Opposition mounts to new College of Trades

The electricians at Kanata-based Power-Tek Electrical Services don’t have formal training in carpentry, but that doesn’t stop them from cutting the odd piece of plywood when the job calls for it.

Walter Pamic, the firm’s vice-president, says he believes those days are numbered.

Mr. Pamic is speaking out against the newly created Ontario College of Trades. When its rules come into effect next month, the organization will have regulatory power over the 157 skilled trades in the province – roles ranging from hairstylist to brick mason – similar to the function of the organizations overseeing Ontario’s teachers, nurses and other professionals.

His issue is with the college’s approach to classifying occupations in the province. Certain trades, such as electricians and plumbers, are listed as compulsory. That means people can’t work in those fields until they are accredited.

Mr. Pamic is worried the college will put fields such as carpentry into that category, meaning that every time his workers need to cut some plywood they’ll have to call in a licensed carpenter for even the simplest task.

That will increase the amount of time spent on each project, he said, eliminating efficiency and creating more costs that will ultimately be passed on to consumers, building owners and general contractors.

“The College of Trades is going to kill the handyman business,” says Mr. Pamic.

The prospect of more trades becoming compulsory is at this point little more than a fear for those opposed to the idea. And college officials point out that the same process to make a trade certification compulsory can also be used in the opposite direction and make accreditation for a specific trade voluntary.

Either way, college chair Ron Johnson says transferring powers from a government ministry to the industry itself is a positive development.

“Individual trades are now in control of their own destinies,” he says. “We’re far better off making decisions for ourselves than having some politician at Queen’s Park making them for us.”

Mr. Johnson notes the potential positives of the new system far outweigh the negatives.

One of the biggest initiatives the college hopes to work on is recruitment, says Mr. Johnson. Part of its budget, which he expects to be around $30 million by the time it’s fully operational, will fund visits to high schools and job fairs to encourage young people to consider careers in the trades.

This will help deal with what the province believes will be a shortage of such workers in the future.

It will also be beneficial for consumers, adds Mr. Johnson. Anyone thinking of hiring a skilled trades worker will be able to double-check their accreditation and whether they’ve been disciplined for their work in the past.

But that argument hasn’t stopped a groundswell of opposition from people like Mr. Pamic.

A group called Stop The Trades Tax, which claims on its website to represent more than 8,000 businesses in the province, has signed up groups such as the Ottawa Construction Association to oppose the college.

The issue has also been hotly contested in the political sphere. The opposition Progressive Conservatives have promised to eliminate the college if they win the next election.

The concern from businesses like Power-Tek has done little to sway the opinion of the governing Liberals, however. Labour Minister and Ottawa MPP Yasir Naqvi said in an interview his party has no plans to scrap the initiative it started several years ago.

SIDEBAR: What businesses need to know

Businesses are not required to pay dues to the new College of Trades once it starts collecting money from members on April 8, says college chair Ron Johnson.

However, those licensed tradespeople will see their annual certification fees increase by about 600 per cent. Workers used to pay $60 every three years. That will increase to $120 each year when their membership comes up for renewal after the start date a month from now.

Only compulsory trades workers are required to pay the fees, says Mr. Johnson.

However, he believes businesses and those working in non-compulsory trades will want to join anyway, he says, since they can use it as a seal of approval that they are in good standing with the governing body.