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Stopping "the trades tax" necessary, says Thurston

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Ontario is facing a huge skilled-labour shortage, with an estimated 100,000 new tradespeople needed in the next 10 years. As Tim Armstrong noted in his Feb. 28th column, it’s critical that we work to expand Ontario’s skilled labour force to fill that gap.

Ontario is facing a huge skilled-labour shortage, with an estimated 100,000 new tradespeople needed in the next 10 years. As Tim Armstrong noted in his Feb. 28th column, it’s critical that we work to expand Ontario’s skilled labour force to fill that gap.

Where we differ is the assertion that we need to build a massive new bureaucracy to do it.

In order to fund the Ontario College of Trades, the provincial government is planning to tax both tradespeople and employers hundreds of dollars a year in “membership fees.”

Does this tax give tradespeople better access to tools to perform their job? Does this tax help businesses more easily bring on-board apprentices? Does this tax help attract new people to the skilled trades?

No, it doesn’t. Tradespeople and business owners will still be doing the same jobs, with the same challenges, but with less money in their pockets.

College supporters, who claim those opposed the College are just a “cadre of construction companies”, have dismissed these well-founded concerns. My dictionary tells me that “cadre” refers to a small group of people who are specially trained in a profession. While I agree with the second half, to call the opposition to the College small is nothing short of delusional.

In reality, 31 associations, representing trades as diverse as auto dealers, hairdressers and, yes, construction companies, have joined together to oppose the College as part of the Stop The Trades Tax Campaign.

These 31 associations represent over 130,000 tradespeople and 8,000 small, medium and large businesses. But it doesn’t stop there, The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and the largest union in North America, LIUNA, have also raised concerns about the College. And that’s just a start.

To give you a sense of the fiscal impact, the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) where I serve as president, is just one of these associations. The OGCA itself represents 202 businesses who do over $10 billion in business in this province every year. And that’s just one member.

Multiply that by 31 and then come back and tell me the opposition is small.

No matter what its supporters claim, opposition to the College is overwhelming, and gaining momentum daily. The business community, unions and tradespeople are against the College. So why won’t the government listen? Who is driving this agenda?

I wish I had the answer. But today I’m standing up to say that the creation of a multimillion-dollar government bureaucracy on the backs of hardworking tradespeople in service to a hidden agenda is unacceptable. Particularly when it’s under the guise of job creation for the industry.

We need more boots on the ground, not more bureaucrats at Queen’s Park.

I was also dismayed to read reports that our main criticism is that the College will only benefit unions. I find this curious, because of all the criticisms of the College, and there are a multitude, that isn’t one of them.

As OGCA president I work with unions all the time. Our members run union shops and we have a great deal of respect for the work they do and see it as essential to our business. Frankly, I find it offensive to dismiss the genuine concerns of tradespeople and businesses as union bashing.

Secondly, the largest union in North America has actually come out and opposed the College. In a letter to the College this past December, LIUNA director John Mandarino noted, “we fear that the college is becoming an added layer of bureaucracy that no longer accurately represents the skilled trades in Ontario.”

Opposition to the trades tax is not rooted in minority elements in the construction sector. It is rooted in the hardworking core of tradespeople and business owners across this province. It’s rooted in the idea that when you pay for something, you should get something concrete in return.

The OGCA and our campaign partners are going to keep fighting to stop the trades tax, because we think it’s the right thing to do. We want to urge organizations and associations who have not yet taken a stand on this issue to do so. Stand up for tradespeople and join the Stop The Trades Tax campaign.

Clive Thurston is the president of the Ontario General Contractors Association.
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