By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
Last week the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills held a committee hearing to consider one my Private Member’s Bills—Bill 118, the Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act. The Bill passed with an amendment and I expect it to be called for third reading within the next few weeks.
This will be the first time in my career that one of my Private Member’s Bills has made it through to third reading. That certainly isn’t to say none of my Private Member’s Bills brought about any changes. In a number of cases the government of the day has picked up an idea from one of my Bills and made the same changes either in policy or in law.
For example, in 2004 I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to create a deposit return system for liquor bottles, something the government implemented in 2007. In 2005 and again in 2007 I introduced a Bill establishing producer responsibility for waste, something the government of the day started to do and our government is fully implementing. And after I introduced a Bill about creating paved shoulders on highways for cyclists, the government adopted a policy to increase paved shoulders.
I am often asked where I get the ideas for my Bills. All of the Bills I have introduced have come from things I have seen or heard in the riding. Muskoka Roastery told me about their challenges getting their compostable coffee pods accepted in municipal green bin programs, so I introduced the Reducing Waste One Pod at a Time Act. Now our government is working to increase acceptance of compostable packaging like coffee pods in organics collection programs.
Earlier this month I introduced another Private Member’s Bill to require all expanded or extruded polystyrene used as floatation for docks and other platforms to be fully encapsulated. This idea came from the quantity of broken up foam I have seen on the shores of Georgian Bay and our lakes all around Parry Sound-Muskoka. I hope this becomes law but even if it doesn’t, I plan to use my Private Member’s Bill to raise awareness of the harm that is caused by the breakdown of these pieces of unencapsulated foam in our waterways.
Let’s go back to Bill 118. A couple of years ago a local snow removal contractor in Bracebridge told me they were having difficulty getting liability insurance. As I asked around I heard that other snow removal contractors were facing huge increases in the cost of insurance and they felt it was because of frivolous slip and fall lawsuits.
I did some research and learned that someone who falls on a municipally or provincially maintained road or sidewalk has 10 days to notify the municipality or the province of their fall if they wish to sue. But if they fall anywhere else, on private property or even public property like a school yard for example, they have two years to notify the property owner or the business operating on the property. And I heard that many lawsuits are launched right at the end of that two-year window, making it difficult for snow removal contractors and their clients to defend against the claim when they may not have ever known that someone had fallen.
Once I introduced the Bill I started to hear from snow removal contractors from across the province. I heard from large companies and from one-person operations including one operator in Huntsville who has left the business because he wasn’t able to get insurance this winter. At committee we heard from many operators with the same story—increasing liability insurance premiums and deductibles or just unable to get insurance at all. We heard from a farmer who does snow removal in the winter to supplement their income. Their liability insurance had gone from $15,000 per year a few years ago to $112,000 a year now. They are considering whether it is worth it to stay in the business.
My Bill originally proposed the same length of window as exists for people who fall on municipal roads and sidewalks however I heard that 10 days would be too short for some people to find out who owned the property or establish where to send the notice. In order to strike a balance between the rights of an injured individual and the needs of the property owner, tenant and their snow removal company to know about an incident so they can preserve evidence, I proposed an amendment at committee that would give injured parties 60 days to notify the property owner, the tenant, or the snow removal company.
With this amendment my Bill passed committee unanimously. And since snow removal is essential in Ontario, I very much hope it will pass third reading this fall.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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