Changes promised to bill that would raise fire­fight­ing costs

The Chatham Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - LOUIS PIN POST­MEDIA NEWS

Ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are warn­ing of dou­ble-digit tax hikes if pro­posed changes to provin­cial labour laws are passed.

Though most of the fo­cus on the Fair Work­places, Bet­ter Jobs Act has been on in­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, com­mu­ni­ties such as StrathroyCaradoc and Lu­can are rais­ing the alarm about changes that would cause fire­fight­ing bud­gets to soar.

“This could re­sult in the largest prop­erty tax in­crease that we’ve seen in many, many years,” said Lambton-Kent-Middlesex Progressive Con­ser­va­tive MPP Monte McNaughton.

He’s writ­ten to Pre­mier Kathleen Wynne to out­line the ef­fect the leg­is­la­tion sched­uled to come into ef­fect Jan. 1, 2018, will have on Strathroy-Caradoc, Lu­can and other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Of­fi­cials in Strathroy-Caradoc es­ti­mate the pro­posed changes would in­crease the an­nual cost of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s vol­un­teer fire depart­ment to $3.3 mil­lion from roughly $608,000.

Prop­erty taxes would have to be hiked 18.4 per cent to cover the added cost, politi­cians were told ear­lier this month.

Lu­can-Bid­dulph said it could be forced to scrap its vol­un­teer fire depart­ment if the bill passes.

The leg­is­la­tion would re­quire mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pay vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers the same as pro­fes­sional full-time fire­fight­ers.

The way vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers are paid also would change. In­stead of be­ing com­pen­sated when they re­spond to a call and for time spent on the call, fire­fight­ers would be paid for be­ing on call, an ap­proach that doesn’t make sense to Ox­ford Progressive Con­ser­va­tive MPP Ernie Harde­man, a long­time vol­un­teer fire­fighter.

“Some­body be­ing asked to stay at home wait­ing for a call should in fact be com­pen­sated in some way,” he said. “But how would you do that with vol­un­teers when they’re on call all the time?

“It does doesn’t make any sense.” A vol­un­teer fire­fighter in StrathroyCaradoc said fire­fight­ers didn’t ask for the costly changes.

“We . . . are not the ones that have ever raised this as an is­sue,” Matthew Stephen­son said. “We don’t do this for the money.”

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of On­tario (AMO) is re­quest­ing a special ex­emp­tion for vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers un­der the Em­ploy­ment Stan­dards Act.

In an in­ter­view Tues­day, Min­is­ter of Labour Kevin Flynn said the on-call and fair wage as­pects of the bill are not tar­geted at mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the gov­ern­ment will amend the bill that will be tabled Thurs­day at com­mit­tee.

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