My speech on PTSD coverage for Emergency Responders

October 8, 2014

FRANK CORBETT: I have listened intently to the interveners today and the mover of the bill, particularly the member for Sackville-Cobequid and the member for Hants West who are both former paramedics and first responders, from that perspective. It is also important to note that people have talked today and said, well, there is policy at the board to deal with this, but there is a big difference between policy and legislation, and we do need legislation, and that is why this bill is here today.

We appreciate the olive branch that has been offered by the government and we are certainly willing to accept that and see what form that takes. I think this bill is here for debate today to shine a bit more light on the problem of PTSD right across the spectrum of the workforce. I know that there are people – Nick Antoft is in the gallery today, Madam Speaker. He is a firefighter and he knows first-hand the perils of PTSD and how that can affect your life and the life of co-workers.

PTSD affects a whole list of employees across the province. I am glad this bill has shined the light on what it does to our first responders. I think of our women and men who work in the fisheries. There is a chap in my constituency; I’m handling a WCB file for him. This was some almost 30 years ago when he was involved in a shipwreck, about this time of year, probably a little closer to November. He is suffering from PTSD because of what transpired. He and his brother were the only survivors in a crew of, I think 11, around that number. He has led a very precarious life, to say the least.

Also a former neighbour of mine who was wounded, shot, during a holdup at a convenience store, not really a job that you think in a small community – and that’s where a lot of us come from, small communities – where you are preparing to defend yourself against an armed robber with a gun. You are probably picking up part-time hours, doing decent work and probably you think your biggest problem on that day is maybe some teenagers who may be lippy to you. That may be the biggest thing – or someone complaining that the price of milk is too high.

This woman, in the course of her duty, was shot. Thank goodness it wasn’t fatal, but she has not worked a day since. I come from a profession where some people probably wouldn’t think it is prevalent – the broadcasting sector – but I can tell you that there are people – because oftentimes you are called out to cover a story – I can list tragic stories, whether it was the McDonald’s murders in Sydney River, whether it was the mine disaster that eventually closed No. 26 mine, other instances like that, coming upon car accidents and others that were straight out murder and having to see victims, so there is another industry.

I guess years ago, when people, men particularly, returned from the Second World War, we used to refer to them as being shell-shocked. Everyone was shell-shocked. Right? Or, you know, we kind of snickered behind their back. I think we all have got to have some atonement over that, but we’ll be judged by a greater power over that stuff.

Madam Speaker, this issue is growing and how we handle it is extremely important. I’ll agree this much with the government – you’ve got to get it right. Now getting it right and elongating it come at odds from time to time. I want to get it right, but I don’t think we should let this go too long. I don’t know if this is a good analogy to use, but strike while the iron is hot right now. We understand this.

Another person in the gallery is Joshua Fournier. He’s a correctional officer. What they have to put up with today – I mean, again, I come from a time when you simply locked up the bad guys. They are released and you hear – and I’m sure the Minister of Justice gets reports after reports after reports of what goes on in some of the institutions and some of the stuff that is literally thrown and put in the faces of these workers.

Now, they’re obviously not guarding these people because they didn’t look both ways before they crossed the road. These are some pretty bad cats. But the other side of it is the type of pressure these people are under, and as speakers before me have said, sadly enough, the people – as the country song would go – turn to the bottle and bury these things, and the cost to productivity.

The reason I would like to see this enshrined in legislation as opposed to just a policy is because I’ve been fortunate enough to do work in my last 16-plus years around Workers’ Compensation. Although there are certain groups in this province who malign those employees, there are some very good employees – a vast majority are very good employees.

What we’ve got to strive to do is to try as best we can to make these workers whole again. There is no cheque that can come in the mail that can make things right. Certainly you need it to survive; I’m not naive. But what we need is an understanding of this situation. We need an understanding that this cannot go on forever, that these people need the help.

We don’t need to cover it up. Whether it’s PTSD or something else, we, for some reason, in this province – and I shouldn’t just say this province – in this country and probably throughout North America, we have an awful hard time grappling with mental illness. I often tell people that if this weekend, if each one of us went home this weekend and we were to go to some kind of fundraiser for someone who had a terrible disease like cancer or whatever, everyone in the community – all of our small communities are very good to get the Legion or the fire hall to put on a fundraiser and help the family. But if we say Frank is mentally ill, people – oh no, you know, gee, it’s too bad. But it’s not that same reaction.

We’ve got to get past that. That’s why this bill goes a long way, I think, Madam Speaker, to address an issue of mental illness. It’s time that we as legislators come together, all 51 one of us, to understand that this is not a partisan issue. This is an issue that all Nova Scotians should be very supportive of, and that is helping to eradicate mental illness, whether it’s from PTSD or whether it’s from a variety of other angles.

That’s why I stand in my place today in support of Bill No. 11, in support of the member for Sackville-Cobequid, and those that came to the gallery to hear us today and tell us and for us to say that we will not shunt PTSD aside, nor will we shunt mental illness aside. We have to be leaders on this. Thank you.