TSSA announces multi-year fee freeze, launches Northern Ontario strategy

ALGOMA—The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) has announced a four year freeze in its current fee schedules (set May 1, 2013), committing to keeping its schedule (except for boilers and pressure vessels) unchanged through to April 30, 2017. The announcement comes on the heels of a commitment by the TSSA to a new approach to compliance issues following a cascade of fuel station closures across the North that has left many communities without a gas station and what many tourism operators have said would devastate tourism across the region.

“This four-year freeze affirms our commitment to reducing financial impacts on business, to ensuring our organization’s operational efficiency, and above all, ensuring public safety as it relates to our mandated industry sectors,” said TSSA President and CEO Michael Beard in a release announcing the freeze.

As a broader public sector entity, TSSA is committed to supporting the Government of Ontario’s strategic objectives to reduce financial and administrative burdens on business and spur the economy, while continuing to ensure public safety in the sectors it is mandated to regulate.

According to the release, “TSSA charges fees for its public safety services on a cost-recovery basis and is committed to providing value for money across all its safety programs. These fees are set out with the intent to: reasonably reflect sector and service activity, such as engineering and inspection, within each program; ensure that, in addition to their direct and indirect costs, licencing, registration and certification fees recover safety infrastructure costs such as standards and codes work, investigations, prosecutions, regulatory enhancements, and re-investments in public safety; be uniformly applied, regardless of geographic location; and include incentives/disincentives for high/low levels of compliance.”

“Over the past year, TSSA has embarked on a concerted and successful strategy to control costs. This fee freeze will be achieved through ongoing operational efficiencies, which will ultimately benefit businesses, consumers and the broader public,” added Mr. Beard.

“After listening to residents’ concerns at a first of its kind townhall meeting in Sault Ste. Marie recently, the TSSA is making changes to its inspection and operations division,” said David Orazietti, Sault Ste. Marie MPP and Minister of Government and Consumer Services, in a release following the meeting. “The TSSA is acting to ensure the safety and security of Northerners while committing to improve its services for Northerners,” continued Minister Orazietti. “The TSSA listened to the concerns and is acting to find solutions for the problems we are having in some Northern communities.”

The news was welcome for Northern communities, many of whom are facing the loss of the only local outlet for fuel.

“It is a very important issue,” agreed Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) President and Mayor of Kapuskasing Al Spacek. “Unlike southern Ontario, where you can just drive down the road to the next service station, that isn’t always an option in our smaller Northern communities.”

Mayor Spacek said that the onerous new regulations and tight time frames to implement them were another example of taking southern regulations and trying to make the one size fits all solution apply in the North. “As we have seen time and again, it just doesn’t work.”

Mayor Spacek said that he was pleased to see that the TSSA has decided to be more flexible and to adjust their timelines to fit the Northern reality.

Local marina operator and president of the North Channel Marine Tourism Council Stan Ferguson was reluctant to weigh in on the subject, citing much of the information he has heard reported was third hand.

“For us (at Harbour Vue Marina) we have been fortunate in that our system is fairly new,” he noted. “But I have heard a lot of concern from the snowmobiling community in the West End especially. It can be a concern when you are a long distance between places where you can fuel up.”

Many Island businesses have already ponied up the costs of bringing their equipment up to the new standards, leaving some mixed feelings over the new regulatory approach.

“We have already upgraded our equipment,” said Rick Niven of Spring Bay’s Buie’s General Store. “I know that there are a bunch of us that have, but there are also about 16 to 17 sites on the Island that had things they had to do and they are still operating. It’s a bit of a touchy subject.”

With an estimated cost of about $50,000 to $60,000 to bring all of the equipment up to the latest standards, there was a lot of hard thought put into the cost-benefit analysis before Mr. Niven made the decision to take the plunge. Not every Island business came to that decision.

“The Denovan’s (Sandy Denovan of Providence Bay who closed that community’s gas station a couple of years ago) must have looked at the numbers when they made their decision,” said Mr. Niven. “Luckily, we are still young enough that it makes some sense, but it sure has pushed back retirement I can tell you.”

Gary Brown of South Baymouth’s Carl’s Trading Post said that his family’s operation had also brought all of their equipment up to the ministry’s standards.

Ross Ward of Tehkummah’s Ward General Store opted for an above-ground system for his operation. “At the end of the day, I figured it would be less expensive in the long run,” he said. “But we have pretty much finished our work with the TSSA.”

North Channel Marine Tourism Council member Lincoln North of Thessalon was at the meeting with TSSA and Minister Orazetti. Two gas stations in his community have recently closed, leaving the community with no choice but to travel up the road 15 minutes to fill up.

“I found the meeting fairly positive,” he said. “Everyone was very respectful and polite in their comments. The chair of TSSA acted as a moderator and I think he did a good job in letting everyone voice their concerns. He conducted himself very well.”

As to the changes, Mr. North said that although they did not come soon enough for his community, the new regime would likely help others. “I think that something is going to be done. A lot of the people in the TSSA office are not familiar with the territory above Highway 7,” he suggested. “Down south the guy can come in and tell you that you need new pipes and you can pick up the phone and order them up for the next day. It isn’t like that up North.”

Mr. North said that the atmosphere between TSSA and fuel operators had become “acidic” in recent years but that his feeling was that the meeting would go a long way toward resetting that relationship.

Mr. North also said that he found Minister Orazietti reassuring in his comments. “He is a politician, and like politicians I think he wanted to placate everybody, but as far as placating politicians go, I think he was listening to what people were saying.”

Among the changes announced by TSSA are a commitment that “moving forward the TSSA will have more Northern representation both on its Advisory Committee and Board of Directors to better serve Northern residents and bring a Northern perspective to TSSA operations; starting today the TSSA will also be visiting locations in Northern Ontario to conduct an assessment and work with local stations to ensure facilities that do not pose a risk to public safety remain open; individuals and businesses which were billed incorrectly for assessments and inspections, and not yet reimbursed, will be having cheques mailed out to them and that the TSSA will launch a new consultation process which will allow stakeholders affected by the codes and standards to be heard and have their concerns address in an appropriate manner. Going forward, new codes will be implemented using this process.”

“The steps TSSA is taking now will help to ensure that the needs of Northern communities are balanced with the needs to maintain public safety,” said Minister Orazietti following the meeting. “TSSA President and CEO Michael Beard and I have talked at length about these issues and I am fully confident that the TSSA understands the issues at hand and is actively working to make the necessary changes.”

Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson said that although the TSSA changes were not placing his community in difficulty, he understood the issues facing many Northern and more remote communities. “We were lucky to be able to upgrade our facilities (Spider Bay Marina) to meet the new regulations in time,” he noted, but added that the earlier round of TSSA regulations surrounding propane distribution has had a major impact across the North. “You would be hard put to find any marina or marine community these days that are selling propane.”

Propane regulations, passed in the wake of disastrous fire 2008 fire at Sunrise Industrial Gases of North York, resulted in the death of one employee, the evacuation of thousands of residents and, perhaps most tellingly a $1.8 million cleanup bill that at the end of the day fell largely on the shoulders of the province.

“At the end of the day you want to have regulations in place that protect the environment and the community,” said Mr. North. “But you have to do it in a way that makes sense for the community as well. You have to take into account the reality of the North.”