Inside Queen's Park: Raising the alarm on stalled safety bills

It would be hard to imagine our world today without legislation ensuring our safety.Smoke detectors are standard items now required by law, as are things such as seatbelts and approved booster seats for children.

So the question lingers: why would a government that can rush through legislation banning pit bulls and barring drivers from talking on their cellphones not be interested in adopting other legislation that will save lives?

There were two bills in the last legislative session that addressed safety. One, bill 143, was introduced by PC agriculture and food critic Ernie Hardeman and subtitled the Hawkins Gignac act (carbon monoxide detectors).

Its name refers to the deaths of OPP Const. Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard, and their two children, Cassandra and Jordan, of carbon monoxide poisoning in Woodstock, Ont., two years ago.

While it has passed second reading, it’s not a priority for the government and unless it is brought forward into the new session, it will wither and die.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death around the world. The tragedy is that many can be prevented with a simple carbon monoxide detector.

The legislation merely seeks to require that homes, apartments, and workplaces be fitted with a functioning detector. It’s hardly expensive and, if it saves but one life, it will have been worth it.

A related but separate piece of legislation, brought forward last year by Liberal MPP Wayne Arthurs, would require all new provincial and municipal public buildings to have visual fire-alarm systems.

Why? Because deaf people can’t hear ringing fire alarms, and with our aging population, we’re going to have a growing segment of our community with difficulty hearing.

About 25 per cent of adult Canadians report having some hearing loss, although only about 10 per cent identify themselves as deaf or hard of hearing. In 2030, Canadians 65 years and older will represent 25 per cent of the population, nearly double the current 13 per cent identified by Statistics Canada.

At the same time, research suggests more than 80 per cent of people over 85 have hearing loss. I’m sorry, what did you just say? That’s my point exactly. It’s going to catch up with you and me both sooner or later.

For Arthurs, it’s the second attempt at bringing the bill forward. But perhaps it’s understandable that Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government hasn’t made these bills a priority. It’s got a lot on its plate.
Between a ballooning deficit and the introduction of the harmonized sales tax on July 1, there are a lot of fires that need tending.

But extending fire protection to the deaf and hearing challenged and making carbon monoxide alarms mandatory are hardly going to break the fragile budget.
It’s just the right thing to do.

Ian Harvey has been a journalist for 32 years writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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