On June 1, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug and Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines Greg Rickford announced measures to continue to support electricity consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Premier Ford and Minister Rickford were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, and Associate Minister of Energy, Bill Walker.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford, Minister Elliott, and Minister Rickford responded to questions from media regarding plans to reopen Ontario. Premier Ford also provided an update on Ontario’s testing strategy.
Earlier today, the government enacted a new regulatory amendment that will put non-unionized employees on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave during the COVID-19 outbreak any time their hours of work are temporarily reduced by their employer due to COVID-19.
Expanded Supports for Electricity Consumers
This afternoon, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, Greg Rickford, announced expanded supports for Ontario electricity consumers during COVID-19.
On Saturday, the government introduced a fixed electricity price, known as the COVID-19 Recovery Rate. This fixed electricity price is equal to 12.8 cents-per-kilowatt-hour and will be automatically applied to all time-of-use customers 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The COVID-19 Recovery Rate will be in place from today (June 1) through October 31, 2020.
The COVID-19 Recovery Rate announced Saturday replaces 24/7 off-peak electricity pricing for families, small businesses and farms, which was first announced on March 24. Under the previous model, time-of-use electricity consumers were charged the off-peak rate of 10.1 cents-per-kilowatt-hour, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
In addition to Saturday’s announcement of the COVID-19 Recovery Rate, the government announced the following initiatives today:
- $9 million for the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) to support consumers struggling to pay their energy bills during the pandemic. CEAP will provide one-time payments to consumers to help pay down any electricity bill debt incurred over the COVID-19 period. Applications will be available through local utilities in the upcoming months;
- $8 million for the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program for Small Business (CEAP-SB) to provide support to businesses struggling with bill payments as a result of the outbreak; and,
- An extension of the Ontario Energy Board’s winter disconnection ban until July 31, 2020 to ensure that no one is disconnected from their natural gas or electricity service.
Update on Ontario’s Testing Strategy
Premier Ford also provided an update on the province’s testing efforts and announced that mobile testing units will be deployed beginning tomorrow, starting in Scarborough. Subsequent mobile testing units will be deployed elsewhere in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Premier Ford added that he was encouraged to see high testing numbers late last week and over the weekend.
Questions from Media – Reopening Ontario
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford, Minister Elliott, and Minister Rickford responded to questions from media regarding plans to reopen Ontario.
In response to questions about reopening additional sectors of the economy, such as personal service businesses and restaurants that are able to adhere to social distancing requirements, Premier Ford confirmed that the province is looking at a regional approach to reopening, hinting that different timelines may be followed in the City of Toronto and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). He added that the regional approach is “complicated” and the government is seeking the input of stakeholders and elected officials from across the province. Minister Rickford emphasized that a regional approach cannot be taken at the expense of communities in Northern Ontario, most of which lack the health system resources of communities in Southern Ontario.
Premier Ford was also asked about reports that he intends to extend Ontario’s state of emergency until June 30, and whether Ontarians could expect to see some easing of emergency orders ahead of the end of June. Premier Ford responded that the government is working aggressively on a plan to reopen the economy, but this plan will be based on low case numbers and an effective testing strategy. He added that “four weeks is a long time” and “a lot could happen” in that period, especially if new case numbers continue to drop.
In response to questions about recent COVID-19 outbreaks at farms in Norfolk County, St. Thomas and the Niagara region, Premier Ford explained that part of the reason for Ontario’s jump in new cases today was that 81 migrant workers in Southwestern Ontario tested positive for COVID-19. He committed to addressing this issue with Public Health Ontario to ensure that all migrant workers are tested.
Infection Disease Emergency Leave
Earlier today, the government enacted a new regulatory amendment to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) that will put non-unionized employees on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave during the COVID-19 outbreak any time their hours of work are temporarily reduced by their employer due to COVID-19.
This amendment will ensure that businesses are not forced to terminate employees after their ESA temporary layoff periods have expired, as terminations under these circumstances can result in costly payouts, which may force businesses to close.
Under the new regulatory change to the ESA, non-unionized employees who have had their hours reduced or eliminated because of COVID-19 will be deemed to be on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave. Workers will remain employed with legal protections and be eligible for federal emergency income support programs.
The regulatory amendment applies retroactively to March 1, 2020 and will expire six weeks after the declared emergency ends. The amendment does not apply to employees represented by a trade union.