Chet Greason, email@example.com
The Stratford and Area Builders' Association had one thing on its mind when it hosted a debate for local provincial candidates on Wednesday, May 21, and that was the Ontario College of Trades.
At least, that's what it appeared when the floor was opened for questions from the audience. Prior to that, moderator Jack West asked each candidate four different questions all connected to the home-building industry in some way.
There were only two candidates present at the debate (out of eight currently on the ballot in Perth-Wellington): Stewart Skinner of the Liberals and Romayne Smith-Fullerton of the NDP.
Progressive Conservative Randy Pettapiece sent his regrets; party members said his son, a police officer, was receiving an award that night in Guelph. However, West Perth council member and regional VP of the Ontario PC Party, John Nator, was there answering questions.
Independent candidate Matthew Murphy watched from the audience but did not participate in the debate itself.
Following a five minute opening address, each party representative had an opportunity to respond to West’s questions supplied by the Ontario Home Builders Association and dealing with topics such as mandatory WSIB, the underground economy, and the aforementioned College of Trades.
One question asked candidates what their respective party would do to ensure that future generations can afford home ownership.
Skinner answered his party had introduced a bill that would investigate, analyze, and make home-building regulations more effective. That bill died when the provincial government was dissolved. He noted the Ontario economy is changing, and the home-building industry may want to focus on smaller, single-level houses “so people can afford it.”
Nator said he was “pretty damn proud” when he bought his first home. He also said his party would cut red tape, which he says the industry spends $11 billion annually complying with, the cost of which is passed onto consumers. He also said reducing skyrocketing hydro rates would also have a positive effect.
Smith-Fullerton said the only way to bolster home ownership was to ensure the populace has full-time, well-paid jobs.
“If we don’t have that, you people won’t have business,” she said, adding there are many people working two or three minimum wage jobs who can’t afford rent, let alone home ownership.
Come question period, the focus re-shifted back to the College of Trades, a regulatory body that SABA has repeatedly accused of hindering business by enforcing unfair fees and damaging the apprenticeship system with unreasonable apprentice/journeymen ratios. Many of the questions were directed at Skinner, whose party implemented the college under former premier Dalton McGuinty.
“Is it going to be Stewart answers first all night?” he joked. “Look, I’m not going to stand here and tell you what you want to hear … the Liberal Party is committed to keeping the College of Trades.”
Skinner added his party believes there is some value in having a regulatory body in place, but that members weren’t currently seeing value for the fees they have to pay. He says he would like to see it become like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which he says always acts in the interest of its members and offers them valuable benefits.
Skinner added that, currently, “The College of Trades needs to do a better job being accountable to the people paying membership fees.”
Smith-Fullerton said the college is a new issue for her, but that, as a consumer, she could see the value in a licensing body. She noted her husband, a farrier, works in an industry with no such regulation and is often frustrated by competition with little-to-no training.
“Clearly, this one is not working, though,” she said.
Nator’s answer was cut and dry.
“The Ontario PC Party will shut down the College of Trades,” he said, adding the industry “didn’t want it, didn’t ask for it, and doesn’t need it.”