TORONTO — Ontario will offer temporary raises for workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Doug Ford announced Saturday as he blasted anti-lockdown protesters who gathered outside the provincial legislature.
Ford said the $4 raise will last for four months, and will go to staff working in various environments, including hospitals, correctional facilities and long-term care homes.
"It's our way of saying thank you," Ford said, adding it will also serve to attract more people to these vital fields.
Those working 100 hours or more per month will also receive lump sum payments of $250 each month.
"For a full-time (worker) that means about an extra $3,560," Ford said.
The provincial government said 350,000 workers across the province will qualify, including nurses, personal support workers, correctional workers and support staff.
The raises apply to those who work in emergency shelters, supportive housing, youth justice facilities, home and community care providers and some staff in hospitals.
It is those same staff, Ford said, that were being put at risk by the protesters outside Queen's Park, who argue for reopening the economy.
"It just burns me up," he said. "We have health-care people working tirelessly, but then we have a bunch of yahoos sitting there protesting as they're breaking the law and putting workers in jeopardy."
He said the demonstration could set back health-care workers at hospitals just down the street from their protest site.
"When I looked out the window, we see these people who are absolutely irresponsible," he said. "It's reckless to do what they're doing, and personally I think it's selfish."
Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said the crowd adhered to physical distancing rules after it was requested.
"No arrests and no tickets were issued," she said. "The crowd was very compliant and practiced good social distancing when asked to do so."
The protest came as the Ministry of Health reported 476 new cases of COVID-19 and 48 more deaths.
The ministry reported a total of 811 deaths related to the virus on Saturday, and said 245 people are currently in intensive care.
The total number of reported cases now stands at 13,995, representing a 3.5 per cent growth over Friday's total — the lowest growth rate the province has seen in weeks.
"A number of metrics are going in the right direction," said chief medical officer Dr. David Williams.
He said that about half of all new cases reported today were in long-term care homes, meaning that community transmission outside those homes has dropped to a relatively low level.
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the raise for front-line workers is long overdue.
"I'm asking Doug Ford to make this additional pay retroactive to the day the state of emergency was declared, so that people's sacrifice and hard work to keep us all safe is recognized," she said in a written statement.
A union representing 60,000 health-care workers in Ontario echoed that call, saying the Service Employees International Union has advocated for a pay increase since the start of the pandemic.
"While the news of this increase will be welcomed by health=care workers who are struggling financially, it should be made retroactive to include those who are on unpaid leave as a result of quarantine or contracting COVID-19 themselves," said SEIU Healthcare President Sharleen Stewart.
"Our government can demonstrate if they truly believe these workers are heroes by making this temporary increase permanent."
Ford said his government wasn't able to give workers a raise until the federal government decided to help fund the initiative.
"The federal government played a massive role in stepping up and helping us," Ford said. "I wish I could have increased the pay from day one, the government didn't have the capacity at the time."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2020.
Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press