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April 10, 2008
WSIB rebate embarrassing, premier says
McGuinty says flawed program needs changing but won't call
for chair of safety agency to resign
"Premier Dalton McGuinty said he will not heed calls to
fire the embattled chair of the provincial workplace safety agency, but branded
its flawed rebate program an "embarrassment" that needs to be fixed. McGuinty's
comments came as labour groups held a news conference at Queen's Park yesterday
morning, demanding he fire Steve Mahoney, chair of the Workplace Safety and
Insurance Board, who has said he was unaware his rebate program was
defective." Robert Benzie
Premier Dalton McGuinty said he will not heed calls to fire
the embattled chair of the provincial workplace safety agency, but branded its
flawed rebate program an "embarrassment" that needs to be fixed.
McGuinty's comments came as labour groups held a news
conference at Queen's Park yesterday morning, demanding he fire Steve Mahoney,
chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, who has said he was unaware
his rebate program was defective.
Mahoney's comments came in the wake of an ongoing Star
investigation into worker safety that found the WSIB has given millions of
dollars in rebates to companies that have been prosecuted by the provincial
government and found guilty of safety violations leading to deaths, amputations
and other serious injuries.
Despite the deaths, and subsequent ministry of labour fines,
those same companies received rebates over the years that ranged from hundreds
of thousands to millions of dollars.
Yesterday, McGuinty said it is time to change the rebate
"I think we're all in sync in terms of the recent
developments and our shared understanding of something that's been taking
place, which is simply not acceptable," said the premier. He appointed Mahoney,
a former Liberal MPP from Mississauga, to the post in 2006.
"This is a bit of an embarrassment. Certainly our government
believes we need to make some real changes here," McGuinty said. "There is a
strong consensus that has developed around this issue and I know there are
going to be some changes. Changes in terms of the policy."
In mid-March, in response to Star questions,
Mahoney announced a review of the rebates (called the "experience rating
system") and declared a moratorium on payments to companies that have caused
worker deaths. The WSIB website says the review will take 12 months too
long for labour groups seeking change but Mahoney said this week he
wants staff to report back to him in two weeks.
Reached at his Front St. office yesterday, Mahoney said he
is asking his staff to recommend a request that an outside firm can be hired to
examine the entire rebate system.
"One of the issues that will be looked at is whether the
system itself should be scrapped and replaced with a whole new system," Mahoney
said, while cautioning that he does not want to "pre-judge" the analysis.
He also said he is going to look at other provinces to see
what works in their worker compensation systems, citing the British Columbia
example that has merged the safety agency and the ministry of labour into one
powerful body that creates and enforces its own regulations.
Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of
Labour, which represents 700,000 workers, told a news conference yesterday that
he has been warning the WSIB and labour ministry about the rebate problems for
the past decade with no response.
"We need to stop this outrageous system today," Samuelson
Dave Wilken, a lawyer with the Industrial Accident Victims
Group of Ontario, said the experience rating system entices companies to cover
up their injuries and claim the rebates. A false but glowing record, Wilken
said, as their safety practices are never scrutinized, placing more workers at
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