Council of Ontario Construction Associations report

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            Representing members’ interests in a challenging political environment

By Ian Cunningham

President, Council of Ontario Construction Associations

We are pleased to provide you with this review as an update on the activities and successes of your provincial association for the past several months.

The political environment

Even though the NDP took the Niagara Falls seat from the Liberals and the Tories held onto their Thornhill seat in by-elections in January 2014, there’s really only one thing that needs to be addressed here and that’s the June 12 Ontario general election.

With regard to COCA’s election readiness activities, we provided our member associations with a document that outlined COCA’s positions on priority issues and with a candidate survey designed to solicit feedback from candidates on key construction concerns.

We also provided members with a chart that compared the Liberal, PC and NDP platforms on important construction issues. Many of our member associations used these tools effectively to advance our views in the public dialogue in their ridings during the election campaign.

The election was triggered when NDP leader Andrea Horwath decided her party could no longer prop up the scandal plagued Liberal minority government and its record of broken promises. She refused to support the Liberal’s big spending, left wing budget not long after it was introduced in the Legislature, precipitating the province-wide contest.

Although she had caused the election, Horwath’s party seemed unprepared for the fight and was a non-factor in most ridings. It appeared to be a neck-and-neck race between the governing Liberals, who were running on their budget, and the PCs with their smaller government, lower taxes, less red tape platform that differentiated them from the Liberals and provided voters with a clear choice.

However, when PC leader, Tim Hudak, announced that, if elected, he would cut 100,000 broader public sector jobs, he put the fear of God into the electorate. This proposal motivated indifferent Liberals and even some red Tories to turn up at the polls and vote against him, and traditional NDP voters to strategically vote Liberal.

The election result transformed a battered and struggling Liberal minority government, in which both opposition parties could exert some leverage, into a Liberal majority government in which the opposition parties have no influence at all.

The Liberals won 58 seats, the PC 28 and the NDP held steady at 21.

Prompt payment legislation

Despite all the words of enthusiastic support from the premier and senior members of all three parties, Bill 69, Prompt Payment Act 2013 seemed stuck and going nowhere until the NTCCC and COCA ran a series of television spots in February asking the three party leaders why the Bill wasn’t moving forward.

These ads caught the attention of the government and Bill 69 finally found its way onto the agenda of the Standing Committee for Regulations and Private Bills (the Committee to which it had been referred following second reading) and the Committee scheduled public hearings for March 19 and 26. However the ads also served to awaken a number of stakeholders who to this point had been asleep at the switch, including AMO and the school boards.

At the same time, the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), a full partner with the NTCCC in the development of the “consensus language” that was the foundation of Bill 69, abruptly and without warning, changed its tune and softened its support for the Bill.

Then, six of the OGCA’s largest members (PCL, Aecon, Ellis-Don, Bird, Eastern and Dragados) including two (PCL and Bird) that had had representatives on the OGCA’s working group that developed the “consensus language”  in partnership with the NTCCC’s  working group, formed the Fair Payment Reform Ontario  (FPRO) alliance to oppose Bill 69.

Under pressure from FPRO, AMO and the school boards, the government took steps to ensure that Bill 69 was stopped dead in its tracks.

First the government announced a review of the Construction Lien Act that would include some of the payment issues and concerns brought forward at the Bill 69 public hearings and then it directed the Liberal members of the Committee on Regulations and Private Bills to put a stop to Bill 69.

At the Committee’s first meeting following the public hearings, the four Liberal members of the Committee voted to set Bill 69 aside, the three PC members abandoned the prompt payment cause and mysteriously abstained, leaving only the two  NDP members to stand up for Bill 69.

That spelled the end of the Bill 69 version of prompt payment legislation.

A third version of prompt payment legislation will no doubt find its way into the new parliament.

The Construction Lien Act Review got off to a rousing start not long after it was announced with a well-attended stakeholders meeting to discuss terms of reference and process of the review but ground to a halt when the general election was called.

Ontario College of Trades

The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) released the result of its very first trade classification review, announcing that the fire protection and sprinkler installer trade should be changed from voluntary to compulsory, a change that is broadly supported by both management and labour in that line of business. A regulation to effect the change is yet to be made. COCA will continue to recommend a more rigorous process for the trade classifications reviews.

OCOT registrar David Tsubouchi, appeared at COCA’s April Board of Directors meeting to provide an update on its activities and he responded to some tough questions from directors, particularly about the enforcement by the OCOT of scope of work issues among trades.

The strict enforcement of scopes of work of trades under the purview of the OCOT is problematic for the construction industry and COCA’s College of Trades Committee will be reviewing this very complex issue.

The pause button was pushed for further trade classification reviews and the reviews scheduled to commence have been halted pending either an internal OCOT review or one conducted by an external independent third party.

No doubt OCOT staff, board members and supporters breathed a deep sigh of relief with the election of a Liberal majority government on June 12 which ensured it will live on for at least another four years.

WSIB reform

COCA continues to monitor events at the WSIB carefully and continues to meet with senior officials at the provincial compensation agency to provide the views of our membership. COCA serves on two of the WSIB chair’s advisory committees and works with our members and senior WSIB management to ensure the provincial compensation agency continues to serve the needs of construction employers.

Consultations regarding the implementation of the recommendations made by Doug Stanley in his report “Pricing Fairness” have been delayed until later in 2014, as the WSIB has turned its attention to the implementation of new IT systems.

The implementation of the Stanley Report, to whatever extent undertaken by the WSIB, is designed to inject a sense of fairness into the system so that individual employers understand and believe the premiums they are paying are fair and appropriate for their individual businesses.

Because of the inconsistent way the WSIB has calculated premium rates over the past many years, today’s premium rates are significantly out of alignment and the implementation of the Stanley recommendations will likely see the phase-in of various employer rate increases and decreases. We are anticipating no increase in rates for 2015.

In a pre-election announcement, Premier Wynne committed to extending presumptive WSIB coverage to six more cancers for fire fighters, a move which, when implemented, will place a significant new financial burden on municipalities and their ratepayers.

Also of interest during the period under review was Bill 146, a government bill which, if passed, would amend the WSIA in a way that would transfer the premium and accident costs of injuries to temporary workers to the employer that retained the workers from the temporary help agency that supplied the workers.

This change would dramatically alter the legal landscape with respect to the obligations of construction employers who use temporary agencies to supply workers.  The government has committed to re-introducing all government bills that were not passed in the last parliament.

The overall performance of the WSIB continues to improve. Injured workers are returning to work sooner, the result of better access to medical care, investment returns have been strong, the number of claims continues to trend downward and the UFL, now in the $11 billion range, continues to decline. However mandatory registrations by independent operators for WSIB coverage still have not met expectations.

Working with the chief prevention officer

Over the past six months, COCA has continued its active engagement with the Ministry of Labour’s Prevention Office to assist in the implementation of the recommendations of the Tony Dean Report and other initiatives to make Ontario’s workplaces safer.

Discussions centred on the draft Working at Heights (WAH) training program standard and WAH training provider standard (to which COCA made a full and thoughtful submission), the draft joint health and safety committee certification program standard and training provider standard and the mandatory entry level training for construction program.

The Chief Prevention Officer continues to use the Provincial Labour-Management Health and Safety Committee (provincial), on which COCA is an active participant, as his primary source of feedback from the construction industry and the Prevention Employers Partnership, (PEP) where COCA is also an active member, as his main source of broader employer input.

The first five months of 2014 showed very good health and safety performance in the construction industry. However there were two fatalities in June which dampened any though of celebration about industry improvement.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure Ontario announced a new stakeholder relations framework and COCA has been assigned seats on the committees for real estate and infrastructure.  Harold Lindstrom will represent COCA on the real estate committee and Jim Lyons on the infrastructure committee.

In March we met with the Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation along with members of the Windsor Construction Association to discuss procurement issues, many relating to the Windsor Essex Parkway project.

The skills shortage

COCA continues its efforts to attract more young people into the trades through the Workforce Shortage Coalition and through Skills Canada-Ontario. We advanced our views with the Minister of Labour, Yasir Naqvi, in a meeting with the Workforce Shortage Coalition called to make recommendations to modernize the province’s post-secondary skills training system and also attended the Premier’s Summit on Talent and Skills in the New Economy which is expected to re-convene in the fall.

Association activities and events

COCA’s Annual General Meeting in February was well attended and a big success. It featured a keynote address by WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer who provided an update on the progress being made at the province’s workers compensation organization.

Through the first six months of 2014 we intensified our membership outreach activities and held one-on-ones with many association leaders and attended numerous member events.

Among the highlights were the induction of COCA’s chair, Don Gosen, into the Construction Hall of Fame at GVCA’s  Awards Dinner, the TCA, HHCA, Merit and SCA annual general meetings, OPCA’s Race Night at Woodbine, the BCA and ECAO golf tournaments, the TCA Members Day and a visit with Andy Pilat and two of his SCA members in Sarnia.

Unfortunately, our Welcome to Construction Season Reception at Queen’s Park had to be cancelled as it was scheduled to take place, as things turned out, in the middle of an election campaign.

We’re hoping that the date of our Construction Day at Queen’s Park, scheduled for Sept. 22 won’t have to be changed as the result of the legislature’s new schedule.

Conclusion

COCA’s role is to work with our members and the government of the day to create a legislative and regulatory environment that supports success in the ICI and heavy civil construction sector and that contributes to a stronger Ontario.

As a non-partisan organization, COCA’s focus is on public policy solutions that serve the needs of our industry, without regard for the political stripe of the government.

We trust that you see significant value in the work we do on your behalf.  However if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.