TORONTO – A visibly emotional Premier Doug Ford apologized on Thursday for new COVID-19 restrictions that sparked a furious backlash as he confirmed the government would bring in a paid sick-leave program for workers after months of refusing to do so.
Choking back tears, Ford said he was sorry for increasing police enforcement powers and closing playgrounds last Friday – measures that were rolled back amid an onslaught of criticism – and that his government got it wrong.
“I will always try to do what’s right,” Ford said. “If we get something wrong, we’ll fix it.”
The government had announced the new restrictions amid soaring COVID-19 cases and an alarming rise in people in hospital and intensive care. Critics were especially incensed at the government handing police the power to stop people at random to ask why they were out during the province’s current stay-at-home order.
Ford said the measures had been brought in too fast as the government sought to act in the face of dire COVID-19 projections.
“We moved too quick; if I make a mistake, I correct it immediately,” Ford said. “I’m sorry and I apologize to each and everyone of you.”
The premier also said people forced into quarantine due to the pandemic should not have to worry about their jobs or income. The province was now working on a sick-leave program because the federal government hadn’t expanded an existing benefit, he said, although he did not provide a timeline or further specifics.
Public health experts, labour groups and local officials have been calling for sick-leave support for much of the pandemic, arguing it would reduce COVID-19 spread in workplaces.
Ford had steadfastly refused to implement such a program but his government indicated this week that it would finally change course.
His ministers have said a provincial policy would fill “gaps” in Ottawa’s benefit, including reducing wait times for funds, expanding eligibility, and providing time off to get vaccinated.
The government’s science advisors said earlier this week that the province is facing its most challenging health crisis and measure such as paid sick leave, the closure of non-essential workplaces and restricting movement were urgently needed.
Ford’s apology and sick-leave confirmation came came Thursday at his first news conference since he announced the new COVID-19 regulations late last week. He was in self-isolation after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.