Construction associations fund radio campaign opposing Ontario College of Trades

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            Goal: To sway Ottawa South by-election results

Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Several construction associations stepped into the fray in the Aug. 1 Ottawa-South by-election campaign, supporting the costs of a radio campaign opposing the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT).

Although not stated directly, the implied intent of the “stop the trades tax” campaign sought to support conservative party candidate Matt Young, against Liberal John Fraser and the NDP’s Bronwyn Funiciello.  Fraser had worked for former premier Dalton McGuinty, who resigned to create one of five by-election opportunities.

In the end, Fraser succeeded in retaining the seat as a Liberal riding. The Liberals won one of four other by-elections, the NDP gained two seats, and the Progressive Conservative party succeeded in one riding.  Since the NDP, in coalition with the Liberals, supports the OCOT, the results indicate a setback for the anti-OCOT movement.

Organizations which contributed more than $10,000 to the radio ad campaign include the Ottawa Construction Association (OCA), the Ottawa chapter of the Ontario Electrical League (OEL), the National Capital Heavy Construction Association, and the Ottawa chapter of the Ontario General Contractors Association. Collectively, these groups represent 1,200 employers and 10,000 tradespeople in the Ottawa area, the news release says.

The OCOT has become an ideological battlefield, with organized labour, backed by the Liberal and NDP parties, supporting its establishment and operation, and several employer groups and some individual workers strongly opposed.  The OCA left the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA) when it objected to COCA’s neutral stance about the OCOT.

“This government has taken money away from Ottawa tradespeople and their families to fund Queen’s Park’s newest bureaucracy, said Walter Pamic, vice-president of Power-Tec Electrical Services Inc. and president of the OEL’s Ottawa chapter.  Pamic is also incoming chair of Merit Ontario, which advocates for the open shop movement.

Pamic is especially angry that Quebec tradespeople crossing the border to work in Ontario do not need to pay the OCOT fees.  “So working as a tradesperson in Ottawa is now more expensive if you live in Ontario,” he said.  “Fairness is supposed to be a two-way street, particularly in the workplace, so we cannot understand why our own government would provide a comparative advantage to workers from Quebec over workers from Ontario.”

Pamic and other non-union employers believe the objectives behind the OCOT are to force more trades into “mandatory certification” such as is required for electricians and plumbers. (Pamic’s business employs electricians.) The regulations restrict the ability of employers to use non-certified workers for various jobs on site which could easily and safely be handled by more junior employees, including summer students.

The anti-OCOT organizations call the certification fees a “trades tax.”

“Ottawa tradespeople are outraged,” said Paul McCarney, the OCA’s chair. “We’re urging voters to educate themselves about where each party stands and cast their ballot for a candidate who supports tradespeople and eliminating the trades tax.”

The campaign broadcast two ads on stations including the Bear, Team 1200 and CFRA.  The first focuses on the “trades tax” as an added cost to tradespeople while providing little value, while the second highlights the disadvantage that the OCOT fees place on Ontario workers compared to those living in Quebec.  Local candidates also received a questionnaire asking them to outline their views about the OCOT fees.

The fees took effect on April 8 and will cost each tradesperson between $60 and $120 per year, a 600 per cent increase for most tradespeople, the news release said.

“Tradespeople across the board, from construction workers to hairdressers to plumbers, are being forced to pay the trades tax to fulfill a membership requirement for the Ontario College of Trades,” the announcement said. “The trades tax will also get passed on to consumers, increasing the cost of infrastructure to cities, developers and homeowners.”

The news release says that over the last year, many groups have raised concerns about the OCOT and its fees. These include the Stop the Trades Tax campaign, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Ontario Home Builders’ Association  and the Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA), described in the news release as the “largest construction union in North America.”

Originally, the employer coalition groups planned to co-ordinate ad campaigns in several of the five  ridings contested in the summer by-elections, but in the end, they raised enough funds to focus the issue in Ottawa South alone.

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