By Anja Karadeglija
Ottawa Construction News writer
The province’s ICI construction sector is positive about working with Ontario’s new premier and her cabinet, and expects workplace health and safety to be an important issue in the coming months.
David Frame, the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA)’s director of government relations, says the organization is pleased Kathleen Wynne has a focus on financing and building infrastructure.
“We’ve worked with (former premier Dalton McGuinty’s) government on that file, making sure that there’s a full appreciation of the need for infrastructure and the need to move forward in a timely way,” he said. “The government has put forward a long-term infrastructure plan and Kathleen Wynne’s experience (as former transportation minister), I think has helped her to fully understand and buy into the need to continue that.”
Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), is also optimistic about the new premier. Wynne is familiar with COCA, and “with regard to Kathleen Wynne sitting at the top of the government of Ontario, that’s a good thing for us,” he said.
One significant cabinet change that will affect the construction industry is the shuffling of Bob Chiarelli from infrastructure to energy.
Frame said that Chiarelli was an excellent minister and the OGCA would have liked to have him stay on, but that Glen Murray, the new infrastructure and transportation minister, has a good understanding of important issues.
“In particular, because he is from Toronto, he has a particular appreciation of the issues related to gridlock and infrastructure that need to be solved,” he said.
Cunningham called Chiarelli a “very capable minister” and one that COCA had a good relationship with, but noted that COCA was looking forward to working with Murray as well.
Frame said he doesn’t see any big changes on the horizon between the two administrations.
“The issues really don’t change, it’s the people you’re dealing with to some degree that do,” he noted.
Cunningham explained that McGuinty’s prorogation of Ontario’s parliament, his resignation, and the election of a new leader brought some renewal to Ontario’s Liberal party, and he expects there might be more emphasis on collaboration and cooperation in the Wynne administration.
“Whether that’s going to work, who knows, but I’m optimistic she’ll give it a good go,” said Cunningham.
One of the big issues the OGCA will be focusing on is the College of the Trades, which it opposes; the association hopes to work with Brad Duguid, the new Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, on the file.
The OGCA will also be keeping an eye the budget.
“It’s the old trade-off between reducing the deficit while continuing to fund the operations of important social programs while continuing to invest in infrastructure, so it’s a very tough trade off,” Frame said.
Another key area will be workplace safety, with the government launching discussions around a prevention strategy soon.
“We’re going to be focusing a lot of prevention in the next little while. We’re going to be talking to the government about some ideas we have about how they can strengthen prevention, particularly in the construction industry,” he said.
Cunnigham also sees health and safety as an important file in the near future.
“We’ve also been working with the Minister of Labour’s new prevention office to revamp Ontario’s occupational health and safety system, and there’s lots going on in that file,” he said. “We want to make sure that changes are implemented that work for construction.”
In addition to advocating for consistent, planned funding for infrastructure, COCA will also keep an eye on WSIB reform, with the organization hoping to see an end to the automatic 72-month lock-in provision.
Additionally, reforming the Construction Lien Act is a long-standing and important issue for COCA, which plans to address it with this government. COCA is happy to see John Gerretsen continue as attorney general, Cunningham noted.
“He has given us some positive signals about the possibility of entertaining reform of the Construction Lien Act, so we’re pleased with that and we’ll continue to pursue that,” he said, adding that all three parties have also signaled support of prompt payment legislation, and that COCA is optimistic that might become reality.