Union Scorns McGuinty’s WSIB Choice

Dalton McGuinty

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to nominate former Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer to head the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) has been met with some opposition.

Witmer stepped down from her position as MPP upon receiving the premier’s endorsement, strengthening the Liberals’ minority government by removing a key member of an opposing party.

That has left some calling it a canny political move, but one that will greatly impact worker safety.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has come out swinging, calling the premier’s decision calculated and saying it amounts to a slap in the face for injured workers.

OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said the move was made to help McGuinty secure a majority government by weakening the opposition. Witmer’s seat will remain vacant until a byelection can be held over the next six months, leaving the balance of power at 52 seats for the Grits versus 53 for the Tories and New Democrats.

Thomas said Witmer has a history of undercutting workers to help companies improve their bottom lines, the most notable examples of which came when she served as Minister of Labour under the Conservative Mike Harris government.

“When she was Labour Minister in the mid-90s, Witmer made changes to the WSIB that hurt workers and benefitted employers,” he said. “She privatized vocational assistance, reduced benefits and put measures in place that forced injured workers to return to the workplace before they had recovered.”

Thomas went on to say the move was an indication that the Liberal government is shifting further to the right side of the political spectrum.

“The Liberals opposed the changes to the WSIB under the Harris Conservatives, and 15 years later appoint the architect of those same changes to head the WSIB,” he said. “It’s clear to me that this is nothing more than a political power play to gain their majority, and they have thrown their ideals, beliefs and their morals in the trash. It’s sad to watch, and I fear it will be injured workers who will pay the ultimate price for gamesmanship at Queen’s Park.”

One of Witmer’s key tasks in heading the WSIB will be to reduce the board’s current liability, which currently sits north of $12 million. In 2010, the province commissioned a report to find ways of tackling the board’s unfunded liability.

The board is now working to operate in a more business-like manner.

McGuinty said the choice to nominate Witmer was a logical one, saying in a statement that she is “extremely qualified” following her time as Labour Minister and adding that, with a five-year term as full-time chair of the WSIB, “Witmer will bring stability and leadership to that process.”

The Standing Committee on Government Agencies has yet to review the nomination.

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