Ontario College of Trades - a bad solution to a non-existent problem.

  • Posted on: 8 April 2014
  • By: Allen Small
Regular News

One year ago the Ontario government instituted the Ontario College of Trades (OCT). The mandate for this body is that it’s: “…an industry-driven, professional regulatory body that protects the public by regulating and promoting the skilled trades.”

I don’t recall any outcry from the public that demanded such an organization, and you probably don’t either, but here is the website.

The OCT website states that the College has:

“….a duty to protect public interest. To that end, we have established a complaints/incidents and enforcement process that maintains high industry standards while protecting the public.”

Does this really protect the “public interest” (whatever that means) or, does the government have another motive? Why is the Ontario government doing this, and should government be involved at all? More on that later….

There are many ways individuals can determine, without government legislation, who is a reputable tradesperson and who is not. There are online rating services, word-of-mouth, written performance references, contracts between the buyer and seller, and companies like the HomeService Club that provides a guarantee for their trades people. In any service, it should always be buyer beware.

Does the existence of this new “college” eliminate the concerns of individual buyers? That is what is implied.

Currently the OCT designates 22 skilled trades as “compulsory,” meaning, that to practice any of them the tradesperson must be licensed by the province and be a registered apprentice with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). Some of these 22 skilled trades include highly technical machine operators and mechanics. One might expect that their employers would scrutinize those individuals before they were hired for qualifications and experience. So why is a special government license required? Surely a diploma from a reputable training school plus experience should be sufficient.

Hairstylists fall into this compulsory category. Why? Probably because there are diploma courses offered at many government run Colleges across the province and the hairstylist’s lobby needed to justify the training expense. Years ago my wife would cut my hair, and did a pretty good job - free - no course, no diploma, no license.

Beyond the current 22 compulsory skilled trades, all other trades are voluntary, which the website defines as not being compulsory (circular). But, that number 22 is very likely temporary. In the FAQ’s, the OCT website invites (practically encourages) new trades to become compulsory:

Q. How would I go about getting my trade certified as compulsory?

A. If there is a Trade Board in place for the particular trade the Trade Board will notify the Divisional Board for the sector to which the trade belongs of its intention to make a request for………..

Most recently in the news is a request to make general carpentry a licensed and therefore compulsory trade. Of course many tradespeople, including carpenters, never received formal training. The fact is, a knowledgeable tradesperson does not necessarily need a formal education.

My father was a carpenter and had no formal training, no license, just accumulated knowledge and experience. I learned a few skills just watching him while growing up, and that’s how many people are trained. In fact I felt confident enough in my own rudimentary skills to build a large wooden deck, attached to my house more than 25 years ago. The deck still stands and is in good repair. People with trade skills like that, walk among us. I can’t imagine asking people like my father to interrupt their lives and their incomes, because of an arbitrary rule change to get formal training and a license.

The presence of the College of Trades gets to the heart of the Welfare State that has been created in Ontario. Its very existence is an example of the growth of government responsibility and bureaucracy. Complaints and discipline of trade’s people will now be handled by the OCT. Ever had a bad haircut?

The joke is really on us. The government has inserted itself between the buyer of a service and the seller. By requiring carpenters for example, to demonstrate formal training and qualifications, a barrier to employment has been created for people like my father. In Ontario, people who don’t hold certification in carpentry do 90% of the construction, like framing houses. Reclassifying carpentry as compulsory, would satisfy unionized (and likely certified) carpenters, by controlling the supply of carpenters and likely increasing the hourly rate of pay. Of course this would encourage other trades to seek the same compulsory status and they would be welcomed by the OCT as it increases its control and influence in the marketplace.

The Ontario government maintains that OCT is an independent industry-driven body, but it was created by legislation, so how neutral is the government? If the various groups of tradespeople were concerned enough, why did they not form their own voluntary associations, possibly with the help of insurance companies in order to secure bonded contracts?  

Many view OCT as a money grab (it is - $120 annual fee), but more importantly it’s a power grab. A large segment of the voluntary marketplace will soon be unnecessarily regulated, to fix a nonexistent problem. Moreover, the government has created for itself an additional block of voters from present and future compulsory tradespeople and families who may view this type of government interference as beneficial to them and their trades. It will also help fertilize a burgeoning underground economy as an unintended consequence.

A Libertarian government would seek to repeal or alter the legislation so as to make the OCT voluntary. 

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