Doug Ford touts billions for infrastructure, new apprenticeship training system in provincial budget, OGCA speech

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford a the OGCA Symposium

Fresh from his provincial budget delivery, Ontario premier Doug Ford showed up at the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) Symposium on April 12 to tout his government’s “open for business” initiatives, with a focus on “cutting red tape and regulations” and tax savings to encourage “businesses to invest in Ontario and create jobs.”

And infrastructure spending will be a top priority.

“Get your shovels ready, because we’re going to be pouring money into infrastructure,” Ford said in a lunchtime speech at the Blue Mountain Resort.

Planned changes to the apprenticeship system, which will allow for more flexible training and certification in a full trade or in a portable skill set, drew mixed reactions, including observations from OGCA government relations director David Frame that he needs to study elements of the actual budget legislation (Section 40) very closely to understand the implementation and details of the proposed new training model.

Notably, the Ontario Building Trades, representing organized labour, expressed support for the government’s infrastructure spending, even as it expressed concerns about the training provisions to replace the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT).

“The provincial budget delivers on key infrastructure investments to support jobs in Ontario’s construction industry based on the $14.7 billion projected for 2019-20,” said Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.

The government says its current plans are part of a $144 billion 10-year infrastructure commitment. “Seeing continued funding for projects reinforces new opportunities for skills training that Ontario’s construction workers are key to embark on,” Dillon said. “The Building Trades look forward to working with the government to promote apprenticeship in the skilled trades as a first-choice career path.”

In his OGCA speech, Ford summarized some aspects of the proposed new apprenticeship and training approach. “Under our new portable approach, apprentices and journey people will be able to work in a variety of industries, (and be) trained in skills across different trades.”

“Small businesses can employ apprentices through employer groups” and a new “chief training and skills advisor will be appointed to support new programs,” he said.

These changes have won approval from the Progressive Contractors Association (PCA) of Canada, which advocates for non-union employers and those whose workers are represented by the Christian Labour Alliance of Canada (CLAC) which encourages workers to develop multiple transferrable skills.

“The Ford government has shown in this budget that it understands the challenges facing Ontario’s construction and skilled trades sector,” said Sean Reid, PCA’s vice-president and regional director, Ontario. “PCA has for years been calling for a new approach to apprenticeship and skilled trades training in Ontario. We need a system that is less bureaucratic, more focussed on job-ready skills for workers, and more responsive to shifting market needs. This budget shows that the Ford government is answering our call.”

The budget document shows a commitment to creating “dynamic labour markets and safe workplaces” with plans to develop a “new governance framework” to replace the OCOT, the Building Trades said in a statement.

“Thus far, indicators are that there has been a lack of consultation between the government and the legitimate apprenticeship trades training providers in Ontario,” Dillon said. “We intend to work with the government to improve the trades training system insofar as the government shares that intent.

“The Building Trades training providers will work with any and all interested parties, including government, consumers, employers and owner-clients to further strengthen the most highly trained, safest and most productive construction workforce in North America.

“This involves establishing a robust trades regulation system that will effectively sere customers, owner-clients, construction employers, and especially apprentices at a time o solid economic performance.”

In his speech, Ford said: “We’re giving people the tools to bring people in to accelerate their training, and give them an opportunity – and we got rid of the College of Trades which was a pain in the backside.”

However, the actual structure of the training system to replace the OCOT is still unclear and the details will determine how the construction industry is able to adapt and implement the new procedures, OGCA’s David Frame indicated.

The budget indicates significant capital contributions and planned expenses for both transit and heath care, though municipalities are expressing concern that the originally expected revenue from gas tax increases won’t happen, now that the government has cancelled these taxes.

Among allocations are $28.5 billion for transit in Toronto, including anew 15-km. Ontario Line, replacing an originally planned much shorter TTC relief line.

The budget also includes a Health Capital Investment of $17 billion in capital grants over the next 10 years to increase hospital capacity and address urgent issues, and close to $13 billion in capital grants over the next decade to build new schools in high-growth areas and improve the condition of existing schools.

The government plans to cut red tape and end delays that have blocked the development of the Ring of Fire area in Northern Ontario by working with willing partners to ensure sustainable development in the North, the PCA says in its statement.

In his speech, Ford railed against the Carbon Tax, saying “it does nothing for the environment.”

“It’s a tax with the word carbon in front of it” but it simply makes everything more expensive. “How do you compete in the world’s economy with one hand tied behind your back,” he said.

Ford said the province can quite easily achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets without forcing the tax on Ontario’s population. He said the government will fight the tax in the “Supreme Court with the support of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick and other provinces. . . this is going to kill our competitiveness.”

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