The province is revising the Workers Compensation Act to cover more types of work-related cancer suffered by firefighters.
Primary thyroid, pancreatic, ovarian, cervical and penile cancer are being added to the 14 types of cancer on the list of presumptive cancers pertaining to firefighters and at-risk personnel in the Manitoba Fire Commissioners Office.
"We are here to support all of you," Premier Heather Stefanson said at a news conference at the legislature Friday, with more than two dozen female firefighters — some with children in tow — standing behind her.
"We know firefighters are at a heightened risk of contracting various cancers due to the nature of their work and the inevitable exposure to carcinogens on the job in spite all the efforts to prevent and mitigate exposure risks," she said.
"Occupational cancer is the No. 1 killer of firefighters. It's not traumatic, on-duty accidents," United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest said at the legislature. "It's not one fire that kills us, its hundreds of fires over our career," he said. "That's why we need this legislation."
Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Scott Fielding introduced Bill 6 (Workers Compensation Amendment Act), fulfilling a promise in Tuesday's throne speech. It was no surprise to the Winnipeg firefighters union that openly supported Stefanson in the Progressive Conservative leadership election.
Members of the firefighters union sold "hundreds" of party memberships on her behalf, Forrest said. Stefanson beat her rival, Shelly Glover, by 363 votes. Forrest made no apology for the union being involved in party politics.
"We are politically active," said Forrest. "If you're not at the table, you're on the table," he said, noting the union has supported candidates from every political party.
"We support those who understand the needs of firefighters," he said. "That's why we supported Heather (Stefanson)."
Stefanson said Manitoba was an early adopter of presumptive legislation for cancers that inflict firefighters.
The first list of presumptive cancers for firefighters was added to the act in 2002. The list was expanded in 2005, with coverage extended to part-time firefighters. The list was expanded in 2009, and again in 2011, along with the addition of coverage for fire commissioner personnel.
The proposed amendments to the act do not contain regulatory requirements. The Workers Compensation Board will be responsible for administering the changes and identifying any concerns that arise, Fielding said in a news release.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.