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CPO reclassification alarms construction stakeholders

Don Wall
CPO reclassification alarms construction stakeholders

Construction stakeholders are fuming that the provincial government has changed the status of its Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) for health and safety, charging that downgrading the CPO from associate deputy minister to assistant deputy minister sends a message that safety is no longer a top priority.

“It’s bad news all around,” commented David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA).

“We know the Ministry of Labour has been very busy on various issues. This shows health and safety has been reduced as a priority within the Ministry of Labour. That is what it says to me.”

A spokesperson in the office of Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn told the Daily Commercial News the switch was merely a change in classification and wrote, “This in no way affects the role and duty of the Chief Prevention Officer. The definition of the position and the duties found within the legislation have not changed.”


The recent steps by the government to downgrade the CPO to what amounts to a ‘bureaucrat’ is ridiculous,

— Patrick Dillon

Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario


Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), who raised the issue in a recent COCA newsletter, dismissed that defence.

“They can say what they can say but when a job that was ranked as an associate deputy minister becomes an assistant deputy minister, there is a difference in status, a difference in pay,” he said.

“In my view this is a very significant downgrading of the position.

“The duties prescribed in the legislation remain the same, but the reporting line to the minister is not the same.”

Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, registered his displeasure with the move in a written statement.

“The recent steps by the government to downgrade the CPO to what amounts to a ‘bureaucrat’ is ridiculous,” he said.

The position of the CPO was created by the province following the recommendation of consultant Tony Dean, who was asked to look into the province’s health and safety regime in the wake of the fatal December 2009 swing stage tragedy. Dean recommended the creation of a new health and safety body that would develop policy and advise the minister of labour. Faced with opposition to that idea, the government instead created the CPO office within the ministry, with the CPO given the status of an associate deputy minister who would directly advise the minister, Cunningham explained.

Then, he said, a search was made to fill the role and George Gritziotis, the respected founding executive director of the Construction Sector Council (now BuildForce) with extensive stakeholder-relations experience, was named to the job.

Among the CPO’s major initiatives under Gritziotis was the Construction Health and Safety Action Plan unveiled last May. But his appointment as registrar of the Ontario College of Trades last fall left the CPO position open.
The Ministry of Labour spokesperson explained, “The classification of the position has been changed to provide a classification consistent with similar positions within the organization.”


The fact that critical deaths are occurring means that prevention has a long way to go,

— Patrick Dillon

Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario


Upon hearing that Frame said, “I believe they have confirmed our concerns.

“The CPO was to be directly accountable to the minister for the performance of the prevention system. That is gone. All assistant deputy ministers report to the deputy minister. The CPO is now another cog in the ministry…When the CPO has an initiative he or she will have to sell it inside the ministry and deal with internal politics before it reaches the minister’s desk. Direct accountability is gone.”
Cunningham said the issue in part is that Gritziotis took the job in 2011 as a person outside of the government who had significant respect within the industry.

“Coming from the outside he brought a different perspective of leadership and what can be done, a new level of energy and enthusiasm, and he reported directly to the ministry for strategy and programs and reported to the deputy minister for budget and staffing issues,” he said.
“The new person will no doubt be a 20-year Ontario public service veteran, somebody with lots of public service experience, and of course that is an advantage, but the kind of passion and leadership and enthusiasm and strength that Tony Dean had in mind, it won’t be quite the same.”

Frame said a key role of Gritziotis as CPO was to liaise between government and the growing health and safety movement in the private sector to nurture its development.

“The CPO position was to work between government and industry to make that happen,” he said. “And now it is just another bureaucratic function.”

Dillon called for a return to the original suggestion of an independent safety officer.

“The fact that critical deaths are occurring means that prevention has a long way to go,” he said. “The Building Trades Council supports an independent CPO and a prevention office separate from the MOL.”

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Clive Thurston Image Clive Thurston

The OGCA strongly supports Mr. Dillon’s call to return to the original recommendation by Mr. Dean of an independent safety officer to do anything less compleatly undermines the Dean reforms.


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