I try not to tell people what I do for a living right away because that conversation will immediately turn to the work I’m supposed to stop by and do for them in the evening or on my day off. My absolute favourite demand for service was made during a Labour Day session at my local pub, when an acquaintance saddled up and said “You’re an electrician? Good, I need one fast and cheap! I’m flipping a house! I’ve got beer!”
I always decline these *tantalizing* offers but if they persist I usually play the bureaucratic card until their eyes glaze over. I don’t have a contractors license, a minimum two million dollars liability insurance, a master electricians license (which I actually do) or WSIB registration and the required permits will need to be taken out, inspections made. By this point they either get it, fall asleep or run away.
Tradespeople are always in high demand and there are any number of highly qualified workers out there that can do a proper job rather than a cheap and beer fuelled one. This may change with the coming elimination of the College of Trades in Ontario.
Extensive tinkering with the trades system in this province began in the Harris Tory era, with the Apprenticeship and Certification Act of 1998. Back then the reasons given for initiating sweeping changes are the same as now, that modern Tories see training apprentices and maintaining licensed tradespeople as a burden and a hindrance to business. They argue that the establishment of a dedicated College of Trades (CoT) under the Liberals in 2009 added an even heavier bureaucratic layer to the system and did little to improve the flaws in the structure.
Myriad certifiable occupations were placed into the CoT realm that were skill sets rather than bonafide trades. The current government is not hiding their intentions though, as the dismantling of the CoT is part of the Making Ontario Open For Business Act. In true Ford style, there is no indication as to what the replacement plan will look like, but they will be satisfied as long as something the Liberals created gets trashed, damn the consequences. Odds are the old 1998 system will be revived to fill the vacuum, in much the same way as the retro sex-ed curriculum was brought back.
You would be hard pressed to find a card carrying tradesperson who will mourn the pending death of the CoT or has any idea as to what the College actually did. The most common complaint was that the compulsory trades used to pay $70 for three years to maintain their license, which was jacked up to $135 a year with no net benefit or services offered, save for a new sticker to put on our ticket and wallet card.
These fees have helped to build up the $20 million cash reserve the college is reported to have and no one is sure what will happen to this money on dissolution. Will it help to build the new system or will it go into general revenue to pay something down, not unlike the sale of the 407 to the Harris’ friends did? I will guarantee at a future press conference or in an Ontario News Now sketch, our CoT fees will be referred to as an “unfair tax” at least 7 times by Doug Ford. Sadly, it is this type of populist red meat in the buck-a-beer/cheap gas style that will translate into votes from my fellow workers.
Organized labour is facing the same Catch-22 that they have had in feeling the need to defend NAFTA, all proper unions and the OFL had massive reservations regarding the establishment of the College of Trades. Yet with it’s pending disappearance, the consensus among real unions is that the CoT must be saved in some form, as having some semblance of structure is better than none at all. In 2014, Tim Hudak called the CoT “a bureaucratic front for organized labour”, a quote you can expect to be revived by his replacement any minute now.
Going nuclear on the CoT will clear out any input the unions might have had, which is no doubt a key reason for pulling the plug. If the responsibility for the trades is going to be punted back into the exclusive domain of the post secondary college system, as was the arrangement pre-CoT, one has to wonder what the Conservatives have in store for institutions that fall under the Ministry of Education.
If there is no mass active resistance to the forthcoming changes and no viable alternatives proposed, the fast and cheap trades era will be upon us in short order, with definite consequences. Any further division of the trades by spinning off certain jobs will be detrimental to the quality of work, which will be sacrificed in the name of profit. The elimination of higher training ratios will mean that if a rookie spends their entire apprenticeship with a crappy tradesperson, the caliber of the trainee’s work will be correspondingly bad. Once a poorly trained person has their ticket, they in turn can go on to train other people to a questionable standard.
In a wild west style trades environment, one of the first things to disappear is attention to safety. If I screw up or happen to have an off day, I risk immediate injury or death with nearly everything I touch. If the overall quality of the trades work becomes sub par, the risk to others will also be massive. This will only get worse if the standards become diluted or are non existent.
Have you ever noticed in the news that any structure fire of an undetermined origin is assumed to be electrical in nature? Homeowners are permitted to do their own work but should a building burn down, the very last electrician to sign off on anything will be tracked down and interrogated if the wiring is suspected. Can the same be said for the possible future Pot Light Technician, Drain and Tap Specialist or Gas Pipe Bender and Shaper? And if something should go awry, it will likely become far more difficult to find the sub-sub contractor who it up with scabby, open shop, handymanish, numbered company, minimum wage sub par work – as they have probably disappeared.
The race to the bottom is on and the lack of a strong, united and vocal defense is troubling. Regardless, I’m still not coming over to slug it for beer but you might be able to find someone who will soon enough. The only advice you need on that one is a classic hard and fast rule: garbage in, garbage out.