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Processes, bureaucracy assailed by report critics

Don Wall
Processes, bureaucracy assailed by report critics

The Daily Commercial News continues its analysis of Tony Dean’s year-long review of the Ontario College of Trades, which culminated in the publication of his final report on Nov. 20. Dean produced 31 recommendations that if fully implemented would have far-reaching implications for the College’s role within the construction industry.

Stakeholders who have issued position papers in reaction to the Dean report, or who have been consulted for their views, seem to agree on one thing: they all want well-trained workers working skillfully and safely for busy and profitable contractors in a thriving economy.

And in general they have respect for the integrity of Dean, the former cabinet secretary who was appointed by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) in October 2014 to review the role of the College including such issues as trades’ scopes of practice, trade classification, journeypersons-to-apprentice ratio reviews and enforcement mechanisms.

But beyond that, opinions on the report and its roadmap for the future direction of the College are all over the map. Among the comments:

  • The Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario fears Dean’s recommendation that independent expert panels be appointed to review trade classifications will remove a core function of the College, create an unnecessary new organization and, of particular interest to the union, delay its drive to have carpentry classified as a compulsory trade.
  • The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) applauds the decision criticized by the Carpenters Union to appoint panels of experts to determine which trades become compulsory — because, says PCA vice-president policy and advocacy Darrel Reid, Dean has indicated that their decisions should be evidenced-based, and the PCA argues the more evidence that is required to support that process, the fewer the number of trades that will be able to justify becoming compulsory.
  • The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario (IBEW) says it is "extremely disappointed" that the Ontario government has immediately accepted the report with approval — Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi has promised speedy passage of legislation to implement the recommendations — without seeking comments from stakeholders.
  • The IBEW teamed up with the Ontario Pipe Trades Council, the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Conference and the International Union of Operating Engineers, all representing certified construction trades, to issue a joint statement criticizing the report. Their takeaway: "Government rush to implement Dean Report without consultation alarming." (See sidebar here.)

The IBEW position statement focused on the process, but in an interview, executive secretary treasurer John Grimshaw found much to criticize on content as well. Grimshaw, a veteran industry activist with decades of insights into Ontario’s ever-changing trades regulation regime, said he was called to the Premier’s Office a few days before the Dean report was published — to prepare him for bad news, he figures.

Grimshaw says he is concerned about the potential splintering of the trades’ scopes of practice and also about the growing influence of bureaucrats in the College, which he believes will only get worse with additional layers of panels and reviews that he says will change the very nature of the College.

Dean called for a review and update when it comes to trades’ scopes of practice — the type of work performed in a trade. He also said trades should be permitted to isolate functions within their scopes of practice when seeking compulsory status during trade classification or reclassification reviews.

Grimshaw says while there is a need to modernize trades to deal with new technologies and projects such as building wind power farms, these processes in the hands of new panels, including bureaucrats could lead to a Wild West with trades raiding each other and functions being spun off.

Trades in Canada are recognized worldwide for their skills, he said.

"When you start splintering that off, which basically this process opens it up for the potential to do, then you are going to weaken the status of those trades, you lower the standards all around."

The College of Trades is supposed be self-governing, but it is not in practice, he says.

"There are more bureaucrats in there than the MTCU. Every time I turn around there are more bureaucrats telling you what you can do and what you can’t do. ‘OK, call us if you need a hand with something,’ they say, but then they say, ‘This is how you are going to conduct this.’"

The same point regarding the domination of the College by bureaucrats was made by Mike Yorke, president of Carpenters Local 27.

"The industry is best placed and best suited to drive this forward," said Yorke. "They have the expertise and the experience. We are not sure what this new panel (of experts reviewing which trades should be compulsory) will look like. They will be government appointees and we are saying, how can we be sure they will truly represent the industry…It is not as clear as it needed to be."

In what was a hotly contested move, the Carpenters had applied to become a compulsory trade, but the application was put on hold when the Dean review was announced. Yorke believes they will still have standing when the process is resumed but they will be back in the "queue," he says, and then there will be the process of launching the review panel, and, he fears, by then the next election (due in 2018) will be imminent. Then "it becomes a potential political football."

Reid expressed optimism that the compulsory trade reviews, which he praised, would be implemented with good will and for the good of the industry.

"I think the recommendations are bringing more clarity to the process of the College of Trades," he said. "And that’s what we have been looking for ever since the College of Trades has been set up."

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