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Nurses, PSWs leaving health care industry amid COVID-19 pandemic

FAIZA AMIN AND MEREDITH BOND | posted Wednesday, Sep 23rd, 2020

The heroes on the front line of COVID-19, working to protect the most vulnerable population in the province, are now leaving or planning to leave their jobs which could potentially cause another crisis in long-term care homes.

The Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU) union says nearly 30 per cent or 7,500 of the nurses and personal support workers they represent in Ontario have left their jobs or planning on leaving due to financial constraints.

“The most recent calls have been heartbreaking from front-line works who have had their jobs taken from them through no faults of their own,” said Sharleen Stewart, President of the SEIU.

The union says the government’s limiting of staff from working at multiple long-term care homes has placed a financial burden on thousands of their workers.

Stewart said, “The pandemic wasn’t their fault, the conditions were bad before COVID hit us where they were forced to work more than one job. Nobody wants to work three shifts a day to get a full-time salary.”

The restriction was put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 from home to home, and applies to a number of employees working at healthcare centers. But groups, including the Ontario Nurses Association, say the emergency order has exposed gaps that have been there long before the pandemic.

“We had a shortage of staff in long-term care before COVID, and I’m very worried about what the picture is if we don’t do something to help these people so they can stay working in the long term care sector,” said Vicki McKenna, President of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA). “Single employer is the right way to go, but what we had discussions with government about was if they were going to institute the single employer, that somehow they need to offset the economic loss that employees would experience because of that.”

Prior to the pandemic, these health-care employees worked in several health care settings to make ends meet. As a result of the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the union says their income has been cut by at least 50 per cent.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care tells CityNews that approximately 100,000 of these workers received the additional $4 per hour of pandemic pay, which has since ended.

“How are you ever going to take this money away form people who are already so poorly paid,” Steward said. “It’s like giving somebody some food and water and literally taking it away from them.”

The province adds that those who worked over 100 hours received an extra $250 dollars per month on their paycheck.

This was the strategy the province used to encourage staff to continue working in this field and attract new workers to help maintain the staffing levels.

“The government themselves could have taken this step to say ‘We’re not going to wait on employers to do the right thing, we’re going to do the right thing by insuring people’s wages are offset if they have an economic loss’,” said McKenna.

A number of long-term care organizations penned a letter to the province, warning that these facilities are not ready to manage a second wave of COVID-19 and the staffing shortage at these homes, has not improved.

“Ontario, the province with the largest number of long-term care residents in Canada, finds itself behind other provinces that have already completed the recruitment and training of thousands of new front-line staff … The recent surge in cases in Ontario and other provinces is a warning that we have little time to waste,” read the letter.

The letter added staffing issues have been made even worse in the current conditions. “Staff are exhausted and their mental health has diminished through the trauma they have experienced in either responding to severe outbreaks and tragic losses, or in working aggressively to prevent outbreaks.”

“We found ourselves in this situation during SARS, and here we are again,” McKenna said. “But what was different during SARS is that they set aside a fund to help offset some of that economic loss, and that didn’t happen.”

Over 1,800 people have died in over 340 long-term care homes that experienced outbreaks since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some of them lost their spouses because they contracted COVID from their partners working in nursing homes,” Steward said. “They’re not willing to take that risk any more at the rate of pay that they’re getting, the precariousness of this work and in their opinion, the total disrespect of the services they give,”

On Tuesday, opposition leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, both criticized the government for “not being prepared.”

Police investigating after package of syringes left outside Eglinton Junior PS

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Sep 23rd, 2020

Toronto police are investigating after a man left a package full of syringes and other paraphernalia outside Eglinton Junior Public School on Tuesday morning.

Police were called to the school around 10 a.m. after members of a community safety team saw the man leave the package by the school and leave the area on a dark-coloured bicycle.

The man is described as five feet nine inches tall and around 35 to 45 years old with a medium build. He was wearing a white and blue Blue Jays baseball cap, a white and grey striped, long-sleeved sweater under a black down vest, grey pants, and black running shoes.

A photo of the suspect has been released (see above) and anyone with information is asked to contact police.

PM Trudeau to address Canadians in primetime speech Wednesday

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Sep 23rd, 2020

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will take to the airwaves Wednesday night in a nationwide address where he’s expected to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic as many areas of the country experience a startling rise in positive cases.

The speech is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. ET and it will be carried live on our multiple platforms: Citytv, 680 NEWS and citynews.ca

The prime minister’s address will be taking place hours after his government delivers its throne speech where the country can expect to hear an update to Canada’s pandemic response plan.

A response to Trudeau’s speech is expected from the opposition parties shortly following his address.

Refresh of Liberal government’s agenda comes amid new looming COVID-19 crisis

STEPHANIE LEVITZ, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Sep 23rd, 2020

How the Liberal government intends to ride the coming second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will become clear Wednesday as it lays out a three-pronged approach in a hotly-anticipated speech from the throne certain to set the tone for the coming months in Parliament.

In what’s expected to be an address lasting as long as an hour,  Gov. Gen. Julie Payette will detail the government’s plans in three areas: dealing with the urgent crisis of the current surge in cases, continuing and changing support for Canadians and businesses still not back on their feet, and what will come once the economy is better able to stand on its own.

With national case counts rising, public federal health officials have made it clear that if further public health and personal action isn’t taken to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the lockdowns which paralyzed the country for much of the first half of 2020 may be the only option.

Those lockdowns saw federal spending soar to historic levels in an effort to offset the pandemic’s crushing blow to Canadians’ lives and livelihoods.

Billions of dollars were pushed out the door to help cover salaries, rents, the purchase of life-saving equipment and other targeted supports.

It all came just months after the Liberals had won a minority government and forced them to rip up much of the policy playbook they’d put before Canadians during the election.

That was the justification Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used in August when he requested that Parliament be prorogued to allow for a reset of priorities.

Just ahead of that decision, his government had announced a massive new aid package creating new benefits, including paid sick leave, and expanded employment insurance as part of the phase out of an emergency benefit put into place in the early days of the pandemic. The measures require legislation that will be put before Parliament in the coming days.

But the throne speech is expected to signal more tweaks are coming to EI, and make substantial commitments in other areas, including child are. For post-pandemic growth, the Liberals will detail plans that connect economic recovery to projects that equally combat climate change.

Trudeau will reinforce those plans in a nationally-televised address scheduled for tonight, as he also urges Canadians to be resolute in their efforts to combat the pandemic.

Though in the early days of the crisis he’d addressed Canadians daily from outside his home, a pivot to an evening televised speech was made to underscore the threat Canadians currently face of a coming wave.

The waning days of summer have seen a surge in cases no longer linked to vulnerable populations like those in long-term care homes as they were in the spring.

Instead, it is younger Canadians beginning to congregate in ever larger numbers, something that chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned Tuesday must come to a quick stop.

“The challenge we face now is to stay the course no matter how weary we may feel,” Tam said.

Those cases have reached into the halls of power as well; after political staffers succumbed to infection, the leaders of both the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, and their spouses, were infected and they are now in isolation.

Their parties will be given time to respond to Trudeau’s televised address, but  Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and the BQ”s Yves-Francois Blanchet will both be absent from Parliament Hill today for the throne speech.

Both are hoping to deliver their official replies on Sept. 29, when they’re both out of quarantine.

That arrangement is one of few details known so far about how the House of Commons may actually function in the days ahead, with negotiations ongoing around issues such as how a hybrid Parliament — some MPs attending in person, and some remotely — can allow votes to be cast in a transparent and accountable way.

Given the Liberals only have a minority government, those votes could mean the difference between their survival and an election; the vote on the speech from the throne itself is a confidence motion.

With the ongoing escalation of cases, a snap election is unlikely, though whatever the Liberals do put forward is sure to be a large part of a campaign platform when that election arrives.

Each of the opposition parties have already laid down some markers ahead of the speech that will determine their support.

The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh has already said he wants to see the promised legislation on EI changes, but is concerned too many people will still fall through the gaps, while Blanchet is looking for more money on health care for the provinces.

O’Toole — who has been Conservative Leader for just a month — has signalled he wants to see concrete action to address the concerns of the West, and for expanded support for businesses.

The pandemic will also make itself felt in a marked downscaling of the pageantry that normally accompanies a throne speech.

Among other things, no special guests or spectators will be allowed into the Senate chamber, and the number of MPs as well is being sharply curtailed.

Toronto Christmas Market cancelled due to COVID-19

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Sep 22nd, 2020

This year’s Christmas Market in Toronto’s Distillery District has been cancelled, Mayor John Tory says.

“In this case, as with most of the cancellations this year, the decision has been taken by the organization itself looking at the health situation and all the other circumstances they want to examine,” Tory said.

“It’s regrettable, extremely regrettable, because these are things that bring people joy and bring them outside even in the colder weather.”
– John Tory

“A lot of things have changed this year,” Tory added. “Let’s just hope we can get through a roster of events we will deal with in the next few days that probably won’t be held on a normal basis at all and get back to something more normal next year if we follow along, not only by cancelling these events, but by behaving in a way we have talked about for the last few days.”

Typically, thousands gather for the annual market, which usually starts in mid-November and runs through late December.

Restaurants and stores in the district are open and are currently following provincial guidelines but it’s not clear how the Christmas Market would be able to do the same given the social gathering limits.

This would have been the 11th version of Toronto’s Distillery District Christmas Market.

Crews battle overnight industrial fire in Whitchurch-Stouffville

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Sep 22nd, 2020

Fire crews battled a large industrial fire in Whitchurch-Stouffville overnight.

York Regional police say the flames broke out around 11 p.m. Monday night at a scrap metal yard on Woodbine Avenue, south of Stouffville Road.

Flames and smoke could be seen from Highway 404 and Woodbine was closed in both directions from Stouffville Road to 19th Avenue.

No injuries have been reported.

Ontario to announce fall COVID-19 plan today

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Sep 22nd, 2020

Ontario is expected to announce its COVID-19 fall preparedness plan today.

Premier Doug Ford has promised the plan will help the province grapple with a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.

The strategy comes as daily virus case counts continue to climb to levels not seen for months in Ontario.

Ford has been under pressure to release the updated plan as opposition politicians say it should have come weeks earlier.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says parts of the plan are currently being implemented, including increased testing capacity.

The new plan comes as Ontario continues to struggle with long line ups at some of its 147 COVID-19 assessment centres.

Ford announced an Ontario-wide crackdown limiting the number of people permitted at social gatherings over the weekend.

Male seriously injured in North York stabbing

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Sep 22nd, 2020

A male suffered serious injuries after a stabbing in North York on Monday night.

Police and paramedics were called to the area of Valley Woods Road and Brookbanks Drive around 9:45 p.m. for reports of a person stabbed.

The victim was taken to hospital in serious condition.

No other details are available at this time.

An investigation is ongoing.

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