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Society budget submissions call for investments in pandemic recovery, decarbonization and access to justice

March 23, 2021

The Society of United Professionals is pressing the provincial [PDF] and federal [PDF] governments for pandemic recovery, decarbonization of transportation and energy systems, and access to justice measures in their respective budgets. These priorities were outlined in the Society’s budget consultation submission to each government.

Aligned with expert public health advice, the Society is advocating for provincial legislation to provide all workers with a minimum of 10 paid sick days. Stopping workplace outbreaks by making it possible for every worker to stay home when they are sick is key to getting the spread of COVID-19 under control. While the federal government has a program similar to Employment Insurance for workers who have to quarantine, experts say it is inadequate. The federal program requires an application and, for a person working full-time, has a maximum payment that equates to less than minimum wage. Legislating sick days provincially would mean a worker could call in sick and continue being paid at the same rate and on the same schedule as usual.

The Society is also urging both the provincial and federal governments to invest in Canada’s zero-carbon future by electrifying the nation’s pandemic recovery efforts. In Ontario, which has one of the cleanest power grids on the continent, the greatest opportunity to curtail carbon emissions is in electrifying the transportation system. The Society’s recommendations for reducing Ontario’s carbon emissions include:

  • Joining Quebec and California in phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035;
  • Rebates for electric personal and commercial vehicles to make electric vehicles accessible to more Ontarians; and
  • Continuing to expand Ontario’s network of charging stations.

While Ontario’s energy system has relatively low levels of carbon emissions due the role of nuclear and hydro power, the province is at risk of backsliding. With the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station coming offline by 2025, the province is slated to incorporate more natural gas into its energy supply mix. If the shift to gas continues as planned, in terms of carbon emissions, it would be as though Ontario reopened the old Nanticoke coal plant. For that reason, the Society is advocating that the Ontario government begin the process of developing a near, publicly owned and operated nuclear generating station.

Federally, the Society is encouraging the government to continue to:

  • Invest in manufacturing zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) in Canada;
  • Expand incentives for ZEV and associated infrastructure; and
  • Invest in nuclear and small modular reactor technology to help all Canadian electricity grids get to net-zero carbon emissions.

Both the provincial and federal submissions also address the need for funding access to justice. In Ontario, the Society is seeking a reversal of 2019’s $133 million cut to Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). The Society is also seeking a reversal of the decision to require LAO only use federal funds for immigration and refugee cases. Further, with fluctuations in LAO funding from the Law Foundation due to interest rates, the Society is advocating for a revenue smoothing model to ensure LAO can offer a consistent level of service while interest rates vary considerably to help the Canadian economy weather the pandemic.

Even before the provincial cut, legal aid funding was unsustainably low across the country. The Society is encouraging the federal government to become a better partner in access to justice by increasing funding levels. To ensure new federal money is truly passed through to legal aid services rather than redirected by provinces to other priorities, the Society is also advocating for removing access to justice funding from the opaque Canada Social Transfer.

Finally, the Society continues to press the provincial government to repeal its Bill 124, which caps public sector wage settlements for unionized workers at 1% per year. While repealing the wage law would settle the issue immediately, the Society continues to pursue this issue in the courts with a legal challenge based on public sector workers’ Charter rights.

Provincial and federal governments introduce their respective budgets during their spring sessions but specific dates are not yet set.

Read the Society’s full Provincial Budget Submission

Read the Society’s full Federal Budget Submission

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