Get stuffed 

Up in smoke

Health groups are fuming over the Liberals? decision to delay smoking legislation

With just weeks to go before the Workers? Compensation Board?s amended smoking regulations were to go into effect on Sept. 10, the Liberal government has asked the WCB to suspend implementation until they can address the concerns of restaurant and bar owners.

A committee of MLAs has been given until Oct. 31 to review the legislation, and review the following:

? The viability of moving to a performance-based regulation;

? Implementation concerns, including policies and procedures and the impact of capital costs on small businesses;

? Competing or overlapping regulations that affect implementation.

If you?re not already familiar with the history or the controversy behind the smoking ban, the Workers? Compensation Board first introduced a comprehensive set of laws and regulations in April of 1998 that banned smoking from most work places in the province. A partial exemption, or a lower standard of protection, was allowed the hospitality industry, long term care and provincial correctional facilities, until January of 2000.

The hospitality industry wasn?t included when public hearings on the smoking regulations were held, but was added after the hearings closed. A coalition of bar and restaurant owners contested the new regulations, and on March 22 last year the Supreme Court overturned the "sunset clause," effectively restoring the partial exemptions that existed prior to Jan. 1.

The WCB said it would hold the necessary open house meetings and reintroduce the legislation at the earliest opportunity. Those hearings have since taken place.

In the meantime, the hospitality industry claimed to have lost over $100 million in revenues as a result of the legislation. Joy MacPhail, the Labour Minister under the previous NDP government, felt that this claim was at least partially valid, and ordered the WCB to perform an economic impact study before they even thought of bringing the legislation back.

As a result it was a year before the WCB introduced the amendments, which allowed smoking indoors provided that it was confined to a separately ventilated room where serving staff weren?t allowed to go.

Some bars and restaurants made the necessary arrangements, shelling out for design and construction costs to get into compliance. Others, however, were unable or unwilling to perform the necessary renovation in the time given.

In the spring, the Coalition of Hospitality Organizations formally asked the newly-elected Liberal government for an extension, but were told not to get their hopes up.

On Aug. 22, Minister of Skills Development and Labour Graham Bruce finally granted their wish, writing a letter to the WCB to ask them to hold off until April 30 of next year. It is unlikely that the WCB will go ahead with the regulations without the support of the government.

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