After a half decade of squabbling among Ontario’s trades, the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) has pressed the reset button and is poised to begin achieving the goals set out when it launched in 2013.
That’s the view of OCOT chair Pat Blackwood, who was interviewed as OCOT sets about drafting regulations to implement amendments to the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act approved by the Ontario legislature in December.
OCOT is currently seeking feedback on four topics: journeyperson to apprenticeship ratios, compliance and enforcement policy, trade classification reviews and a program evaluation process.
A consultation "road show" began Feb. 13 in Sudbury and an online consultation process was initiated Jan. 30 that will remain open until Feb. 28.
Blackwood said he was buoyed by the reception OCOT representatives received at a January 27 forum held in Toronto, attended by 150 construction sector stakeholders.
"If that had been two years ago, they would have been standing up there yelling at us, ‘we don’t like this, we want to abolish the college, get rid of the college,’" said Blackwood.
"There was none of that. It was totally supportive. We had excellent responses from the people that were in that room."
The amendments, contained in the Liberals’ Bill 70, were approved two years after the provincial government appointed former high-level civil servant Tony Dean to conduct a review of OCOT policy and practices.
In its first three years of existence, the college had come under fire from some stakeholders who accused it of bias towards compulsory trades and ineffectiveness in resolving scopes of practice disputes, among diverse complaints.
In the weeks leading up to third reading of Bill 70, public spats broke out between rival groups of compulsory and non-compulsory trades.
"The last thing we want is people fighting," said Blackwood. "We want people working together. If everybody gets behind this college, it will be the most successful thing in the world.
"Once people understand what the college does, we are going to look after their scopes, we are going to make sure their curriculum is up to date, we are going to make sure their apprenticeship standards are up to date, we are going to promote apprenticeships out there. All that good stuff we’re doing is for the benefit of the trades."
Alone among the four areas of current consultation is the program evaluation process, which was not included in Bill 70.
The process was approved by the OCOT board in 2015 and Blackwood explained it’s intended to identify and eliminate irrelevant trades from the current roster of 156 trades now on the books. "There are 95 trades in Ontario that are not in any other province," said Blackwood. "When you get down to brass tacks there may be 70 bona fide trades."
In some of the minor trades listed, OCOT researchers have found, there are very few or no journeypersons or apprentices engaged in the work at all.
As for trade classification reviews (TCR), OCOT’s Regulations Committee has been working to develop a new TCR referral regulation that would feed all requests for a TCR to a new Classification Roster. Panels from that roster will review scopes of practice for each trade and will have the power to determine whether trades should be compulsory or voluntary.
At some point in the future, with OCOT clearly defining the scopes of practice of each trade and documenting overlaps, that will "take away a lot of those arguments and discussions out there," Blackwood said.
Ideally, he said, trades should not be making side deals between themselves about scopes of practice.
"It is not safe for the public if people are making agreements," said Blackwood. "Especially if the agreements include people doing compulsory trades work. So hopefully going forward, once we get everybody working together, once we get the proper scopes, once we recognize that there are overlaps, if they want to do overlaps, do them in here (OCOT), recognize them, in our scopes."
Bill 70 required OCOT to develop a new compliance and enforcement (C&E) policy through a new C&E committee and have it approved by the OCOT board, delivered to the minister of labour and made public by June 6.
"There is a lot of history there," Blackwood said, referring to C&E issues.
"There is a lot of history between the jurisdictional disputes, the labour board, and there’s the green book on construction that they’ve had since the ’50s, that’s 60 years of who does what work. We are going to try to go down right the middle of that…and come up with a policy that is going to protect the public interest and is going to do the job that we are required to do under the legislation."