Halloween is only a couple of days away, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already put on his monster mask and is threatening to bring down the province’s training and apprenticeship system in favour of an inferior British Columbia-style atrocity by introducing Bill 47.
Ford has cleverly disguised his plans as a treat to employers, but it is nothing more than a trick on skilled trades workers, and ultimately the taxpayers who will be left holding the empty candy bag when the alleged worker shortage actually becomes a reality.
One only needs to review the government’s media release to appreciate how ill-advised this plan is.
The release notes: “Ontario’s journeyperson to apprentice ratios likely contribute to the higher costs seen in the construction sector.”
Likely? Ford’s actions should not be based on the word “likely.”
Take it from us, Ontario: you don’t want what Ford has planned.
In 2002, our own B.C. Liberal government eliminated compulsory trades, slashed training support, increased tuition fees for apprentices, cut staffing at our provincial training authority and closed regional training offices across the province.
This opened the door for cheaper, unskilled labour to perform work previously done by apprentices or journeypersons, leading to compromises in safety, quality and consumer protection.
Many contractors jumped at the chance to hire workers with little or no qualifications at minimum wages. This trend spread like wildfire through the residential and road construction sectors.
But when contractors in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors tried to get in on the wage race to the bottom, they faced a unique challenge. Many ICI projects require skilled workers with significant technical training and take place in remote areas of the province. Owning a pair of work boots and a hammer simply didn’t cut it.
Rather than face the reality that they should offer appropriate wages to attract skilled British Columbians, ICI contractors filled positions with temporary foreign workers for even lower wages.
It’s now 2018 and B.C. remains the only province in Canada that does not require certification for construction trades. That means potentially dangerous fields like electrical, refrigeration, crane operation and plumbing can be performed by anyone.
Let’s remind ourselves that B.C. construction workers sustain an occupational fatality rate that is three times the provincial average compared to other sectors.
Moreover, without Red Seal trades certification, uncertified workers don’t meet industry standards and their mobility to work in other provinces is restricted. Do Ontarians want to face these same restrictions?
B.C. has created a lost generation of trades workers. Today, our workforce lacks the depth and breadth of skills training to meet our current needs. Apprenticeship completion rates are down and our province holds the record for the most dangerous place for workplace injuries in Canada.
So, Ontario, take it from British Columbia, and put the brakes on this so-called “modernization” of your apprenticeship system through Bill 47. Ford’s plan is nothing more than a short-sighted blueprint to impoverish and de-skill a generation of workers, who will learn too late the buried potential of their own labour.
Tom Sigurdson is the executive director of the BC Building Trades. Send comments and Industry Perspectives Op-Ed column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.