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The OCC — Ontario construction’s new think-tank

Grant Cameron
The OCC — Ontario construction’s new think-tank

There’s a new kid on the think-tank block that will be working to influence the Ontario government and stakeholders about issues affecting the ICI and residential construction sectors.

The organization, called the Ontario Construction Consortium (OCC), will conduct research in an effort to guide decisionmakers when it comes to issues on education, training and worksite safety.

The consortium is headed by founding executive director Phil Gillies, a former Progressive Conservative MPP for Brantford for six years in the 1980s and Minister of Skills Development in the minority government of Premier Frank Miller. He’s also a former vice-president of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton.

“We’re up and running, we’re functional right now, and we’ve got the resources on a very modest scale, but as time goes by I’d like to broaden that,” he said. “My message right now is that we’re here to listen and learn. I would like to hear from anybody that would like to discuss these important issues. We are very keen to engage with people and organizations right across the industry and get their input.”

Gillies said the consortium will prepare briefs and whitepapers to inform government and stakeholders about issues because there are often gaps in research and they must rely on papers from the U.S.

The organization is presently funded through memberships and support that has flowed through the Interior Systems Contractors Association (ISCA) which represents more than 80 contractors, 30 suppliers and manufacturers throughout Ontario and employs more than 10,000 members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

 

We are an organization unto ourselves and we’re not just advocating for ISCA,

— Phil Gillies

Ontario Construction Consortium

 

“There were a number of interests that felt that there was a point of view that needed to be somewhat more forcibly expressed in the sector with regard to education and training, safety on construction sites, and quality of work, and a lot of the impetus came from the members who make up ISCA,” said Gillies.

ISCA members were quite frustrated at seeing forceful views coming from organizations such as CARDUS, a think-tank that is closely linked to the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada as well as its alternative-union partner the Christian Labour Association of Canada, he said.

“They felt that some of the arguments on the other side and the positions on the other side weren’t being represented, so they decided to start up this new organization.”

However, Gillies said the consortium intends to represent the interests of both the union and non-union construction sectors.

“We take input and advocate with both sides of that coin in mind,” he said.

“We are an organization unto ourselves and we’re not just advocating for ISCA, but it is a broader brush.”

The organization hit the ground running, delving headlong into the debate over Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018, and in that battle took a position that was in agreement with the union stance.

“I started and I think it wasn’t even 10 days later that the provincial government introduced Bill 66 with the proposed dismantling of the union contracts with the municipalities and other similar organizations.”

Gillies worked on that file until the end of the municipal votes a few months ago. He penned articles in various media, arguing that union work is only marginally more expensive yet brings a myriad of benefits such as pensions and benefits for workers, safer worksites and investments in training.

He did advocacy work on the issue in Toronto and Hamilton where he campaigned for trying to maintain their relationships with unions. He is now focused on marketing the OCC to various construction industry stakeholders.

“As time goes by, and now that our feet have touched the ground somewhat and Bill 66 has been dealt with, I want to broaden the support and reach out to a number of organizations.”

Gillies has been meeting with groups and individuals in the industry to let them know the organization has been formed and figure out the most important issues.

“I’m telling them what the organization is about and getting people informed and comfortable on what we’re doing. The next push is in the fall when we’ll start doing rounds and soliciting some tangible support.”

A big issue on the horizon is the looming shortage of skilled trades.

Gillies said it’s something he hears about on a daily basis.

“We want to look at the changes the province is proposing with regard to apprenticeships and I’ve been in touch with the new Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Ross Romano and also with the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to let them know we would very much like to engage with them.”

Romano, for one, has indicated he wants to encourage students at the secondary school level to look at the skilled trades as a viable career option, which is terrific, said Gillies.

“I want to know what they have in mind and how we might be able to encourage that because I think it’s a great initiative.”

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