A man with glasses standing at a microphone at a press scrum in the legislature
NDP Leader Gary Burrill. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

The Houston government is “listening” and will provide four paid days sick pay to workers, businesses, and self-employed people who need to stay home from work between April 1 and May 7, according to a news release on Monday. The program was scheduled to end on March 31. The government decision was announced after NDP leader Gary Burrill repeatedly called out the PCs for failing to take concrete action that could help stem the rising tide of COVID hospitalizations.

“If people are in a position where they have symptoms and can say to themselves, without financial penalty, ‘I think I better stay home today’  that means they are being given the capacity to be responsible for their own health situation,” Burrill said late last week. “I think the government was ill-advised to shut it down the end of March and I think the primary move they need to make now is to reinstate it.”

Last Thursday’s weekly COVID report showed positive PCR lab tests hovering around 1,000 a day. The government had money left over from the sick days budget approved by the previous Liberal government, which did not get many applicants. Perhaps employees and employers had no idea how or where to file a claim? When the sick days program came in last May, it had a budget of $16 million. About $1 million was spent between May and July 2021. About $226,000 was used for the program from January to March 2022, although people still have until the end of April to file a claim.

“I’m actively engaged in conversations with labour ministers across Canada about a permanent paid sick leave program,” said Jill Balser, Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration. “In the meantime, while COVID is still very active in our communities, we want to make sure Nova Scotians can access this temporary program, which people have told us has been helpful in keeping COVID out of the workplace.”

To be eligible for pay under the provincial program, you need to have missed less than half a scheduled work week. Applicants can get up to four days pay. There is also a federal sick pay program for people who miss longer periods of time.

Houston government chasing Airbnb owners

It’s been a long time coming — and the new rule probably won’t have any impact on this year’s tourism season — but the scarcity of rental housing has finally prompted this provincial government to find out how many properties are being used to provide short-term rentals for visitors rather than long-term housing for tenants. Clearly there is tax-free money to be made renting to tourists. Yesterday Pat Dunn, the Minister for Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage, held a bill briefing to share details about a change to the Tourism Accommodations Act. It will require all suppliers of Airbnbs, even those who rent out only one room in their primary residence, to register with the province. A previous registry established in 2020 exempted this group of Airbnbs.

“Ensuring registration requirements apply to all tourism accommodations will help create a level playing field for operators and give municipalities a more accurate picture of short-term rentals in their communities,” Dunn said. “Tourism is a vital part of our economy and having a variety of accommodations helps attract travellers, but we need to balance short-term rentals with meeting local housing needs.”

Most observers say identifying all Airbnb owners is a precursor to other changes that could see municipalities levying taxes on Airbnb hosts to lower their profits and encourage providing year-round accommodation for locals.

The government said that once the amendments are passed, regulations will be developed to support enforcement of the Act and to make compliance with municipal zoning a requirement of registration.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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