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Scope of Dean’s OCOT review needs work: industry

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by LINDSEY COLE last update:Nov 6, 2014

It’s not a question of whom, but how.
Scope of Dean’s OCOT review needs work: industry

The appointment of Tony Dean to review certain areas of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) was met with open arms among industry groups with many saying he's the right man for the job. But, the scope of his study has some questioning how far he'll be able to look into the College and its overall mandate.

"Tony Dean is a consummate professional," says Karen Renkema, chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), but he is limited on what he can look into.

"The College has struggled with its legitimacy not only with tradespeople, with employers, with all those involved in the College. You can't just look at these issues in a vacuum. You got to look at the institution as a whole and understand why the College has been struggling and why there have been so many criticisms."

Dean has been directed to examine issues related to the College's scopes of practice and the process for determining whether certification should be compulsory or voluntary.

Renkema, along with several others, state this review is too narrow and doesn't address the main areas of concern.

"The government made some good steps...but it's always been, from the very inception of the College, this issue with governance — that needs to be clearly analyzed as well as the objectives," she explains.

"The governance leads to internal bias to expand compulsory certification in order for the college to fund itself and collect revenues. If those issues aren't considered during the review, we're not dealing with the larger problems."

OCOT Chair Ron Johnson states the review's scope is pretty clear.

"It (the review) represents a relatively small portion of the overall work that the College does and it's important to note that," he says. "This is not a review of the overall college mandate; it's a review of one small part of our mandate."

The provincial government passed the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act in 2009 to establish the College. Working at arms-length from the government, OCOT is meant to regulate and promote the skilled trades and is funded using membership fees from the compulsory trades. Over the years, the mandate of OCOT has become muddled among some industry groups, who hope Dean can clarify the College's role.

"He's got a record of working with groups and finding solutions to tough issues," says David Frame, director of government relations with the Ontario General Contractors Association.

"The terms of reference talk fairly narrowly about scope and the review process, which are important issues, but these have become the issues because there's a faulty governance model in place. Essentially, the model as it is has allowed a small group of like organizations to control the College of Trades. They're moving it in one direction. They're able to ignore a good part of the College's mandate in doing that. They aren't open to the broad needs of many industries and many trades."

The review's terms of reference do state that it can be amended "by a document in writing, dated and signed by the Minister (in consultation with the College) and the Reviewer."

"From what I've read of the terms of reference though, Tony Dean has the mandate to recognize problems and if necessary he'll expand the scope to be able to deal with it," Frame explains. "We'll be encouraging him to do that in the early going."

Council of Ontario Construction Associations President Ian Cunningham is also encouraged by Dean's appointment, because of the reviewer's reputation in dealing with complex matters like the expert panel review of Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act in 2010.

"He really brought all his skills to the fore in that assignment. Tony was accessible and open and transparent," Cunningham explains.

"He exposed his evolving thinking. It was an iterative process. There's nobody that knows public policies and the workings of government better than Tony. I expect he'll bring the same kind of approach to this review. That gives me a lot of comfort that this will be a successful undertaking on Tony's part."

According to Johnson, the mandate of the College is also clear and its work will continue throughout the review despite a pause on the trade classification process.

"The overriding mandate of any regulatory body is to protect the public interest. That's obviously our number one goal and we're going to continue to do that," he says.

"We have to protect the integrity of those that have gone through the process to become certified tradespeople in a compulsory trade. If somebody invests 7,200 hours of their life, and a whole whack of money and school time to become certified and they pass an exam, it's not fair that somebody is out there doing work in that trade that is unqualified. We need to protect the public from those types of individuals."

Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi says the College will carry on and "promote the professions, promote the trades and apprenticeships." Enforcement will continue as well.

Patrick Dillon, business manager for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, says this review will strengthen OCOT.

"I would have preferred that it would have been a bit broader. One of the areas, for sure, is the funding of the College. Right now, the only people paying into the College are the compulsory certified trades. We haven't been openly critical about that, knowing that it's a newly constructed board of governors," he says.

"They've been pretty challenged to get the College up and running. You don't expect them to get things right the first time around. The other issue is that 50 per cent of the representation on the board is employers who have no skin in the game. That is another thing that has to be looked at. Over time I believe we'll get those things right."

The review will take about a year to complete before Dean's final report comes forward.

Follow Lindsey Cole on Twitter @DCN_Lindsey.

last update:Nov 6, 2014

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