Open up our skilled trades to create more jobs

By MPP Toby Barrett
In the coming weeks, I look forward to joining the ‘Helping Ontarians Enter Skilled Trades Tour’ – designed to address the reality where we suffer from both high unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers.

The work being done by those in the skilled trades – our electricians, welders, plumbers, carpenters and masons who helped build Ontario – is central to the future success of our province.

But at a time when job creation efforts are urgently required, government and some union leaders have combined to make it more difficult to enter the skilled trades. While we in Opposition have long argued against artificially high, apprenticeship ratios, the situation is getting worse with government’s creation of the fee dependent “College of Trades”.

We see cases where some skilled trades require as many as three or five journeymen to train one apprentice while many other provinces operated at a 1 to 1 ratio. This leaves Ontario at a competitive disadvantage while allowing unions to limit competition from new workers.

As we’ve been arguing since before the last election, Ontario should have a model of one journeyman to one apprentice across all the trades. To that end, Opposition Critic for Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Reform, Garfield Dunlop introduced a Private Members’ Bill, Helping Ontarians Enter Skilled Trades Act, 2012, for the creation of new apprenticeship jobs by reducing the ratio of journeymen to apprentices to 1-to-1.

Clearly, the time is long past to modernize Ontario’s apprenticeship system, which under the Opposition plan would create 200,000 skilled-trades jobs.

In addition to concerns over apprenticeship ratios, government is giving some union leaders even more control of trades training with its new College of Trades. The College is preparing to charge tradespeople big new fees, making it even more difficult to get into trades. For example, right now, tradespeople are paying $20 per year for a qualification certificate and under the new structure anyone from mechanics to hairdressers will be forced to pay up to $140 annually.

President of the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Associations Mark VanBree called the college’s fees, “a tax grab” – noting a lack of transparency about how the money will be spent, and labeling it as, “an $84 million tax to the working people and the business owners in the Province of Ontario.”

The Ontario Construction of Employers Coalition (OCEC), which employ more than 80,000 skilled tradespeople across Ontario has also come out strongly against this trades tax – again estimating at minimum $84 million will be collected. They have argued that no new benefits will come from collecting these fees and launched a website: OCEC Chair, Sean Reid has noted that, “While the College’s benefits are highly questionable, the College’s future as a job killer is certain.”

A job-killing college is that last thing this province, and its fragile economy, needs.

Attend our ‘trades tour’ on Monday November 5 either at 9am at the Dutch Mill Restaurant, Highway 5 in Flamborough – hosted by Opposition candidate Donna Skelly – or 12 noon at Simcoe’s Little River Inn. Contact me at 1-800-903-8629 or [email protected].