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College of Trades, offshore wind eastern Ontario election issues

Greg Meckbach

Road rehabilitation, renewable energy and the Ontario College of Trades are all issues for the construction industry in eastern Ontario in the provincial election. The Kingston Construction Association and the National Capital Heavy Construction Association weigh in on the Ontario provincial election, raising questions about funding for road construction and the policy on offshore wind electrical power generation stations.

Road rehabilitation, offshore wind farms and the Ontario College of Trades are all issues for the construction industry in eastern Ontario in the provincial election campaign.

Asked whether she endorses any particular party, the president of the National Capital Heavy Construction Association (NCHCA) said she does not, and is confused by the ruling Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and New Democratic parties.

“I don’t want to say our association is going any particular way and we’re certainly not telling our membership to go a particular way,” Deborah Mohr-Caldwell said.

For the NCHCA, a major issue is funding from upper levels of government for the rehabilitation of roads and bridges in the Ottawa area.

“When I look at infrastructure, roads, buildings, bridges and our sewer and watermain systems, we are very much in a state where we’re not renewing or rehabilitating at a rate that we should be,” Mohr-Caldwell said.

“In Ottawa in the last seven years we have developed a better rate-supported budget for water and sewer, so there is stuff happening on a somewhat regular basis, but we currently have no specific allocation to roads and bridges and because of that it is dramatically underfunded.”

Citing a report from the Auditor-General, she said if asphalt is rehabilitated within 12 to 15 years, it will cost about $80,000 per kilometer-lane, but if you wait until three years past that window, it will cost about $250,000 per kilometer-lane to do a full reconstruction.

“We are not rehabilitating roads in that window,” she said.

The City of Ottawa will need an additional $1.1 billion over the next 10 years from upper levels of government, she added.

“I am afraid that the province will be waiting on the federal government to do stimulus funding similar to two years ago, and waiting for that to happen doesn’t solve the issues.”

Further south in Kingston, a major issue is alternate sources of energy, said Harry Sullivan, Executive Director of the Kingston Construction Association.

He alluded to the Windstream Wolfe Islands Shoals Offshore Wind Power Project, for which the Ontario Power Authority signed a contract with Windstream Energy Inc. under the provincial Feed-in-Tariff program, which provides fixed rates for 20 years for companies generating electricity using solar photovoltaic, wind, water, biomass or other renewable sources.

But that contract was cancelled when the province put a halt to offshore wind projects.

“There was the one plan that was approved, basically a contract was signed and then abruptly cancelled,” Sullivan said.

“We don’t take a political stance on that (but) we’d like to see additional clarity and policy guidelines around that. There’s just a lot of uncertainty around the concept now.”

Another area of uncertainty is the Ontario College of Trades, which the Liberals introduced in 2009 to issue licences, set standards for training and certification, and determine the ratios of journeyman-to-apprentice. It is scheduled to be operational by 2012.

“No one is entirely sure what’s going on,” with regard to the college, Sullivan said. “Let’s get some more information on it.”

Mohr-Caldwell said the College of Trades is also of concern in Ottawa.

“In Ottawa last year, they had a travelling road show, so to speak, where they were having public meetings with respect to College of Trades but it seemed to be pretty well a done deal when we attended the meeting,” she said.

“They didn’t seem to be as interested in hearing from concerned organizations. We had two representatives go to the meeting but they walked away feeling very dissatisfied.”

She added the introduction of the trades college will affect the construction industry because many workers who are not interested in a post-secondary education will be forced to go back to school.

“It looks as if this College of Trades will go through and there are questions with regard to how it will affect our industry.”

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