This is page numbers 1945 - 1984 of the Hansard for the 15th Assembly, 3rd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was program.

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Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1969

Sandy Lee Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am also happy to be supporting this motion and to have the opportunity to discuss this very important area today. Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to thank the Member for Great Slave who has worked very hard, and the staff who have helped him put this together. I have had many occasions to speak to him about our mutual concerns about some of the WCB files, as we would like to call them, that we have been working on for many, many years.

Mr. Speaker, I support this motion, knowing that this is a motion that is very comprehensive. It is giving a very wide responsibility and power to the Auditor General's office. We are asking her office to do quite a thorough review about various aspects of the operations of the WCB and,

as Mr. Braden stated, this was a part of the work that was planned to be done during the last Assembly that we did not pursue that there. This is an opportunity for us to revisit that.

The reason why I support this is because I do respect the fact that the Workers' Compensation Board is an independent body, but it is a public body and all public bodies that use public money and where the body asks the public such as the employers to pay assessments and make decisions about how that money is spent, I believe that body has to be accountable to somebody. I respect that if the elected leaders are not the ones that can do it in a direct way, if we cannot ask the board directly about the decisions that they are making, I think that a body like the federal Auditor General's office should be the one that should be able to ask the questions that people want to know. I think this is an opportunity for that to happen.

I'll be very interested in seeing what the results might be. I'm hoping that the results of this review will teach us and guide us as to where we go from here. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that in the last Assembly I had many WCB files and at the beginning I was an enthusiastic champion for all those people that look to the MLAs to help them. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, I've had grown men cry in my office about what they are going through and I've had grown women, women of ages twice as old as me, telling me about what they are going through. I'm old enough to know and I know enough to know that I've listened to these cases very carefully, I make judgments on that and I have fought for many of them. I have convened a meeting of the injured worker, the family, the doctors, the nurses, the WCB doctors, WCB president, and I would have a case meeting on that and I feel that this is great, I'm making something happen, we get an agreement and benefits get reinstated, and a month later it's gone. The poor worker has to go through the whole process all over again.

Mr. Speaker, I'm happy to do this, but we can't be doing this full time for all of the injured workers that cannot speak for themselves. I think that if an assessment is done, we should have an understanding and a reasonable expectation that the benefits they are receiving will last more than the time it takes for you to turn around. Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate that most cases that go to WCB get approved. Almost 90 percent of the cases get approved. It is about 10 percent of cases that do not get approved that seem to have to go through a chronic situation where no one else can help, and I'm telling you I'm not an expert, but these are very, very compelling cases.

Let me tell you about some of the cases we are talking about. I can tell you there are three men on my street, on one street of my riding, the first case is a man who is about 39 years old. He has worked all his adult working life in a mine. He is younger than me; I know him and I went to school with him. He has worked all his working life in a mine. He cannot work anymore. His knees don't work anymore and a lot of it has to do with that heavy duty work that he did, and his employer covered for these benefits and he paid into the funds. After years of going through WCB, he has told me that he can only be covered for one percent of his disabilities. He is 39 years old and he is not asking to be compensated or get a paycheque from WCB for the rest of his life. He is only asking to be retrained, so that he can get into a new line of work where he is not hindered by his disability, so he can provide for his family. He has lost his case and he has to hire a lawyer to go through the appeal.

Let me tell you about another guy who lives just 15 houses down the road. This guy is about 35 years old and this guy has worked all his working life too and has injured his back and cannot work anymore. He is asking for retraining, but because of his condition...You are okay if you break an arm or leg or something is very obvious, but if it is a chronic pain situation, you are not going to be compensated. This guy, at 35, is not asking for compensation for the rest of his life, he is just asking to be retrained.

I have another guy who lives on the other side of the street; same thing. He has been an electrician all his life; he has all sorts of injuries. He has lost his cases, he also has to retain a lawyer to do this.

Mr. Speaker, all these people feel that WCB is just not there for them. They might win some cases, they appeal them, they win some for a little bit and then they are put right back into the list of having to explain their situations all over again. They feel that eventually they are just to wear out of this process and many of them move down south because they cannot afford to live here if they cannot make a living.

I tell you that there are many people and many injured workers who have chosen to move because, for some reason lately, somebody got the understanding that we are going to be dealing with this motion. I have been getting calls from south of 60. I got a call from somebody in Manitoba who said I hear you are doing this motion and let me tell you my story. This guy is exactly the same case. He is 43 years old and injured and can't get training, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you that Chronic Pain Syndrome, chronic pain cases, are a big problem. In spite of the fact that the Supreme Court just ruled that chronic pain should be covered and I believe that WCB has made some adjustments, but still are not willing to go all the way. I think that they should be, to equalize their treatment.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to speak to the other side of this issue, which has to do with the employer's aspect. When I was fighting for employees, I was always made to understand that WCB had a boss, well they had the board to listen to, but their client that they had to answer to were the employers who paid the assessment rates. I can tell you, yesterday I got calls from at least four or five ratepayers of WCB who just got hit with another 26 percent increase in their assessment, and that is on top of another 20 something percent increase last year. In over two years their assessment rate has gone up 54 percent.

I was always told by previous WCB administration, but look, we have to manage our money well, we have to answer to the assessors and we have to answer to them about how we do our job. Well, talking to these people who are paying the assessment, they are telling that they have no say really on how all this is being done. Last year they appealed the assessment; nothing changed. They were hoping that everything would at least stay the same and not go up; this year they are hit with another 27 percent.

We allow WCB to be a monopoly. There is no other WCB you can go to if your service is not good. That is why this

has to regulated. This is why we, as a public body, have to make sure that there is some accountability there. The employees are asking what are we doing with our money. Who is causing all these increases? How can we have a say on how this money is spent?

I can tell you that a preliminary study that I have done at my office shows that overall, at least between 1994 and 2002, the number of claims have gone down, the number of rejected claims have gone up a little and their investments in some parts were not doing that well, but we don't know what happened because nobody really gets to see that, their administration has gone up all along.

These are the questions that I cannot ask. We have tried -- and Mr. Braden will be the first one to agree with me -- in the last Assembly we have had WCB people come up and answer questions, but I am convinced that having seen what I have, that this will be a fruitful and productive exercise for us to ask the Auditor General's office to look at how we are managing our WCB operations.

For all I know, everything might be fine; that's great, but maybe we could get some guidance and directions as to how they are doing and what we can do better as legislators and what we can do better to meet the needs of workers who are feeling left behind, and also address the employers who are wondering where their assessments are going and how and what determines what their rights are.

Mr. Speaker, I have been able to lay out some of the concerns that I have seen over the years and for all the reasons that I have stated. Hence, I will be supporting this motion and I would like to again thank the Member of Great Slave for doing this and I would urge the rest of the House to support this motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1971

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Ms. Lee. To the motion. The honourable Member for Tu Nedhe, Mr. Villeneuve.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1971

Robert Villeneuve Tu Nedhe

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise briefly to speak on this motion and I would like to thank the Member for raising this issue and commend his diligence on initiating a review of the WCB department and management regime.

Mr. Speaker, I am supportive of this motion due to the fact that I have received numerous enquiries and concerns about the WCB over the past year just with respect to the unfair treatment of some of the WCB clients and the total lack of proper accountability and mechanisms in the department.

I could mention many cases and circumstances that people are dealing with, as my friend from Range Lake has mentioned, but I think that we all get the picture of where she is coming from and what other Members that support the motion are alluding to.

I just want to talk about the attitude of the management regime of the WCB. To me it seems to be one of apathy and disregard for accountability and transparency. These values, Mr. Speaker, are what this government has entrenched in its vision of a shared responsibility and I think that should be carried right across the board in every government department, arm's length departments and everybody else.

I look forward to a comprehensive review of the WCB's activities, just to ensure that our northern workers can expect and will expect to receive fair and respectful treatment that they so duly deserve. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1971

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Villeneuve. To the motion. The honourable Member for Nahendeh, Mr. Menicoche.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1971

Kevin A. Menicoche Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise, too, in support of this motion. Just a few thoughts with respect to WCB claimants in my riding where there are lots of small communities, Mr. Speaker, and in fact I have six. The inquiries that I did get are that in our smaller communities like Nahanni Butte and Trout Lake, there is a quiet acquiescence to when they are dealing with WCB.

They are sitting in their small communities and getting notices in the mail that they are cut off and they can't really do too much. I pride some of the examples that my colleagues have brought out. In the larger centres they are able to go see their MLAs, go see doctors for second opinions, have meetings, but in the smaller communities they just cannot do that, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, believe that WCB should benefit all, despite our locations. That is something that really has to be looked at and here is an opportunity to do that. That is why I am for this motion. Just looking at some of the documentation that is already before me, we have the total number of claims climbing over the past three or four years, but the total of accepted claims remains the same. It almost seems that there is a hidden policy to keep the amount of claims the same every year, no matter what happens to the workers. There are fathers and mothers and children that come from our injured workers. We have an unwritten contract to take of care them through the WCB.

Just looking at their revenue statements, I have noticed, as well, the rates for the small businesses and businesses are increasing. If you look at the revenue statements, you have investment revenue taking a sharp decline because they have poor managers for their investment monies, they have to take it off the backs of the businesses as well. What is really going on here?

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1971

Some Hon. Members

Shame! Shame!

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1971

Kevin A. Menicoche Nahendeh

I am really happy that we can have a really good look at this and have the Auditor General have a really good look at how we are running our Workers' Compensation Board, Mr. Speaker.

Above all, this just goes back to that one person; in this case a person from Trout Lake. He cannot earn income and he is cut off and yet, despite his pleas, he has to somehow make income and he has nowhere to turn and he can't make any income, Mr. Speaker.

I am very supportive of this motion and I would like to see a total in-depth review and that is what this motion calls for, and I am very much in support it. Mahsi cho.

---Applause

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Menicoche. To the motion. The honourable Member for Yellowknife Centre, Mr. Hawkins.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

Robert Hawkins Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I don't really have a lot to say because all of my colleagues have said quite a bit already. Keeping that in mind, I have not had a lot of personal calls from injured workers. I wish to assure everyone that my phone is on the hook.

I will emphasize, Mr. Speaker, I have had phone calls from the employer's side. The employer's side is they are very concerned with the way the rates are and how they keep climbing up. One year it is 26 percent, the next year it's even more, and who knows where it is going to be the next year.

Mr. Speaker, I am in support of this and I will say that, being in significant favour of an audit. I believe the process is what it is and give it a chance and WCB should not be afraid of an audit and I think no department should be afraid of an audit and we should go forward and allow this motion to proceed to do a healthy check. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Hawkins. To the motion. The honourable Member for North Slave, Mr. Zoe.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

March 10th, 2005

Page 1972

Henry Zoe North Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I, too, will be in support of this motion. I did experience calls from my constituents pertaining to WCB. It is very difficult, Mr. Speaker, just to try to get information, especially for MLAs to try to get information on a specific client. I had an opportunity -- I even tried to go through the Minister's office, Mr. Speaker -- to try to get details as to where this client was or how he was being treated.

I just needed general information. I listen to both sides, this is the WCB's rationale and the client and what he has to say, and then I determine how I should deal with this as an issue. I even had to get written permission from the client just to get information, documents from WCB, and it took ages. Little things like that shouldn't be happening.

I am glad the Member for Great Slave has put this motion forward, so that the Auditor General, through an operational audit, can come up with recommendations on how to streamline all these little things that clients are encountering. Again, also with employers; they are paying enormous rates, as the Member for Range Lake has indicated. I am looking forward to the Auditor General's report on this issue. Thank you.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Zoe. To the motion. The honourable Member for Sahtu, Mr. Yakeleya.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

Norman Yakeleya Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I also will be supporting this motion and think that, Mr. Speaker, this is very healthy for this government to re-evaluate the WCB in terms of the issues that the Auditor General may find, especially for the small communities that are primarily Slavey speaking -- the aboriginal language is the first language in terms of them getting some services -- and see what they can do in terms of strengthening the governance of WCB or the way it manages claims and how it is perceived in the public.

WCB doesn't have to be seen as a place to fear, but somewhere that they will take care of you. That is what we are here for in this government.

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

Some Hon. Members

Hear! Hear!

Motion 31-15(3): Performance Audit Of The Workers' Compensation Board
Item 15: Motions

Page 1972

Norman Yakeleya Sahtu

That is our vision; that is our leadership. I believe that the Minister was showing some good leadership in that area, in terms of re-looking at the WCB with the Auditor General, with us, with our people. These people work because they love to work and when they get hurt, surely, Mr. Speaker, they need to be taken care of by us as a government. That is our job, so I think this motion is timely and I fully support this motion. Thank you.