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Trades college dues a "tax grab", says coalition

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The Ontario Construction Employers Coalition is calling the Ontario College of Trade’s proposed membership an $84 million “tax grab” that should be scrapped.

TORONTO

The Ontario Construction Employers Coalition is calling the Ontario College of Trade’s proposed membership an $84 million “tax grab” that should be scrapped.

“This is a huge amount of money the McGuinty government wants to pick from the pockets of Ontarians who work hard to make their living in the skilled trades,” said Sean Reid, Coalition chair, in a release.

The College recently released a public consultation on the new membership fees that range from $50 to $600 annually, depending on whether the member is an apprentice, journeyperson, tradesworker or employer/sponsor. All fees will go directly to the College to fund its operation, according to the website.

In addition to annual membership fees, other Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) transactional fees will apply and are yet to be determined. These will include exam and assessment fees, penalties, etc.

The College’s website says it will give a voice, ownership, status and protection, among a list of benefits to various membership classes.

“A scant list of five bullets of proposed ‘benefits’ doesn’t even come close to justifying an $84 million price tag for Ontario tradespeople and their employers. The Ontario College of Trades has yet to demonstrate any benefits to our industry that don’t already exist today without the College,” said Karen Renkema, Coalition vice chair, in a release.

The College’s consultation process for the new fees provides no context, limits the length of stakeholder responses to just 250 words, and sets an unreasonably short timeframe for response, says the Ontario Electrical League, a member of the Coalition.

“The process offers no reasonable opportunity for stakeholder input,” said OEL president Stephen Sell, in a release. “Once again, the McGuinty Government has shown that it doesn’t care about the trades — it just wants our money.”

In an open letter to Bob Guthrie, Chief Executive Officer and Registrar of the College, the OEL asked for the College’s overall annual budget; its administration costs for the electrical trades and how they compare to other trades.

It also asks for the College’s cost per trade administration and for the tangible benefits of belonging to the College.

“Without the benefit of such information, OEL is not able to state its position on these proposed fees, and we cannot imagine that any other responsible organization is able to do so either,” reads the letter.

The Coalition says $84 million is an estimate based on the MTCU figures, only counting registered apprentices, journeymen and employers today and does not include the hundreds of thousands of skilled tradespeople not currently registered.

The fees are for benefits the government either cannot deliver, or for services it is already charging tradespeople for today through the MTCU, says the Coalition.

“While the College’s benefits are highly questionable, the College’s future as a job killer is certain,” said Reid.

In its formal submission, the Coalition outlines several concerns, including a lack of transparency and information around the College’s budgetary requirements, future business plans and how the College will be held financially accountable.

“Without transparency, accountability, or explanation of any real benefits to the skilled trades sector, the College is in no position to impose a new $84 million tax on Ontario trades workers and employers, and we’re in no position to accept it,” said Reid. “This entire process is flawed and that’s why this membership fee proposal must be scrapped.”

During a recent Question Period, Progressive Conservative critic for apprenticeship reform Garfield Dunlop called the College a “boondoggle.” He said tradespeople already pay taxes and that there’s no need to belong to the College.

Minister of Training Colleges and Universities Glen Murray said there is a difference between a license and a college of trades. He said the fees are the lowest compared to other professional colleges.

“This actually raises the standards of training and safety dramatically. It is a college of run and ran by people who work in the trades and the business associated with the trades,” he said during the May 29 Question Period.

The College is promoting the new licensing fees in a series of paid advertisements in Ontario daily newspapers. But the OEL says the ads fail to provide any substantive information on the scheme.

by Kelly Lapointe

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