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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The impact of royal commissions on public policy : worker’s compensation in British Columbia, 1941-1968 Chaklader, Anjan K.


During the years 1941 to 1968, issues relating to workers’ compensation in British Columbia were subjected to the unprecedented number of three royal commissions. An explanatory framework that evaluates the merits of the commissions and their recommendations, both perceived and otherwise, and the degree to which governments adopted the recommendations, is presented in this paper. The framework is designed to make use of the available relevant primary sources, particularly minutes of the commission proceedings, newspaper accounts and legislative statutes. All three of the Commissions were thorough, well-received exercises whose recommendations were almost wholly adopted by B.C. governments, though in differing time frames. The need for the second Commission, which was created a mere six years after the finish of the first, primarily arose because of rapid developments in the B.C. labour movement during the mid-1940’s. An infusion of leaders with communist ties caused it to harden demands for workers’ compensation benefits and reforms. The first Commission had been considered a success by all parties, but the context of its recommendations had changed due to the increase in labour’s militancy. This second Commission was also considered to be reasonably successful. However, dissatisfaction with a Workmen’s Compensation Board that had completely turned over shortly after the second Commission, led to demands, particularly by labour, to create another commission to review its work and procedures. Board members, at that time, were subject to long tenures and were without any formal mechanism with which to be reviewed. Critical to the success of the three Commissions was the independent, non-partisan nature of their proceedings and recommendations. Because of this, the credibility accorded to the recommendations, particularly by labour, caused the Commissions to supercede the traditional mode of cabinet or legislative committtee deliberation for public policy formation in this case. The series of Commissions ended because of satisfaction with the Workmen’s Compensation Act, a much higher turnover rate of the Board and increased strength of the provincial labour-backed New Democratic Party. Thus, the Commissions and the three B.C. Supreme Court Justices that served as the Commissioners, must go down in history has having played a significant role in the evolution of occupational safety and health policy in British Columbia.

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