Tony Dean says “public interest” will be primary lens in OCOT review recommendations

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Tony Dean

Tony Dean, mandated by the provincial government to review the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), has posted observations indicating the directions his research is taking to revise the regulatory agency’s often-contentious systems.

He says the most important consideration in his first full draft report, which he says will be ready in September, will be putting his recommendations through the “public interest” lens.

“The privilege of self-regulation granted to the trades comes with the legislated responsibility of putting the interests of the public ahead of the interests of the trades,” he wrote on the deanreview.com site in August.

“The concept of ‘public interest’ is not easy to define and it varies in different contexts,” he said. In a regulatory setting it speaks to the importance of transparent, inclusive and rigorous processes with clearly understandable and impartial decision-making frameworks. It also requires a balanced approach to the interests of consumers, citizens, commercial interests and broad Canadian societal values.

“Importantly, in the context of institutions with a broad range of stakeholders with widely varying interests, the public interest highlights a need to find a reasonable balance between these interests. This is a responsibility that I feel in conducting this review. This is a responsibility that we all share,” he said.

“This does not mean that a public interest test should trump all other interests at every point and on every issue. But it does mean that the public interest should be a consideration in all aspects of College decision-making. And it also means that the public interest should prevail over private interests.”

In July, Dean made clear that his recommendations won’t satisfy everyone, noting that “institutional and private interests are a healthy part of the mix but should not be perceived to predominate.”

He suggests the review will provide recommendations in four areas:

“First, the trades and the College would clearly benefit from a process designed to review and update the Scopes of Practice (SOPs) for trades,” he wrote. “Advice will be provided on how this might be accomplished and on the sort of elements that should be included in SOPs going forward. This might be done in combination with a review of opportunities to consolidate and prune the 156 trades currently lodged with the College (some of which are inactive).

“Some of the important aspects of such a review, which I think should leverage the expertise of College Trade Boards and industry or other stakeholder groups, are: opportunities to update descriptions of trades; refining Scopes of Practice; discussion between trades of overlaps in their SOPs; and finding better ways to ensure SOPs and training standards remain current.

He said in applying SOPs in the classification review process “I’m continuing to consider the potential for voluntary trades to select elements of their SoPs for the purpose of seeking compulsory status and vice versa.”

“This might be an alternative to the current ‘all or nothing’ approach to SOPs in the classification review process,” he wrote. “This would in no way dilute current training or apprenticeship standards, which would remain in their full breadth. And I will emphasize that this idea is intended to maintain the integrity of the trades; that is, not to be taken to promote the concepts of ‘skill-sets’ or ‘sub-trading’, which I know have been controversial in the past.”

Dean also said he appreciates attention needs to be given to the process by which trades are classified as voluntary or compulsory. “This must be broadly perceived as inclusive, transparent, evidence-informed and even-handed. This applies to the process—including onus and the degree of evidence available to decision-making panels, the criteria that guide decision-makers — and the way in which decisions are made. I am considering options in all of these areas, including the nature of the decision-making panel.”

He also said there is interest in the “now-cyclical process for review of journeyperson to apprentice ratios,” which apply to 33 trades.

“As with the trade classification process we have learned a lot from the first round of decision-making and it is broadly agreed that there are opportunities for improvement. As a starting point, we are looking at the origins and purpose of these ratios and the sort of criteria that would best reflect those purposes and desired outcomes. This process must also be seen to be inclusive, transparent, evidence-informed and even-handed. In this area, too, I’m looking at the process steps from end-to-end, including the way in which decisions are made.”

Finally, Dean said “we are examining practices flowing from the College’s enforcement mandate.”

“The focus here is on those activities which clash with previous Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) decisions, or with previous agreements made between workplace parties, on who-does-what on work sites,” he wrote. “These clashes are proving to be disruptive and must be sorted out.

“This is mostly a construction sector issue and one which, in some cases, clearly involves historical work jurisdiction interests between trade unions. I think this can be addressed without a full re-design of the College’s enforcement regime. In any event, the enforcement function could benefit from some advice from stakeholders on approaches to enforcement. Second, more work needs to be done to address the identified conflicts between the OLRB’s responsibilities and the College’s responsibilities. I am considering several options, including a potential role for the OLRB where College enforcement activities intersect with the OLRB’s responsibility to settle disputes on work jurisdiction.”

Dean says none of the “four areas are straightforward or simple to deal with. ”

“And all, to some degree, attract a mix of interest in doing the right thing from the College’s and public’s perspective, and some deeply held institutional interests,”and he said he will not satisfy everyone as he reaches his conclusions and makes his final recommendations later this year.

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