ALERT: Day Two of Second Reading of Ontario OHS Reform Bill 160

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Second reading of Bill 160, Occupational Health and Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, 2011, began on March 8. Here are the highlights from the debate on March 9 in the Assembly.

Day Two

The heart of the debate on day two of second reading was comments by Randy Hillier, the Opposition Critic for Labour and a former electrician. As fitting his role, Hillier was very critical of Bill 160 and doesn’t believe that it actually reflects the Dean recommendations. Key criticisms:

Removal and dismissal of all Section 21 OHS association committees across the province. Hillier explained that these committees represent all trades and all industry, across all regions of the province. They’re completely run by industry’s own funding or by the volunteers within those industries.

But Hillier said, “All these section 21 committees are now going to be toast under this new Bill 160. All that industry expertise and regional expertise will be dismissed and no longer have any place in occupational health and safety in this province. Instead, we’re going to have a hand-picked, predetermined, selected body called a prevention council. This prevention council is going to do the work of all these other section 21 committees. Who’s going to be on it? Well, they will be picked by the Minister of Labour and an additional layer of political patronage will replace the industry’s own voices for health and safety in this province.”

He continued on the theme of political patronage, saying “Once the minister selects his patronage appointments for the prevention council, he’s going to then have that council pick a chief prevention officer for the province who will have significant and arbitrary authority under this act. So here we have all industries across the province—regional, provincial—being replaced by a patronage panel that is answerable only to the minister.”

In the end, Hillier believes that removal of the section 21 committees is the MOL’s way of silencing opposition to and criticism of its tactics.

Costs of bill for legitimate businesses/underground economy. Hillier noted that the Dean Panel had urged changes to stem the underground economy, especially in construction. He argued that an underground economy thrives when the costs of doing business legitimately rise. But Hillier said that Bill 160 does nothing to stem the underground economy it. In fact, it raises costs for legitimate businesses, which he believes will encourage the underground economy. He said, “All the new training programs that will be required, the new safety manuals, whatever is going to be required by this prevention council will be shouldered strictly by the employer—not by the industry, not by the public; it will be shouldered by the individual contractor or employer, again pushing them further underground.”

Training. One of the focuses of the Dean Report was the need for better and more consistent training. But Hillier said Bill 160 devotes “a single line item about training” that simply says that the Minister can set up training. He added that the Dean Panel suggested a training tracking system so that it would be easier to know who has been trained, giving workers more mobility and transportable recognition of their training. But there’s absolutely nothing in the bill about tracking of training, noted Hillier.

Regulations. Hillier raised concerns that Bill 160 was so vague and that the details would be fleshed out in regulations created by the MOL that would never come before the Assembly for debate. He said, “So we’re going to have a number of political appointments, a number of bureaucrats, lawyers and civil servants sitting around deciding what’s safe and what isn’t safe in the workplace—people who have never been on a job site; people who, if they saw a pair of work boots, would trip over them. But these are the people who are going to be creating the training and the regulations and the edicts about workplace safety, and they have never experienced any of it.” Hillier said that in his days on job sites as an electrician, he saw some “pretty stupid regulations” that were meant to protect him. But “if I followed them all, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. I disregarded a number of them because they were just absolutely, incredibly stupid,” he added.

WSIB jobs. Hillier pointed out that by shifting prevention from the WSIB to the MOL, the more than 100 people who are working at WSIB on the prevention side will no longer have jobs. So he asked, “Are these hundreds of people in prevention at WSIB going to get fired, collect a big, handsome severance package and then be rehired at the same moment by the Ministry of Labour, or are they going to stay at WSIB in some other role and you’re just going to hire more people?”

Bottom line: Hillier doesn’t believe that Bill 160 will improve workplace safety in Ontario or prevent another incident like the Christmas Eve scaffolding collapse that lead to the creation of the Dean Panel.

John O’Toole, a Progressive Conservative, spoke next. He basically reiterated Hillier’s comments, especially the point that Bill 160 doesn’t actually implement many Dean Panel recommendations. O’Toole did observe that the Bill was put together rather quickly and expressed concerns that it was a “rush” job. He was also worried about the amount of power the bill gave to the MOL and the Minister.

Concerns raised by other members include:

  • Bill 160 is really about politics and power and not protecting workers;
  • The bill doesn’t adequately address the needs and issue of small businesses
  • The need for balance in membership on the prevention council.

The second reading was then adjourned. It’s expected to continue today. So look for another update from us on the latest proceedings.