Nova Scotia Premier looks to expand cancer coverage for firefighters

Province 'will get it done faster than any previous government'

Nova Scotia Premier looks to expand cancer coverage for firefighters

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has said his government recognizes the urgency around extending compensation coverage for firefighters to many other types of cancers. He vowed this problem will be addressed soon.

"We will get it done and we will get it done faster than any previous government," Houston said.

And while he wouldn't say whether retroactive accommodations would be made, he did say that "these are all the types of things we'll have to look at."

"We want to be fair and we want to be respectful of those that get on the front lines and that's what we'll do. These are all the types of questions we are working through. But we said we'd provide the coverage and we will provide the coverage," said Houston.

Since the presumptive cancer coverage was first brought into force in 2003, the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia has handled 129 claims. Among them, 97 have had benefits paid.

The majority of firefighters are fearing for their lives while at work, according to a report out of the University of Manitoba released in January.

Lagging behind

Nova Scotia is lagging behind compared with other Canadian provinces when it comes to cancer compensation coverage for firefighters.

In 2019, the previous Liberal Nova Scotia government said in early 2019 that there was a plan to expand the list of covered cancers to 17. But this has not happened until today.

"I'm very puzzled by the delay," Will Brooks, a retired firefighter, said in a recent interview, according to a CBC report. "Nova Scotia actually had some of the very first legislation in this area but it has just remained dormant.”

Currently, Nova Scotia only extends presumptive coverage if a firefighter has brain, bladder, colon or kidney cancer, leukemia or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The province is still deliberating whether breast, ovarian and cervical cancers, along with nine others, should be added to the list, according to a report from CBC.

Meanwhile, many provinces now cover more than a dozen types of cancer. For instance, Manitoba proposed last month to add thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer and penile cancer to its list of presumptive cancers covered for firefighters. Manitoba had previously covered 14 other cancers, including brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer and multiple myeloma.

In September, Yukon also announced plans to introduce a new Workers’ Safety and Compensation Act that will cover a broad array of presumptive cancers – including thyroid and pancreatic cancer – for full- and part-time and volunteer firefighters.

In 2016, Newfoundland and Labrador advanced an amendment to the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act and regulations to provide presumptive cancer coverage for the province’s career and volunteer firefighters.

Cancer is a chronic disease that needs to be recognized in a healthy workplace strategy and very principled human resource management,” according to Allan Smofsky, managing director of Smofsky Strategic Planning in Oakville, Ont.