MPPs: Firefighters’ double-hatter stance creates rural threat

For a long time, Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott has fought a lonely battle to protect pro­fes­sional firefighters who volun­teer time with volunteer fire bri­gades. Now he has a neighbouring ally in his fight to protect those volunteers.
Recent union threats facing volunteer firefighters have led another Progressive Conserva­tive MPP to bring the fight to the legislature after seven professional firefighters were forc­ed to resign recently from the Orangeville Fire Department.
Known as double-hatters, the firefighters serve as volun­teers in their commu­nities while working for full-time city fire departments. In many cases, they have been forced to quit their volunteer positions or risk losing their jobs.
Sylvia Jones, the newly elected MPP for Dufferin-Caledon, raised the issue in the new session of the Ontario legislature.
Jones reminded the Min­ister of Community Safety Rick Bartolucci of the situation now playing out in Orange­ville, where seven firefighters resign­ed their volunteer posts in a single week.
It is a familiar problem for Arnott, who has been speaking out in support of double-hatter firefighters for the past five years. Arnott joined Jones in pres­sing the minister to re­spond.
Jones said in the legislature, “My question is for the Min­ister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. In my riding of Dufferin-Caledon, the Orangeville Fire Department has seen the resignation of seven firefighters in one week. The firefighters resigned be­cause they received letters indi­cating that they were violating the union’s constitution by being employed full-time in one department and acting as a volunteer with another.
“As you are no doubt aware, this is not a new issue. The Honourable George Adams issued a report and recommen­dations on how to balance the use of double-hatter fire­fight­ers,” she said.
Jones added, “Given that this issue impacts many smaller communities across Ontario that rely on volunteers, is your government prepared to imple­ment the Adams report recom­mendations to ensure that smal­ler fire departments that rely on volunteers will be able to use and continue to use double-hatters?
Bartolucci replied the gov­ernment has made up its mind and will not interfere with the union. He said, “First of all, I want to congratulate the mem­ber on her election and I want to say that she represents a view in her constituency.
“I want to also inform her that our government has not chang­ed its position and we do not believe that legislation or interference in the collective bar­gaining process is the solu­tion to this issue.”
That response was not good enough for Arnott.
He stated in a second ques­tion, “For the last five years, I’ve been raising this issue in the legislature to express sup­port for two-hatter firefighters. The minister now has two choices to protect the public interest: He must either make the fire service grant a per­ma­nent, ongoing program to sup­port small and rural commu­nities with their firefighter training needs, or he must support legislation to protect two-hatter firefighters from these union threats.
“Which option will the minister choose?” Arnott ask­ed.
Bartolucci, referring to Arnott’s constant work on that issue, as well as many others for which he has successfully brought private members bills to the legislature, replied, “Being sort of a master of introducing private members’ bills, I would suggest that the member is simply doing his job in advocacy for his constitu­ents, and I encourage him to continue to do that.”
But, he added, there will be no change to protect volunteer fire departments.
“We’re not deviating from our position with regard to this,” Bartolucci said. “We understand and we believe that firefighters, fire chiefs, and muni­cipalities must work to­gether to resolve this issue. We are confident that co-operative dialogue amongst all of the partners will lead to a very, very positive solution.
Arnott said later, “The Min­ister really has only two op­tions to protect the public in­terest. He can either give small municipalities the substantial fund­ing they need to train and hire full-time firefighters, or he can defend volunteer fire-fight­ers’ right to assist their own communities.  It’s as simple as that.”
Jones and Arnott cited the Adams report, which was the product of an effort to mediate a solution to the problem. Jus­tice George Adams recom­mend­ed that a regulation be pass­ed to protect at least some double-hatters, as the majority of provinces across Canada have already done.
“The minister’s response was unsatisfactory,” said Arn­ott. “By supporting the status quo, the minister is rejecting the Adams report and, most im­portantly, is showing his un­willingness to act on behalf of small and rural municipalities.”
On behalf of the volunteer Firefighters Association of On­tario (FFAO), Arnott is pushing for a meeting with the minister.
“This past Sunday morning in Elmira, I met with the ex­ecutive of the FFAO.  They are very concerned about the loss of these experienced firefight­ers in Orangeville, which represents a potential threat to public safety,” said Arnott. “That’s why I’m insisting the minister meet with us soon.”