CNE assures safety is a ‘top priority’ after concerns raised ahead of opening

As the CNE readies to open this Friday, one Toronto MPP is expressing concerns about safety possibly being compromised at the 18-day fair due to ride and equipment inspectors being on strike.

On July 21, 170 inspectors with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) went on strike after contract negotiations between their employer and their union, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), broke down.

Since then, organizers of fairs, festivals, and other large events, like the CNE, have had to bring in outside inspectors and consultants to ensure their rides and equipment are in compliance with all safety regulations.

On Saturday morning, Toronto Centre MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam took to Twitter to share her thoughts on the situation.

Speaking with CP24 Sunday morning, she said the absence of dedicated TSSA safety inspectors checking rides and other equipment at the upcoming CNE amounts to “less duty of care.”

She said due to the labour disruption, the operator of Canada’s largest annual event has been forced to use consultants and third-party contractors to carry out these important safety inspections.

“When we are going to be compromising public safety, we just really can’t take any chances,” said Wong-Tam said.

“The CNE, of course, we all love this amusement park. It is a major attraction for the city of TO, but we want to make sure that people are safe.”

Wong-Tam said under the present arrangement is there no guarantee that safety inspections will be done with the same level of diligence. To illustrate her point, the Toronto MPP pointed to an Aug. 5 incident involving a ride at the Campbellford Fair, which she said injured three children.

She said organizers of that event would have issued the “same type of assurances to members of the public.”

In the end, Wong-Tam said the goal is to bring both sides “back to the table” and reach a contract agreement so TSSA’s safety inspectors get back to work as soon as possible.

The CNE, meanwhile, is assuring the public that it will continue to maintain the “highest safety standards in the industry,” despite safety inspectors being on strike.

Darrell Brown, The CNE’s CEO, said public safety is a “top priority,” calling Wong-Tam’s assertion that safety can’t be guaranteed “misguided.”

“We do not believe that there are any safety issues and would challenge what Ms. Wong-Tam is suggesting,” he said during a Sunday afternoon interview with CP24.

In a statement, Brown said after a two-year pandemic hiatus the CNE has been “vigilantly preparing for the return of the Fair to ensure that any potential labour disruption would not significantly impact our operations nor compromise the safety of our staff, vendors and patrons.”

“Each year the rides and food installations at the CNE are inspected by regulatory authorities prior to and during all 18-days of the Fair. TSSA management have taken proactive measures including travelling to other Fair sites to conduct inspections in advance of the equipment’s arrival at the CNE,” he noted, adding the CNE also “dedicates a significant amount of resources to deploy its own third-party safety consultants and certified engineers to ensure that all rides and installations at the event exceed safety standards.”

“We want to assure our patrons that the CNE is safe; irrespective of the ongoing labour dispute between TSSA and OPSEU,” he said.

Like Wong-Tam, Brown also hopes both sides will sit down soon and reach a contract agreement “so that the TSSA can return to full staff to facilitate its role in safeguarding the industry.”

Despite the job action, TSSA said, “comprehensive plans are in place for us to deliver on our safety mandate during the strike.”

“Rest assured that any amusement device in operation with a valid TSSA authorization has had its required annual inspection,” the governing body said in a July 29 tweet.

In a July 21 statement, TSSA said it would continue to respond to serious safety incidents and inspect any sites classified as high risk.

The governing body for safety inspectors said it would also be available to provide services for critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and long-term care homes. Despite continuing to offer non-inspection services like engineering, examinations, licencing, TSSA will not be doing expedited and rush engineering reviews during the strike.

“Every effort will be made to minimize any disruption to businesses as much as possible,” TSSA said, adding they want to reach an agreement with OPSEU and have been “engaging in good faith negotiations” with them since last fall in an unsuccessful effort to “finalize a first collective agreement for inspectors.”

“In order to prevent a strike, the TSSA bargaining team provided OPSEU a full proposal which includes all terms for a first collective agreement and offers inspectors excellent health, dental and pension benefits, and salary increases for a multi-year agreement,” said Laura Desjardins, Vice President, Human Resources.

“Given the reasonable and fair contract we have offered and our availability for ongoing discussions, TSSA does not see why inspectors have chosen to go on strike. Our approach is to bargain in good faith, reach a fair agreement and avoid any disruption. Unfortunately, the union stopped negotiating directly with TSSA after the first few meetings and gave indications of their strike intentions. We are concerned with OPSEU’s deliberately false communications that suggest we are not bargaining in good faith.”

CP24 also reached to OPSEU for comment, but has yet to hear back.

The Canadian National Exhibition starts this Friday and runs until Labour Day, Monday, Sept. 5.  

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