Fridays for the Future- Decarbonizing the WSIB- travel in the Toronto area

December 14, 2018

The WSIB has a large central office at 200 Front Street West in downtown Toronto, a short walk from Union Station, and area offices in thirteen other locations. The ones closest to Toronto are in Guelph, Kitchener and Hamilton. There are no area offices north of Toronto before North Bay (355 km. from the WSIB's central office) and no area offices east of Toronto before Kingston (265 km. from the WSIB's central office). The WSIB operations within the area around Toronto are, in short, highly centralized, with the exception of some area offices south and west of the city.

When I was much younger, I remember hearing about a Vice-President of the WSIB (then the Workers' Compensation Board), who had the forward-thinking idea of decentralizing Board offices. His idea did not gain traction at the Board in the 1980s. Since then, the area around Toronto has grown in population exponentially, but the WSIB has not grown with it. With our understanding that climate change is a crisis, it is high time for the WSIB to look at its direct and indirect carbon consumption including the carbon consumed when WSIB employees, injured workers and employers travel to their offices.

This leaves 3 areas in the broader GTA that are under-serviced relative to population:

1. the very densely populated suburbs to the west and northwest- Missisauga and Brampton
2. the densely populated suburbs and close cities to the north from Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Markham up to Barrie
3. the densely populated suburbs and close cities in the east from Pickering to Oshawa.

Mississauga and Brampton have a combined population in excess of 1.3 million, including of course, many workers employed at the WSIB, many injured workers and many workplaces. This is a population twice the size of Hamilton. There is sufficient population to warrant the opening of two area offices-one in the vicinity of Mississauga City Centre, and another near one of the two Zum (bus rapid transit) terminals in the center of Brampton.

To the north, there is also a need for two area offices- one in downtown Barrie to provide service both to that city and central Ontario south of North Bay, and the other in one of the inner suburbs north of the city. To the east, there is a clear need for an office in Oshawa (to cover the area east and north of Toronto from Ajax to Peterborough to Cobourg), and another either in Pickering or in Scarborough.

The opening of these offices would have the obvious benefit of allowing many more workers at the WSIB to use active or public transportation to get to work, and if not, to reduce their travel distances by car. It would also make WSIB offices much more accessible for injured workers. For injured workers to the north and east of Toronto, a two hour trip (each way) to the Front Street offices is often currently required. Needless to say, the trip for many of them is exhausting and they do not arrive in prime condition to discuss difficult medical or rehabilitation issues.

This issue is a rare one that injured workers, employers and WSIB employees might agree on. WSIB employees often mention the strain of their daily commute. For employers, it is at minimum a significant nuisance at times, and perhaps more than that. Decentralization would involve an upfront cost to open new office, but likely lower operating costs (the rents that the WSIB can charge for space at 200 Front Street West likely exceeding significantly rents that it might pay elsewhere in less prime locations). There is also the possibility of moving the Appeals Branch Toronto office from 40 University back to 200 Front Street West.

The time for action on carbon is short, and the WSIB can play its part.