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IAFF Legislative Issues Debated in House of Commons

October 10, 2012 -- The IAFF’s top Canadian legislative priorities were front and centre on October 4 when private member’s motion M-388 was debated in the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Introduced in June 2012 by Liberal MP Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Sask.), M-388 calls on the federal government to establish a national Public Safety Officer Compensation (PSOC) benefit, to ensure fire fighters have priority access to vaccines and antivirals during an influenza pandemic and to amend the National Building Code of Canada to recognize fire fighter safety.

The debate marked the first time Canada’s three main political parties have spoken directly to M-388 in the House of Commons, and helps Goodale and the IAFF build political support for the motion in advance of a House of Commons vote in November. Liberals and New Democratic Party (NDP) MPs will be voting in favour of M-388, but more votes will be needed in order for the motion to pass.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Goodale urged his colleagues from all parties to support M-388. “It is appropriate and proper for the Parliament of Canada to examine ways in which the Government of Canada can respond constructively to the three simple ideas that Canadian firefighters have been advancing for years to better promote their safety,” he said.

“These measures have huge support among firefighters and most Canadians across the country. They are practical, modest, fair and reasonable. They are consistent with international standards. They are important gestures of respect from the Parliament of Canada to the firefighters of Canada.”

NDP MP and long-time IAFF ally Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.) pledged his party’s support for the motion. Citing his own motion on the PSOC benefit which was adopted in the House of Commons in 2005, Julian said there is a moral obligation for all MPs including Conservatives to act on the issue and to vote in favour of M-388.

“We believe it is a duty and a promise that must be kept. That is why every New Democrat will stand in support of this motion with the hope that this motion will pass.”

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton-Canso, N.S.) also spoke in support of M-388. “This is absolutely an important motion. For the last number of years, the International Association of Fire Fighters has done an exemplary job of putting its views and issues before parliamentarians,” he said. “This motion is an opportunity to recognize that their efforts over these past years have not gone unnoticed, because they have been consistent in their messaging, obviously because it means so much to so many.”

While Conservative MP Candice Bergen said the Canadian Government would not support M-388, the governing party’s members are free to support the motion individually if they choose, which means it could still be adopted. The IAFF is working with Goodale and with Canadian affiliates to solicit targeted support for M-388. The IAFF will use existing expressions of support for the three issues obtained through annual Canadian Legislative Conference to try to secure enough votes.

The IAFF is lobbying the Canadian government to establish a PSOC benefit in the amount of $300,000 in order to ensure the financial security of the family of a fire fighter who is killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Currently, there is no federal compensation for line of duty deaths and most Canadian affiliates have been unable to negotiate meaningful line of duty death benefits at the local level.

The IAFF asserts that Canadian fire fighters should be tiered the same as paramedics with regard to access to vaccines during an influenza pandemic in recognition of fire fighters’ medical roles and the need to protect the nation’s emergency services infrastructure during a moderate or severe pandemic. During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, fire fighters were included in the same tier as the general public in a federal government guideline on vaccination priority.

The IAFF is also asking the Canadian Government to make fire fighter safety a core objective of the National Building Code. Currently, builders and designers don’t have to take fire fighter safety into account because the code views them the same as other building occupants. It also means fire fighter safety can’t be practicably used as the basis of a building code change request.

The second hour of Commons debate on M-388 is tentatively scheduled for November 19, with a vote taking place that evening or in the days afterward. While non-binding, M-388 if adopted would send a clear message that a majority of MPs representing a majority of Canadians believe the federal government should act on the IAFF’s key Canadian legislative issues.

Just a few hours before M-388 was debated in the House of Commons, the IAFF was testifying before the federal Standing Committee on Health about the need to ensure fire fighters are included in the top tier for vaccination in the event of an influenza pandemic.

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