Will Doug Ford’s Ontario PCs finally slay the Ontario College of Trades? Opinion
Now’s the time to abolish this reviled government bureaucracy
August 28, 2018 by John Bleasby
Doug Ford and his new Progressive Conservative government in Ontario has delivered buck-a-beer, dragged sex public school education back to the 1990’s, and cancelled clean energy projects across the board. What about issues that directly impact the party’s populist base —the tens of thousands of skilled trades workers in the residential construction industry, their employers, and the young apprentices trying to break in?
One of Ford’s MPPs has latched onto the situation. “So many current workers will be retiring over the next 10 years,” Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop (PC) told Canadian Contractor. “The issues are the ratios and a broken apprenticeship system that makes it too difficult to get involved. Of those going into the system, only 50 per cent are coming out the other side.”
A long standing family interest in the trades and politics
Dunlop’s concern for skilled trades and apprenticeships comes honestly. Not only does her family operate a multi-generational plumbing business, but her father Garfield Dunlop was the popular MPP for Simcoe North for many years. Garfield not only experienced firsthand the frustrations shared by many trade employers, he also spoke out publicly while an Opposition MPP. “The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) is an expensive duplication of a service that is already provided by the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Electrical Safety Board, Public Health and all building officials,” he told media at the time. In terms of OCOT’s annual registration fee, he continued, “What do tradespeople get for their money? Absolutely nothing.”
Daughter Jill laughed when reminded of that statement. “I recently spoke to someone who used to work for OCOT. They said to me, ‘Your dad certainly wasn’t a fan of us.’ And I said, ‘That is a major understatement.’ ”
Can Jill Dunlop do more than just tilt at windmills?
Now that Dunlop is part of the governing party, she’s determined to keep the issue front and centre, a daunting task for a rookie MPP. Her private member’s resolution, passed with all-party support this summer, brought increased attention to the skilled trades issue. It was a good beginning, but actions are more important than words. So, Dunlop is taking it right to the top by initiating conversations with the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
And she’s doing more. Dunlop intends to convene a committee of frontline, ground level employers plus industry associations beginning this November. The committee will gather input for both Ministries and put their ideas forward. “Since my resolution passed, I’ve been speaking with a number of different home building associations, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and the Ontario Colleges. A number of other groups have reached out to connect with me as well.”
It’s a two-way flow — Dunlop also hopes to send the government’s thoughts back to her group for feedback. “This is my own initiative — it isn’t Ministry driven or staffed. To begin, my office has put a survey together on skilled trades. We’re asking businesses about red tape, how many Ministries they deal with, which ones are easy or difficult, and the issues they have had to deal with in the past. We are also asking questions specifically pertaining to skilled trades in their businesses. ‘What are your key issues when dealing with skilled trades? Is it ratios? Is it the apprenticeship stigma?’ We’re taking this to Rotary Clubs and local economic development groups. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has also agreed to send our questionnaire to their local chamber members as well. They’re bringing back good stories and I’m passing on the information.”
The elephant in the room is the despised Ontario College of Trades
Already Dunlop has already received a stream of sharp criticism aimed at the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT). After all, it is OCOT that has made Ontario’s apprentice-to-journeyman ratios the most onerous in the country and therefore the most difficult for small businesses to comply. “I see some of the comments that come up on my social media whenever we’re talking about skilled trades. People are always saying OCOT has to go. I also hear horror stories about their enforcement decisions. Whether canceling the College of Trades, overhauling it, or changing its direction, it’s quite clear that everyone is looking for a change.” Dunlop is also well aware of comments that OCOT does not sufficiently reflect the interests of ground level, independent (non-union) employers and the apprentices trying to break into various trades.
However, Dunlop is only one, lone MPP who cannot know what the timeline for change might be. While she is determined to keep the discussion and new ideas flowing in both directions, it will be up to her caucus colleague Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities(MTCU), to make any changes.
What does the government’s top brass say?
Canadian Contractor has been asking Minister Fullerton for the past several weeks to spell out her Ministry’s position. Our pressure finally resulted in a statement issued on August 24. “Our government is committed to increasing access to apprenticeship training,” Fullerton told Canadian Contractor. “Creating good jobs in Ontario by revitalizing skilled labour is a priority for the government as the skilled trades sector will contribute greatly to Ontario’s growing and vibrant economy. We have heard concerns on all sides about journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios. We’ve been clear that we are interested in finding ways to create an environment and training process that will expedite the creation of sufficient skilled tradespeople to make skilled labour a competitive advantage for Ontario.”
OCOT plays the “Rag the Puck”
In the meantime, it is interesting to note that OCOT has delayed its internal review of apprenticeship ratios beyond the originally mandated April 2019 deadline. OCOT’s delay-of-game bafflegab on its website will only further frustrate and enrage apprentices, trade workers and employers alike. “College staff are preparing for briefings with Minister Fullerton and senior staff at MTCU prior to continuing the review. Stakeholders and members of the public will be updated about the review once these discussions with government have taken place.”
As justification for the review delay, OCOT references an April 2018 decision by the Ministry of Labour under the previous Liberal government. “The Minister of Labour has approved a regulation providing the Ontario College of Trades with an additional 12 months to consult with stakeholders on potential improvements to the journeyperson to apprenticeship ratio review process and ratio criteria,” the website says. “The actual ratio reviews before a panel is now set to begin [our italics] in April 2019.” OCOT requested the delay earlier this spring in order to properly study the recommendations of the Dean Report released way back in November 2015, a study commissioned to look into, “issues related to the scopes of practice and the classification/reclassification of trades.”
While OCOT fiddles, and the building industry burns in anger over continued delays, it is hoped the concern and engagement brought forward by MPP Jill Dunlop’s ground level committee will be too great for the government to ignore.
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