Danielle In The House, October 24: Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2012

Ms Smith: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to Bill 1, the Workers’ Compensation Amendment Act, 2012, which would give presumptive coverage for posttraumatic stress disorder for first responders. This is the kind of bill that is easy for a member of the opposition to rise and speak in favour of.

I would say that when we look at our first responders, they have a quite different job than most of us. When they go to work in the morning, for them to have a meaningful day at work they are heading into situations that most of us end up running away from.

I was struck by this when I was on my way down to Fort Macleod to have a meeting with the hon. Member for Livingstone-Macleod.

It was the day of those terrible wildfires down south. I’d called Chief Weasel Head on the Blood reserve to find out how things were going, and I was grateful to hear that things were going well with the firefighting efforts. I spoke with Terry Michaelis, the mayor of Milk River, later that day, and he also commended the incredible work of the first responders. I had driven past a home that was on fire while I was on my way down, just outside of Claresholm. I knew that there was an incredible amount of demand in the south to deal with those wildfires. I was a bit fearful of what was happening at that home, but as I was driving by, having called in a 911, I was pleased to see a Claresholm firefighting unit heading in the direction to take the fire out. On my way back from Fort Macleod I stopped in to see how the firefight had gone. Unfortunately, they couldn’t save the house. The other home had been burned down. They told me that an old fella with his dog had managed to make it out safely.

What I was struck by was just how down to earth these men were in talking about the very dangerous work that they had done that day. This is what we see with our first responders, that very real, everyday heroism, that commitment to duty, that commitment to honour, and the incredible courage that they display. I’ve seen that as well when I went to a Pride event at the Edmonton Police Service and spoke with the tactical team there. I am also going to be going on a drive-along with sheriffs to see what they see first-hand every day. Then, of course, we all know the kind of trauma that our paramedics see every day on the job. I think that all of us in this Legislature feel great gratitude and thank them for the work that they do.

I also had the great fortune in the last six weeks to go to the firefighters’ balls for both Okotoks and High River. In High River our chief there, Chief Len Zebedee, received a diamond jubilee award for his 28 years of service. It was a great honour for me to witness that. His wife, Pat, gave a prayer as a firefighter’s spouse, and I can tell you that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Pat’s son Cody, who’s also following in Dad’s footsteps at Heritage Pointe, was compelled to get into the firefighting service because of the experience of his father and the great and incredible leadership his dad had shown. So Pat is a mom as well as a wife giving that prayer every time that bell rings.

In Okotoks Chief Ken Thevenot spoke passionately about the work of this Chamber in adding chronic illnesses to workers’ compensation coverage, and he wanted me to pass along to my colleagues in the Legislature his great gratitude for seeing those illnesses added to workers’ compensation coverage.

We know that this is dangerous work for many of our firstresponders. We all know there are physical risks that they face.

We all know, as well, that there are chronic illnesses that many of them face. We also know that there is psychological stress that our first responders face. Bill 1 accepts that this level of psychological stress is work related. Fortunately, we’ve seen that it is relatively rare.

We’ve got 27,000 first responders in Alberta: 13,500 are firefighters, both full- and part-time; 9,200 are paramedics; 3,800 are police; and 700 are sheriffs. In the last two and a half years the Workers’ Compensation Board has approved 22 cases of posttraumatic stress disorder coverage. Of that, four were first responders.

Now, that might seem to indicate that those who go into this profession are particularly hardy, and from what I’ve experienced, that is certainly true. But it may also suggest that there is a culture within these communities that makes it difficult for them to reach out for help when they’re facing psychological stress. I think that this amendment goes a long way towards changing that culture so that those who do suffer from this illness are able to seek help, able to get the medical services that they need, and able to either get back to work or counselled into another profession. We know that the extreme trauma or the chronic trauma that they face on a day-to-day basis can take its toll on many of them. They deserve our support, and they deserve to be able to get help.

We will be proposing some minor amendments to the legislation, which I hope will be well received by the government. In particular, I would say that with my own riding, in High River and Okotoks, we’ve got a hybrid department of full-time and part-time paid firefighters as well as volunteer firefighters, so we would like the government to consider the addition of volunteer firefighter coverage. We know that they don’t need income replacement, but they do need their medical costs covered in the event that they are diagnosed with this illness.

With that, I’m supportive of the government’s initiative in this regard. We intend to work with the government to see this passed, and I commend the government on bringing it forward for debate in this Legislature and being the first government to propose this type of presumptive coverage.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.