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Ontario General Contractors Association launches letter writing campaign about College of Trades

Kelly Lapointe

The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) has initiated a letter writing campaign to raise awareness about issues at the Ontario College of Trades that it says will restrict its members from conducting business. The role of the college will include role issuing licenses and certificates of membership for skilled trades in the construction, industrial, motive power and service sectors.

“The College is being very quiet about what their plans are but we hear that there is a very aggressive agenda coming and that agenda could mean some big changes as soon as this fall,” said David Frame, OGCA government relations director.

“People need to be aware of what’s going on and aware of the implications it has for our industry, our ability to recruit skilled people.”

The OGCA is part of the Ontario Construction Employers Coalition that has called for the complete overhaul or abolition of the College and is one of many member associations that have or will launch a letter writing campaign in the coming months.

There is a growing groundswell of concern with the College, says Coalition chair Sean Reid, Ontario Director of the Progressive Contractors Association.

When fully operational, the College will represent 150 skilled trades and is expected to be the largest regulatory body in North America with between 400,000 and 600,000 members. It is expected to begin accepting members on Jan. 1, 2013.

Reid was pleased to see a number of Coalition representatives appointed to the adjudicators roster, but said it was just about the only overture to the organization’s concerns thus far.

“There’s been no meaningful steps taken to address the significant governance issues that burden this college. There have been no significant steps taken to address our concerns about transparency, industry engagement and communication,” he said.

Frame added that they have requested many times to see the minutes of the Board of Governors meetings but have not seen any yet.

“We’ve certainly had meetings, we’ve exchanged good dialogues with the CEO of the College, Bob Guthrie and others, but we’ve seen no meaningful action when it comes down to really engaging and listening to the industry.”

The College recently ended a consultation proposing addition to the classes of membership.

They sent out a consultation, they didn’t explain the reason for the classes, people have no idea why those new classes were put forward. We basically say ‘we don’t know why you want this, explain this’ and the answer we get back is ‘we feel this is a very thorough consultation, thank you for your input,’ and they made the change,” said Frame, adding that there appears to be a culture of entitlement at the College.

The membership class addition has not been approved by cabinet but a decision is expected in June.

“I believe we had 70 or 80 submissions on the membership classification regulations. It was quite good, a lot of that information was helpful so we’re using that information to tweak the regulation and hopefully cabinet will approve it,” said Ron Johnson, chair of the College’s Board of Governors.

“From my perspective, I think the consultation process has been very effective. I think it’s showing the industry that the College is really there for them.”

The College is currently conducting an online survey for membership feedback on proposed member fees, which could range from $50 to $600, depending on the membership class.

“They don’t tell us what they’re going to do with the fees, there’s no analysis of what type of money they need to operate, how many people this would affect and they give wide fee ranges. That’s not proper consultation and they give 30 days for a response,” said Frame.

In addition to raising awareness about the College, the letter writing campaign is meant “to make sure that the government is aware that we’re upset at what’s going on,” said Frame.

“By letters going directly from contractors saying ‘this isn’t what we’re buying into, this isn’t what we want, this isn’t transparent as fair,’ the Minister [of Training, Colleges and Universities] has to come around to realizing that there’s an issue.”

Coalition members include: Heavy Construction Association of Toronto, Merit Ontario, Ontario Electrical League, Ontario General Contractors Association, Ontario Road Builders Association, Ontario Sewer & Watermain Contractors Association, Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and Residential Construction Council of Ontario.

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