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Message from the Chair

Administrative Justice and The Drummond Report

The release of The Drummond Report and its focus on reduced expenditures and value-for-money services caused a ripple effect throughout the administrative justice community in Ontario. It also triggered concerns with respect to the Appeals Tribunal’s budget freeze over the past two years and a possible negative effect on the quality of the Tribunal’s appeal process in future fiscal years.

Most informed representatives in the injured worker, employer and legal communities realize that the Appeals Tribunal strives to provide injured workers and employers with quality adjudication on a timely basis. It currently enjoys a national reputation as a quality appeal body producing quality decisions. Unfortunately, the budget freeze over the past two years has created a number of problems in the appeal process, problems which have been intensified by a burgeoning caseload at the end of 2011. The financial pressure also resulted in a significant decline in the number of adjudicators at the Appeals Tribunal; for example, the number of Vice-Chairs has declined from 54 to 43, a decline which also adversely affects the quality of the adjudication process, even if the Tribunal’s caseload were to decline.

Knowledgeable members of the injured worker, employer and legal communities realize that the Tribunal has brought a businesslike approach to its appeal process, although not everyone appreciates this value-for-money approach and the millions of dollars which the fee-for-service arrangement with the majority of Vice-Chairs and Members has saved the Insurance Fund. While The Drummond Report has not focused on the administrative justice system, there is some concern that there is a limited appreciation for the specialized decisions emerging from the administrative justice system and the significant cost savings for parties and taxpayers compared to court proceedings. Because most Canadians are not aware of the extent to which the administrative justice system affects their daily lives, there is a limited appreciation of the quality of decisions which affect everything from the water we drink and the air we breathe to our energy costs, provision of health care services, tax assessments, transportation services, as well as workplace safety and insurance services.

Despite financial pressures, the Tribunal continues its attempts to attract quality adjudicators. The WSIAT requires adjudicators who possess a high degree of skill, knowledge and competence in the evaluation of medical evidence and the application of law, Board policy and Tribunal case law. Tribunal adjudicators must be capable of managing fair hearings and reaching reasoned decisions that fairly resolve factual issues, are consistent with workers’ compensation law and Board policy and in keeping with Tribunal case law, conform to the principles of administrative justice, and are released in the time prescribed by statute.
The Tribunal’s new adjudicator orientation program includes class time, hearing observations, drafting a mock decision and attending the Adjudicator Training Program, developed by the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators. The completed program requires four weeks of training.

The Tribunal’s Members’ Code is also designed to ensure quality adjudicating at the Appeals Tribunal. The Adjudicative Tribunals Accountability, Governance and Appointments Act, 2009, required adjudicative tribunals to develop a member accountability framework which includes a code of conduct.

The adoption of the WSIAT’s (then WCAT’s) Members’ Code of Professional and Ethical Responsibilities is noted in the Annual Report for 1992 and 1993. The Code sets out the standards of conduct governing the professional and ethical responsibilities of Members of the Tribunal. The standards cover the primary areas of Member responsibility in the conduct of hearings and decision-making as well as the institutional responsibilities of Members to their colleagues, the Tribunal Chair, and the Tribunal itself. The Code recognizes the fundamental and overriding responsibility of Tribunal Members to maintain and enhance the integrity, competence and effectiveness of the Tribunal. The Code is available on the Tribunal’s website.

The member accountability framework also requires a description of the functions and skills required for the positions. In 2003, the Tribunal developed position descriptions for Vice-Chairs and Member Representatives for posting on the Tribunal’s website. The position descriptions include the purpose of the position and the major responsibilities.

Tribunal staff participated in the development of OPS resource tools to assist agencies in developing or updating their governance documents to meet the requirements of the member accountability framework.

In 2011, the Tribunal’s Code and the position descriptions were updated with reference to the resource tools. The updated documents were submitted to the Ministry of Labour to meet the Tribunal’s obligations under the Act.

As 2012 begins to unfold and the appeal caseload climbs significantly, the Appeals Tribunal faces a year of significant challenges. Hopefully, it will also be a year in which all interested parties recognize the quality of the adjudication process and decisions and strive to ensure that Ontario has a quality administrative justice system in spite of certain financial pressures.

Posted: April 27, 2012