Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ontario Firefighters Ought to Thank NDP MPP Andrea Horwath

If Ontario's firefighters are now able to seek more easily compensation for job related diseases, it is in large measure due to the tireless work and advocacy of NDP MPP Andrea Horwath. It was after all her private member's bill that sought to make such compensation fairer by reversing the onus of proof away from the firefighters themselves. Instead certain diseases would be considered a presumptive part of their job for the purposes of worker's compensation. Who knew Andrea Horwath was actually behind all of this? I'm guessing hardly anyone, and the Ontario Liberals quite like it that way. From Andrea's Fall 2006 newsletter:
Horwath’s fire fighter bill endorsed by Ontario firefighters and chiefs
Ontario should lead not trail others in the campaign to ensure fire fighters receive compensation for their occupational diseases, says Hamilton East MPP Andrea Horwath. Horwath’s Bill 111 would ensure that Ontario fire fighters, like the ones who fought the Plastimet fire, receive hassle-free and automatic compensation if they develop any of 12 deadly diseases and cancers scientifically linked to their exposure to toxins on the job.Horwath’s effort to bring “presumptive legislation” to Ontario is supported by fire fighters, their families, Ontario fire chiefs, professional fire fighting associations province-wide and an ever-growing number of municipalities and editorial boards. It is named in memory of Hamilton Fire Fighter Capt. Bob Shaw, who battled the Plastimet inferno and died after developing cancer of the esophagus.

On October 5, Horwath’s bill passed unanimously after its historic Second Reading debate. Shaw’s son, Nathan, came to Queen’s Park with his mother to back Horwath’s push for changes to the way Ontario treats critically ill fire fighters. Hundreds across Ontario, including Bob Shaw, had their compensation claims for work-related illnesses such as cancer, leukemia and heart disease flatly denied by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Horwath said. Of 463 such claims, the WSIB rejected roughly 300.

“My bill may finally spur some long overdue action. And this can pave the way for other workers who work with toxic materials and are seeking similar provisions,” Horwath said. Based on Ontario research from 1990, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia already recognize the relationship between exposure and firefighter deaths from cancers.

“After risking their lives and being made ill, fighting lengthy battles with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and being denied compensation is the ultimate indignity to firefighters and their families,” Horwath said. “I want the government to fast track this legislation and end the added suffering.”
Backers of Horwath’s quest for presumptive legislation include Fred LeBlanc, President of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, Henry Watson, President of the Hamilton

While we should commend the non-partisanship shown in the legislature in the quick passage of this important bill, we should, nonetheless, be appalled that the Ontario Liberals have been shamelessly taking full credit for this legislation. I almost threw up today listening to an ad from McGuinty on CBC gushing on about how the Liberals are responsible for making sure firefighters know how much they are appreciated and this legislation is intended to recognize their vital role in our society.

It is indeed sickening that not once has McGuinty given any credit to Andrea Horwath for her role in introducing and helping to draft this legislation. On the day this bill passed third reading in Queen's Park, firefighters lined the Liberal member's gallery, but they were all ushered out before Ms Horwath could speak to the bill and thus they left not realizing to whom they truly should be thankful. Sadly, it remains that way. And while I'm sure Ms. Horwath sincerely meant it when she said that she hoped the Liberals would run with her bill, and that its passage would be the truly gratifying thing, I can't help but think her face must still be stinging from the slap administered to her by the Ontario Liberals.
This government has no class and unfortunately no shame either.

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