Thunder Bay

Province promises to address volunteer firefighter concerns before Bill 148 passes: NOMA

Kenora mayor and Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) past president David Canfield says the province is aware of how its proposed Bill 148 may cause volunteer firefighting costs to skyrocket, and has pledged to make the necessary changes before the bill becomes law.

Bill as currently written would see volunteer firefighter costs skyrocket

Kenora mayor David Canfield says he's spoken to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne about Bill 148's potential effect on volunteer firefighter costs, and she said the bill will be changed. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Kenora mayor and Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) past president David Canfield says the province is aware that Bill 148 may cause volunteer firefighting costs to skyrocket, and has pledged to make the necessary changes before the bill becomes law.

The bill — also known as the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act — includes a provision that would see the province's volunteer firefighters placed on call for three hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of whether or not a fire is taking place.

'Not the intent' of bill

While on call, volunteer firefighters would be paid about $43 an hour. However, Canfield said the province is aware of the issue.

"I did have a meeting with the City of Kenora and [Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne] in late August, and we brought it up and explained what our fears were," Canfield said. "The premier said that was not the intent of Bill 148, and that they would make sure that that was not part of the bill."

"I take people at their word," he said. "We've had discussions before with the premier, and she's stood behind her word. I'm hoping she does the same this time."

Kenora, Shuniah worried about costs

Still, many municipalities are concerned. For example, Shuniah CAO Paul Greenwood said that municipality currently pays its volunteer firefighters based on the number of calls they respond to, their level of responsibility, as well as the amount of hours they dedicate to things like training, over the course of a year.

Currently, Shuniah's volunteer firefighters are paid between $1,500 and $7,000 per year. If Bill 148 were to go through as currently written, Greenwood said the municipality would be paying each of its volunteer firefighters about $47,000 per year.

Greenstone mayor Renald Beaulieu said his community, which has an all-volunteer fire department, would pay more than $2.5 million per year in extra costs should Bill 148 go through as currently written; Greenstone has about 90 volunteer firefighters on its roster.

'Next to impossible' to pay for

"That would represent for us, right now, a roughly 20-per-cent increase in taxes," Beaulieu said. "We're definitely hoping that things like this will be looked at."

"It would be next to impossible for us to cover this." 

Beaulieu said Greenstone's firefighters are currently paid per call. He wouldn't say how much, but called it "minimal."

Beaulieu said Greenstone representatives have talked to the province, and he's confident the bill will be altered before it becomes law.

"I have confidence that it won't happen," he said. "It just can't happen."

Canfield said Kenora has a hybrid fire department, with 13 full-time firefighters, and 40 volunteers, who are paid for training and time spent on calls (volunteer firefighters are not required to respond to every call).

"Our human resources just did a run-by, and in Kenora alone, it could cost us ... close to three-quarters of a million dollars," Canfield said.

Canfield said NOMA members will be discussing the issue further with the province in the coming weeks.

Bill 148 passed second reading in the Ontario legislature on Oct. 18.

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