The Ontario government hoped to pacify critics of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) with its announcement last October of an independent review.
The province appointed Tony Dean, former secretary of cabinet and head of Ontario's Public Service to look at how the controversial College of Trades should be reformed.
Now, after months of consultations, Dean is in the home stretch of his review. As he writes his recommendations, we hope he'll prove us wrong, by doing more than just going through the motions.
For starters, ensure the College of Trades is open, transparent, and accountable to its members. This requires a fundamental change from top to bottom. Of Ontario's 35 self-regulating colleges, OCOT is the only one whose entire governing, policymaking and adjudication body is made up entirely of government appointees. Why is OCOT the exception? It's about time the leadership at the College was elected by its membership, not appointed by the minister.
It's also worth noting that consumer representation is missing from the College's governance structure. This needs to change. If OCOT is supposed to act in the best interests of consumers, then give the public a direct say.
Secondly, the College should be truly representative of its membership. If OCOT is not being used as a means to advance the interests of trade unions, then change the optics. Over 87 per cent of Ontario's tradespeople are not members of a union, yet 42 per cent of OCOT's board of governors, and at least half of its divisional board and trade board members are affiliated with a union. This is not balanced representation.
The College's allegiance to trade unions is blatant, in my opinion. Take for example, OCOT's oversight of journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios. In 2012, the College of Trades issued calls for submissions on the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios for the trades in Ontario, which has the highest ratios in all of Canada.
The Ontario Electrical League made the case that the three electricians to one apprentice ratio should be changed to a simple ratio of one journeyperson to one apprentice. This improves health and safety conditions, and addresses the skilled trades shortage by creating more apprenticeship opportunities for electricians. Over 98 per cent of submissions from 285 individual electricians, apprentices and electrical contractors agreed, and called for changing the restrictive ratio to 1:1. Their input didn't matter, and neither did ours.
OCOT's review panel recommended a more restrictive ratio of six electricians to one apprentice based on the submission of one electrical trade union. We think there's no mystery in how this could happen. The review panel chair, Bernard Fishbein, worked as an advocate for this union, representing it in a series of separate legal cases that spanned more than two decades. It's a conflict of interest that is being challenged.
A member of the Ontario Electrical League, Powerserve Inc., has filed an application for judicial review. It's asking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to prohibit OCOT from implementing the review panel's recommendations, and to start the ratio review over with a new panel.
While it may seem that Dean has much to consider in reforming OCOT, he doesn't really. It's clear what needs to be done. Ontario tradespeople need to know that their higher membership fees are doing more than supporting a biased bureaucracy that pays them lip service.
Dean now has an opportunity to act in the best interests of Ontario's 800,000-plus skilled tradespeople. We invite him to prove us wrong, by doing what's right.
Ontario Electrical League