Pledges buried in the recent Ontario economic statement confirm the suspicions of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) leadership that huge structural changes are afoot that will transform the construction sector in Ontario over the next year.
OGCA president Clive Thurston and director of government relations David Frame predict broad reforms to several or each of Metrolinx, Infrastructure Ontario, the province’s public-private partnership procurement model and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) following an industry consultation process that will unfold in coming months.
The OGCA executives said there have already been significant talks involving the association, its allies and representatives of several government ministries and the collaboration will continue.
“My feeling is there will be a ground-shifting event,” said Thurston, who was asked for comment after Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli released the government’s 2018 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review on Nov. 15. “This is not going to be tweaking.
“This government has clearly indicated the status quo is no longer in effect. We have to work really, really hard over the next year to bring these ideas forward, to give them the best advice, and I believe they will act on it. I believe we will see major changes in the leadership of all these organizations and also structural change as well.”
Frame and Thurston noted the Doug Ford government, elected in June, had already acted boldly in announcing it was folding the Ontario College of Trades by the end of next year and reforming the province’s apprenticeship system.
Why does it take such a huge organization to run the WSIB,
— David Frame
Ontario General Contractors Association
“There needs to be a sober second look at some of these things because they have grown huge and in some cases I would say bloated. And we have felt some of them have lost their way,” said Thurston.
The WSIB recently announced premium cuts across the board following the elimination of its unfunded liability, and Frame said the organization now has unacceptably high administrative costs compared with revenues.
“That presents the question, why does it take such a huge organization to run the WSIB?” said Frame. “It has run much leaner in past years.”
Frame also questioned why the WSIB is implementing major and expensive rate framework reforms when, he said, simple changes to the existing system would have been adequate.
The economic statement called for a review of the workers’ compensation system to ensure it remains sustainable and it said the government “will also consider, as part of the review of provincial agencies, whether the WSIB is operating efficiently and effectively, and whether the governance framework can fulfil its mandate.”
The statement also outlined a review of Metrolinx. Thurston said under new president and CEO Phil Verster the transportation agency has been consulting more closely with the OGCA than previous regimes did but still, reform is due.
“The government came to us and said, ‘what do you think of Metrolinx, how is it operating,’ ” he said. “And they asked us the same questions about Infrastructure Ontario, how is it going, is it achieving its goals, and frankly, as much as we have had good relations with IO, no, it’s not reaching its goals. It has become very bureaucratic and change needs to happen.
“Metrolinx, they are addressing the concerns of the industry but there is more to do.”
Thurston and Frame said they are also concerned whether the prompt payment and adjudication systems enacted in the new Construction Act will be up and running properly by the implementation date next Oct. 1. The economic statement included what Frame called “tweaking” to Construction Act regulations but the OGCA has no evidence the attorney general will be able to tender out the adjudication function, hire staff, develop policies, create an education program and open its doors all within the next 11 months.
Thurston said the OGCA is working within and alongside industry allies the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario, the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance and the Construction Employers Coalition for WSIB and Health and Safety to consult with the government on reforms.
“Tell us where and when you want to meet because we’re ready,” he said. “We are advocating those changes proactively. We have actual solutions.”