My speech on legislation to improve the Workers’ Compensation Act

November 5, 2014

Bill No. 31 – Workers’ Compensation Act.

The bill ensures that people, when they reach the age of 65, will continue to receive WCB benefits if they are on an EERB or an Earnings Replacement Benefit.

DAVID WILSON: It’s a privilege to stand on this. I want to thank my colleague, the member for Northside-Westmount, for his comments on Bill No. 31. It’s an important bill to bring forward, to try to ensure that we improve living conditions for our residents here in this province.

I’m a bit taken aback by comments from the government – we’re on three, four, maybe five Opposition days now. It’s an opportunity for Opposition Parties to bring forward bills, to have a good debate, a good discussion about changes that we feel are important for Nova Scotians, often changes that we hear from our constituents, and I’m sure that the government members hear the same thing. But the one recurring theme that I see is that government members speak for a minute, a minute and a half, two minutes on these bills. I would think they would put a little more effort into maybe explaining why they’re not passing this bill.

I have to say, from the comments of the member for Halifax Atlantic and his response to my colleague from Cape Breton Centre on this, it sounds like what the Liberal Government wants from an Opposition Party is that we just stay home and collect our pay, don’t bring any changes forward, don’t bring legislation forward, because many of us here have been in government before.

We have been in the House for a long time and it is a challenge to get re-elected, something that these new members over there will have to face. Often when you are in government you can’t do everything you want. You try to do as much as you can and you are often restricted, just like the current government is restricted on what they can do and what they cannot do, Madam Speaker.

To think that that is how their thoughts are of an Opposition Party is that you shouldn’t bother with anything because you could have done it maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, maybe four years ago. I’m very proud, Madam Speaker, of the member for Cape Breton Centre who has worked tirelessly for the 17 years that he has been here, to bring forward changes to the WCB. He brought positive changes not only as an Opposition member but when he was minister.

One of the travesties I’ve seen since I’ve been here is what happens to widows who remarry, who lost a husband who was receiving benefits, Madam Speaker. Under consecutive Liberals, over and over, and Progressive Conservative Governments, they denied those widows the right to collect WCB payments and it was the member for Cape Breton Centre, when he was in government, when he was minister, who changed that rule to respect those widows and I’m proud of the member for doing that.

We couldn’t do all the changes, Madam Speaker. We respect the electorate here in Nova Scotia; we respect the results of elections. So now it’s in the government’s hands to make sure they bring forward positive changes, especially to the WCB. These are injured workers; these are people who have been injured in the workplace who are struggling now. Many of them are struggling just to stay out of poverty.

This piece of legislation will ensure that those individuals who reach the age of 65 years continue to get those benefits. We know the federal government has recently changed the age requirement, soon, in the upcoming years, to 67. So like my colleagues said, what is going to happen to those individuals? Are they going to be denied any funds until they turn 67? So now is the time for the current government, the Liberal Government, to stand up and show those injured workers that they respect the position they are in, they understand that there are challenges there and that here is a perfect piece of legislation that they could support and move forward, Madam Speaker.

I don’t understand why we hear the comments from the members across the way on why they don’t want to pass pieces of legislation like this. We really don’t hear much. We hear – why didn’t you do it? It’s a fair question I guess but the question back at them is, that’s fine, you are in a position right now to make positive changes, Madam Speaker.

I brought forward a WCB bill that I would hope the government looks at. Up to this time right now, they are not and it is on PTSD. But this piece of legislation affects people’s lives. I recently met with a constituent of mine, Madam Speaker, who was exactly in this position less than two months ago. Unfortunately he was injured a number of years ago and managed to stay in his own home and continue on, but got a letter from government saying your WCB will run out by the end of the month. Apply for CPP and get a Guaranteed Income Supplement after that.

It is an issue that is affecting Nova Scotians. It is going to affect them to potentially put them below the poverty line where they are going to struggle to stay in their own homes. Here is a chance for the government to show injured workers across the province that they recognize that this policy is not a policy that should be on the books and that’s what we’re asking for. We’re asking for the government to remove the stipulation of losing your award at 65.

We hear from injured workers a lot and I know the government will continue to hear from injured workers throughout their mandate. We hope that if they don’t want to pass this exact bill from the member for Cape Breton Centre, they bring in their own. They’re more than capable of doing that, to bring forward changes to WCB that are positive for injured workers. Especially now, I believe there is more awareness around workplace injuries, around illnesses that people find themselves in because of the work that they do.

I know we have to speak on this bill, but as I said, there’s another bill on the table, on the order paper, that would support workers too. My plea, maybe if you don’t want to pass this – no disrespect to my colleague – but maybe you’ll pass the other one dealing with PTSD.

Let’s see something. We haven’t seen anything this session that would support injured workers from the government. Is it off the radar? Is it not important to them? I’m starting to believe that maybe that’s what it is. It’s not important to them. They have other issues. They have to amalgamate the district health authorities before they can help injured workers in the province. Everything we’re hearing from over the last year is that everything has been put on hold. They’re trying to figure out how we amalgamate the district health authorities because that takes the largest portion of the budget.

Here’s an opportunity, before the House wraps up this week, next week, two weeks from now, a month from now, for the government to show their support to injured workers, that they understand that it’s not an easy thing to be an injured worker on WCB. I’ve never met, in almost 12 years that I’ve been an MLA, someone who said, I’m some glad I’m on WCB, I want to be there for the rest of my life. I haven’t met that person. Most, if not all, want to get back into good health. They want to get back to the workplace. They want to contribute to their family and the growth of their family.

Many of the individuals who find themselves injured who will get support through a WCB claim can’t put away those additional funds that we know we all require when we retire. There’s no way that WCB recipients are putting additional money away, putting the nest egg away so that when they turn 65 – or 67 in a couple of years – that they have enough to live comfortably into their golden years. We know that that can’t happen. It’s impossible. I don’t believe there are too many – there may be a couple – but I don’t believe that that’s their first priority. Their first priority is trying to get healthy again, trying to get back to the workforce.

But if there’s something the government can do, if there’s something that Opposition Parties can do to try to support them, then I think that’s what we should be looking at. No Opposition Party should be frowned upon for bringing things forward. I’m going to put the government on notice now – I’m going to bring changes, legislation over the next three years that are going to deal with a lot of things. Stuff in health, stuff in other areas of services, and if the only response I get is, why didn’t you do it when you were the Health and Wellness Minister – I mean, that’s a copout. That’s a copout from the Liberal Government. It’s a copout.

I’m going to do that. I’m giving notice now. I’m going to bring legislation forward that is going to have a positive effect on Nova Scotians and I’m going to – you know, I have a good relationship with many of members in the Liberal Party, in the Liberal Government. I’m going to talk to them. I’m going to encourage them. But to say that I shouldn’t do that because we didn’t do it when we were in government is just not what I would want to see in a government. I don’t think it’s what Nova Scotians would see.

I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to get re-elected four times. I’ve been in Official Opposition, government and now in Opposition again. I’m very . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Happy birthday.

MR. DAVID WILSON « » : You can’t butter me up when I get mad. (Laughter)

But I have respect for each of the positions we hold here. I respect what government has to do, I really do. I have a new appreciation of what the job entails now from when I was first elected in 2003 as an Opposition member, then sitting over in the government benches and having the honour and privilege to sit as a Cabinet Minister and being one of the Ministers of Health and Wellness. We have three former Ministers of Health and Wellness and a current Minister of Health and Wellness here in this House and I respect each and every one of them.

I would think with the knowledge that you have, with the experience you get as you go through your political career, that you should be able to bring forward positive ideas like the member for Cape Breton Centre, bringing Bill No. 31 forward, to see what I think is a positive change to the WCB Act, Madam Speaker. He shouldn’t have to apologize for that. He shouldn’t have to explain to the government of the day why he didn’t do it when he was in government.

Maybe it was 20 years ago that he was in government – I know it was only a year and a half ago – but we have some members in this House who have been in government a long time. If you want to bring up examples of what past governments have done, we don’t have to look too much farther than the benches of the past Liberal Governments. We’ve had forced amalgamation of the municipalities around the province; that was under a Liberal Government. We don’t stand every day and bring that forward to the Minister of Municipal Affairs saying I can’t believe the former government, they forced amalgamation, even though now it seems like they might be forcing villages to amalgamate – but that’s another thing.

P3 schools. We’re going to be on the hook for that really soon, within the next year or so. What about the kickbacks from the liquor sales? We want to forget about that? Oh, but I don’t stand on my feet every day and bring that up, Madam Speaker. What about toll highways, who brought that in? It was the Liberal Government of the day. So if the current (Interruptions)

MADAM SPEAKER « » : Order, please. The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid has the floor.

MR. DAVID WILSON « » : So if the current members, the member for Halifax Atlantic and any other ones who want to play the game they want to play, there’s a lot of ammunition from all Parties that we can bring up, but that’s not the game I want to play.

I want to support a piece of legislation, if it’s a Progressive Conservative piece, if it’s our piece, if it’s a government piece, we bring it forward and we debate it in a respectful way and hopefully the government will consider passing it, and I hope they do that with Bill No. 31. Thank you.