February 14, 2011

Stephen Coleman replaces Clive Thurston as chair of WSIB task force

Whether it is the current WSIB funding review or new Ontario hazard-prevention standards, shaping a stronger industry is key for the new chair of a construction employer task force.

“If we do not have a WSIB system that is financially healthy, it impacts us all because it does not attract investment to Ontario, which hurts the industry,” said Stephen Coleman, executive vice-president, Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO) and new chair of the WSIB Construction Industry Task Force.

“There may be a fear that we are all about cutting benefits, but that is not our game — we are concerned about the system being strong for those who need it.”

Coleman has replaced Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association and founding member of the task force as its chair.

Coleman credited Thurston with helping get the task force off the ground and standing for it during a tumultuous period in fall 2010 when members such as the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), left it.

When COCA withdrew from the task force, it cited the “lack of any appreciable public policy progress or success” by the task force. When the Interior Systems Contractors Association left the task force, it called into question Thurston’s leadership style.

Coleman said that MCAO’s experience within the task force differed from those of its detractors.

“The task force has always been about issues and bringing the broadest possible cross-section of employer organizations together within the construction industry to address a very important part of our industry,” said Coleman.

“The task force’s door is open, whether it’s other industry groups or COCA,” he added. “Anyone is welcome to join us as we try to provide solid input to help the WSIB become financially healthy, both for the benefit of employers and employees.”

The task force has been fully engaged in the WSIB funding review being led by Harry Arthurs. The review is tasked with gathering public, stakeholder and expert input on six specific issues relating to the WSIB’s financial situation which are funding, premium rates, rate groups, employer incentives, occupational disease claims and benefits indexation.

“We feel all the elements are important, (but) an underlying concern we do have is dealing with the funding,” Coleman said. “We have to look at all its operations and expenses in that exercise.”

The province received in December 2010 a final report from an expert panel on occupational health and safety led by Tony Dean. The report has 46 recommendations, including placing health and safety prevention under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour and appointing a provincial chief prevention officer.

“How the report plays out is important because among its recommendations are mandatory training which we embrace,” Coleman said. “We want to make sure that the training, with the new IHSA (Infrastructure Health and Safety Association) getting up and running, is provided by IHSA since that is why we primarily have an entity like that.”

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