Doug Ford’s other fumble: taking the trades backward

As Doug Ford approaches the completion of his first three years as premier, public attention is understandably focused principally on his mismanagement on the COVID pandemic.

However, there are other longer-term areas of Ford-created chaos, one of which involves labour issues.

Within weeks of his election, Ford eliminated the Liberals’ announced increase of the minimum wage, withdrew recently enacted additions to the Employment Standards Act and cancelled an important element in the bargaining-rights entitlement of the construction trades under the Labour Relations Act.

Arguably the most significant of Ford’s labour-related determinations was his abolition of the College of Trades.

In 2008 I was appointed by the McGuinty government to study and report upon the registration of all trades — construction, motive power and service. Among other recommendations. I proposed the establishment of the College of Trades for several reasons.

First, to raise the trades’ public profile and remove any stigma or sense of inferiority to those performing the essential requirements of these increasingly complex professions.

Second, to promote increased emphasis on the necessity in the trades for increased employment based on gender, age, Indigenous status and ethnicity.

Third, to establish a broadly representative employer/employee body to deal with essential governance matters, in appropriate interaction with the governing ministry’s trades specialists.

Fourth, to recognize the trades’ entitlement to and responsible use of a centralized governing body, similar to those existing for teachers, accountants, architects, lawyers and other professions.

This college concept was adopted by the government. It was subsequently structured in specific legislative detail by Justice Kevin Whitaker in 2011 and positively reviewed in 2015 by former secretary of the cabinet (now Senator) Tony Dean.

At the time of Ford’s abolition the college, following a necessary period of staffing and external appointments, was operating effectively, under the active and progressive leadership of its board chair Pat Blackwood, formerly Unifor’s director of skilled trades.

The reason for Ford’s early and abrupt decision against the college is not entirely clear. However, it is known that there were objections to the college from a very few well-funded labour and management groups from the construction industries, who were benefiting from the haphazard system which preceded the corrective governance proposals granted to the college.

In 2019 the government eliminated the college under the Modernizing Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Act, restoring the previous bureaucratically controlled Apprenticeship and Trades Qualifications Act. However, the act’s proclamation was deferred pending examination by a ministerial-appointed panel which, to my knowledge, has still not issued a full public report.

Many, most notably the Provincial and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, under the able leadership of Pat Dillon, have launched vigorous attacks on the destruction of the college. There is, however, no sign of retreat by the government on the issue.

The legislative governance of the trades, other than those engaged in federally governed activities, is the constitutional responsibility of the provinces. However, the federal budget of April 19 gave considerable attention and substantial funding to all of the skilled trades, wherever located in Canada.

Specifically, the budget provides $ 470 million over three years to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to establish a new apprenticeship service. It is said that this will help first-year apprentices in construction and manufacturing connect with small- and medium-sized employers.

In addition, the budget gives $ 360 million over three years to ESDC for a new Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program to assist 90,000 Canadians with training in the skilled trades.



Finally, the budget in a further item, contributes $ 55 million over three years to ESDC for a Community Workforce Development Program to support communities in connecting employers with job trainers, calculated to benefit 25,000 workers, 250 businesses and 25 communities.

While these items are clearly of assistance to those adversely affected by the pandemic, they clearly reflect Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recognition of the urgent need for much-increased attention to the trades’ sectors of the economy.

Query: what will Premier Ford’s comments be on these substantial trades initiatives by the Trudeau government, in marked contrast to his own negative trades action?

Tim Armstrong is a labour lawyer and former Ontario deputy minister of labour and industry.


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