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Bill 109 good news for firefighters

(December 21, 2015) The Liberal government's Bill 109 (the Employment and Labour Statute Law Amendment Act) received Royal Assent on December 10 and that's important news because of what it means to municipalities and volunteer firefighters.

The act incorporates significant sections of the Labour Relations Act into the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, including parts that cover unfair labour practices, membership in associations and expedited rights arbitration.

These provisions in the act offer protection to firefighters who work full-time for another department and part-time with their local department – the so-called double-hatters.

In Simcoe-Grey, most of our municipal fire departments are comprised of volunteer firefighters. Some of these individuals work full-time as firefighters elsewhere, but also give their time – when they can – to their local fire department. They do this, because they care about their community.

Anyone doubting the dedication of our part-time firefighters need only talk to people such as Clearview Fire Chief Colin Shewell or Essa Fire Chief Cynthia Ross. They will soon set you straight. The Essa Fire Department is comprised of 54 dedicated volunteers and in Clearview the department is made up of just over 100 men and women.

We highly value the work done by our firefighters. They are well trained, skilled and professional. Their courage is on display day-to-day. They risk their lives to keep us safe. Every time someone I know in the riding requires the services of local firefighters, they always praise them for their work.

And interactions with our local firefighters can happen in many ways: medical emergencies, house fires, vehicle crashes – even through public safety campaigns, which each department runs throughout the year.

Our volunteer firefighters leave their warm beds, family meals – you name it – to answer the call when it comes in.

If municipalities in Simcoe-Grey – and many others across Ontario – didn't have volunteer firefighters the cost of having full-time professional firefighters would be crippling.

The changes to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act have been developed in consultation with the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, and the changes seem reasonable.

For example, expelled or suspended members – or those who have been denied membership in an association – will be protected on certain grounds, such as in a case of reasonable dissent. This will allow "double-hatters" to continue their volunteer work without fear of reprisal.

As well, the bill allows labour disputes under this act to be heard by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, rather than an Ontario court.

This bill makes sense. And it's long overdue.

Thirteen years ago, my colleague, MPP Ted Arnott, introduced a Private Member's Bill to support "two hatter" firefighters.
The bill made it to third reading, but was defeated.

Thankfully, this new act sets things right. It's good news for small town Ontario.

Jim Wilson is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe-Grey.

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