TORONTO — The sixth wave of COVID-19 is starting to recede and as the warm weather is buoying hopes of a low-COVID summer, Ontario's political parties are offering ideas for how best to prepare the province for a future pandemic.
The New Democrats, Liberals and Greens have all pledged to hold a COVID-19 public inquiry.
"(It's) not to lay blame, not to point fingers, but to acknowledge that there were things that we did well, and things that we did not so well, things that we should have learned from SARS, that we didn't," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday.
"We can't have that happen again. I think it's very clear that the pandemic that we've just been through will not be the last. But what's also very clear is it wasn't the first and we have to learn those lessons."
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said in addition to a public inquiry, he would establish a "pandemic resilience hub."
"I think there's no doubt that we do have extraordinary capacity in this province in health care, and vaccine research and ... building out of our personal protective equipment infrastructure," he said.
"I want to make sure that that's not left to an arbitrary and kind of informal way to be developed. I think it's really important for us to make sure that it is done in a dedicated way."
The Progressive Conservatives, who are seeking to stay in office, made billions in hospital funding commitments in the weeks leading up to the election and added more than 3,000 acute care beds during the pandemic in order to shore up the health system.
The Tories tout work they have done to bolster domestic production of personal protective equipment and passed legislation a few weeks ago to require the province to keep a stockpile of PPE.
They also boosted personal support worker wages, are giving nurses a $5,000 retention bonus and have legislated a requirement for the province to develop a publicly available emergency management plan that is reviewed every five years and reported on annually.
The other parties' plans also stress the need for higher pay for health-care workers, but say the Tories' plan doesn't go far enough.
The PC increase to personal support worker wages added $3 an hour to a base rate of $16.50 for most PSWs.
The NDP promise to raise base pay by at least $5 an hour and the Liberals and Greens say they would pay PSWs $25 an hour.
Those parties also say the one-time bonus for nurses won't help retention as much as repealing Bill 124, which capped compensation increases for public sector workers. All three promise to repeal it.
The NDP, Liberal and Green leaders also long called for paid sick days to be introduced during the pandemic, so that people could follow rules about isolating when they had exposures or symptoms. The Tories eventually introduced a temporary program of three paid sick days more than a year into the pandemic. It is currently set to expire in July.
A spokeswoman for Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford did not directly answer if they would extend that program.
"Our commitment to our workers remains the same – to ensure paid sick days are available to them as we defeat COVID-19 together,” Ivana Yelich said in a written statement.
All three other parties are promising to introduce 10 paid sick days.
The Liberals have also promised to permanently increase lab testing capacity, the NDP and Liberals promise to restore funding to public health units that was cut by the Progressive Conservatives, and the Greens promise to designate the chief medical officer of health as an independent officer of the legislature, to guard against politicization.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2022.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press