (the order may be shortened or extended).  The purpose of the order is to “promote the public good by protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people of Ontario in times of declared emergencies”.  Here is Regulation 50/20.

As a result of this declaration and its associated orders, the following establishments are legally required to close effective on March 17, 2020 by Regulation 51/20:

  • All facilities providing indoor recreational programs;
  • All public libraries;
  • All private schools as defined in the Education Act;
  • All licensed child care centres;
  • All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery;
  • All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and
  • Concert venues.

All organized public events of over 50 people are prohibited, including parades and events and communal services within places of worship. See Regulation 52/20.

Now that an emergency has been declared under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the Lieutenant Governor in Council (i.e. Cabinet) has broad powers to make orders under section 7.01(4) including, without limitation:

  • Regulating or prohibiting travel or movement to, from or within any specified area.
  • Evacuating individuals and animals and removing personal property from any specified area and making arrangements for the adequate care and protection of individuals and property.
  • Establishing facilities for the care, welfare, safety and shelter of individuals, including emergency shelters and hospitals.
  • Closing any place, whether public or private, including any business, office, school, hospital or other establishment or institution.
  • Authorizing facilities, including electrical generating facilities, to operate as is necessary to respond to or alleviate the effects of the emergency.
  • Using any necessary goods, services and resources within any part of Ontario, distributing, and making available necessary goods, services and resources and establishing centres for their distribution.
  • Procuring necessary goods, services and resources.
  • Fixing prices for necessary goods, services and resources and prohibiting charging unconscionable prices in respect of necessary goods, services and resources.
  • Authorizing, but not requiring, any person, or any person of a class of persons, to render services of a type that that person, or a person of that class, is reasonably qualified to provide.
  • Consistent with the powers authorized in this subsection, taking such other actions or implementing such other measures as the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers necessary in order to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of the emergency.

These powers are broad in scope, as you’d expect.

On March 18, 2020 the Federal government announced that it had reached an agreement to temporarily restrict all non-essential travel across the border.  A notable exception is for essential travel that will continue and will maintain supply chains between both countries.

The Prime Minister also announced more support for workers and businesses through Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

Some more detailed information can be found at Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: Support for Canadians and Businesses.

See also Prime Minister Announces New COVID-19 Initiatives.

The Prime Minister announced on March 22, 2020 that Parliament would reconvene on March 24, 2020 to vote on “measures to ease the burden of COVID-19 individuals and businesses”.  He also noted that “Canada is not at the point of declaring a federal emergency”, it remains to be seen whether that view will change in the days and weeks ahead.

The Ontario government passed, in an emergency session, Bill 186 Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 which amends the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to address when emergency leave is available to employees in case of infectious disease emergencies.  The amendments come into force on March 19, 2020 and is retroactive to January 25, 2020, the date the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in Ontario. 

The government has released a Backgrounder which provides:

The Ontario Legislature has passed the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2020 to provide job-protected leave to employees 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.

See also COVID-19 Job Protection Leave.

The Ontario government may issue stricter orders as the COVID-19 situation develops.  To date, a number of Regulations have been issued and more will be within the context of this fluid and evolving situation.