Lisa Gervais: Keep emergency responders out of bill
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | November 9, 2017|
While the majority of us have been focusing on small businesses being impacted by the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, it’s become shockingly clear in the past week or so that if Bill 148 goes ahead as it now stands, municipal government will be taking a huge hit.
That means taxpayers of Minden Hills, Dysart et al, Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East would be facing fairly hefty rate increases, or fairly drastic service cuts to shoulder the burden.
Because the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and our local chamber has been so vocal about Bill 148, it’s been a natural place for news outlets to go. But, we have been a bit too focused on the minimum wage increase. The emerging reports from local municipal government has reminded us that there is so much more in this bill that is going to cost money: personal emergency leave, on-call provisions, equal pay for equal work, statutory holiday pay, paid vacation and more.
The County of Haliburton, Algonquin Highlands and Minden Hills have so far tabled reports on the effects of Bill 148.
At last Thursday’s Algonquin Highlands meeting, treasurer Tammy McKelvey didn’t hold back. She joked she was the meeting’s “Debbie downer” when delivering a report that said costs at AH could increase by more than $1.1 million. That’s equivalent to a 25 per cent increase in the tax levy. Yup, either taxes would go up or service levels would go down, Mayor Carol Moffatt said. Likely, there’d be a combination of both.
The top bean counter used words and phrases such as “unbelievable” and “substantial” impact. The mayor opted for “more than untenable.”
At Minden Hills, treasurer Lorrie Blanchard will report today (Nov. 9) that the impact on the township could be in the vicinity of $820,000, and a big chunk of that is on-call for firefighters.
Of course, those numbers are a bit of a moving target. The bill is not finalized. In fact, it is currently at the committee level for amendments.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has been lobbying hard for some substantive changes, especially when it comes to public safety response.
Let’s take volunteer firefighters for example. These folks are kind of always on-call. If the bill doesn’t change, they’ll have to be paid for three on-call hours, whether they respond to a fire or not. In rural municipalities such as ours, that would be financially crippling.
AMO is calling for an exemption for municipal employees required to be on-call to provide statutory public safety services. This is for supervisors and managers, too. They also desperately want an exemption for volunteer firefighters when it comes to matching pay to full-time firefighters.
The standing committee accepted Bill 148 submissions until last Friday, Nov. 3.
While municipal officials assume the standing committee will listen to AMO, they must also plan for the worst case scenario.
We call on the standing committee to give Ontario municipalities – and their taxpayers – the amendments they are so desperate for. They must exclude emergency responders from the bill. We would hate for any municipality, or the county, to have to make a decision around an emergency response based on financials.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.