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Marking 100 Years of Protection for Ontario's Workers

  • Issued: November 5, 2013
  • Content last reviewed: November 2013

The Meredith Principles continue to safeguard injured and sick workers

Sir William Ralph Meredith is probably the most influential politician in Ontario's history you never heard of. But as the founder of what we now call the workers' compensation system, he has touched the lives of many Ontario workers and families for the past hundred years.

Ontario was a national leader in developing a system to support injured workers and their families. October 31st, 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the final report and recommendations from Sir Meredith to then-Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Morison Gibson to establish an arm's-length system and laws to support employees injured in the course of their employment.

With the growth of manufacturing and the birth of the Industrial Revolution, factories and the unsafe working conditions they often posed were becoming a public issue. Meredith, a lawyer, Chief Justice of Ontario and former leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario, was appointed as a one-man Royal Commission to look into the practices of other jurisdictions and come up with recommendations to support injured workers.

After studying the laws of other jurisdictions, Meredith developed five recommendations called the Meredith Principles. The principles covered no-fault compensation (no lawsuits or arguments about responsibility), security of benefits (a pool of money pays the workers), collective liability (all employers share the costs), exclusive jurisdiction and administration by independent boards (all claims come solely to the board and the board is autonomous and non-political).

Meredith's report and recommendations became law on January 1, 1915 – the first such law in Canada.

The last paragraph of Meredith's report still rings true today when he wrote: "I do not doubt that the country whose Legislature is quick to discern and prompt to remove injustice will enjoy, and that deservedly, the blessing of industrial peace and freedom from social unrest." Today more than 97 per cent of workplace contract negotiations in Ontario are settled without a work disruption, and that has helped build the safe, harmonious workplaces we enjoy today.

To all those who have worked to protect Meredith's five principles and build safer workplaces over the succeeding decades and generations, Ontarians owe a debt of thanks.

We can take pride in fair and just compensation provided to injured and ill workers throughout Ontario via today's Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.