03/21/2011

Two items of Interest to Municipal Councils:
1. All party support was received for a private member’s motion regarding firefighter mandatory retirement legislation in the Ontario Legislature on March 10, 2011.  Mike Brown, Liberal MPP for Algoma Manitoulin, proposed the following motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, in recognition of the role Ontario’s firefighters plan every day in keeping our communities safe, and in recognition of the evidence of health and safety risks to firefighters over the age of 60, and in keeping with the recent Human Rights Tribunal decisions, call on the Government to introduce legislation allowing for the mandatory retirement of firefighters who are involved in fire suppression activities in the province of Ontario.

All parties supported the motion during the debate in the House and it passed unanimously (36 to 0).

There was no pre-consultation or discussion by any of the three provincial parties with AMO prior to this motion passing.   However today we have been advised that the government will be consulting with appropriate stakeholders, including AMO, on this matter so we are not anticipating legislation in the immediate future.

In AMO’s view, there are a number of municipal implications that require informed discussion prior to any legislation being drafted, if in fact it is needed in the end.   Subject areas that we need to know more about include:

  • Whether it would apply to just full-time firefighters or also to volunteer firefighters and if so, the impact on those services?
  • What is the meaning of ‘fire suppression’ activities—does it include fire engineers, suppression training, or communications activities?
  • Would it apply to fire management officers?
  • How would this affect pension rights and pension programs? Is this a precursor for pressure to obtain the best three years of pensionable service?
  • What would this mean for existing contracts or contract negotiation underway where retirement age is currently included within a municipal collective agreements?
AMO and its members have consistently stated support for the need of our municipal fire departments to be appropriately staffed, trained, equipped and ready to provide the high level of service our communities expect and deserve.  To that end, a good understanding of any proposed legislation mandating firefighters’ retirement is necessary prior to any government legislative action on this general motion. The Province is wise to do a thorough policy analysis and pre-consultation. 

2.    Recently municipal councillors may have received a letter from the fire sector that suggests a broadening of fire dispatch and to mandate the use of fire services in all life and limb threatening medical emergencies.  

While principally, it would be difficult not to agree with the statements in the letter, operationally there is more to consider than the correspondence provides and has some implications that need to be considered, such as governance and performance since fire is predominantly at the lower tier and EMS predominantly at the upper tier and through DSSABs in the north. There are cost implications and needs to be considered in the broader context of local resource allocations.  Municipalities endeavour to maximise the quality and efficiency of emergency response services.  Communities are varied and a one size fits all approach is not one that may be conducive to the diversity across Ontario. 

Broadening the dispatch of firefighters to all life and limb threatening emergencies across Ontario needs to be considered carefully.  Any decisions regarding emergency response must be based on facts with clear evidence of the benefit.  We would encourage your Council to defer a resolution of support in the absence of any analysis.