By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 29, 2018
Some readers may have noticed there’s been some criticism of the policies of the Ford government in this space in recent months, and so it’s fair to acknowledge when the province’s new administration is doing something very right, which it is with new legislation affecting double-hatters.
For those unaware, double-hatters are professional, full-time firefighters who also serve with departments other than the ones where they are centrally employed. This can mean serving part-time with another department, or, in the case of small communities such as the townships of Haliburton County, being a member of a volunteer department.
For the past couple of decades, the practice of double-hatting has been, well, under fire by the firefighters’ union, which, seeking to unionize part-time positions, has disciplined double-hatters with fines and suspensions. The union’s position has involved concern over responsibilities surrounding liability.
This has meant that many volunteer fire departments, including those of the townships of the county, have lost members over the years; members who were full-time firefighters in larger centres who left local departments for fear of repercussions from the union. Others have continued on, trying to fly under the radar.
The legislative changes – introduced a couple of weeks ago as part of the government’s Bill 57, and which should be passed within the next couple of weeks – mean full-time firefighters will be able to volunteer in their communities without fear of reprisal.
It’s difficult to understate how important this is for small, rural communities, which uniformly rely on volunteer departments. As is typical in the county, fire departments may have one or two full-time employees – typically a chief and perhaps a training officer as well – but the bulk of members are volunteers. The changes mean that some double-hatters who have left in the past may return. It means young people from the community who go on to become professional firefighters elsewhere can still volunteer in their hometowns. Not only does this help to keep the population of volunteer departments up, but those departments benefit from the knowledge and technical skill of professionally trained firefighters.
It’s clear that Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Labour Minister Laurie Scott has been directly involved in this coming to fruition, and she should be acknowledged and thanked for it. In nearly 15 years as an Opposition MPP, Scott advocated for changes for double-hatters, and it’s obvious she’s been able to use her clout in cabinet to help make those changes happen, and in short order. Scott was made an honorary fire chief by the Association of Ontario Chief at a convention earlier this month.
This is a big win for small communities in Ontario.