By Ian Cunningham
President, Council of Ontario Construction Associations
It’s our pleasure to provide this update to the members of the Barrie Construction Association on the issues of primary importance to our industry that are percolating at Queen’s Park.
The shifting political landscape
The October 6, 2011 provincial election produced a minority Liberal government with the Liberals holding 53 seats, the PCs 37 and the NDP 17. The Liberals, in a way that seemed more than a little awkward for a government with eight years under its belt, were learning how to make their new minority position work when Premier McGuinty appointed Elizabeth Witmer as chair of the WSIB. The widely respected, moderate Progressive Conservative MPP resigned her seat and the yet-to-be-scheduled by-election in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding is certain to be hotly contested A Liberal victory would put the Liberals back in majority and would be a serious blow to the leadership of Tim Hudak. Stay tuned.
Snap election averted after six days of budget wrangling
The 327 page omnibus budget bill passed in the Ontario legislature on June 20 with a vote of 52-35 with the NDP abstaining from the vote. The vote ended a frantic, drama-filled six days of name calling, political posturing and election threats between the governing Liberals and the NDP. Ontarians were almost sent to the polls this summer after the NDP, with the backing of the Tories, began to make amendments and schedule changes to the Budget bill at committee hearings around labour arbitration and privatizing government services.
The governing Liberals were caught completely flat-footed by these amendments and were enraged the amendments passed, which prompted Premier Dalton McGuinty to threaten an election if any more changes were made to the Budget and accusations of promises being broken. What ensued was six days of squabbling and mudslinging that quickly turned personal and left both party leaders with battle scars in the public domain. In the end, both McGuinty and Horwarth retreated from their hard-line stances just enough to see the budget pass, with the NDP abstaining, avoiding an unnecessary snap election just nine months after the last general election. The legislature is now adjourned for the summer as all eyes wait on when a “game-changing” by-election will be called in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Perhaps the most significant happening on the WSIB front so far this year is the creation of a long term strategy by the WSIB to guide the transformation and modernization of the provincial agency. It provides good background information to support the organization’s road map into the future and notes some recent signs of improved performance (confirmed in the fourth quarter report to stakeholders) including fewer claims entering the system in 2011, faster adjudications, more injured workers getting back to work, a decrease in the UFL, a reduction in benefits costs and the first operating surplus in five years in Q2 2011.
The plan is built on a strategic framework that includes Meredith’s founding principles of no-fault compensation, collective liability, security of payment and exclusive jurisdiction, the vision of the WSIB as the leading workplace compensation board and the mandate to, in a financially responsible and accountable manner: a) promote health and safety in the workplace, b) facilitate RTW, recovery and LMR of workers who sustain a work related injury or occupational disease, and c) to provide compensation and other benefits where RTW cannot be achieved. The four pillars of the plan are: i) sufficient funding; ii) revenue must cover costs; iii) efficient administration; iv) stakeholder relationships and service excellence.
WSIB funding review report finally released
The long awaited report of the WSIB’s funding review titled Funding Fairness has been released.. Follow the link below to find the executive summary:
Concurrent with the release of Funding Fairness, the Minister of Labour announced the following commitments in a news release:
- A new regulation will be established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, to require the WSIB’s insurance fund to reach sufficiency of 60 per cent funding in 2017, 80 per cent funding in 2022 and a full 100 per cent funding by 2027;
- benefits to injured workers on partial disability will be increased by 0.5 per cent in 2013 and another 0.5 per cent in 2014.
COCA is pleased with the government’s commitment to achieve full funding by 2027 but is surprised with the increases in benefits to partially-disabled workers. In the Funding Fairness Review, chair Harry Arthurs recommends that benefits to partially disabled workers be fully indexed for inflation which would add approximately $2 billion to the WSIB’s unfunded liability. COCA cautioned against such a move and thought at worst the government might delay full indexation until the system is 60 per cent funded and at best ignore the recommendation. It appears the delay in the public release of the report may have been due to negotiating a meeting of the minds at the WSIB and the Ministry of Labour.
Arthurs also recommended assigning the WSIB’s chief actuary a high degree of independence from government and stakeholder interference with regard to rate setting. The WSIB itself and not the chief actuary may assume this independence in establishing and briefing stakeholders on rates for 2013. An announcement of rates for 2013 and 2014 is expected to be made in August or September.
This two year rate setting will provide certainty and predictability as the WSIB determines, in consultation with stakeholders, the post funding review new way forward. At the end of the day, if the WSIB follows the recommendations of the funding review, employers can expect premium increases of at least 5 per cent from current levels.
As noted above, Elizabeth Witmer was appointed to succeed Steve Mahoney as WSIB chair and we are confident the former minister of labour, who herself led a transformation of the of the province’s workers compensation system, will perform effectively in her new role. Witmer spoke at COCA’s recent Welcome to Construction Season Reception and COCA has already met with her privately to discuss the concerns of our membership with regard to the province’s compensation scheme.
Occupational health and safety reform
Following the recommendation of the Tony Dean report, the responsibility for delivering prevention programs has been transferred from the WSIB to the new prevention office within the Ministry of Labour. Chief prevention officer George Gritziotis has been busy meeting with stakeholders and staffing up. His office has produced a number of draft documents for consultation, further to the Dean recommendations and it’s expected that the Minister of Labour will announce appointments to the new Prevention Council sometime this summer. Also inline with a Dean recommendation, a regulation has been introduced authorizing the Office of the Employer Advisor to represent employers with fewer than 50 employees in matters relating to Section 50 reprisal complaints before the OLRB. (COCA had recommended that the OEA have the ability to represent employers with fewer than 100 employees and is disappointed with this unnecessarily low threshold.)
Ontario College of Trades
Created in 2009 by an the Ontario Legislature, the Ontario College of Trades is finally taking shape and springing into action. Its board of governors and divisional boards (one for each of the construction, industrial, motive power and service sectors) are fully populated and positions on almost all of the construction trade boards have been filled. Twenty-seven adjudicators have been appointed to the roster of adjudicators, including 10 members from the OLRB (to serve as chairs of the three member adjudicator panels that will review compulsory trades and ratios) and 11 from the construction sector. It’s our understanding that additional adjudicators will be appointed in the near future. The college has published an ambitious schedule for the review of the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios for the 21 trades that have them, all of which will be completed before the end of 2012.
In addition, the college concluded two consultations. One was on a proposed regulations dealing with: 1) classes of membership; 2) the requirements for obtaining and maintaining registration with the college of trades (OCOT); and 3) the terms, conditions and limitations on statements of membership and certificates issued by the OCOT to members. The second one sought feedback from stakeholders on proposed membership fees.
Prompt payment legislation
COCA continues to work with the National Trade Contractors Coalition of Canada’s Ontario prompt payment coalition to achieve broad industry support for prompt payment legislation in Ontario. Because all three political parties voiced their support for the legislation for construction projects during last fall’s election campaign, we remain optimistic that prompt payment legislation will become a reality in Ontario as it is in almost every U.S. jurisdiction and many developed countries.
Bill 8, The Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act 2012 (formerly the Ontario One Call Act 2012)
This private-member’s bill obliges owners of underground utilities, including municipalities, to be members of Ontario One Call Ltd., a not-for-profit corporation whose objects are as follows:
- to operate a call centre to receive excavator and homeowner queries regarding the location of underground infrastructure within Ontario
- to identify for excavators and homeowners whether underground infrastructure is located in the vicinity of the proposed excavation or dig site
- to notify members of proposed excavations or digs that may affect underground infrastructure
- to raise public awareness of Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System and the need for safe digging
The bill, which COCA strongly supported, received Royal Assent and came into force on June 19th. The bill’s success is an example of how a minority government can work effectively.
It’s our privilege at COCA, to serve as your voice at Queen’s Park. In order to be effective and serve you effectively we have to hear your questions and concerns. Please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.