Ontario College of Trades: Review moves into high gear

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Tony Dean receives 107 written submissions as employers call for evidence-based regulatory framework

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

Tony Dean’s review of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has moved into high gear as he commences discussions and consultation sessions with representatives of OCOT trade boards, individuals, single-trade and trade sector employers and unions, training providers and independent businesses.

Overall, he received 107 written submissions by the March 13 deadline.

Dean has been mandated to spend a year reviewing contentious OCOT issues, fulfilling Premier Kathleen Wynne’s election campaign promise after scope of work and compulsory certification debates reached a high level of intensity last year, especially after OCOT inspectors started ticketing labourers for working under the scope of certified trades, tasks the labourers say they have been doing for years without problem. As well, the OCOT – against the wishes of most employers – had started to move forward with the process to confirm general carpentry as a compulsory trade, with support from the provincial carpenters union.

After the written submission deadline closed, several employer groups made their submissions public, notably a joint report prepared by Dawson Strategic, representing some of the province’s largest residential, commercial and heavy construction associations.

dawson strategic
The Dawson Strategic Report

“OCOT’s legislative mandate requires it to balance regulation with the often competing needs of promoting the trades, expanding education and skills opportunities, and supporting the Government of Ontario economic strategy,” the Dawson Strategic report says.

Dean reportedly attended a March 30 breakfast event for the report’s release.

I’m learning fast,” he wrote in a posting on the deanreview.com website. “This is a world with a long and complex history and many moving, and closely interconnected, parts. The terms of reference touch on many of those parts. In view of this complexity, there is little doubt that the College and its board, CEO and staff have done very well in getting Canada’s first College of Trades up-and-running.”

Organizations supporting the the Dawson Strategic report include: Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), Heavy Construction Association of Toronto (HCAT), the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA), Ontario Road Builders Association (ORBA), Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA) and the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). Several of these groups – and sometimes local chapters or associations affiliated with the provincial associations – have submitted their own observations to Dean.

“A common perspective in the submissions I have looked at so far is an interest in seeing the college grow and succeed, although there are a healthy variety of ideas about what this means and how it should be achieved,” Dean wrote.

“It’s also clear that a review is seen as important at this point in time, and college stakeholders and trade boards are ready to actively participate. I’m encouraged by this because I’ve said from the outset that my report will be guided to a large extent by the expertise and advice resident in the College and those many individuals and organizations forming its broader community of interest.”

The Dawson Strategic report, reflecting the perception of employer groups, observes that “regulation is not synonymous with the public interest” important decisions are “based on intuition or anecdote, not evidence, and “OCOT’s activities are not well integrated into the greater regulatory framework.”

The employer associations also believe that “construction trades regulation must include a broader understanding of the public interest” including:

  • Consumer interests (affordable housing and renovations; and construction services provided by reelable and experienced tradespersons);

  • Competitiveness linked to business growth and investment (accessible, affordable commercial construction, rapid deployment of development plans and reliable and up-to-date infrastructure;

  • Workforce development (access for youth and marginalized groups for training and employment, training outcomes aligned with labour market needs);

  • A rational and coherent regulatory framework;

  • Information and research (evidence-based analysis to support employer and worker decisions and government policy development, and “a future orientation, recognizing both the challenges and opportunities facing the Ontario workforce and economy in the twenty-first century).”

The Dawson Strategic study observes that compulsory certification increases labour costs by protecting established interests, while making it harder to attract and train new apprentices, creating an uneconomic environment for the industry.

Another report submitted by the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), which says it “represents over 130,000 tradespeople employed by 8,000 employers,” shares the observation with Dawson that the OCOT should base its decisions on “model based on research evidence, expertise and consultative processes as opposed to one based on adjudication.

“This could be modeled on portions of the current Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC) in the health professions sector in the Province of Ontario,” OSTA says.

“As a solution, we submit for your consideration, the establishment of an advisory council, fully independent from the college, that could serve as an independent source of evidence-informed advice. “This council could enable the provision of background literature reviews, jurisdictional reviews and jurisprudential reviews as a foundation upon which consultations are conducted, culminating in advisory advice to the minister on whether a trade should become compulsory or not. Again, we believe the HPRAC model can provide helpful advice in this regard.”

Dean says regional in-person consultations will start April 9 in Kingston, followed by visits to Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Sarnia, Thunder Bay, Sudbury and the Greater Toronto Area. “I’m looking forward to hearing more from those who have filed written submissions and to hearing regional perspectives on the hard work ahead,” he writes.

Dean says that he will start to think about some sections of the report over the summer, testing how the industry reacts to his findings and possible recommendations.

His confidential draft final report will be submitted in August to the OCOT and Rez Moridi, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and his final written report will be submitted in October.

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