Port Alberni’s own Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Science initiated its founding chancellor the Honourable Wayne G. Wouters, PC this week.
“Having someone of Wayne’s calibre, who has worked directly for three prime-ministers, to have bought into this idea and become our champion is really invaluable,” said PCU-WHS president Wolfgang Zimmerman.
The university debuted its first degree program in the fall of 2014, after receiving degree approval back in 2007. The city of Port Alberni donated 3.5 acres of land at the end of Cherry Creek Road.
These days, the National Institute of Disability Management and Research (NIDMAR) curriculum developed at PCU-WHS is used world-wide.
“I was so impressed that Wolfgang had not only built this institution but he had brought his vision to countries all around the world,” said Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.
Pacific Coast University was a dream for Zimmerman, who broke his back working for MacMillan Bloedel 37 years ago. Back then, there were no supports or back to work programs available—something that PCU’s new chancellor knows about all too well.
“One would think that in the federal public service [absenteeism] is not an issue. It’s probably the most significant issue in the federal public service than any other workplace in Canada,” said Wouters, adding that at any one time the federal government has 18,000 public servants away from work because of sickness or mental or physical disability.
It’s even been a problem as recently as 2001 when Wouters was a deputy minister of fisheries and oceans.
“I had a driver, his name was Giovanni,” said Wouters, adding that the bond between driver and boss is close.
“He’s the first public servant you see in the morning, the last you see at night and he becomes your friend, he becomes part of your family.”
It made Giovanni’s devastating accident all the harder to bear.
“Giovanni was up on his roof one day, cleaning his chimney and fell back and off onto a cement patio,” said Wouters.
“He never walked again.”
But even more devastating than Giovanni’s accident was that Wouters could do nothing to help him.
“I thought, I’m the deputy minister of the department, I’m going to fix this problem and make sure our Giovanni’s back to work.”
The programs were simply not in place yet.
“There was no support for Giovanni. Once he used up his accumulated sick leave, he went onto long-term disability and his name was stricken off the workforce list for my department and moved to the treasury board,” said Wouters.
“So not only did we never deal with Giovanni, we hardly even contacted Giovanni—I did personally—but there was little by way of support. Giovanni never worked again.”
The personal experience made Wouters eager to help PCU get what it needed.
“At this university, we will strive to advance our knowledge on disability management,” said Wouters.
“We have an opportunity to develop a global centre of excellence in the advancement of knowledge and research into these workplace challenges.”