The Ontario legislature has approved the omnibus Bill 70 containing key Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) reform measures, bringing the curtain down on a two-year process of review.
The amendments to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act included in Bill 70 received Royal Assent in the Ontario legislature Dec. 8, with a handful of late revised amendments that included slightly altered risk of harm provisions.
The Bill 70 amendments, dealing with enforcement of scopes of trade, appeals of penalties and trade classification reviews among other policies, build on reforms announced by Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn in May. At that time the minister outlined a transfer of the enforcement of trades scopes of practice from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to the Ministry of Labour, with appeals of enforcement to be decided by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB).
While several construction stakeholders praised the legislation as supportive of the mandate of the four-year-old OCOT, members of the Progressive Certified Trades Coalition (PCTC) continued to protest after the legislation was approved. The PCTC, representing several compulsory trades including electrical contractors and workers, the pipe trades and sheet metal contractors and workers, was highly visible opposing Bill 70 in recent weeks with large rallies and media statements that raised alarms that public safety would be threatened if "unskilled workers" were permitted greater access to jobsites.
"Everything right now is jumbled," said James Hogarth, business manager of the Ontario Pipe Trades Council and one of three spokespersons for the PCTC, when asked about protest strategy. "Many people see this as an attack on the noncompulsory trades. This isn't about us and them, it is about protecting the public safety."
Some 700 protesters supporting the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) rallied outside a Liberal Party fundraising event in Ottawa the evening of Dec. 8, after Bill 70 had passed, according to an IBEW-linked Facebook posting.
The PCTC argues that having disputes adjudicated by the OLRB would introduce irrelevant criteria, not purely scopes of practice considerations, to jobsite trades appeals, opening the door to less skilled workers.
Flynn has said he rejects that reasoning, pointing out scopes of practice was the first consideration mentioned in the new criteria laid out for OLRB trades adjudications in Bill 70.
"Bill 70 waters down the standards, and it blurs the line between what is a compulsory trade, who can do certain aspects of it and who can't," said Hogarth. "It almost makes the College irrelevant."
Representatives of the leadership of the Coalition of Non-Compulsory Construction Trades of Ontario (CNCCTO), whose members include boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, millwrights and labourers, among others, spoke out in support of the Bill 70 reforms and expressed continuing anger at PCTC rhetoric.
"I thought it was the most absurd, irrational argument I have ever heard and for a trade union like the IBEW... to use something like that and fearmonger and get their way, I find that pretty despicable," said Joseph Mancinelli, an Ontario-based international vice-president with the Labourers' International Union of North America.
"All of a sudden now we are unsafe, unskilled and not worthy to work in the construction industry like the compulsory trades," said Joseph Maloney, international vice-president for Canada of the boilermakers union and spokesperson for the CNCCTO. "What the compulsory trades are doing, and we demonstrated it on several occasions, is they are using their status as compulsory for market-share gain to take work away from the noncompulsory trades."
The amendments to the College of Trades Act came two years after the provincial government appointed former high-level civil servant Tony Dean to conduct a review of OCOT policy and practices. Dean's report, submitted in November 2015 after broad consultation with stakeholders, contained 31 recommendations, most of which are in the process of being implemented outside of the legislative process. The amendments contained in Bill 70 represent variants of Dean's recommendations.
"We are pleased the government moved in the direction of implementing Dean's recommendations," said Karen Renkema, senior manager, public affairs (Ontario) for the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).
"To be clear, Dean did not favour either side. Dean found what we call the palatable middle ground, erring on not swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction. We think he provided a report that was fair for all parties."
Mike Gallagher, business manager of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), also spoke in support of the Bill 70 amendments, saying OCOT would be strengthened.
Gallagher said there were approximately six trades affected by a freeze on certification of noncompulsory trades and now that the reforms are approved, all trades can move forward with better training programs, higher levels of certification and enhanced public protection.
Gallagher noted that his union is in a unique position, with membership from both compulsory and noncompulsory trades. He said the IUOE was involved in the latter stages of drawing up OLRB adjudication criteria, to ensure the objects of OCOT were respected.
The OLRB is the proper place for appeals of ticketed infractions, he said, especially compared with justices of the peace, who heard appeals until now.
As for a next step, Gallagher said all parties should collaborate, including contractors, to further refine and update scopes of practice.
"We supported the bill, and now we think more work needs to be done," he said. "I would personally think that all of the disparate groups should get involved, now that these changes have been made."
A more formal opportunity for further reform comes from Bill 70's call for OCOT to develop new enforcement policy through a committee that will be required to include risk-of-harm analysis.
The 10-member panel will have five members from OCOT including the registrar, one from the Ministry of Labour, one from another ministry and two members from the public and will be required to report back to Flynn in six months.