Brief Guide to the History of B.C. Compensation System (so far)

The history of the Act and the compensation Board in British Columbia has a long and contentious history. Some important highlights are:

  • Meredith Report – The basic principles for workers’ compensation in Canada were laid down by Sir Justice Meredith in his report to the Ontario government on October 31, 1913.   The principles are often summarized as the “Meredith Principles” or referred to as the “Historic Compromise”. 
  • The Meredith principles are well summarized in a presentation by Jim Sayre, a former WCB advocate at CLAS (Community Legal Assistance Society). See Jim Sayre’s 2013 Notes “Chief Justice Meredith’s Legacy”.  
  • Pineo Report – In 1917, Mr. Justice Pineo adapted the Meredith principles to the B.C. context and added the recommendation that in B.C. Workers’ Compensation Board be given the responsibility for regulating safety in the workplace.   On January 1, 1917, the first B.C. Worker’s Compensation Act came into effect, creating the Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C. 
  • The Meredith and Pineo Reports established the foundations of the WCB system, often referred to as the Historic Compromise. The Historic Compromise required that all employers adequately and collectively fund the compensation system, including an independent WCB and appeal system, in exchange for being shielded from legal actions by injured workers.  It also required that workers give up their legal rights to sue negligent employers in exchange for a no-fault compensation system, administered independent of government and the court system.  Given the nature of this Compromise, the WCB arena has been strewn with conflict over the years, between defining and meeting the needs of injured workers and balancing these costs with the interests of employers who pay for the system.
  • In 2017, for its 100-year centennial, WCB posted highlights of the years 1917-2017 on its website, broken down into quarter centuries.  For example, it notes the events of 1932 when 17 logging companies came close to shutting down the entire WCB system with a Supreme Court injunction to temporarily stop WCB from levying their assessments. See The Board has also produced four short videos highlighting key WCB events in each of quarter century. 
  • Before 2002, there were the a number of Royal Commissions into the operations of WCB, given ongoing conflict between employers and workers, and their advocates.  All of the Royal Commission reports are available on the Board’s website and include: 
    • 1941 – the first Sloan commission by Chief Justice of the BCCA, Justice Sloan.
    • 1952 – the second Sloan commission 
    • 1962 – the third Royal Commission by Chief Justice DesBrisay of the BCCA
    • 1996 – the fourth Royal Commission by Judge Singh Gill 

In 2001, the newly elected B.C. Liberal government appointed an employer-side lawyer, Alan Winter, to review the compensation system.  His  Core Services Review of the Workers’ Compensation Board (also known as the “the Winter Report”) formed the basis for Bill 49 and 63, for the devastating legislative changes to the Act which transformed the Board and the appeal system, and reduced compensation benefits for injured workers. 

Among other changes, this legislation transformed the Board’s governance structure so that workers, as stakeholders, no longer had significant representation. (The fractious history of Board governance through the 1990’s and culminating in the 2002 changes is summarized in Appendix 22 in the New Directions report – see below).

In 2009, the B.C. Federation of Labour commissioned a report by 3 worker-side lawyers – Stan Guenther, Janet Patterson and Sarah O’Leary which called out these changes for their effect on injured workers.  Their report, Insult to Injury:  Changes to the BC Workers’ Compensation System (2002-2008):  The Impact on Injured Workers is available on the BC Fed’s website.

In 2018, under a newly elected NDP government, the Board’s Board of Directors engaged Paul Petrie to review its policies.  The resulting report, Restoring the Balance:  A Worker-Centred Approach to Compensation Policy (the “Petrie Report”) identified the impact of the 2002 changes on seriously injured workers and recommended how Board policy could be made more worker-centric. The Petrie Report is available on the Board’s website, and is posted here under Featured Research & Publications

In 2020, the NDP government made several amendments (improvements) to the compensation part of the Act, including: 

  • Adding provisions to the Act for the presumption of work causation for certain  occupations, including mental stress injuries and occupational cancers;  and 
  • Passing Bill 23 with the following changes: 
    • Restoring the “loss of earnings” method of measuring permanent disability pensions and adding a new calculation of “age of retirement”;  
    • Restoring WCAT’s jurisdiction over the Human Rights Code and the Charter; and 
    • Raising the maximum rate of insured wages to $100,000 (from $87,000).

In March, 2019, the NDP government also appointed Janet Patterson to review aspects of the compensation system and hold public hearings throughout the province. The resulting report – New Directions:  WCB Review 2019 – made more than 100 recommendations to make the B.C. compensation system more worker-centred.  It also included an Addendum the stories of 28 worker who presented at the public hearings, in their own words. 

Both are also available under Featured Research & Publications

Employers had a strong reaction to both the WCB Review 2019 process and the New Directions report.  They removed themselves from the Review and strongly opposed the Report.  The B.C. Federation of Labour, on the other hand, has strongly endorsed the report and commissioned Kevin Love of CLAS to summarize the recommendations in a Workers Deserve Better: How we can Build the Workers’ Compensation System that Injured Workers Need. This summary is available on the B.C. Federation of Labour website and under Featured Research & Publications

Workers and Unions throughout B.C. are continuing to monitor how the Board addresses and treats workers who are injured in the course of employment in their particular sectors.