NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Public Safety Prosecutor / Agenda Setting /
Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving (Chairman)
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. David Wilton
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Maureen MacDonald
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Ms. Lora MacEachern
Associate Deputy Minister
Ms. Christine Penney
Senior Executive Director, Safety Branch
Public Prosecution Service
Mr. Andrew Macdonald
Chief Crown Attorney of Special Prosecutions
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2015
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to call this meeting to order. This is the Standing Committee on Human Resources and I’m your chairman - my name is Keith Irving, the MLA for Kings South. Perhaps we could begin by having the members of the committee introduce themselves.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you everyone. Our agenda today includes some committee business near the end. You have that agenda before you in which we will be dealing with appointments to the ABCs. Today we’ll also be receiving a presentation from the Public Safety Prosecutor, for which we have three members of the Public Service to present.
A reminder for everyone to turn off your cellphones, keep those constituents at bay for a few moments anyway. Washrooms and coffee are in the anteroom out front. In case of emergency you’ll exit through the Granville Street entrance and proceed to the Grand Parade Square by St. Paul’s Church.
With respect to the rules of this committee, please wait to be recognized by myself. This is important for Hansard, to keep track of our conversation here today.
We anticipate about a half-hour of committee business so following the presentation, and questions and answers, hopefully we’ll be wrapped up by, at the latest, 11:30 a.m. We may finish earlier, depending on the amount of questions. I will ask for opening remarks, questions, and any closing comments the delegation would like to make.
With that I’d like to welcome the officials from the Department of Labour and Advanced Education and the Public Prosecution Service, ask you to introduce yourselves, and proceed with your presentation.
MS. LORA MACEACHERN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and committee members. My name is Lora MacEachern, I’m the Associate Deputy Minister of the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. I have with me Christine Penney who is the Senior Executive Director of the Safety Branch at LAE, and also Andrew Macdonald who is the Chief Crown Attorney of the Special Prosecution branch with the Public Prosecution Service.
I’d like to begin by thanking you for the invitation to be here today to present to the committee. We’re very happy to be able to share with you the excellent work that is being done to improve workplace safety in Nova Scotia. I think we can all agree that those who get up in the morning and go to work each day should have the opportunity to return home safe at the end of the day. There are few things more important than the safety of our workers.
Over the past several years we’ve been working closely with our partners, WCB and others, to implement the province’s workplace safety strategy, all in an effort to make Nova Scotia a safer place. We’ve made great strides in enhancing the culture of safety in Nova Scotia, and this is something that no one person or organization can do alone. That is why we are so pleased that we have been able to strengthen our partnership with the Public Prosecution Service through the addition of a dedicated prosecutor to OSH offences and prosecutions. We see this as one piece of the province’s larger commitment to workplace safety in Nova Scotia.
Andrew and I will be jointly presenting today. The main focus of our presentation is on the role of the dedicated OSH Crown Attorney, and how the Public Prosecution Service and the Department of Labour and Advanced Education work together on OSH inspections and prosecutions.
For the presentation overview, we’ll discuss the role of the Occupational Health and Safety Division and the role of the Public Prosecution Service. We’ll also discuss the rationale for the hiring of the OSH Crown Attorney, the process by which we established the attorney position, the roles and responsibilities of the Crown Attorney, how the two organizations work together, and our achievements to date.
Turning first to the role of the Occupational Health and Safety Division, it is part of the Safety Branch of the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. The division works with workplace parties to reduce incidents of workplace injury and to improve awareness of health and safety. This is achieved through a range of education and outreach, compliance, and enforcement efforts. Our inspectors and investigators work directly with employers and employees in workplaces across the province to increase regulatory awareness and compliance.
The division also provides technical expertise in a number of workplace areas, including mining, engineering, and occupational hygiene. At times, circumstances lead us to engage in investigation and enforcement measures such as prosecutions.
This is a visual of the compliance spectrum. The work of the Occupational Health and Safety Division can be understood as a spectrum of compliance and enforcement efforts. It begins there on the left in education and outreach, which is aimed at ensuring that employers and employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities. Our inspectors and investigators work to increase regulatory awareness, compliance, and to reinforce a culture of workplace safety.
One of the ways we do this is by promoting an understanding of what’s called the Internal Responsibility System, or IRS. IRS is a principle that all workplace parties share the responsibility for health and safety of all persons in the workplace: workers, employers, industry and labour leaders, and the government.
On the far end of the spectrum is prosecutions. This is sought for the most serious instances of non-compliance. It’s something that we hope will be increasingly less necessary as we work to decrease incidents of workplace injury. I will turn it over to Andrew.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Macdonald.
MR. ANDREW MACDONALD: With respect to the role of the Public Prosecution Service, we are of course Canada’s first statutorily-based, independent prosecution service - established in 1990. We are proud of the fact that we’re independent and we’re proud of the fact that we were first in Canada.
We are Crown Attorneys and support staff, and primarily we prosecute offences - either criminal or regulatory, such as Occupational Health and Safety Act offences. Crown Attorneys are prosecutors. We do not lay criminal charges or regulatory charges. We may be asked by law enforcement or investigators for advice on obtaining evidence, the charter, or wording of charges or whether there is, in fact, sufficient evidence to lay a charge, but it’s the investigators who decide whether to lay a charge and then it’s the Crown Attorney who decides whether the charge should go to trial.
The threshold for determining whether we’re going to proceed to trial is whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction on a particular case and whether it is, in fact, in the public interest to proceed. The Public Prosecution Service, we handle the criminal and regulatory prosecutions and, of course, the appeals from any of those cases.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacEachern.
MS. MACEACHERN: In terms of the rationale for the OSH Crown Attorney position, in March 2013, LAE and the WCB launched a five-year workplace safety strategy. It was developed after broad consultation with stakeholders across the province. We identified six areas of focus: leadership, safety culture, small- and medium-size businesses, education and training, performance measurement, and inspection and enforcement.
The hiring of the OSH Crown Attorney is one piece of our overall efforts, there are lots of great things happening. We see the hiring of the OSH dedicated prosecutor as contributing toward the inspection and enforcement portion of the strategy.
The OSH Crown Attorney enhances the work of the Regulatory Crown Attorney, Peter Craig. For many years, Peter has been providing training and education to our OSH officers and conducting regulatory prosecutions, including OSH offences. The new dedicated OSH Crown Attorney focuses specifically on OSH offences and is a resource in addition to this long-standing regulatory Crown Attorney position.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Back to Mr. Macdonald, please.
MR. ANDREW MACDONALD: With respect to the establishment of this OSH Crown Attorney position, Labour and Advanced Education identified the need for an additional dedicated prosecutor and approached the PPS in Fall 2013 to begin discussions.
A service agreement was signed by both parties in January 2014, which outlined the roles and responsibilities of both Labour and Advanced Education and the Public Prosecution Service. This agreement provided for the funding of the OH&S Crown Attorney position and the range of duties of the OH&S Crown Attorney, such as, aside from obviously prosecuting offences: consultation and pre-charge advice; the provision of education to Occupational Health and Safety officers and investigators; and as I mentioned, of course, the prosecution of offences.
After the signing of this agreement we held a national competition for the position, and we were very impressed with the level of interest in the position and the quality of candidates that applied. We were especially impressed with the person who ultimately accepted the position - Alex Keaveny is his name, and he remains in the position today.
The roles and responsibilities of the Occupational Health and Safety Crown Attorneys; while, of course, conducting prosecutions is the primary function of the OH&S Crown Attorney, but he is also responsible for a variety of duties related to Occupational Health and Safety offences. As I mentioned, he will provide educational training for OH&S officers, investigators, and Labour and Advanced Education managers in the areas of inspection, investigation, and prosecution. This includes participating in the new officer training program and the biannual Occupational Health and Safety officers training sessions. He is also available to Occupational Health and Safety officers and investigators for consultation and giving pre-charge advice relating to prosecutions and criminal prosecutions, if there are criminal prosecutions arising out of incidents in the workplace.
The Occupational Health and Safety Crown Attorney will as well work with other Crown Attorneys in the PPS on cases from summary offence tickets to major prosecutions as the need arises. I mentioned he also provides policy advice and supports planning to identify areas of common interest to Labour and Advanced Education and the PPS to enhance effective investigation and prosecution of offences.
A recent example is we are presently arranging for a proposed Bill C-45 symposium which is aimed at sharing of best practices and clarifying the roles of Occupational Health and Safety investigators and officers with policing agencies. This is in relation to possibly having criminal charges arising out of workplace accidents. We are in the process of developing an interesting agenda. We anticipate this particular symposium will take place early in the new year, and we’re excited about that.
This last slide for myself emphasizes the relationships required to effectively investigate workplace incidents resulting in injury or death, and these relationships obviously extend beyond simply Labour and Advanced Education and the Public Prosecution Service. It illustrates the collaborative relationships between the LAE, the PPS, the OHS, the Crown Attorney, as well as our other partners in OHS investigations and prosecutions.
We work with both municipal police services and the RCMP as required during investigations and, in particular, giving advice pre-charge. The OHS Crown Attorney also works with and provides training related to Occupational Health and Safety matters to other PPS Crown Attorneys. Of course we have the justice system indicated in those circles as well, which is involvement of the court system when a case requires prosecution.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Back to Ms. MacEachern, please.
MS. MACEACHERN: Just to wrap things up in terms of our achievements to date, the Crown Attorney has worked really effectively with the OSH Division. The position has helped to enhance the quality of investigations, improve the effectiveness of prosecutions, expand awareness of developments in other jurisdictions, enhance the collaboration between LAE and the PPS by monthly meetings, and has enhanced our collective roles in this system.
In a nutshell, the arrangement is working very well and we are very pleased to have been able to partner with the Public Prosecution Service to have been able to take this further step forward to make Nova Scotia a safer place. So thank you very much, we’re happy to take any questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you both for your opening remarks and presentation. First on the list with questions I’ve got Mr. Orrell, please.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you for your presentation. I guess hiring the Public Prosecutor for OH&S is a good thing. How many cases has he prosecuted since he has been appointed to the position back in 2014?
MR. ANDREW MACDONALD: He presently has a caseload of about 30 cases. That would include advice files, where we’ve opened an advice file in relation to an incident, and as well prosecutions. I believe there are about 25 active prosecutions where charges have been laid.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell, you have a supplementary question?
MR. ORRELL: Yes. Has this, and the media attention that was drawn to it, helped in raising awareness in the workplace of safety issues and maybe had employers or employees more aware, I guess, of the safety aspect and maybe cut down on some of the incidents that may have happened just with the possibility that this could happen, a person could step in and it could be prosecuted, has that raised the awareness among employees and employers?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacEachern, please.
MS. MACEACHERN: We would see this as really part of the broader efforts to enhance workplace safety, so this is an aspect of that and it is very important to have this OSH prosecutor in place. There’s a variety of things that are happening in addition to that, really focusing on education and awareness generally. You would have noticed the social media campaigns that have been a big aspect of that. We have more inspectors on the ground, we are working on having more and doing more targeted inspections of high-risk workplaces. There’s a variety of things that are happening to really enhance workplace safety in the province and there’s no question that we see this dedicated prosecutor as an important aspect of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Thank you very much. It’s interesting, just to quickly reflect, occupational health and safety in this province has come a long way. I can remember back, shortly after Westray I was with the Department of Natural Resources and we were tasked at putting together a provincial occupational health and safety strategy. I don’t know if you remember Gail McClare and a few of those folks. I sat on that committee and this is the heart of keeping our families safe and making sure they get home, and it’s nice to see this addition.
I have a few questions. I’ll see if I get a chance to ask a few more later, but you had mentioned the symposium that’s coming up. In 2013, I believe we had the unfortunate opportunity to lay a charge under that for the first time as a result of a fatality in a workplace. I’m curious if that’s going to be part of your role and your discussion in that symposium about how that rolled out.
MR. ANDREW MACDONALD: If I understand the question correctly, you’re wondering whether the symposium will address the issue of criminal negligence charges in the workplace.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Yes.
MR. ANDREW MACDONALD: That is fundamentally what it’s about. It’s about bringing together law enforcement investigators - be they police as well as Occupational Health and Safety inspectors - so that we can fully educate them and make them aware of their respective roles and the issues with respect to criminal negligence in the workplace.
Of course you’re all familiar with things like the so-called Westray amendments, which have been in force now for about 10 years, I think, and those of course will figure centrally in the education component of that symposium as well, in terms of the liability, which can extend to individuals higher up in a corporation or the fact that individuals who are lower down in a corporation can make a company liable in criminal law, which is sort of the heart and soul of those particular amendments. That will be a very important aspect of the symposium.
In addition, I understand that the Department of Labour and Advanced Education has entered into a number of MOUs with various policing agencies across the province, and I expect that eventually it will be all of the policing agencies setting out the roles and responsibilities, with respect to investigating workplace injuries and accidents, more directly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you for being here today. This is really good for us to get a better appreciation of how this is all working. It’s a welcome addition to an area that is certainly near and dear to my heart and everybody here.
What I’m trying to understand, and if you can help me with this, is the difference between - you talked about regulatory prosecutions and other prosecutions. I would assume that there are a range of criminal prosecutions, which we were just speaking about. You indicated that the special prosecutor has about 25 active prosecution files: what would they fall under? Are they regulatory or other? Just help us understand that little bit more please.
MR. ANDREW MACDONALD: The 25 files I was referring to, first of all, are strictly occupational health and safety-type files, or in one case there’s actually one criminal negligence causing death charge as well, which would be a criminal charge, of course.
When I spoke of other regulatory offences, our other Crown Attorney - and both of these Crown Attorneys are in my section, the Special Prosecution Section of PPS. We’ve had for some time a Regulatory Crown Attorney - as we call them - who did other provincial offences as well as occupational health and safety. So Wildlife Act or environmental offences or those types of offences would be other regulatory matters.
The bulk of the work of Crown Attorneys in PPS is Criminal Code offences. There is no question about that. That’s what we do every day in court. So these two positions, if you will, are Regulatory Crown and the dedicated Occupational Health and Safety Crown Attorney are a little bit different than the regular Crown Attorney folks in that they do handle these provincial offences. Does that answer your question?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: A bit, yes. I was thinking more substantively in terms of the different types of charges or prosecutions that can be pursued, regulatory or other than regulatory - I don’t think I’m being clear.
MS. MACEACHERN: I’ll take a stab at that. Under the occupational - so in terms of the work of the Occupational Health and Safety Division, any charges laid by our officers under that piece would be under the Occupational Health and Safety Act itself, which is a provincial Statute, so that would be the responsibility, and in most cases many of the types of charges you would see for a workplace incident would fall under that Statute.
In addition to that, as has been mentioned, there is a Criminal Code provision that relates in certain circumstances, depending on the evidence in these workplace situations, and that’s what we’ve been referring to as Bill C-45. That’s actually a provision of the Criminal Code, those charges are laid by the police and in all cases it would be over to the Public Prosecution Service to prosecute those offences as they saw fit, once charges were laid.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I am now on the second round, my list is fairly short here - Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: You talked about hiring more inspectors and more people were hired in the system. I assume it is to do more inspection of the workplaces. Are those inspections complaint-driven or are they random on some of the people who have had offences before and have had charges laid against them or do they just go randomly check a workplace and see if there are any offences there?
I think the random part would make people be a lot more aware of safety and trying to control all the time, whereas if they were complaint-driven, you’re probably not getting the bulk of the people. Are they complaint-driven or are they random? If they are not random, are there plans to do a lot more of that?
MS. MACEACHERN: It’s a combination. We have a 1-800 line and we receive upwards of 2,500 calls to that line a year. Sometimes it’s looking for information, sometimes they are actually making complaints about a workplace incident. We respond to every one of those complaints. Those would be random responses in some ways, depending on your definition, so we respond to those complaints as well.
We are really stepping up our efforts on the targeted inspection front. Again, those would be unannounced but we would be targeting certain high-risk offences and high-risk workplaces. Over the past couple of years we have been doing more inspection blitzes. For example, we do some regular inspection blitzes in the construction sector. It’s a combination of efforts to do both random and also to target those high-risk offences. Also, Christine may have some further words she’d like to add there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Penney.
MS. CHRISTINE PENNEY: We’re actually seeing some evidence of that shift. One of the actions and the strategy was to actually balance the complaint responses versus the targets, so really getting at the high-risk area workplaces. We are actually starting to see that shift this year currently, so we’re only in the second quarter. We actually have more targeted, more inspections, so boots on the ground versus responding to complaints so far this year. It’s a good thing to us that we’re actually getting out unprompted, so I think that’s a good message, right? We’re seeing the results of that.
MR. ORRELL: I guess my question is, the inspectors - the breakdown of numbers across the province in different areas in different regions. I’m from Cape Breton; how many inspectors are in, say, the Sydney proper area, compared to the rural area of Cape Breton or Antigonish, New Glasgow, Halifax, Yarmouth? How is the breakdown of that done and how many inspectors are there actually out there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacEachern.
MS. MACEACHERN: I think we do have the breakdown, Christine might be able to point it out to us. We certainly have a cross-section. We have inspectors in different regions; we’ve got four regions across the province and we’ve got inspectors in each one of those regions. We do have some more inspectors in the Halifax metro area, and that’s because many of the businesses are concentrated in this area and we need to have inspectors there to inspect those workplaces. We’ve got it spread across the province but populated in accordance to where we think our inspectors are most needed. I’m not sure, Christine, if you’ve got some specific numbers there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Penney.
MS. PENNEY: We have 41 officers in total, that would include our investigators and we would have an investigator that supports each one of our regions as well. The complement is generally in the outer regions, outside of central we would have seven officers plus the investigator. The concentration, as Lora mentioned, is higher in our central region because of the number of businesses, so we’re generally around 14 or so in the central area, plus two investigators.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Along that same line, I should thank the member from across for starting the conversation in this area. The understanding of the compliance spectrum, as you put it, and the importance, I guess we have the prosecution end here, but the focus on the education and outreach, I think, especially with that internal responsibility system is key. Not that we want to put the prosecution out of a job, but I think the interesting part of it is, I think all of us know that is where we’re going to get the most results out of our efforts.
In saying that, I’m curious about Occupational Health and Safety Committees within the workplace, there is a requirement? I don’t know where we are at with that compliance in that world, but I’d be very curious to know if there is a strategy to track compliance in the world of the requirement to have - and not just even to have an Occupational Health and Safety Committee, but for that committee to meet on a regular basis. Do we have any numbers or do you have any sense on where we’re at and in which direction we’re going with that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacEachern.
MS. MACEACHERN: I can tell you that the strength of a JOSH Committee is very significant for those organizations that meet the requirement to have a JOSH Committee, that’s extremely important, and it really goes back to that fundamental - the Internal Responsibility System is working, it’s at play, the organization is strong, and people are dealing with workplace issues internally. When we see a strong JOSH Committee and that happening then we know that’s a good sign, it’s something that our officers very much look for as part of their work, and it’s something that’s a regular check when they’re doing their inspections, to ensure that there is a functioning JOSH Committee, and it’s something that we’ll continue to look for and continue to consider important as we move forward.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I’m just curious, do we have a sense, though, on the numbers of compliance? Are we tracking and seeing an upward trend in compliance, when the inspectors go out that they’re checking that box off or not checking it off? Do we have any sense of whether or not we’re seeing improvements in that area, I guess is my question?
MS. MACEACHERN: We do track that information, we’d be able to check the number of orders that we issue and the number that relate to JOSH Committee violations. I don’t know that we have that at our fingertips this morning, but certainly if the committee is interested in that we’d be happy to provide some more detailed information on the number of offences that relate to that.
MR. GORDON WILSON: That would be great, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Treen.
MS. JOYCE TREEN: Thank you very much for your presentation. I listen to this every day; my husband works in the occupational health and safety business, so I hear about it every day. It’s nice to hear about the special prosecutor that you’ve hired. I’m just wondering, by having a special prosecutor has it made it easier to identify and to prosecute the ones that you need to or has it sped up the process, or has it just changed the whole process by having your own prosecutor?
MS. MACEACHERN: We would consider it to be a very important step forward, and really part of our overall efforts, as I said earlier. Having a dedicated prosecutor has helped. We feel that it’s enhancing our investigative practices, keeping our officers up to snuff on all the current advancements and changes in the law. We feel it’s very positive, but again I would say that it’s part of our overall efforts.
We’re also focused on education and awareness and advancing the leadership culture in organizations and a whole host of things. It’s an important effort of our overall efforts in this regard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: I’m curious, in February 2014 there were 17 new employees with regard to the Safety Branch. I just want to go back to my colleague’s question with regard to total inspectors. You say there are 40 or 41, does that include the new 17 that were hired?
MS. MACEACHERN: Christine will be able to speak to that in more detail, but there were more than inspectors that were hired and she’ll be able to speak to that.
MS. PENNEY: Part of that 17, five were new officers that we added. The other 17 were around how we plan inspections - so some dedicated resources there. Also, the main focus was on the education and outreach pieces, so having an additional support system for that.
MS. MACFARLANE: So for lack of better words, you have ramped up the awareness part of this. I’m just wondering, what is the awareness budget? Has that increased or can you give me a figure on that?
MS. PENNEY: Our budget actually did not change. We get our money from the accident fund and we’re still recovering the same amount. We were able to work within the current budget that we had so we actually haven’t asked for new funds.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald is next on the list.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I just have a really straightforward question to Ms. Penney. Earlier you indicated that you’re seeing improvements in the high-risk areas. What are the high-risk areas? Is that construction? Is it heavy industrial? How do you characterize the high-risk areas?
MS. PENNEY: Sector-based - what we’re seeing is the four highest so maybe that’s the place to start - would be construction, agriculture, fishing, and health. Those would be our top four sectors. Our targeted inspections or our risk-based inspections have been focused mainly in the construction area, but we’re starting to build some partnerships and relationships in the other areas so that they understand the rules, so that when we do go out, they’re a little bit more prepared as to when we do our inspections.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: A quick supplementary would be, what is the collaboration, if you will, between your division and the Workers’ Compensation area, which is also very interested in reducing the amount of workplace injury? Is there a collaboration?
MS. PENNEY: The collaboration would mainly be, broadly, around the Workplace Safety Strategy, so we would have structures and committees that support that along those six pillars that Lora mentioned at the beginning. So all the work that’s done under the strategy, we work in partnership with the WCB.
In particular around the inspection pieces, we actually have a joint work initiative with the Workers’ Compensation Board where we would jointly target and do inspections together, focused on high-risk workplaces. So it would be twofold.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I think Ms. MacDonald saw my notes. I thank her for the question. (Laughter) I was also curious about the high-risk and the relationship with WCB, more particular around the fishing industry. It probably is one of our most dangerous and the hardest to inspect that we have. I know that there was quite an effort put forward by the WCB recently on education. As a result of that, I think we’ve seen the rates drop significantly for that sector.
I am curious, though, if you could, specific to the fishing industry, maybe give some examples of that collaboration with the WCB and/or work that you’re doing specifically in that world of the fishing industry.
MS. MACEACHERN: There’s some exciting work that is happening on the fishing industry side. Again, under the Workplace Safety Strategy, we partnered with the WCB and the Fisheries Safety Association and the Fisheries Sector Council to work on an initiative to create a workplace safety plan specific to the fishing industry. That was really significant. It’s not something that has happened up until we got together to do this, and as we were working together, we took some early steps. Many people would be aware of the “man overboard” drills that happened on the wharves across the province, and they have been very successful, and also the media campaigns about encouraging people to wear their PFDs. All that was happening as we were still working through and talking about what the action plan should be. It very much helped to create some positive momentum.
We’ve heard some anecdotal stories about someone having fallen from a boat and being able to call and say I actually wore my PFD, and it was because of the awareness program that has caused me to be wearing my PFD and I think it saved my life.
We are very happy and now the action plan has been created. The industry is leading the implementation of it, which is key and so important. We really do have to credit the Fisheries Safety Association, the Fisheries Sector Council, and the industry for really stepping up and kind of taking the lead to make some very important changes. Yes, the incident rates are down this year and so that’s a very positive step.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good news, thank you. Ms. Treen.
MS. TREEN: I just want to ask you a question, a little suggestion maybe; your TV commercials and your radio commercials about safety and it being the important part of the day was coming home safe were fabulous. They were wonderful, I think they really told the story.
The other thing is, because of where I live every day, I’ve actually reported as a citizen when I’ve driven places and seen stuff and actually phoned in. Have we thought about doing a campaign that the complaint number is more public, that people know? There’s nothing better than a whole bunch of eyes on you to make you comply because obviously your safety officers can’t be everywhere and they rely on reports and stuff. Some people don’t feel comfortable in their workplace reporting their own workplace, right? But having people watch and see things going on and knowing that they have a place to call to report makes people automatically become more responsible because they know they are under the public watch - the public is watching them and can see when they’re not complying.
MS. MACEACHERN: Absolutely, we think opportunities to get out the word about our 1-800 line is very important. We do get lots of calls but we do think there’s opportunity for others to call as well so we’re happy to consider further. We’d also encourage all of you that if you have constituents or people who are calling, to feel free to let people know about the 1-800 line. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s available 24 hours a day, we’ve got someone answering, or a service off-hours answering those calls, and we respond to every one of the calls.
MS. TREEN: Do you have a set ad done out that we could use when we’re doing our newsletters or whatever we have? Do you have something set up - a template we could use?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Penney.
MS. PENNEY: Sorry, around the 1-800 number? Yes, actually it was just before I was in this position; I think it was in early 2013 that we actually did a campaign around the 1-800 number so I’m sure we could dust that stuff off and share it around - yes, absolutely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Ms. MacFarlane just brought up a question about how they hired 17 new people and there was no change in your budget. How were you able to find that kind of money in your budget to hire 17 new people and not have an increase in your budget? Where did that money come from? If it was within the budget, were you operating having leftover money at the end of the year? I’m asking questions in budget talks about full-time equivalents and they’re always saying, well, that didn’t get filled because - and it was never 17 full-time equivalents, it might have been three or four. Where did that money come from if there wasn’t an increase in your budget?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacEachern.
MS. MACEACHERN: We can go back and do a little bit more detailed analysis of the budget over the last couple of years, but my understanding is that the envelope of money that was given to us from the WCB through the accident fund was sufficient to be able to fund these positions. There is, through the ebbs and flows of people moving and leaving positions, there was an amount of money, I believe, that was unspent typically so we were able to use that money to be able to fund those positions.
MR. ORRELL: So if this year we have great success with the safety program and the WCB doesn’t have that money to give to the program, what will happen to these individuals? Will they find money within the budget again to keep them or will these people be let go and safety will go on the back burner again?
MS. MACEACHERN: The positions are permanent positions within our unit and we have full intentions of keeping those positions moving forward.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don’t have any others on the list right now, I’ll just throw in a quick question if I can, since we have a bit of time. This dedicated Crown Attorney, this idea that we’ve put in place, has that been done in other provinces or is this a new initiative in Canada?
MR. MACDONALD: There are other provinces that have a dedicated Crown who specializes in Occupational Health and Safety matters, I know Saskatchewan has one. As well, in Alberta, they have a pool of what we’ll call regulatory prosecutors who do Occupational Health and Safety offences, as well as environmental offences and that kind of thing. In Ontario, I know that most of the Crown Attorneys who prosecute Occupational Health and Safety cases are actually housed within the Department of Labour, if you will.
What we’re doing here is a little bit different in that the position is actually funded through the accident fund, as I understand it, from Labour and Advanced Education, but the Crown Attorney is housed within the Special Prosecution Unit of the Public Prosecution Service and answers to me, ultimately. So it’s a little bit different, but obviously across the country they have recognized the need for specialized Crown Attorneys in this area, as we did here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I guess it wouldn’t be fair to a former colleague if I walked out of this room without mentioning just a recent interaction that I had with your department and Harold Carroll in the addition that he has. I say that because sometimes what I see out in the workplace in the rural areas is just communication and understanding of what the issues are and what compliance means - and not because I worked with him for years when I was with the province. But I will say that’s a positive addition to your department and it helped an awful lot in working through some communication issues, which I think are some of the bigger struggles that we have in this regulatory world, so I’d just pass that word to get him on record here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacEachern, did you need to respond?
MS. MACEACHERN: We completely agree with the remarks, we’re very happy to have Harold Carroll aboard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the questions this morning. I’m wondering if you have any final comments to wrap up our discussion.
MS. MACEACHERN: We have a few closing remarks. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members, for the invitation to speak here today. You’ve asked some very excellent questions, and we hope that through our answers we’ve been able to give you a better understanding of the challenges and the progress that has been made.
As I mentioned earlier, there are few things that are more important than the safety of Nova Scotians, so we’re focused very much on doing all that we can to spare families from hearing unfortunate news that a family member has been injured or died on the job.
So the Workplace Safety Strategy has very much created a road map for us. We’re making a lot of progress, as I said, focusing on education and awareness, on more inspectors on the ground, on targeted inspections, on an increased focus on high-risk sectors, on the development of the Fishing Safety Action Plan, and our list goes on.
We’re so pleased that we were able to add to the list of actions a dedicated OSH prosecutor. It’s the strong partnership that we have with Andrew and his team at the Public Prosecution Service that has led to this very positive step forward.
Thank you for your time and your attention and your feedback. We’re always looking for ways to do more and to improve. I’m confident that through all of us working together we can make Nova Scotia safer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: On behalf of the committee, I’d like to thank Ms. MacEachern, Ms. Penney, and Mr. Macdonald for their presentation and for responding to our questions. It was very informative. We gained some insight into how we’re all working together on this - that it’s not just one area that has to tackle this challenge of workplace safety. Obviously, we’re all committed to the objective to make Nova Scotians safe in the workplace. Thank you again. I’ll now suggest that we take a five-minute break before we head into committee business.
[10:52 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[10:57 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess we’ll call the meeting back to order, considering that everyone is here, which is great. Thank you all for being prompt.
Committee business: the first item on the agenda is correspondence. This was information requested at our September 29th meeting, and it’s before you. Is that correspondence accepted? Do we have agreement there? Okay, thank you very much.
The second item is the December meeting date. We’ve made an assumption that folks don’t want to meet on December 29th. I hope we haven’t reached a little bit too far on you folks. The suggestion would be December 15th - does that work for folks? Is everyone in agreement? All right, thank you.
Next on the agenda is the agenda setting. We have topics proposed by the three caucuses. We’ll be selecting three from the Liberal caucus, two from the PC caucus, and one from the NDP caucus. I guess the only thing I hope the committee will consider in the reviewing of this is that they fall within the mandate of the committee, which was circulated when the request went out, that it is to do with labour, education, and culture. With that I’d like to turn it over to the Liberal caucus for a motion for the three topics being presented. Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I’d like to make a motion for: Labour and Advanced Education, university sandboxes; Education and Early Childhood Development, report card changes; and Labour and Advanced Education, Graduate to Opportunity program. Those are our three.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion on the motion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
To the PC caucus now for two suggestions.
Oh, there was a request from staff that we prioritize, just in terms of the scheduling. Mr. Wilson, do you want to put a ranking on this? We will be flexible, obviously, depending on folks’ availability, but could you put a suggested ranking to these?
MR. GORDON WILSON: Yes, I could: (1) university sandboxes; (2) Graduate to Opportunity program; and (3) report card changes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I don’t think we need to discuss that. We’ll move forward then to the PC caucus, with two, please.
MS. MACFARLANE: We would like to put forward the Mental Health Foundation, Starr Dobson; and our second would be the hub school model.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Is there any discussion with respect to those? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. Thank you.
Now to the NDP caucus.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I’d like to put forward the hub school model, and specifically Mr. Bob Fowler who did the report on the model. That would be our choice.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have the PC caucus with the hub school model as well.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Screen Nova Scotia are going before the Standing Committee on Economic Development on this sometime soon, to the best of my knowledge, so I’d recommend that we not bring them in twice, before two committees. They are a voluntary group, and although they’d meet the mandate of this committee, let’s just let them go one place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don’t disagree with you. I was going to point out that Screen Nova Scotia would be under the cultural envelope, I would suggest, but since they’re being covered under another committee, I’m just wondering whether we’ve got kind of an overlap here between the PCs’ suggestion and your suggestion, Ms. MacDonald.
One other option that we have which might be considered by the committee is that we did have a previous set of agenda items approved. The approved one from the NDP caucus, which has obviously not made it to the new list but we may want to consider that here - the RN education review was put forward and accepted by your caucus. Would you like to perhaps suggest that as your topic?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I think we would like to stick with the hub school. We get one topic, and I know that it’s on the PC list, but there’s nothing to say that it’s not on our list as well. We’d like to reinforce that that’s what we are interested in seeing come - Mr. Fowler, yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So just to be clear, are you suggesting that we have them in twice?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: No.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So you’re just reinforcing the PC . . .
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I’m essentially saying that would be our choice as well. It’s unusual to see collaboration sometimes . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Collaboration is great.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: . . . but surprise, there is agreement on this side of the table with that topic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any comments? (Interruptions) Are you making a motion to withdraw the hub school model from your list, Mr. Orrell?
MR. ORRELL: If you’ll allow us to put forward our other presenter on the list, we’ll let the NDP have the hub school model for their list and we’ll put the Conflict of Interest Commissioner on for ours.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. So before that, can we have a short discussion on how the Conflict of Interest Commissioner fits into the mandate of labour, education, or culture? Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: In 2015 we had the FOIPOP commissioner come in to give an indication and an explanation of their role within government and how we can, as MLAs, access the Conflict of Interest Commissioner if we have a problem with somebody, or if someone has a problem with something we’re doing and thinks it’s a conflict of interest, how we would either be notified or what would be our role as an MLA being investigated, and how their role fits within the government in general so that the awareness of what they do and how they do it would be big for me and an education in the sense of - how do we access and what do they do? We hear all the time the the role of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner is there but I don’t know if everybody really understands what the role is, how the role works within government, and how we access or how we use that person in our favour if we need to put something forward.
With the FOIPOP review officer appearing and everyone agreeing to it, we just figured that this would be the same type of information where we can understand completely their job and our role within government with them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane, do you want to comment as well?
MS. MACFARLANE: I just want to add, in all consideration, that the Department of Justice doesn’t have a committee, and looking back in 2014 when we did have the FOIPOP officer come in, that falls under Internal Services and we agreed to have them come in. So I think we’ve somewhat set up a little bit of a precedent that we’re just following what we’ve done in the past.
So just keep it in mind that the Department of Justice doesn’t have a committee so we do what we can to get those witnesses in that we think would relate to the committees best. So that’s why we originally put this on the table.
MR. CHAIRMAN: My concern is exactly that, that if we have any topic out there - we do have a problem with the committee structure and I think the wish from our caucus is to evaluate that. We don’t have a committee for Health and Wellness and so we’re having arguably health issues being brought to this committee.
I would encourage us to try to stay within the mandates and to begin to work on where there are gaps - whether that’s Justice, Health and Wellness, or others. My own comfort level as chairman and being responsible to ensure that this committee is working effectively, addressing the topics that are within its mandate - I would prefer to see a topic that falls within the mandate such as the one that the NDP put forward at a previous agenda setting.
I’m willing to hear any other contrary arguments and then perhaps as the chairman, I’ll make a ruling. If you don’t like it, you can challenge that. How’s that? Are there any other comments? Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Again, I guess to go back - it’s a Catch-22 with us in the committees. We’ve been accused of not following the rules. Now we’re trying to follow the rules, which obviously do need to be changed, there’s no doubt about that. I ultimately think that there will be a day when we’ll get this all straightened out.
For the sake of moving forward, myself personally, I’m interested in knowing the role within government of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. I know that does step outside of our mandate. I think this is an opportunity for us to maybe make an exception there, if everybody does agree to it, but I would ask that it be kept within, as close as we can - those topics of questioning around that, if we can.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other comments? I’m going to make a ruling and then you can overrule me as a committee. I am doing my best to take the role of the chairman to work within the mandate that the Legislature set out for this committee. So given the evidence presented by the PC caucus and the discussion I’ve heard from the Liberal caucus, I guess my ruling would be that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner would not fall within the mandate of the committee, but certainly the committee can overrule my ruling on that.
MR. ORRELL: So we’re not going to vote on that - you’re ruling that as not under the mandate?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Under the mandate of the committee, yes, but you can certainly challenge my ruling as such.
MR. ORRELL: Like I say, we’ve been trying to work together here, and finally we come to an agreement on something and now the chairman is going to overrule it, so anyway, whatever you think.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I respect the chairman’s position on this also and he’s stuck in a hard spot - I hope not between a rock and a hard spot. I would like to see the move that the Progressive Conservatives have brought forward as one that we accept, even though it does step outside. I think maybe what we could do - and I see movement already by a lawyer and a clerk to tell us whether or not we can do that, I think ultimately, if that’s okay?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Do we not have the ability as a committee to make this decision to go beyond the stringent wording of the regulations under the House of Assembly Act to actually have this topic as a witness? It doesn’t fit anywhere else. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’ll ask you to speak on the record, Mr. Hebb.
MR. GORDON HEBB: The committee has no power to consider a matter that is not within the mandate of the committee. It’s really up to the committee to decide what its mandate is here.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Can I just say that’s contradictory - the committee has no ability to go beyond its mandate, but the mandate is up to the committee. That sounds like saying both things are possible.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hebb.
MR. HEBB: It’s up to the committee to interpret and decide whether a topic is within that mandate. It’s not that the committee can extend its mandate, but it’s the committee that has to make that decision on whether they are within the mandate on a particular topic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: I have a feeling that we all probably agree that somewhat, this last one that we have suggested as a witness may not fall directly into our mandate, but I also believe that all of us here know it has been months and months that we’ve been trying to get them in here. Wouldn’t it just be common sense if we all agree? I really appreciate what the chairman is saying today and I’m all for getting on track - that’s what this committee needs and I think you’re the individual to do it. But I would ask that perhaps we all give consideration for this one last time since we have been putting it on for so long now. Let’s accept this witness and then move on from here and really focus on what our mandate is after this witness appears.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson and then Ms. MacDonald.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I’d support that comment that Ms. MacFarlane said. Although it doesn’t fall within the mandate I don’t believe our legal people are telling us we can’t step outside of that, we have that privy and I think we should have that privy.
In the sake of moving forward, I would like to make a motion that we accept the Conflict of Interest Commissioner as the PCs’ position.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sorry, I was just distracted.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Is there a motion on the floor?
MR. CHAIRMAN: That’s what I’m going to confirm with you in just a second. (Interruptions) No. When I state this there’s no further debate, so just before I do so with this question, I’ll ask Ms. MacDonald to speak as she had her hand up.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you, I very much appreciate that. My final contribution to this discussion is to say that I’m not so sure that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, in fact, falls outside of the mandate of the committee. I think that we are the Human Resources Committee and if there is anything that has some bearing to appointments, to the human resource management issues of the province, it would be things like ethical practice and conflict of interest. They’re pretty fundamental in today’s world as to how we govern ourselves. That is, in fact, the broad mandate of this committee - the management of human resources within our political system.
I would say that we interpret our mandate a little more creatively and, in fact, this topic would fit within our mandate. It doesn’t have to fall within those subjects, those more narrow subjects, but in the committee’s mandate more broadly. That’s my contribution.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. MacDonald. That sways me to some point but I’ve made my ruling, so I will stand by the ruling based on the evidence before me. There has been some good debate here and I think the committee is rightfully challenging my ruling. So the procedure as suggested or advised by the Legislative Counsel here is that I’ll put a question to the floor, there will be no debate, and then we’ll vote on it.
Would all those in favour of the motion - sustaining the ruling of the chairman - please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
[The motion is defeated.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: So the ruling of the chairman is overturned by the committee, thank you very much. (Interruption) This is process, I don’t take this personally.
With that, the committee has deemed that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner is within the mandate of the committee and therefore, Mr. Orrell, I would ask you to put forward a motion to have your hub school model attributed to the NDP topic and replace it with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
MR. ORRELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that our hub school model be granted to the NDP as their witness and that we put forward the Conflict of Interest Commissioner as our second witness to present to the Standing Committee on Human Resources.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Orrell. Is there any further discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. Thank you.
The next item on the agenda - before I move to that, I forgot whether I had mentioned this, there will be some flexibility in the order. The order has been suggested in the letter from the House Leader but we will be giving staff the flexibility in terms of booking and availability. I just want to confirm that with folks.
The next item on the agenda is the annual report that has been circulated. Could I ask for a motion to accept that report, as presented?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I so move.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Moved by Ms. MacDonald, thank you. Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. Thank you.
Next on the agenda is agreement from the committee not to entertain witnesses during the House sitting, which has been the practice in the past. Are we in agreement there? Great, thank you very much.
Our final item today is the appointments to agencies, boards and commissions. I would ask for a separate motion for each of these three appointments. Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that Chester Muise be appointed to the Nova Scotia Museum Board of Governors as a member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
[The motion is carried.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Do I have a motion for the Public Archives Board of Trustees? Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that John N. Grant be appointed to the Public Archives Board of Trustees as a member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. Thank you.
Mr. Wilson, do you have a third motion?
MR. GORDON WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that Andrew J. Murphy be appointed to the Resource Recovery Fund Board as a member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion on that motion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
That concludes committee business for today. Our next meeting will be Tuesday, November 24th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. (Interruption) Mr. Orrell, go ahead.
MR. ORRELL: With the House sitting, we usually met from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. to allow the House prep for all the caucuses. It’s only going to be the ABCs - appointments to boards. I’m just wondering, are we going to keep the same 10:00 a.m. time or are we going to revert to 9:00 a.m.?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell, do you have a recommendation that you would like to see this changed?
MR. ORRELL: No, either way.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald, you’re acknowledging . . .
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Back to 9:00 a.m., and just ABCs?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes - I’m sorry, 9:00 a.m.?
MR. ORRELL: It’s up to the committee, I’m just asking the question because we traditionally met at 9:00 a.m.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’m sorry - Ms. MacDonald.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: We did the agencies, boards and commissions rather than presentations?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. So the suggestion is to change it to 9:00 a.m. on November 24th. Do I have agreement there? Okay, so it will be changed to 9:00 a.m. Thank you all very much.
That concludes our meeting, and I thank our Legislative Counsel and our support staff for their work in preparing for this meeting and allowing us to wrap up about 38 minutes early.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 11:21 a.m.]