MUSKOKA - Local trades workers are unhappy with a trade tax and more rules for trades that are being imposed by the trades college this spring.
STOP THE TAX.
MPP Norm Miller was surrounded by trades workers showing their support for his efforts to stop the trade tax that is being brought in by the Liberals. Miller signed a petition to stop the tax at his office in Bracebridge on Friday, March 8.
Photo by Jennifer Bowman
The Ontario College of Trades, a regulatory body for all trades, is the first of its kind in North America. It was introduced into the legislature in May 2009, but some of Muskoka’s trades workers are upset that they have been largely uninformed of the new fees and regulations the college will impose upon them.
The college represents 157 trades. Starting on April 8, workers in 22 of what are considered the most dangerous trades will be required to renew their licence every three years through the college instead of the government where they previously renewed.
With the change, trades workers need to pay the mandatory membership fee, also known as a trades tax, to legally work in their trade.
The 22 trades that must pay the fee include electricians, plumbers, sheet metal workers, auto mechanics and hairdressers. The 135 remaining trades have the option of paying the fee or not.
MPP Norm Miller signed a petition at his Bracebridge office on March 8 promising to oppose any and all efforts by the Ontario College of Trades to impose the mandatory trades tax.
“They’re already regulated significantly and paying fees; this is really a roadblock to having more people in the trades, and we need more skilled workers in Parry Sound-Muskoka, for sure, and across the province,” Miller said.
Currently trades people already need a number of licences to do their jobs. Obtaining a trades licence can take anywhere from three to five years, and is often acquired through an apprenticeship.
The mandatory annual membership fees are $60 for apprentices, tradespersons and journeyperson candidates, and $120 for journeypersons, employers and sponsors.
At his office, Miller and trades workers discussed whether or not to stay in the trades when there are more fees.
For Chad Gareau, a mechanic at Muskoka Chrysler, being part of the trade college means a spike in his licensing fees each year. Before the trade tax, he paid $30 a year for his licence. Now he will be paying $130, plus tax.
“Being a mechanic, it’s already an expensive trade to get into with all the equipment and tools and training we have to get, and now they want to make it so that it’s even more money to get into the trades,” he said.
Ron Johnson, chair of the board of governors for the college, said safety is one of the reasons the trades college targeted the 22 compulsory trades.
“Those are the trades, generally speaking, that have the greatest exposure to safety risks and to public risk.”
He said the 135 voluntary trades will also benefit from being part of the college through marketing and allowing those looking for their services to check their record with the college.
Dave Saunders, a civil engineer technician and formerly a construction equipment mechanic, is concerned the repercussions of the college could become a safety issue.
“The potential harm is this pushes people into an underground economy. Those that aren’t licensed, those that aren’t skilled, those that don’t have the appropriate training are going to be undertaking projects for cash where they don’t have to prove that they have the life safety experience as part of the licensure,” he said.
Despite the college’s promise to be open and transparent about key decisions, Doug Brown has already lost confidence because of the lack of information provided to trades people.
The semi-retired electrician and refrigeration mechanic said he saw several postcards inviting people to come see the new trades college but was never informed that he had to be a member in order to continue legally working. When he tried to renew his trades licence, he was directed to the college.
“It’s the underhanded way that it’s been thrust upon us,” he said. “I don’t necessarily disagree fundamentally with the college, but I don’t think the other system was broken.”
Johnson said the college sent out notices in the fall, then again last month. He said more information will be sent in the upcoming weeks.
“There’s no surprises here. This has been in the works since 2009,” he said.
Brown is also skeptical of the representation Muskoka trades people will receive at the college and how different trades will be represented.
Johnson admits the college encounters diversity in the trades but said he’d rather trust people working in the trades to manage trades affairs than the government.
“Government has been managing the trades and quite frankly they’ve been doing a very poor job of it,” he said. “We have a serious skills shortage in Ontario. The government hasn’t been doing an adequate job of promoting trades to young people as a career of first choice.”
Johnson said he has also received a great deal of support in his travels throughout Ontario.
About eight trades workers attended Miller’s office when he signed a petition to stop the membership fee. Miller said there is more support to oppose the college.
“I’ve had quite a few emails and calls on this as trades people are just now, fairly close to implementation time, learning about it,” Miller said.
Stop the Trades Tax, the grassroots movement behind the petition, estimates the tax will bring in $84 million through its membership fees from all trades. According to its website, the group is concerned the college will be the death of the handyman, it will end student construction jobs, force small business tradespeople out of work, and will cause home renovations to become a costly nightmare.
Miller is worried the tax will push people away from entering the trades, which Ontario already needs more of.
“I see a lot of harm coming from it as it makes things more restrictive in Ontario, as you have more compulsory trades. You won’t be able to hire a handyman to go in to do a renovation of your kitchen; you’ll need eight different people and they’ll all have to be licensed … you’ll have to be licensed to be a painter, you have to be licensed to take up the linoleum, you’ll need a different person to do each job.”
Miller said he will continue to present the petitions to the provincial government as often as he has petitions to take.
“If they all speak up, then there is more likelihood that it will be stopped,” he said.