Ontario’s new government and the implications for COCA

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By Ian Cunningham

It’s a pleasure for me to have the opportunity, once again, to provide a report from your provincial construction federation, the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA).

BCA members will know that COCA is mandated to work with its members and with senior officials at Queen’s Park to develop public policy solutions that support success in the construction industry and foster broad prosperity across the Ontario. COCA is your voice with the provincial government.

Because of the change in government at Queen’s Park following the general election on June 7, I thought it might be more useful to provide you with a contextual and more prospective report this year, rather than looking back on COCA’s past activities and achievements, as I have done in previous years.

On June 7, 2018, Ontario voters elected a majority Progressive Conservative government. Here’s what happened, by the numbers. Fifty-eight per cent of eligible voters turned out to vote, far more than expected. The election produced the following result for the 42nd Ontario Parliament (which has an additional 17 seats for a total of 124 seats):

  • PCs – 76 seats (an increase of 49 seats with 44.5 per cent of the popular vote across the province);
  • NDP – 40 seats (up 22 seats and winning 33.6 per cent of the popular vote);
  • Liberals – seven seats (down 48 seats with 19.6 per cent of the popular vote and losing official party status and all the funding and status that goes with it);
  • Greens – one seat (up one seat, OGP leader Mike Schreiner prevailed in Guelph).

Our new government’s priorities were listed in the Speech from the Throne that opened the hastily called emergency 42nd Parliament of Ontario on July 12, 2018. Those priorities are for the government to:

  • Take action to reduce gas prices;
  • lower hydro bills;
  • provide meaningful, necessary tax relief to parents, small businesses and the working poor;
  • scrap the cap-and-trade carbon tax here in Ontario, and oppose other carbon tax schemes in all of their forms;
  • work co-operatively with the federal government to stand up to tariffs and make sure Ontario’s best interests are reflected in the NAFTA negotiations;
  • continue the operation of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station;
  • reduce the regulatory burden for entrepreneurs;
  • call a Commission of Inquiry into the financial practices of government to identify ways to restore accountability and trust in Ontario’s public finances;
  • conduct a thorough, line-by-line audit of all government spending that will identify and eliminate duplication and waste;
  • restore public confidence in Ontario’s electricity system – starting with Hydro One;
  • return Ontario to a balanced budget on a timetable that is responsible, modest and pragmatic;
  • work collaboratively with doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners to ensure we have a system that treats everyone fairly while putting the interests of patients first.
  • add 15,000 new long term care beds over the next five years and $3.8 billion in mental health and addictions, including supportive housing;
  • scrap the experimental ‘Discovery Math’ curriculum, focusing on the fundamentals that allow our children to succeed;
  • replacing the current sex-education curriculum with a new age-appropriate one that is based on real consultation with parents;
  • increase supports for parents of children with autism;
  • respect municipal partners, including respecting the wishes of rural municipalities by putting an end to green energy contracts that have been imposed on them over local objections;
  • honour Canadian heroes of the war in Afghanistan by building a new monument;
  • free Ontario’s police services from onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn;
  • ensure police have the tools, support and resources they need to enforce the law and protect innocent families from the menace of drug, gun and gang-related violence; and
  • expand the sale of beer and wine to convenience stores, grocery stores and big-box stores

If early actions are any indication, we can expect our new government to move very quickly on all of these priorities. At time of writing, the emergency summer session of the Legislature was just underway and the government had already affected the orderly resignation of Ontario Hydro’s board of directors and the resignation of its CEO, put a pause on all programs funded by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund until those programs could be assessed,  announced a public sector hiring freeze until an audit of the government’s finances has been completed and announced the cancellation of 758 renewable energy projects.

Bill 2, when passed, will bring about the end of the strike at York University; require the Hydro One board of directors to develop a compensation framework for its CEO that must be approved by the government; and terminate contracts relating to the White Pines wind project in Prince Edward County. Legislation to extricate Ontario from the North American cap-and-trade emissions trading system is expected to be introduced and passed during the emergency summer session.

So how does the construction industry fit into the government’s plans? What are COCA’s priorities?

Our first order of business is to meet with key construction-related ministers: Finance Minister Vic Fidelli, Labour Minister Laurie Scott, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton, Training Colleges & Universities Minister Merrilee Fullerton and Economic Development & Trade Minister Jim Wilson to learn about the priorities of their ministries and to make them aware of COCA’s key issues.

Going forward, COCA’s priorities are as follows:

  • Ensure that the new Construction Act is fully implemented as intended;
  • work with our members and the government to address the shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry; modernizing the apprenticeship system and make it easier for contractors to take on apprentices;
  • work with our members and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to ensure Ontario’s compensation scheme is highly efficient and serves the needs of the workers and employers effectively, gets injured workers back to health and back to work in a timely way, offers competitive premium rates and provides best in class service excellence;
  • work with our members and the government in the development of a long term infrastructure plan with annual investments to ensure Ontario’s public infrastructure supports our economy and our way of life;
  • work with our members and the government to ensure that community benefits clauses in public procurements are fair and reasonable for contractors; and
  • work with our members and the government to make improvements to the province’s workplace health and safety system with the goal of reducing workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.

These are exciting times at COCA and there is much work ahead. We are optimistic that with the help of the members of the BCA, we can advance our industry’s agenda with our new government. And we are always grateful for the outstanding support we consistently receive from the BCA! Thank you.

Ian Cunningham is COCA’s president.