Steelworkers Local 6500 president Rick Bertrand vows to continue to push for an inquiry into mining practices in Ontario in the wake of the premier's assertion that the province is not currently contemplating such an inquiry.
Thousands of postcards have been sent to Minister of Labour Linda Jeffrey, urging her to launch the inquiry.
Bertrand said he plans to continue with the postcard campaign, which was launched in April by the Steelworkers and Lougheed Funeral Homes managing director Gerry Lougheed Jr.
“I'm going to continue to focus on getting the cards signed and sending them out, and pushing for this mining inquiry,” he said, speaking to Northern Life June 23. “We're not going to stop here.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty made his statements on the subject in response to a reporter's question after the June 22 groundbreaking ceremony for Vale's Clean AER project.
“We're not contemplating at this time, any specific inquiry into one incident, or mining generally,” the premier said.
He did say that a coroner's inquest will examine the miners' deaths, and also pointed out that Ministry of Labour recently laid charges against Vale and one of its supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“I do think it's important we allow the charges to unfold and the inquest results to come forward,” the premier said.
When asked if an inquiry might be considered after the coroner's inquest takes place, McGuinty said he's “not going to speculate on that.”
Bertrand said while he's aware a coroner's inquest will take place, it doesn't take the place of the mining inquiry the union is requesting. Inquests only make recommendations, not legislative changes which are binding by law, he said.
“If we'd followed the (coroner's inquest) recommendations in the past, Jason and Jordan would still be here today.”
Besides, it might take five to seven years to receive recommendations from a coroner's inquest, Bertrand said.
He said there's also no need to wait for the outcome of charges laid against Vale under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or possible criminal charges under the Westray Bill.
Bertrand said he finds the premier's statements “disturbing.”
“We have families out there that are looking for changes, and we have a lot of workers that are in the industry that want to see changes,” he said.
“Like I said, it's been 30 years since we had an inquiry. It's just unfortunate that the premier would say something like that.”
Although the union called for the inquiry after releasing their report into the June 2011 deaths of Jordan Fram and Jason Chenier at Vale's Stobie Mine, it's not just about that incident, Bertrand said.
There's been several mining deaths in Ontario over the past year, including that of Stephen Perry, who died at Vale's Coleman Mine in January, and two miners in the Timmins area.
“This is not about one incident,” Bertrand said. “It's not about Jordan and Jason. This is about having an inquiry into the practices that are happening in underground mining across Ontario. That's why we need to continue to push this.”
McGuinty told reporters that any time there's a workplace death, “that is one death too many.” Families are entitled to expect their loved ones to return home safely at the end of their shifts, he said.
“From time to time, that doesn't happen,” McGuinty said. “We've made some real progress when it comes to workplace safety, but there's still more to be done.”
Posted by Heidi Ulrichsen