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LETTER: Response to pandemic is a tale of two governments

'The question is, which government — the one with one-party absolute power or the one requiring collaboration with a second party — has been most responsive?'
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OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor at dave@orilliamatters.com. This letter from Make Every Vote Count addresses the response of both the provincial and federal governments to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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In 2018 the province of Ontario elected a government that, in spite of winning just 40.5% of the popular vote, was awarded a landslide majority of 80 seats in the 124 seat legislature.

In 2019, a Canadian election resulted in a government that won just 34.1% of the popular vote that gave them 157 seats out of 338—a minority government that would require the support of at least one other party to achieve the 170 votes needed to pass legislation in Canada’s Parliament. Collaboration with at least one or two other parties was therefore required to win that vote support.

The question is, which government—the one with one-party absolute power or the one requiring collaboration with a second party—has been most responsive to the needs of Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID 19 pandemic over the past 14 months, we have had the opportunity to weigh the actions of two types of government—our federal government and our provincial government.

The federal government, with the support of other parties, opened its pocketbook and delivered the following benefits and others to individual Canadians to ease the impact of the pandemic:

The CERB delivered $500/week for 38 weeks to people whose jobs and income had vanished

The Employment Insurance Program was temporarily augmented to $500 per week

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) of $500/week for workers who were unable to work for at least 50% of the week because they contracted COVID-19 or were self-isolated for reasons related to COVID-19 or to underlying conditions

Many businesses found themselves eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), as well as for interest-free loans, rental subsidies and loan guarantees designed to help them weather the pandemic storm. Significant financial transfers to provinces were made to assist with the strain COVID put on medical facilities across the country.

In short, the federal actions supported Canadian people and businesses in ways that were desperately needed as the pandemic closed down Canada’s economy and put frontline workers everywhere at significant risk from the disease. Given the needs, cost was no object. Other than when the country has gone to war, never have we seen such a dramatic response from our federal government.

Most of these programs have been extended into 2021 as the pandemic has continued to ravage the country. The budget expected on Monday, April 19 is expected to extend many of the federal programs into late in 2021. It could be asked, “Was this extensive support partly a result of a more collaborative approach to governing in Parliament, one that required the support of at least one or two parties to get legislation passed?”

Now let’s look at the government of Ontario’s response, which also resulted in large payments from the provincial budget.

In April, 2020, as the first wave of the pandemic hit, Ontario instituted a “temporary pandemic pay of $4/hour” which was a top-up for “frontline workers” many of whom were earning minimum wages or slightly better. In addition, monthly lump sum payments of $250 were made available for four months to frontline workers who worked over 100 hours per month. These were 16 week programs that closed on August 13, 2020, eliminating the top-up dollars and the lump sum payment for frontline workers. (The pandemic, as we know, continued, keeping frontline workers of all kinds in continued jeopardy.)

The provincial government also instituted loans of between $10,000 and $20,000 for small businesses that had lost income because of the pandemic government-imposed closures and lockdowns. The business supports were continued in the province’s 2021 budget. Direct support for the frontline workers was not.

Yet another significant action taken by the Ontario government was a moratorium on evictions for people and businesses that rented from landlords—a recognition that people who had lost jobs might find themselves with the choice between buying food for their families or paying rent. Businesses that had their incomes severely cut by lockdowns were also protected from being evicted from their business site. The first 2020 moratorium on residential eviction in Ontario expired on July 31, 2020. In 2021, the moratorium is in effect only during the government’s ordered lockdown periods. The lack of clarity for both residential and business tenants has resulted in much confusion over whether evictions will continue to take place for those unable to pay their rent—plus any accumulated past amounts that had been deferred.

Finally, the provincial government has steadfastly resisted the urgings from healthcare experts, doctors, some businesses, and, especially, from opposition parties to implement “ten paid sick-leave days” for Ontario workers, urgings that come from the recognition that low-paid workers are going to work even when feeling sick rather than forfeit pay they desperately need to pay their bills, thus potentially—and apparently—increasing the spread of the virus.

The point of this comparison is not intended to compare the particular parties in power at the moment in both jurisdictions. Instead, the comparison looks at the actions taken by governments, first, when they need to share decision-making (as is the case in a minority government and, as it would be in a Proportional Representation (PR) government), and second, when they don’t (as is the case in a current “majority” government, even one elected by much less than a majority of the voters).

The point of this article is to suggest that, if Canadians and Ontarians were served by governments elected by a form of PR in which decision-making was shared by a coalition of parties, we would be better served as citizens, especially in times of crisis. Many PR governments around the world have provided similar examples of this since the pandemic started.

It’s time for Ontario and Canada to join the almost 100 PR countries in the world with a proportional voting system designed to improve our electoral system. For more information, go to Fairvote Canada at https://www.fairvote.ca

Make Every Vote Count (a local non-partisan group for electoral improvement)

Fred Larsen, Doris Middleton, Alec Adams, Peter Kizoff, Gord Ball, Ken Szijarto, Valerie Powell, Ken Robertson, Jane Brasher, Sandy Agnew and Brandon Amyot

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