Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why did you attend the AWCBC Learning Symposium?

I was asked to participate in the AWCBC Learning Symposium in St. John, NB a few weeks ago.  I accepted the offer in part because I believe strongly in the purpose of the event.  Every board has employee training programs for staff and orientation programs for directors.  These are essential to good governance and effective administration.  What the Learning Symposium does is provide cross-jurisdictional consistency and exposure to concepts, issues and challenges that go beyond the basics.

This year’s event was a celebration of the legacy Canadian workers’ compensation boards received from Sir William Meredith.  A hundred years ago, Meredith submitted a report to the Ontario government that set the course for workers’ compensation in Canada.  You can get a lot of background from , a website created by AWCBC. 

My first presentation was on the evolution of workers’ compensation in Canada.  My approach to the topic started as you might expect, with the situation Meredith faced.  I departed from the predictable decade by decade recount of developments that got us to where we are today.  Instead, I built on a theme developed by Professor Terence Ison, the preeminent legal minds in workers’ compensation law. (He literally wrote the book, Workers’ Compensation in Canada).   I was fortunate to hear his lecture at a similar AWCBC event nearly 20 years ago in Edmonton.  His approach was to take some of the key issues of the day and explore them from the perspective of Meredith some eighty years earlier.   

My approach was similar. What would Meredith say about scope of coverage, causation, level of benefits, mandatory reinstatement, funding and opening the system to competition?  Ison expressed his view based on his extensive knowledge and experience as a legal expert, chair of a workers’ compensation board, and author of dozens of reports, books and articles.  I was able to add my perspective based on developments in recent years since his presentation. 

My second presentation was with H. Allan Hunt and addressed the issue of Performance Measurement.  I first met Allan in the early 1990s as he and Peter Barth conducted an Administrative Inventory of workers’ compensation in British Columbia.  Over the years, he revisited WorkSafeBC and critically examined its progress, identified attention points, and made emphatic statements about action was needed.  His expertise was called upon in reviews in Australia and Ontario.  It was an honour to share the podium with him and present the case for effective performance measurement in workers’ compensation.  It was gratifying to hear his assessment of WorkSafeBC’s performance as being worthy of being counted among the best.

My final presentation was at the request of the organizers of the event.  They asked that I speak about the future.  They gave me the title “Rethinking the workers’ compensation model and the future”.  Again, Terence Ison provided a fabulous starting point.  His article,  “Reflections on Workers' Compensation and Occupational Health & Safety" [(2013) 26 C.J.A.L.P. 1-22 ]describes… “The decline of Workers’ Compensation…and reasons for that decline…”

I described the current business model and the key role experience rating plays.  Ison is not the only critic of the current system but he is among the very few knowledgeable, informed critics we ought to listen to.  I offered the audience my response to Ison’s criticisms and described ways forward that address his concerns while maintaining the essential features of the current model.  

I get requests to participate in many events; so, why did I choose to participate in this one?  I attended because learning matters.  Research shows that the lack of knowledge of case managers is a significant concern of injured workers and advocates.   I have had the benefit of years of mentorship, WorkSafeBC’s support in taking courses, and external practice in system evaluations.  I have been permitted to attend AWCBC and similar events and bring what I learned back to my colleagues.  The AWCBC Learning Symposium was an opportunity to give something back, to support the fabulous roster of presenters, and to present ideas that I truly believe can help shape the future and sustain Sir William Meredith’s legacy.   More importantly, I wanted to support a tradition of learning and sharing that sustains an effective system of prevention and compensation –a system consistent with the principles put forward by Sir William—for employers, workers, survivors and dependents.