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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre, and Oakville Stamping and Bending Limited employee Perry Bastiani, left, demonstrate an island drain assembly next to Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, right, as they tour the facility in Oakville, Ont., on March 22.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario is ending its temporary paid sick day program, a move that will be part of the province’s 2023 budget set to be released on Thursday. Other measures include a new tax credit worth $780-million over three years for manufacturers, and investment in skilled trade training.

The sick leave program, which provided three paid days off to workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, was set to expire at the end of the month after being extended for more than two years. Labour Minister Monte McNaughton had previously pledged that the program would be extended as long as COVID-19 exists in the province.

“As a time-limited pandemic measure, the Ontario government introduced paid COVID-19 leave, a program designed to support people who needed to take time off work to isolate or get vaccinated,” said Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford’s office.

“Ontario has now achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and consistent with the sunset date for this program, it will expire effective March 31, 2023.”

In a news conference earlier this week, Mr. McNaughton told reporters that Ontario was the first province in Canada to bring in job-protected leave during the pandemic, and that the sick day program has served more than 500,000 workers over the past two years. “Certainly the program has worked and filled in its purpose,” he said.

The government has also signalled that it will move forward with a plan to provide portable health and dental coverage to workers without paid sick days.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Premier said the budget will include a new 10-per-cent refundable corporate income tax credit of a maximum $2-million a year for companies that spend up to $20-million on buildings, machinery and equipment.

Mr. Ford said the measure will give manufacturers further incentives to invest in homegrown innovation and expand operations in the province.

“As we navigate global economic uncertainty and as we face new challenges like protectionist legislation in the United States, we know there’s more to do to help our manufacturing companies remain competitive,” Mr. Ford told reporters in Oakville, Ont.

Dennis Darby, president and chief executive officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said the organization strongly supports the new tax credit and urged the federal government to match “this historic incentive.”

“This new credit will go a long way to broadening our industrial strategy – providing predictable funding for essential equipment purchases and increased productivity to enable business growth,” Mr. Darby said in a statement. “Supporting manufacturers to reinvest in themselves and their community will be broadly felt by our members.”

Mr. Ford and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy also announced this week that the budget will include $224-million to build and upgrade skills training centres, in a bid to tackle Ontario’s labour shortage and “get more people into rewarding careers in the skilled trades.” As well, the government said it would spend $75-million more over the next three years on operations and programming to prepare workers for careers such as electricians, welders and mechanics.

Mr. Bethlenfalvy, however, was mum on measures in Thursday’s budget that will help alleviate the pain of inflation and rising cost of living. While Canada’s inflation rate cooled to 5.2 per cent in February, according to Statistics Canada, he acknowledged that it remains high.

“It’s a very tough time for many people in Ontario and right across the country,” the Finance Minister said.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said that while all parties want to invest in manufacturing, the government needs to invest in health care access, rent control and decent jobs with paid sick days. “These are the things that are actually going to attract workers to our province, attract business to this province and keep people here. These are the real struggles that Ontarians are facing right now,” she said.

She criticized the move to end paid sick days and said her party is proposing 10 permanent sick days for all Ontario workers, plus an additional government-funded 14 paid sick days during a public-health emergency such as a pandemic. “This government is no friend to workers. Nobody in Ontario should have to go to work sick, or leave a sick child, because they can’t afford not to.”

The government also said Wednesday that it is loosening COVID-19 rules in long-term care homes at the end of the month, including no longer requiring tests for asymptomatic staff, visitors and caregivers, or physical distancing during social and physical activities.

What is and isn’t ‘paid sick leave’ in Canada? A short primer