The fate of WCB buffeted by political winds


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A new poll conducted by The Western Standard shows the NDP taking a commanding lead in Alberta politics. What might this mean for workers and employers if the winds of change rekindle a Notley government?

Alert readers will recall that Alberta’s Conservative dynasty hadn’t touched OHS laws in 40 years, nor Workers Compensation for 15. But in 2016, a newly installed New Democrat Party wasted no time in enacting dramatic changes to worker entitlements and employer obligations. Pegged at $94M/yr, the annual cost of expanded WCB benefits and heightened OHS requirements would be foisted on Alberta employers. And thus marked the origins of Bill 30 — the Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans. Upon passage into law, the balance of power between worker and employer shifted dramatically in the direction of labour.

Easy to forget, however, that it’s much simpler for politicians to draft new laws than for civil servants to implement them. Since its passage in early 2018, Bill 30 has presented a litany of colossal administrative and financial challenges to WCB leadership, i.e.; grappling with amendments to complex entitlement policies, revising financial models, reconfiguring IT systems, training WCB’s civil servants and external contractors/partners, creating new departments (FPO), consulting with AB workers and employers on policy changes, editing internal/external documents to reflect changes, ad nauseum. The result has been a painfully arduous and expensive learning curve that’s pushed WCB and its employees to the absolute limit. And some three years later, the lingering aftershocks can still be felt.

COVID’s appearance on the scene has made a bad situation all the worse. Adjudicators and case managers are working overtime trying to make complicated entitlement decisions at warp speed, and most are working from home without the ready support of supervisors and coworkers. Complex psychological claims that consume inordinate amounts of a case worker’s time and energy have become the norm, and hence, decisions that impact heavily on people’s lives and/or businesses aren’t always given proper attention. Otherwise stated, balls are being dropped.

Now imagine, on top of the pandemic and the ongoing flux of the Bill 30 transition, the unmitigated turmoil if legislators were to rollback much of Bill 30’s changes. But in fact, there’s no need to ponder hypotheticals, because another policy reversal is right around the corner. When Bill 47 (the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act) takes effect in late 2021, the Board will undertake the Sisyphean task of climbing yet another painfully arduous and discombobulating learning curve. The adverse impacts on service quality to workers and employers are certain to be profound.

The swinging pendulum of polarized politics puts tremendous strain on the administrative apparatus of any government. Case in point, by the time a lumbering bureaucracy can react to radical course corrections, the lagging transitional period often overlaps with different governments. And so, just when the civil service successfully completes a 180-degree turn, new orders are received to reverse course. The net effect of the whipsawing in policy-making is perpetual disruption, massive financial waste and acute inefficiency. And after WCB eventually adapts to Bill 47, what then? Will the Kenney government still be in power? Or will a Notley government nix Bill 47 and reinstate Bill 30? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: both workers and employers should buckle up because heavy seas lie ahead.

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About Me

Ben Barfett, Principal and Consultant, has spent his life in the construction sector, specifically heavy civil, enviro, commercial, and energy. Having held senior roles in business development, technical advisory, and regional management, he earned his stripes in the field and in head office. Conscious of the interplay between commercial, legal, and execution aspects of construction, his business insights are informed by expertise in WCB policy and enhanced with disability-specific training.

Blue Collar Consulting

Blue Collar Consulting is a WCB and disability management firm. The company specializes in rapid and affordable disability solutions that advance current claims, contain the cost of future claims, and get injured workers back on their feet.