There has been much press coverage of what the Federal government has quietly inserted into its omnibus budget bill, including considerable environmental deregulation. Hiding sweeping legislative changes inside these large budget bills isn’t the exclusive domain of the Harper government.
The McGuinty government has inserted into its omnibus bill sweeping powers to authorize contracting out or privatization of public services without public oversight. The government claims it is to facilitate privatization of Service Ontario, however Schedule 28 is much broader in scope.
“Once that authority is given, there is no requirement for transparency or accountability for privatization decisions made by the Minister or the quasi-Crown corporations similarly empowered under the Act,” states Steven Shrybman in a legal assessment written for CUPE Ontario.
Further, when the privatization comes in conflict with out statutes, the new Bill takes precedence, meaning the objectives set out in hundreds of pieces of legislation would be set aside.
Today OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and legal counsel Paul Cavaluzzo will appear before the legislature’s budget committee to address this issue.
“Earliest possible opportunity” for patient transfer regs?
Last June Health Minister Deb Matthews vowed she would regulate the patient transfer industry “at the earliest opportunity” after an alarming set of findings from the Ombudsman’s office about patient care in these vehicles. The promise included consultations with the medical transportation industry, health care providers and the public. A year later we’re still waiting. According to the Ministry, as many as 500,000 non-emergency patient transfers take place every year in the province. Competitive bidding, similar to what existed in home care, has since driven at least three patient transfer companies into either bankruptcy or bankruptcy protection. Ontario Patient Transfer recently laid off 43 OPSEU members at its Niagara base after Mohawk Supply Chain Services – owned by 16 regional hospitals – awarded the patient transfer contract to other companies. That one contract represented about half of OPT’s business. Mohawk didn’t wait for the regulations to arrive – it instead tried to establish standards in its tendering process. The South West LHIN is also no longer waiting. It is looking to set up a standardized system of patient transfer in Grey Bruce Counties and is looking for interested companies to “fill out qualification forms.” In short, this is a mess. Oddly, last June the Ombudsman threatened to release a more complete report if the government refused to act. Maybe it’s time for Ombudsman Andre Marin to recognize the government hasn’t fulfilled its promise and get on with releasing his full report.
This is another bit of chaos courtesy of the Harris government. It was Harris who decided that EMS transfers were too costly and substituted an unregulated patient transfer industry.
Occupational Safety Poster Mandatory
In March, 2010, the Minister of Labour appointed an Expert Advisory Panel to review Ontario’s occupational health and safety system. One of the 46 consensus recommendations from that panel was to develop a poster to place in the workplace that let everyone know what their rights and responsibilities are under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employers have until October 1, 2012 to make the poster visible in the workplace. The poster is now available in 17 different languages. Click here to view an English copy.
Witmer to clean up own mess
Speaking of worker safety, Martin Regg Cohn notes in his June 5th Toronto Star column that Elizabeth Witmer is being asked to clean up her own mess at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). As Mike Harris’ labour minister Witmer slashed both benefit payouts and WSIB premiums for employers. Now she is being asked as Chair to address a substantial unfunded liability resulting from her gift to employers. According to a new report by Harry Arthurs, WSIB has only 55 per cent of what it needs to meet its obligations as insurer. Witmer recently stepped down from her seat in the legislature to take up the McGuinty appointment as Chair of WSIB. If the Liberals win back the seat, it will give them a defacto majority with the Speaker casting the deciding vote.