NDP calls for furnace regulation

The Yukon government isn't doing enough to ensure residential oil furnaces are safe, says the NDP's Lois Moorcroft.

The Yukon government isn’t doing enough to ensure residential oil furnaces are safe, says the NDP’s Lois Moorcroft.

Housing Minister Scott Kent announced last week the formation of a working group of experts, charged with creating safety recommendations by this summer.

No need, said Moorcroft.

A similar committee was struck four years ago and some of its key recommendations have yet to be acted on.

And the territory has yet to adopt the recommendations of Rod Corea, a furnace expert hired to produce a series of reports from 2007 to 2010.

He called on the territory to regulate the oil-burning furnace trade. It hasn’t.

“I’m concerned the government needs to get moving,” said Moorcroft.

“When you’re talking about carbon monoxide and the safety of residents in their homes, national standards apply for good reason. I don’t think we’re going to find that the Yukon should have less than national standards. And I believe the recommendations in Mr. Corea’s report should be acted on, now.”

The clearest objection to Corea’s recommendations has been made by Jim Kenyon, the former Housing minister. The territory faced a chicken-and-egg conundrum, he said in an interview in February.

Mandatory certification would prevent most furnace mechanics from working, said Kenyon. And that wouldn’t help homeowners.

“You can’t put in a regulation to do something when you don’t have the capacity to do it,” said Kenyon. “What are you going to do? Say, ‘You’re going to have to turn your furnace off. It’s 40 below? Tough.’ You can imagine the response to that.”

But leaving the trade unregulated doesn’t seem to be the answer either, given Corea’s findings. After inspecting 305 furnaces, he found only four that met the building code.

Corea warned that the current state of affairs is a disaster waiting to happen. That warning now seems haunting, given the deaths of five Porter Creek residents in January from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Those deaths need to serve as a “wake-up call” to the territorial government, said Moorcroft.

It should start by adopting Corea’s recommendations, she said. The NDP is also calling for a public inquiry into the deaths.

The Yukon has furnace mechanics who are qualified to work, yet lack their nationally-recognized red seal, said Marc Perreault, chair of the furnace working group.

“I’ve never been one to say a person who isn’t certified is qualified,” he said.

Yet no minimum standards exist to work as an oil mechanic in the Yukon. And the Department of Community Services has balked at introducing them, according to documents obtained by the Yukon News.

“There are limits in which we can help,” Dan Boyd, assistant deputy minister of Community Services, wrote in an email on June 11, 2010. “Fully regulating the industry is not achievable at this time and it is not helpful to be continually pushing that button.”

“I’d like to know why Community Services doesn’t appear to want regulations,” said Moorcroft. “That would be something a public inquiry could get at.”

It remains unclear whether ministers were briefed about Corea’s findings. But they ought to have been given their importance, said Moorcroft.

“The minister should have been aware and should have provided direction to say, ‘We have the best interest of the public at heart.’”

If the absence of training is the main impediment to regulation, the territory hasn’t done much to improve the situation.

In 2009 and 2010, Yukon College offered a pilot program, which aimed to train oil-burner technicians. The program produced 10 graduates.

Of those, six went on to complete apprenticeships and pass their nationally-recognized exam to become journeyman mechanics.

But the course ended along with the federal stimulus spending that paid for it. The college is now looking at getting another course running.

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