08/03/2012 11:51 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Fees on skilled trades and employers help fund new Ontario College of Trades

TORONTO - Critics warn a new Ontario College of Trades will drive up the cost of everything from haircuts and homes to building new roads and schools, a charge the new regulatory body says is just not true.

The college, which will open in 2013, will be an industry-led, self-regulatory agency created to help modernize Ontario's apprenticeship and skilled trades system.

It will be funded by fees, which will be set next month, of about $100 a year for tradespeople and $600 to $700 for employers, and will cover the construction, service, manufacturing and industrial trades sectors.

Those fees amount to an $84-million annual tax grab to create a "costly and unnecessary bureaucracy," according to the Ontario Construction Employers Coalition, which represents companies employing at least 80,000 workers.

"We don’t see any benefit in the college itself," said coalition co-chair Sue McGovern, who also represents the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association.

"Charging the fees — employers and employees pay — is just another tax on an industry that we’re trying to get moving."

The college rejected the criticism as coming from a "very, very small group," and said the new body would be better for the trades than having bureaucrats dictate how their professions are regulated.

"To be able to self-regulate and self-govern ourselves is critical in the evolution of the trades in Ontario," said Ron Johnson, chair of the college's board of directors.

"This is about empowering trades people to control their own destiny."

Johnson denied the fees on workers and employers would bring in $84 million a year, and accused the colleges' opponents of using misinformation as a scare tactic.

"I have said over and over again that our revenue projections for 2013, based on membership fees, is about $20 million," he said.

"Out of 600,000 potential members that the college will attract, 400,000 of them are voluntary trades members that will have a choice whether or not to join the college. That is not a tax grab."

There's also a large consumer protection aspect to creating the new College of trades, added Johnson.

"You want to know individuals coming to do work in your home are qualified and certified to do that work," he said.

"We are going to be able to post trades people’s qualifications online to ensure the public can confirm their certification standards."

All sides agree the shortage of skilled workers is expected to get worse over the next 10 to 20 years, but disagree on how to address that problem.

Ontario requires up to five skilled trades people for every apprentice on a job site, a ratio companies want reduced to one-to-one like other provinces to help get more young people trained on the job.

The College of Trades is keeping those ratios high, which means young people will have an even harder time getting an apprenticeship, McGovern suggested.

"Because they haven’t moved the ratios to one-to-one, good luck to that kid trying to get a job," she said.

Most skilled trades people and their employers are unaware of the new college, and there will be a lot of angry reaction when workers start seeing new fees deducted from their paycheques in January, said Conservative skilled trades critic Garfield Dunlop.

"No one knows what it is. People with 40 years in the business, with 30 or 40 employees, don’t know this college exists," said Dunlop, who has visited dozens of communities trying to drum up opposition.

"These are new membership fees and they are a tax on the trades, and that’s what we’re saying wherever we go."

Liberal Kevin Flynn, parliamentary assistant to the minister of training, college and universities, said the fees are absolutely not a tax because they go to the college, not the government, and are the lowest of any of the self-regulating professions.

"Doctors, lawyers, nurses, dentists, naturopaths all have their own colleges, all self-regulate and do a fantastic job," said Flynn.

"We think our skilled trades people in Ontario are perfectly capable of doing that, along with the employers."

The College of Trades is just another needless bureaucracy set up by Premier Dalton McGuinty to pay back the unions that supported his Liberal government in recent elections, added Dunlop.

"McGuinty is rewarding the big unions, the Working Families Coalition, with this new empire basically controlled by the big unions," he said.

"All we’ve seen is this wall of bureaucracy set up, but what are they going to offer any construction company, or a heating and plumbing company, or a hairdresser, that they aren’t already doing?"