Construction industry stakeholders were quick to take offence to recent suggestions by Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) chair Pat Blackwood that the college had achieved relative consensus among trades and turned the corner after years of infighting.
Blackwood was interviewed by the Daily Commercial News mid-February after OCOT had announced a round of consultations leading to drafting regulations to implement amendments to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act. The amendments, contained in Bill 70, were approved by the Ontario legislature in December.
Among the points of contention raised by stakeholders was Blackwood's assertion that eventually, with OCOT clearly defining the scopes of practice of each trade, it would no longer be appropriate for trades and contractors to make side agreements between themselves about scopes of practice.
Blackwood also said the audience reaction was "totally supportive" at a Jan. 27 OCOT consultation session attended by an estimated 150 stakeholders in Toronto.
This does not seem to be the case. Both Jason Ottey, director of government relations for Labourers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 183, and David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), said that Jan. 27 meeting was frustrating and unsatisfactory.
"For the chair to come up with a 'don't worry, be happy' approach is stunning, quite frankly," said Frame. "I was at that consultation meeting and I was surprised by the consultation. The consultation was around four very precisely decided questions that did not get to the bigger issues that had to be discussed."
"People used to come out of high school and you could hire them. Now, it is insane. Where are the future licensed men going to come from?"
Gennaro Di Gregorio
Ottey commented, "There was very little notice given, the agenda was given the day before and there was a series of questions which, in our opinion, were all very self-fulfilling.
"At the end of the day the policy was far too important for that to be the guiding direction and as it turns out I don't believe it was."
A letter sent to the Daily Commercial News by Joseph Maloney, international vice-president for Canada for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, said he found Blackwood's comments "astonishing" and referred to OCOT as an "all powerful bureaucracy."
Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn has said the Bill 70 amendments were intended to address issues raised in three recommendations out of 31 contained in the Tony Dean report submitted to the government in the fall of 2015. Those issues relate to journeyperson to apprenticeship ratios, trade classification reviews and compliance and enforcement.
Flynn explained the government would implement the other 28 recommendations.
But if Flynn and Blackwood thought most issues had been dealt with, the stakeholders have a different point of view. Their comments revealed a litany of concerns.
"I would say it is more fractious than ever, from my experience on this issue," said Frame.
He pointed out the Progressive Certified Trades Coalition (PCTU), which launched a campaign of protests before Bill 70 was passed, continued to picket MPP offices into 2017. The PCTU argues the definitions of risk of harm incorporated into Bill 70 would open up jobsites to unskilled labour — an argument recently picked up by the Canadian Federation of Students, which said in a media statement it supported the PCTU and criticized Bill 70 in several respects including its impact on apprenticeships and the safety of young workers.
Apprenticeships were also on the mind of Gennaro Di Gregorio, principal at Greymar Electric of Vaughan, Ont., who said high journeyperson to apprenticeship ratios among electricians — it works on a sliding scale, such that a firm with 15 journeypersons can employ only six apprentices — were "not working." No-one can take on apprentices anymore, he said.
"People used to come out of high school and you could hire them," said Di Gregorio. "Now, it is insane. Where are the future licensed men going to come from?"
Another focus of stakeholders is OCOT's new Compliance and Enforcement Committee, tasked under Bill 70 to develop new compliance and enforcement policy within six months. Frame said the composition of the committee is flawed in that it favours compulsory trades, with no voluntary construction trades represented.
"The number one outcome that the OSTA wants is for the college to be a facilitator, we want the college to make sure we become the leading jurisdiction for apprentices and skills training in North America."
Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance
Ottey also said he thought the committee was weighted against non-compulsory trades. He referred to the Dean review and another report by Chris Bentley from 2016 and suggested a process by which the committee could come up with satisfactory policy.
"If they listen to stakeholders and are cognizant of Dean and Bentley, and they root the recommendations in there, there is definitely an opportunity to come up with something that maintains the spirit of Dean and Bentley and doesn't undermine Bill 70," said Ottey.
Ottey also criticized OCOT for excessively regulating non-members and for not supporting the most vulnerable workers at jobsites.
Joe Vaccaro, chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), said OCOT and others including the trades, employers, apprentices and the government have a lot of work ahead of them. OCOT has to figure out where it sits in a very complicated landscape, he said.
"With Bill 70, front and centre was the enforcement policy," said Vaccaro. "So let's get on to it."
He added, "The number one outcome that the OSTA wants is for the college to be a facilitator, we want the college to make sure we become the leading jurisdiction for apprentices and skills training in North America."