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Oct. 16, 2012, Toronto – Don’t you wish it were that easy? This house fire isn’t going so well right now; the water flowing though the municipal grid is experiencing unusual levels of friction, and the choice of location of the ventilation opening on the roof does not appear to be acceptable to the volumes of hot gases in the structure. So, as incident commander, I’m going to ask the Lieutenant Fire Governor to prorogue this fire until such time as another incident commander can be selected.

October 16, 2012
By Peter Sells

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Oct. 16, 2012, Toronto – Don’t you wish it were that easy? This house fire isn’t going so well right now; the water flowing though the municipal grid is experiencing unusual levels of friction, and the choice of location of the ventilation opening on the roof does not appear to be acceptable to the volumes of hot gases in the structure. So, as incident commander, I’m going to ask the Lieutenant Fire Governor to prorogue this fire until such time as another incident commander can be selected.

We don’t have that luxury. Cops don’t have that luxury. Medics, corrections officers, lifeguards, nurses, teachers, health inspectors . . . no public-sector workers have the ability to simply throw their hands up and say, “Whoa, this is getting a little too hot to handle – I’m outa here.”

The news of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s surprise resignation is going to dominate the Canadian airwaves this week, and remain a top story through the winter. For the benefit readers outside Ontario, the relationship between firefighters and the Liberal government under McGuinty over the past nine years has been cordial, professional and mutually beneficial. Liberal candidates have enjoyed the support and efforts of their firefighters’ locals. The government expanded its presumptive occupational disease coverage legislation to cover a wider range of occupational diseases, and to cover volunteers, part-time firefighters and fire inspectors. The Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association even maintained an office at Queen’s Park. This relationship could go by the wayside if McGuinty’s resignation ultimately results in a change of government.

Realistically, a leadership convention will not take place until perhaps February. Until a new premier is chosen, the legislature is out of session, all because the government’s stated goal of a public-sector wage freeze was beginning to look like the trigger for an election.

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Faced with a choice between negotiating a difficult deal with the Progressive Conservatives to support the Liberal agenda or throwing in the towel, McGuinty chose the nearest fire exit. The PCs, for their part, have been salivating for a chance to bring the minority Liberal government down. What about the taxpayers footing the bill for all of these dedicated representatives? We are paying for a government that has been cut short, and potentially a spring election. What about the workers who are the foot soldiers implementing the grand dreams of the visionaries? If this prorogation is an end-run around due process, then what confidence do we have in contracts, security of pension surpluses, or any other provisions that were negotiated in good faith and are currently assumed to be safe?

Teachers in Ontario also have had, until recently, an excellent working relationship with the McGuinty Liberals. Despite that history of mutual support and respect, the government negotiated wage freezes and some hard concessions with most of the teachers’ provincial associations over the summer. Associations that did not agree to changes ultimately had them imposed by legislation. Are firefighters different than teachers, and therefore immune to any austerity measures coming down the road?

If this surprise exit didn’t have such serious implications it would be just like the whiny lumberjack on the Snickers commercial. “Uhhhh, I’m just not feeling it today. What, is there a worldwide shortage of gazebos?” Great commercial. What’s not funny is our province-wide shortage of leadership.

Retired District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor. He sits on the advisory council of the Institution of Fire Engineers, Canada branch. Peter is president of NivoNuvo Consulting, Inc, specializing in fire-service management. Contact him at peter.nivonuvo@gmail.com.


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