Estimates - Labour (1 May 2007)
From Economy Committee Hansard - 1 May 2007
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Department of Labour
Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, welcome to you and your officials. It is somewhat later in the evening, and we’ll try and work our way through and get the business of the people in the province done.
Minister, I think the first issue we need to discuss is issues pertaining to Bill 66, which you tabled last week and we moved to this committee, the House moved it to this committee. We have had discussions in the House about the whole concept of having witnesses appear before the committee. Have you spoken to the Chair of the committee? Have you done any work in that regard to have witnesses appear or at least have the committee consider the issue?
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — I have spoken to the Chair and he may wish to address this. I know we’re getting down to the final days of this session. And so I would leave that with the Chair and the Vice-Chair and to discuss this.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair, or Mr. Minister. Mr. Chair, I wonder could you explain the mechanics and time frames and what actually needs to be done in order to have witnesses appear before any legislative committee?
I understand there’s some requirements for advertising to inform the public that this is going to happen, those sorts of things. And I think that the members of the public would find it useful to understand the mode of operation that the committee, all of the committees in the legislature are under and sort of the time frames and the mechanics of having witnesses appear before a committee.
The Chair: — Thank you very much, Mr. Hart. I will start by indicating there are two ways in which a Bill can be referred to public hearings — or for that matter any issue before a committee. One would be at the referral of the minister, a formal referral to the committee. At that point it would require a motion from the committee to actually take the Bill to public hearings. The second is, the committee itself in its consideration and deliberations could make a motion to take the Bill to public hearings.
The process of taking a Bill to public hearings to get input from the public requires a number of, a number of issues that we as a committee would need to deal with. One is the nature of those public hearings. And that is largely determined by the amount of interest in the particular issue before the committee. So that may vary from issue to issue as committees of the legislature would consider issues.
It normally requires both a notification of stakeholders of the issue of holding public meetings so that they have the opportunity to show interest. It generally requires public advertising which takes approximately three to four weeks from the start of consideration by the committee to the point that it’s advertised and replies are back to schedule public hearings.
Then of course it takes the time for the committee to in fact hold the public hearings, and then the consideration of those public hearings by the committee as part of consideration of the Bill. This process would normally take several weeks.
And as well, it takes consultation and coordination with the Clerk’s office in order to ensure that we have adequate staff and facilities available to undertake public hearings. So it’s a process.
As you may well be aware as well, it’s very difficult for a committee to say that we will listen to one or two people on an issue that’s of public interest. So the scope and breadth of any public hearings is largely determined by the interest of the organizations and stakeholders that would be involved in considering any particular Bill.
So it’s not a process that can be undertaken in a week or two weeks. It would take at a minimum probably six to eight weeks from a decision to go to public hearings or to consider public hearings before we in fact can respond to all the criteria in which we would have to meet, including the hearings and consideration of the Bill.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you very much for that, Mr. Chair. I think the general public will have a better understanding of the mechanisms and the workings of the committee and so I thank you for that. And we will make a decision, I guess, at a later time. In lieu of the timetable that we have for legislative sittings and so on, it appears that we may be short of time to deal with this particular matter. And I think there may be further discussions on that. And again, I think you for your information.
Minister, just to follow up to some of our discussions in our last consideration of estimates on your department. First of all I’d like to thank you for the information that you have provided committee members. And dealing with some proposed changes in the occupational health and safety legislation as far as pertaining to firefighting teams, I know you had mentioned and referred to some of this information in our last session, but the written information clearly spells out where Saskatchewan is as opposed to other jurisdictions. And it appears that there are a number of provinces that really don’t have any provisions in their occupational health and safety regulations that would provide any guidance to fire departments, whether they be professional or volunteer firefighting departments.
And you had also indicated that, in our last session, that you were giving this matter consideration, but you haven’t made a final decision on this. You had said that these recommendations for changes came from the Occupational Health and Safety Council. I wonder if you could briefly explain the makeup of the council. I know it’s, in general terms, that it’s representatives of both employers and employees. But I wonder if you could be somewhat more specific — give us an indication perhaps of who the current members are and those sorts of things.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Yes, I’d be very happy to. This is a very important council, and they serve as an advisory role. I’ll just go through this because we should be very specific.
The Occupational Health and Safety Council is established under The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993. The council advises the minister on occupational health and safety generally, the protection of workers and self-employed persons that work, and other related matters on which the minister seeks the council’s opinion.
To date this is who the council’s made up of: the Chair is Don Grant out of Regina here; the employees’ representatives — Gladys Downing from Saskatoon; Jacquie Griffiths, Saskatoon; Roy Howell, Saskatoon; and Gerald Huget from Regina. And three are from the SFL [Saskatchewan Federation of Labour] nominations, Federation of Labour. Gladys Downing is the building trades council nomination.
The employer representatives — and these folks come from the chamber of commerce; they give us the list of nominees — Richard Bevan from Winnipeg, Darcy Cretin from Weyburn, Mark Fracchia from Saskatoon, and Sherri-Lynn Swaney from Battleford. And those folks as well, they’re nominated from the chamber of commerce provincially. They represent different sectors and bring a lot of expertise in the area of occupational health and safety to the discussions.
Mr. Hart: — Minister, do the members have a specific term? I would imagine they do. I wonder if you could just comment on that.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Yes they do.
Mr. Hart: — And are the terms staggered or do we see a complete new slate at the end of each term?
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Yes, they’re two- to three-year terms and they are staggered. And so we just went through some appointments. Several expire March 25, 2009; some this year, 2008.
Mr. Hart: — Well just to pursue the matter of changes to the regulation dealing with firefighters, you’d also provided a list of stakeholders who you had invited comments from, and also a list of stakeholders that actually provided you with some feedback. And I would be interested in perhaps just a very brief summary of the feedback from a few of the stakeholders, if you could provide that information. I would start with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association. I see they are on your list and I wonder if you could just, in kind of 25 words or less, sort of sum up their general comments.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — We’d be very happy to do that. And of course we’re gathering that information as we go through. And so I’ll ask Glennis to just quickly summarize the ones you’ve asked. Now you asked for the . . .
Mr. Hart: — SUMA [Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association].
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — SUMA, right.
Ms. Bihun: — I don’t have the complete submission that they made but I do have a template that provides me with some summary comments.
Mr. Hart: — That’s fine.
Ms. Bihun: — So I’ll direct my answers from there. Under the question of steps that would be required to implement the proposed change, their comment was around requiring considerable restructuring of fire-service delivery within urban municipalities, that it may result in many urban municipalities reducing their level of fire service. And a comment that they may not have the fiscal capacity to adhere.
Under the area in the questionnaire which was related to cost, they’ve indicated that they would estimate a cost of 290,000 per year. Cost has also been quantified as a significant concern. And that there is a high level of fire service that’s already provided without the additional costs. And a concern that the change would impact the potential strain to that level of service that’s already in place.
They have indicated with the question related to fewer injuries that there is not data that proves that that would improve occupational safety from their perspective. And they’d like to see data that would confirm the justification for this change.
Under timing for compliance, that those responses would need to come directly from individual municipalities. And as a general comment, although they don’t suggest an alternative, they suggest, they do indicate that they oppose the change.
Mr. Hart: — I wonder if you could very briefly give me a summary of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities’ feedback.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — I’ll ask her to do that. It’s quite interesting when you get this. I should point out though, when we do get the feedback and we’re asking just a quick survey as a statement to qualify, but clearly there has been data done on this and we covered that last time. Of course this was a consensus recommendation of people involved professionally in fighting fires. And so when we see costs it’s an indication, but clearly we are not asking them to verify or send in their data.
I’ve seen some numbers, and I do make some questions about how much that is. And we’ve seen fires today. There was a fire in this province in Meadow Lake and fortunately everybody is well there. We don’t have data on how much that fire cost, but it’s very important to take these. Now are you going to ask for all of these?
Mr. Hart: — No, Minister, but I do intend to ask . . .
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — You know, because it’s really important, because if you don’t ask for all of them, and if you know the ones you’re asking for, it’s very important to have a balance here. Because clearly some have already expressed their points of view and we know that clearly, and that’s why we have this council giving us advice. Some will clearly give us comments on, and we’re not surprised by some of the cities and what they’re saying because they’ve said that already. And so it’s not new and it’s not new to what the council had heard. And the council, even hearing that, came out with a consensus opinion.
So I don’t mind going through this, but I want to make sure, as with anybody in this occupation, you have to have . . . making sure you understand that if you’re just asking for a few from one point of view. So that’s important. So SARM [Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities], if you want to just briefly . . .
Ms. Bihun: — SARM’s feedback indicated that there would be additional costs. RMs [rural municipality] would either need to purchase their fire protection from urban municipalities or are the . . . Oh they either purchase it, pardon me, or are joint owner/operator. The costs would vary from minimal to small for the voluntary fire departments to perhaps quite substantial for the fire departments with full-time firefighters.
Their other comment was relevant to fewer injuries and they indicate that they haven’t seen any study that indicates that it would result in fewer injuries from their perspective. So they haven’t seen the data.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — And I should just note that he didn’t give an alternate proposal as well.
Ms. Bihun: — Those were the only comments that they provided.
Mr. Hart: — No, that’s fine, that’s fine. Minister, I certainly will ask about comments from the other side of the issue. In fact, you know, if we could just have a brief summary of the feedback we see from the Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Ms. Bihun: — Okay. The submission from Gerry Huget, the Saskatchewan Professional Fire Fighters Association, indicates — again this response being of course from the worker perspective — talks about the steps required for implementation. And it’s noted if there was a single pump response and no additional pumps responding, it would require a staff of five to complete search and rescue ops immediately upon arrival. The other option would be to wait until there is a sufficient number of staff.
Under the costing question, there’s a two-part answer. Yes, if there is only a single pump response. No, there wouldn’t be additional costs if there’s additional staff responding at the same time.
Under the question of, would their recommendation result in fewer injuries, he indicates that it would allow the fire department to perform its objective of saving lives without affecting a breach of the two-in, two-out requirement; timing for compliance, not sure; department resources, none; alternate proposal, no.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you. And then I understand you also received a reply from the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association?
Ms. Bihun: — Yes, the response I have here is that no steps would be required for implementation. They have always taught and practised at least five firefighters to do structural firefighting.
Mr. Hart: — And finally the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs.
Ms. Bihun: — The Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs has offered a comment in the area of the steps required for implementation and they have addressed concerns about the abilities of the commanding officer and reducing the initial response capacity and its effectiveness; concerned that the proposed change would impact service levels to citizens; or if entry is made prior to the second coming arriving, it would put their interpretation that the Department of Labour would expect a near miss report of a dangerous occurrence which is a reference back to the non-compliance situation in the legislation for reporting of dangerous occurrences, okay. Not aware of any statistics again that would indicate having a dedicated rescue team would change the outcome of a given situation.
Mr. Hart: — Okay, good. Thank you for that. So minister, now what’s been suggested by the council is that there be amendments to section 49, I believe is the section that deals with this. I just . . .Yes.
Ms. Bihun: — Yes.
Mr. Hart: — And so now are we talking a change to regulations or are we talking a change to the legislation?
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — No. This is regulation.
Mr. Hart: — This is regulation. So, Minister, in your capacity as Minister of Labour you have the authority to change these regulations just simply by meaning it so, or what are the mechanics of changing this legislation?
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — No, not quite. No, but it’s very important because actually this is, this and with the council and going through this process, it’s very important because there are some 250 recommendations that we’re talking about — a significant number I think. About 60 that will be legislative I think, somewhere in that ballpark. So it’s still around 200. And how do you move that through in a way to make sure you double-check and all of that kind of thing? So we do this sort of final consultations if there are any grave considerations out there. And there are of course three choices you can make: either no, yes, or in a sense table it — more information is needed — that type of thing.
And then you take it through legislative instruments committee, they make a recommendation, and then it goes to cabinet. And then cabinet makes a decision, and then it comes back for us in terms of . . . And some of this too, and it’s interesting to get feedback particularly on Bill 66 about implementation, education. A lot of these are talking that they’re not aware of stats. They don’t think there are stats, that type of thing. So we need to do more work in that area maybe.
So it’s quite a process and of course — and as you know and you’ve said this in the House — we have some serious work to be done in this province in terms of our injury rates. So we are the ones that can have the most impact. We’re the ones that we need to do more education on because I don’t think anybody wants to see injuries. And if we can make it as seamless as possible that’s very, very important.
Mr. Hart: — Well thank you for that, Minister. I guess my comments would be in regards to this particular regulation and this proposed regulation change. I realize that the council recommended that this go forward; however it appears that even the Association of Fire Chiefs have some, can foresee some problems in implementation. It has to be, as I just spoke in our last session, the municipal, elected municipal officials and their staff certainly, I mean, have the, if there’s additional funds required, they’ll have to deal with that.
And in view of the fact that Saskatchewan seems to be a fair bit ahead of every other jurisdiction in this area, I guess my comments would be that we certainly examine this issue very thoroughly, make sure that all parties that are affected by a regulation change are fully consulted. I know you did consult with them, but in view of some of the, you know, reservations expressed by a number of groups, I think we need to move very slowly on this.
Certainly, as I said earlier we, you know, don’t want to create unsafe working conditions, but I mean there are firefighters in all other provinces and territories in this country that are dealing with a whole lot less regulation. And you know, I think I would advise a bit of caution in this area just to make sure that we aren’t moving so far forward that it becomes, you know, very cumbersome and municipalities find that they really can’t deal with it and then they are not in compliance. And that just opens up another whole can of worms.
So I think that those would be my final comments on this issue, Minister, and we’ll leave that to the decision-making process as you outlined.
Minister, what I’d like to do is turn to the Workers’ Compensation Board. I have a few comments and questions with that . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . Oh sorry.
The Chair: — Thank you very much, Mr. Hart. Before we move on, I’d just like to, for the notification of members who may not fully understand the process, there is a review of regulations, after they’re passed, by the committee. And so these regulations, as do all regulations, will come to the Committee on the Economy at a future date.
At this time, I’d also like to open the floor to Ms. Higgins. You have a question?
Hon. Ms. Higgins: — I do. When it comes to the review of occupational health and safety and the recommendations that are before you, when we’re dealing with firefighting, the regulations that are recommended, is there anything that would fall outside of NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] standards or protocol? That’s currently kind of the acceptable standards within firefighting I believe in North America. Is there anything unusual? Because the two-in two-out, is that not recognized in the kind of standards, NFPA standards for firefighting?
Ms. Bihun: — Yes. The two-in two-out rule is from the NFPA standards.
Hon. Ms. Higgins: — So now are the standards used in other areas, whether it’s for standards that are expected for equipment or protocols that may be in place for firefighters . . . What I want to know is, is this unusual to draw something from NFPA standards or protocol when you’re looking at occupational health and safety? Or is it common practice amongst firefighters across North America?
Ms. Bihun: — Not being completely familiar with what other jurisdictions do, in Saskatchewan it’s certainly common practice to use the industry standards as a very real source of standards to consider when making recommendations on what should be in the legislation.
For example, the fire that Minister Forbes referred to earlier that took place in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, the standards that are currently in place for the personal protective equipment for firefighters to wear which is consistent with what’s required in the NFPA standards . . . It’s my understanding in preliminary reports that that certainly saved those workers from experiencing quite severe injuries because that legislation was in place.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — And I would just add too that the folks who make up these standards from the NFPA — and it’s headquartered in Massachusetts— but the technical teams include representation from fire departments, firefighters, consultants, governments, suppliers of fire equipment and apparatus, insurance companies, and so these are the folks who are saying what are the best practices out there. And so this would be . . . When you look to a group who would know the business, this would be the group.
The Chair: — Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. At this time I’ll recognize Mr. Hart.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, I have a number of questions dealing with the Workers’ Compensation Board. Again, just to start with for our general information, we have . . . There are three board members, and I wonder if you could . . . As we had discussed last time with Labour Relations Board, I would imagine that the board members of the Workers’ Compensation Board have specific terms.
I wonder if you could just give the status of each of the board members’ terms, where they are, when they were last reappointed, and how much time they have left on their current appointment.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — I’ll start with Karen Smith, who is the employer representative. She’s in her second year of a four-year term. Walter Eberle is in his first year of his second four-year term. And John Solomon is the Chair of the board, and he is beginning his first year of his five-year term.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you for that, Minister. Minister, earlier in this current session of the legislature I had asked the written question of yourself dealing with retroactive payments for independence allowance. And the answer that I received was that once a claimant qualifies for an independence allowance, WCB [Workers’ Compensation Board] makes no distinction between retroactive or ongoing payments.
The information that I have is that there have been in the past a number of injured workers who didn’t realize that they were eligible for independence allowance. And they went back to the board and were granted retroactive independence allowances, some of some fairly substantial sums of money.
I wonder if do you have . . . I would certainly like to have a more detailed answer to my question. I find it a bit surprising that the board doesn’t have that information as far as the number of retroactive independence allowance payments that have been made in the fiscal years that I had asked the written questions for.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — The answer — and it’s consistent with what I said in the written answers — is they’d have to do a file-by-file search on that. And I appreciate that you may think it’s unusual, but it’s the practice of the board, and it’s what they’ve always done. And so I don’t know if, Peter, if you want to make further comment, but it’s what we’ve done. So . . .
Mr. Federko: — The way that the payments are made, there is no distinction. When a payment for anything is made, frankly, it is not marked as to whether it’s a result of a decision to grant retroactive benefits or simply in the normal course.
When it comes to independence allowance, it gets even a little bit less clear because of course an independence allowance is only granted upon the establishment of a permanent functional impairment. It can take a while for the injured worker’s medical condition to stabilize to the point where a physician can actually perform the permanent functional impairment analysis and determine the degree of impairment.
And then the independence allowance is based on, entitlement first of all is based on the degree of impairment. And the benefits may in fact be granted for the previous two months or four months or six months, depending on when the injured worker can meet the requirements of the policy in terms of providing evidence that indeed they meet the threshold for permanent functional impairment award. Secondly, that they in fact have to incur extraordinary out-of-pocket expenses for maintenance of daily living before we could actually undertake the process of issuing the independence allowance. So even by looking at the sum or the size of the independence allowance award, it does not tell us that it is a result of a decision to grant retroactive benefits, as opposed to granting benefits in just the normal course of processing an injury or a claim.
With respect to appeal decisions, there have been a few appeal decisions lately which perhaps Mr. Hart is referring to. And certainly, you know, those aren’t as plentiful. We would know that there would have been, for example — I’m fairly certain that for the year ending 2005; I’m not aware of the 2006 numbers yet — but I believe there were nine decisions taken by our appeal department whereby there was independence allowance granted as the result of an appeal decision that would have predated the date when a decision would have been made to or not to grant independence allowance. But really without doing individual file-by-file reviews, it’s very difficult to determine by looking at the numbers what would have been the result of a retroactive decision.
Mr. Hart: — Well thank you for that, Mr. Federko. I think perhaps you have clarified the issue for me. And probably in my questions I should have been more specific in asking, because that is the information that I was looking for — the number of retroactive payments that were made as a result of appeal decisions over the fiscal year starting with the 2003 up to the last fiscal year. And you had mentioned in your comments that you believe there was nine in the year ending 2005.
And I wonder if you could undertake to provide me with that information starting with 2002 and up to most current information, the number of awards that were made as a result of appeal decisions and the total amount in that fiscal year. If you could provide me with that information I would find that very useful.
Mr. Federko: — It would certainly be a far less onerous task than trying to look at the total population, because there wouldn’t be that many appeals in the first place. So you know, with some time we could certainly get that information for you.
Mr. Hart: — I should have clarified that as to what I meant and so on. If you could provide that I would appreciate that.
Minister, I’d like to raise an issue with you and Mr. Federko, and it seems like there’s a number of these issues that are coming to the foreground that occurred a number of years back. I recently met with a group of widows who call themselves the disenfranchised widows’ group or association. And they presented their information to myself and as far as the retroactive payback or payment back in 1999, the sum of $80,000.
This group of women, at least that’s the group that I met with, there may be also spouses who are men, but they really feel that they have been unfairly treated. They looked at what is happening in other provinces and they feel that even though they were, in their words, forced to sign a release that by and large removed from them any ability to resurrect this issue, they felt they had no other recourse than to contact myself as the Labour critic and ask me to raise this on their behalf. So that’s what I’d like to do at this time.
Just very briefly for the public record, I’ll just very briefly review the situation. These women were widows who had lost their spouses as a result of a workplace death prior to 1985. Upon remarrying they lost their WCB benefits. Then in 1985 as a result of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it was decided . . . They pressed for compensation and rectification of the issue and in 1999 the government of the day passed a piece of legislation whereby these widows received a payment of $80,000, but contingent upon that they had to sign a release form which basically they agreed not to . . . gave up all rights to further pursue this issue in Saskatchewan. I believe that’s the understanding that I have in looking at these special payment release form. It would appear that that’s what they were asked to do.
Now their issue is this: they felt that they were pressured. It was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. They were not apprised of any advice as far as seeking legal advice prior to signing this. Many of these ladies were in fairly desperate straits. As I said, they had lost any of the benefits. Certainly they have remarried and that’s the reason they had lost their benefits. But they just feel that they were very fairly untreated.
There has been a situation in other provinces where other governments have acted to rectify this situation. And I’m presenting their cases here, their cases tonight to you. And I would ask you, are you looking at doing anything more on this issue further to some of the other difficulties that some of them encountered? Is that because of the payment? Some of them were already receiving old age security; they had that clawed back.
There’s a whole host of problems with this. They just, as I said, they just feel they were very poorly treated and they are asking for you to reconsider and look at this whole area and meet with them and see if something more equitable can’t be put in place in light of what other provinces have done. And I would certainly appreciate your comments on this matter, Minister.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Well I appreciate the question, Mr. Hart. And I think that when this type of thing happens it’s always a tough situation. And of course, clearly, there’s been some movement. But at this point we’re not looking at doing anything. And I was just asking Mr. Federko whether they had actually made a presentation to the committee of review, and I’ll take a look to see if they did. I don’t recall seeing any of the recommendations in there because we’ve got the draft in front of us and I’ve read it, but . . . And so at this point I would have to say that we’re not looking at anything.
I take a look at what will be the main initiatives in terms of . . . The Workers’ Comp Board over the next few years will be driven largely by the committee of review and the recommendations that come out of that, would have come out of that. We’re still printing that — it should be out shortly, but that will be, that’s how Workers’ Compensation Board really tests the water publicly. And of course I think we’re the . . . There are two provinces — ourselves and Nova Scotia — who are required to do a committee of review every five years, I believe it is . . .
Mr. Federko: — Ours is four.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Or every four years. So that’s how we test the public — what’s happening out there — and it’s a way to do this independently really basically, and so when issues like this come forward, I often recommend to people to make their case heard at the committee of review because that’s their opportunity. And it’s not a politically driven forum and it’s a venue for both, you know. It’s the equal representation of business and workers. So at this point the short answer is that we’re not looking at anything in that area.
Mr. Hart: — Well, Minister, you mentioned the committee of review. I’m not so sure that this particular issue would be appropriately, or is an appropriate issue for the committee of review. This seems to be a one-time, unique issue. It’s not an ongoing issue whereby an injured worker finds a portion of the way the Act is structured or the administration of the Act, that this injured worker is not being treated fairly or is falling through the cracks.
You know, I would think that type of an issue certainly is a legitimate issue for the committee of review. This is a one-time, special issue, and from the information that I’ve been provided — and I’ve just received this information very recently so I really haven’t had time to do all the background check work on it to verify the information — but so, as I said, the information I’ve been provided is that most other provinces have dealt with this issue and have tried to achieve a more balanced settlement of the issue. It seems that Saskatchewan is one of the provinces that seemed to, back in ’99 that the solution was arrived at very hastily. At least that’s the impression that I was given from these ladies.
And they are just simply asking that this whole issue be re-examined. And, I guess, I think perhaps a first step would be if you would undertake to meet with this group so that they could present their information and their views to you. I’m not sure whether they have. I didn’t ask them that. It was a very short meeting that was fitted, that we weren’t able to go into all the details necessary.
But I did say to them that I would have an opportunity to raise this issue with you this evening. And I’m sure they are looking forward to your responses with regards to this whole issue.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — First, as always with this type of thing in terms of a response, I’d be very happy to begin with if they would write me, or I’ll check and see if they have written me.
The other thing in terms of the committee of review though . . . Actually, while I appreciate sometimes if it’s a individual case isolated by itself, it may not be appropriate. But as you’ve talked, it’s a group of people affected by one decision. So I think it would have been appropriate for the committee of review to hear it. But I’ll double-check to see if they actually did make a presentation.
And I think in many cases people should make a presentation. Then they can be ruled that it’s not appropriate as opposed to thinking that it’s something they shouldn’t take a chance on.
I might ask Peter if he can make a few brief comments about how we stand compared to other provinces. And we may get back to you further about how this is has been, from our point of view, responded nationally. So, Peter, if you have a few quick comments on that.
Mr. Federko: — Sure. Like with many things, it’s very difficult to do an absolute apples to apples comparison when you’re doing interjurisdictional comparisons. With respect to the disenfranchised widow issue, there is a fundamental difference in terms of how Saskatchewan initially dealt with the problem back in 1985. When the freedom of charters and rights became effective, Saskatchewan immediately acted upon changing The Workers’ Compensation Act. So effective September 1, 1985, it removed the sections of the Act that required termination of benefits upon remarriage for those widows that were in the system. It didn’t do anything to address anything retroactively because of course the Charter did not apply retroactively; it only applied prospectively.
So Saskatchewan had less of an issue, if you will, with respect to the number of widows or widowers who would have been impacted by the working of the workers’ compensation legislation, than other jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions carried on for many, many years until finally the issue came to a head in the courts in British Columbia, and that matter was settled in the court. Saskatchewan didn’t have a similar issue because there were only a few months, from June of ’85 to September of ’85, where the Charter was not being applied within the legislation.
But to my knowledge — with the exception of British Columbia who, as I said, had the matter settled in the courts — most jurisdictions have addressed the issue by offering lump sum payments similar to the $80,000 that Saskatchewan offered back in 1999. Some may have gone up to as high as $100,000. But again it would have depended upon whether the jurisdiction acted quickly in changing the workers’ comp legislation to be consistent with the Charter, or waited until 1998 when the issue became a legal matter in British Columbia before acting upon.
So we could certainly ask for some information from our sister provinces and territories in terms of who has enacted legislation similar to ours, and provide you with the details of that if you wish.
Mr. Hart: — Thank you for that. Yes, that would be helpful. One of the issues that really seems to be a thorn in the side of these women is that they were given assurances — at least that’s what they told me — that this $80,000 would have no tax, this $80,000 payment to them would have no tax implications, that they were assured that the province had consulted with the federal government and that they would . . . I guess the bottom line, they’d get to, at the end of the year they’d get to keep the full $80,000.
However the facts are they didn’t, because there was a number of them that had their other benefits clawed back under federal taxation laws and they really felt that this was unfair. In fact they raised the issue with Mr. Proctor, who was a Member of Parliament at the time. And in 2001 Mr. Proctor wrote a letter which was published in the Moose Jaw Times Herald to the then minister of Labour, Mr. Trew, and the Premier, urging both of them to deal with this issue; to make right, I guess, the wrong that these women had suffered.
To this day nothing has been done, according to these ladies, to rectify the issue. And what they are looking for is they are looking for someone — and it would be you now, Mr. Minister, responsible for the WCB — to give an undertaking to review this whole case with a view of seeing what was done in other provinces and them being treated fairly. Because the release form that they did sign is pretty . . . They feel that it removes them of all rights and all abilities to pursue this and other matters other than bringing it to the political level which we are doing here tonight.
I just quote some of the things that the release form says, that:
. . . in consideration of the sum of $80,000, release the released parties of and from all actions, causes of actions, claims, demands of every nature and kind whatever, including, [and] without restricting the generality of the foregoing, any claim I may have pursuant to The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights . . . [and so on].
And it also goes on to talk about their heirs and administrators and so on. And it said:
I also agree to immediately discontinue any action, [or] suit, proceeding of any kind in . . . [the] courts.
So if any of them had any actions, they had to agree to discontinue that. So just reading the release form it seems like sure, here’s the $80,000, but you give up all and any rights that you may have to revisit this issue. And in fact Mr. Proctor in his open letter ended his letter with this sentence.
The new government in Saskatchewan has talked about a new beginning, more humanity, humility, compassion and doing things differently. Good for you. Providing fairness and justice to a group of women who deserve nothing less is an excellent starting point.
And I think I have to agree with Mr. Proctor. You know, from the information I have now . . . I have to say I don’t have the complete set of information but I felt, as we talked earlier, our legislative time frame is running out and I needed to raise this issue tonight with you. And I would ask that you, on their behalf I would ask that you give serious consideration to revisiting this issue.
Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Well what I’ll do is make sure I follow up and get as much information as I can and we’ll talk further about this and see what we can do. I’m not sure exactly what can be done but I will do that.
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