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Stakeholders seek answers after OCOT shakeup

Don Wall
Stakeholders seek answers after OCOT shakeup

Construction industry stakeholders are parsing recent statements and asking for more information as they ponder the implications of the recent decision of the Ontario government to transfer several functions of the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) to the Ministry of Labour (MOL).

The decision was announced in a brief statement signed by two deputy ministers on May 9. Responsibility for OCOT, which was launched in 2012, has until now been a function of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU).

The memo emailed to stakeholders and government officials — and also Tony Dean, whose November 2015 report calling for reform of various aspects of the College of Trades was immediately endorsed by the government — indicated, "As the province moves forward with Mr. Dean’s recommendations, MOL has formally assumed responsibility for the College’s regulatory and administrative oversight."

"This will allow MOL to directly apply its expertise to complex labour matters, including the role the Ontario Labour Relations Board will play with regards to enforcement activities."

A letter to the editor of the Daily Commercial News from David Tsubouchi, OCOT registrar and CEO, offered clarification of OCOT enforcement functions.

"I would like to assure your readers that the College’s enforcement officers will continue to enforce the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009 as it applies to the 22 compulsory trades in Ontario and our members," wrote Tsubouchi.

Last week Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn discussed MOL enforcement with the Daily Commercial News, saying, "The apprentice portion is staying behind with the Ministry of College, Training and Universities, as a reporting structure, but a lot of it came down to scopes of practice, things like enforcement, we enforce those types of things, it’s much more in the bailiwick of the Ministry of Labour,"

Typically government makes these announcements with consultation, said Joe Vaccaro, chair of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance (OSTA), but "that didn’t happen here.

"How do I explain to my employers what this means on the ground when we don’t have those answers yet?

"We are just about to enter a very busy construction season, so we are looking forward to that dialogue and some answers, hopefully."

Other leaders in the construction industry agreed the explanations offered so far are inadequate.

Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), said, "Why it’s not been easy to say let’s implement Tony Dean, let’s move forward with Tony Dean’s recommendations, is something you have to ask the government."

Patrick Dillon, business manager for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, said, "I don’t know what’s been transferred, what hasn’t, who the staff is, who’s responsible for the Ontario College of Trades at the Ministry of Labour, that’s all up in the air at this point as far as I’m concerned."

"We have lots of questions, trying to figure out how to rationalize those enforcement powers," said Vaccaro.

"From an OSTA perspective, enforcement has been an issue we have been raising from the very beginning, just because the OCOT enforcement window does pull from other mini spaces, like MTCU and MOL.

"We have had a number of situations where there has been confusion, and that confusion leads to frustration, and that frustration leads to a whole pushback on the whole enforcement process. And protocol.

"So generally speaking, we sit confused as to how this is supposed to work."

Flynn had said that the government was still intent on implementing the recommendations of the Dean Review report but stakeholders suggested there has been a lack of consensus within the government and the industry as the province set about creating legislation out of Dean’s recommendations.

Legislation was originally promised in the spring, noted Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), but "they discovered that everybody was not on board, all the stars were not aligned, and so the College and some of the compulsory trades that make up the college were engaged in discussions with the minister, and for whatever reasons, I don’t know, those discussions were then deflected over to the premier’s office."

David Frame, OCGA director of government relations, also suggested that the implementation of the Dean report has been rocky.

"They’ve got significant pushback from some of the sectors who don’t agree with parts of the Dean recommendations," he said. "That’s fine, they have to decide how they are going to deal with those. Those areas of discussion are around jurisdiction, scope of trade, etc. which quite frankly the Ministry of Labour may be better off able to deal with it. That is the likely reason for the move."

Dillon suggested government needs to clarify exactly what problems it is trying to address with the latest move. The College was set up to be arm’s length from the government, he said, and in the past, he said, he has supported decisions the College has made in relation to defining apprenticeship ratios and trade reclassification.

"I am a little bit perturbed, to say the least, that there seems to be this hands-on or interference approach by the government with the College," said Dillon.

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