Danielle In The House, October 25: Protection and Compliance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012

The Acting Speaker: I now recognize the hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Ms Smith: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Now, I wasn’t going to speak to this bill because I had initially thought it was just going to be a housekeeping bill. On the surface it looks reasonable. Bill 6, the Protection and Compliance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, looks reasonable in what it’s aiming to do, which is to amend the Fair Trading Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Safety Codes Act.

Let me first speak about the things that we think are positive about this approach, and then I’ll speak about things that I am concerned about and give my recommendations at the end. What I like about the Fair Trading Act is, of course, that it’s going to aim to protect workers and consumers from unfair trade practices. This is good. We know that there have been instances where the act has been perceived to be too weak on the bad guys, on those who are doing wrong. Increasing the penalties as a deterrent, once again, is a good idea in principle as long as it’s being targeted at those who are truly doing wrong. That’s a positive.

Secondly, the OH and S Act: we all know that the Auditor General has called for more enforcement. We support the government’s efforts to improve the safety of work sites for all workers. Every worker should have the confidence going to work that they’re going to come home at the end of shift healthy, without having had a workplace injury. We understand as well that one of the ways to ensure compliance is to have harsher penalties. Again, as long it’s targeted against those who are doing wrong, those who have sloppy practices, not only in practice will this be good, but we think the intention of it is good.

Under, of course, the Safety Codes Act, I think we all remember the tragic case recently of a young girl who was killed when construction debris that had not been properly secured flew off a building in Calgary. I commend the government on recognizing that part of the way you get compliance, once again, is to ensure that there are stiffer penalties so that you do end up encouraging corporations to take every action they can to secure their safe work environment.

However, one of the concerns that we have – and we have observed this with government in other bills – is that from time to time the good intentions do not translate into addressing the right people in practice. I would just draw the Assembly’s attention to the .05 bill. We support the notion of going after drunk drivers.

We do. But with that bill, once again, giving administrative penalties, to allow officers at the roadside to be prosecutor, judge, and jury with a very serious penalty – taking away a person’s car and licence for three days – we think that oversteps the line of administrative penalties.

When we look at what is happening here, once again, we’re seeing that the maximum penalty under the Fair Trading Act would allow for an administrative penalty to go up to a high of $100,000. We also acknowledge that under the Safety Codes Act it would allow an administrative penalty to go up as high as $100,000 in the first instance and then up to $500,000 in the case of subsequent instances. Once again, if this is targeted at genuine shortfalls in safety on work sites and if it’s targeted at people who are genuinely doing wrong, then it’s all right. But what I think we’re most concerned about is that we are targeting the right people, that we’re not giving excessive powers to enforcement officers and administrative agencies through administrative penalties and short-circuiting the Charter rights to be able to have due process and ensure that you have reasonable access to the courts.

Now, I am open-minded about being convinced that this is the right approach, but I have to say that that type of approach does leave me with some reservations. What I would hope is that we could put more language around having some kind of appeal process in the event that these fines are levied so that we do have an opportunity for somebody who may have been wrongly fined in one of these excessive amounts to ensure that they have a second order of appeal so that they can address the issue. The appeal has to be independent. It can’t be appealed to the ministry which also levied the fine in the first place. We’re going to be taking a closer look at this legislation to see if that condition can be satisfied.

The second thing I would raise a concern about is that while we do want to levy fines, we also want to be cognizant of where these fines are going. In the case of a $500,000 fine for a safety violation, should those dollars go into general revenues, or should those dollars go to make restitution to the people who are harmed by the unsafe workplace or the unsafe practices? I think that what we have seen in the past was a good precedent set by this government with the victims’ restitution fund. In the event of assets seized from criminal activity, the dollars and assets went into a fund that nominally was supposed to go towards victim restitution.

We think that same kind of principle might be able to apply here, that if there are going to be additional high fines levied, perhaps the approach would be to have an independent fund that would be able to build up, and with those funds you could make restitution to those who are harmed, whether they were consumers or whether they were those who were working in the unsafe workplace, or be able to hire additional officers to assist with the compliance.

Part of the approach that we have heard does cause some concerns for business owners is that there does seem to be an attitude among inspectors when they go into a workplace that they can’t leave until they find something to write up, and that is part of the reason that we expressed some concern on behalf of our small-business community about giving excessive powers to our enforcement officers without looking at the other side of things.

We think that the government and its officers can play a role in helping to educate small-business owners about the kinds of practices they can put in place to improve the workplace environment. You can do a carrot-and-stick approach, and those will be the kinds of things that we will be looking for in the bill as well as, if they’re not in the bill, putting them forward as amendments.

Once again, I’ve risen twice to speak in favour of government legislation put forward in this Legislature. On this one I will reserve my support until I’m able to see what kind of amendments we might be able to make through Committee of the Whole, and we’ll see in third reading whether or not it is satisfactory to earn my vote. At this moment I do have some serious reservations about how this might work in practice though I do commend the government for the intention behind the bill.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.