Opposition is about more than opposing

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A party caucus consisting of just eight Members of Provincial Parliament generally should not count on getting too much media attention for its efforts. When your party does get media coverage, your part of the story will typically revolve around phrases such as “oppose”, “fight” or “speak out against”. While the current NDP caucus at Queen’s Park is certainly doing its share of criticizing the McGuinty government, there is another side of its activities that rarely gets noticed. The NDP has introduced fourteen Private Members Bills during this session of the legislature.

The most recent of these bills, introduced earlier this month by Hamilton East MPP Andrea Horwath, would amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to bring Ontario into line with how other provinces – including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia – treat occupational diseases suffered by firefighters (who, unlike other Ontario workers, do not have a right to refuse unsafe working conditions).

Currently, firefighters (or their survivors) must prove that their cancer, degenerative neurological disease or heart damage occurred as a result of their duties. In many cases, including that of the late Bob Shaw (who died of esophageal cancer in March 2004, seven years after fighting a major chemical fire at the Plastimet recycling plant), firefighters have had their claims denied by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Horwath’s bill, which is being enthusiastically supported by firefighters’ associations across Ontario and Shaw’s family, would create a presumption that these health problems occurred due to the person’s employment as a firefighter. “Science long ago confirmed the correlation between fire fighting and a range of serious, life-threatening diseases,” commented Horwath. “Ontario should lead, not trail others,” Horwath said at her news conference, “There's an irrefutable link between firefighting and occupational diseases; the science is out there, now the Ontario law needs to catch up.” According to Horwath, the WSIB has “flatly denied” about 300 of 436 claims from firefighters suffering ailments linked to their jobs.

Shaw’s son Nathan spoke at Horwath’s news conference. “My dad made the ultimate sacrifice as a firefighter, and it's devastating that his own province is basically saying, ‘No, your father did not make that sacrifice; no, your father did not die for that cause.’ I'm here today to say yes, he did.”

Some of the other Private Members’ Bills introduced over the past year by members of the NDP caucus include:

Bill 6, Fred Gloger Tenant Protection Amendment Act (Vital Services), introduced by Andrew Horwath. The Bill amends the Tenant Protection Act, 1997 to provide that, where no municipal vital services by-law is applicable in respect of a rental unit, that landlords are required to provide adequate and suitable vital services to the rental unit.

Bill 12, No Tuition Hikes Act, introduced by Rosario Marchese. The Bill prohibits colleges and universities from establishing tuition fees at levels that exceed the maximum levels that were established in the 2005-2006 academic year.

Bill 13, Colleges Collective Bargaining Amendment Act, introduced by Rosario Marchese. The Bill amends the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act to include part-time staff in staff bargaining units.

Bill 30, Safe Needles Save Lives Act, introduced by Shelley Martel. The Bill requires employers in prescribed workplaces to provide for and ensure the use of safety-engineered medical sharps, if commercially available and appropriate, in any circumstance where a worker is required to use a medical sharp.

Bill 45, Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Harassment), introduced by Andrea Horwath. The Bill amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act to require employers to protect workers from harassment in the workplace, to give workers the right to refuse to work in certain circumstances after harassment has occurred, to require an investigation of allegations of workplace-related harassment and to require employers to take steps to prevent further occurrences of workplace-related harassment.

Bill 61, Trillium Gift of Life Network Amendment Act, introduced by Peter Kormos. The Bill would ensure that upon the death of a person, tissue from the person’s body may be removed and made available for transplant into another person’s body unless the person or a substitute has stated an objection to that happening.

Bill 70, Optometry Amendment Act, introduced by Shelley Martel. The Bill would allow optometrists to prescribe therapeutic pharmaceutical agents for the treatment of certain eye diseases.

Bill 77, Safeguard Our Seniors Act, introduced by Shelley Martel. The Bill places a duty on operators of health facilities to protect patients from abuse, and on persons who are aware of abuse to report it.

Bill 88, Ombudsman Amendment Act (Children's Aid Societies), introduced by Andrea Horwath.
Bill 90, Ombudsman Amendment Act (School Boards), introduced by Rosario Marchese.
Bill 92, Ombudsman Amendment Act (Hospitals and Long-Term Care Facilities), introduced by Andrea Horwath.
These Bills amend the Ombudsman Act to allow the Ombudsman to investigate any decision or recommendation made or any act done or omitted in the course of the administration of a children’s aid society, a school board, or hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Bill 97, Child and Family Services Amendment Act, introduced by Andrea Horwath. The Bill creates the office of the Child Advocate, who oversees the Office of Child and Family Service Advocacy and reports annually to the Legislative Assembly.

Whatever your own political views, it’s refreshing to see a group of MPPs working hard for change, even if that work is going largely unnoticed.
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