Saturday, January 25, 2020

William Meredith and the Foundations of Canadian Workers' Compensation

I have begun work on a project in which I seek to compare the monopolistic workers' compensation systems in the United States and Canada. The Workers' Compensation system in Canada has separate legislation and policies for each province or territory, but the majority of Canadian workers are covered in some form by workers' compensation when they are at work. To help get me started with the project, researcher Terry Bogyo kindly directed my attention to the 1913 report of Sir William Ralph Meredith, a storied figure in the history of Canadian workers' compensation, to the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Ontario. The report makes for extraordinarily rich reading, I dare say to any student of workers' compensation. It is interesting to note that Meredith deemed the German system superior to the English, which is contrary to the American view of the time, which fastened on to the English system. In this regard, the report reveals interesting differences of opinion between Meredith and P. Tecumseh Sherman, a principal draftsman of the prototypical American statute adopted, more-or-less, by most American states. (I discuss some of this early history here). I am especially struck by the extent to which the dialogue of the era was explicitly moral. If you will indulge me, I offer the following passage of the report as evidence of this epochal morality. The statement was in response to a counter-proposal to Meredith's proposed bill that had been offered by the Canadian Association of Manufacturers:

A just compensation law based upon a division between the employer and the workman of the loss occasioned by industrial accidents ought to provide that the compensation should continue to be paid as long as the disability caused by the accident lasts, and the amount of compensation should have relation to the earning power of the injured workman. To limit the period during which the compensation is to be paid regardless of the duration of the disability, as is done by the laws of some countries, is, in my opinion, not only inconsistent with the principle upon which a true compensation law is based, but unjust to the injured workman for the reason that if the disability continues beyond the prescribed period he will be left with his impaired earning power or, if he is totally disabled without any earning power at a time when his need of receiving compensation will presumably be greater than at the time he was injured, to become a burden upon his relatives or friends or upon the community.

And again, commenting on the inadvisability of a proposal for a one-time, lump-sum, fixed permanent partial award, Meredith wrote:

The limitation to $1,500 of the amount of compensation in case of permanent partial disability is, I think, unreasonable . . . The payment of lump sums is contrary to the principle upon which compensation acts are based and is calculated to defeat one of the main purposes of such laws – the prevention of the injured workman becoming a burden on his relatives or friends or on the community – and has been generally deprecated by judges in working out the provisions of the British act . . .

I wonder if Meredith would be considered a wild-eyed dreamer (or worse) in today's mean, mean times.  

Michael C. Duff

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