March 2021

Welcome to COCA's monthly Newsletter. Unless noted otherwise, all articles written by COCA President, Ian Cunningham.

Government Investing in Apprenticeship 
Our provincial government recently announced enhanced supports for employers who sponsor apprentices and for colleges and training delivery agencies that train apprentices. 
In 2020-21, the Ontario government will spend $21 million from its Achievement Incentive Program providing incentive grants to employers that sponsor apprentices. Employers will earn their grants as their apprentices reach key milestones in their training. Employers can earn up to a total of $4,000 per apprentice. The government's spending will increase to $23.1 million in 2021-22. Eligible apprenticeship sponsors will receive an email from the ministry with a web-link to apply electronically through a secure, one-time on-line application. 
In addition, the Ontario government is spending $24 million - a $10 million increase from last year – from its Apprenticeship Capital Grant to help colleges, unions and apprentice training providers upgrade their equipment and facilities to ensure apprentices are learning and using state-of-the-art infrastructure during their in-class training. 
COCA 2020 Year in Review
COCA’s 2020 Year in Review takes a look back at 2020, at our accomplishments and a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Download/view the Year in Review in Magazine magazine view:

Download/view the Year in Review in Magazine single page view:
Ministry Has Largest Inspectorate in History 
The Ministry of Labour Training and Skills Development recently hired 100 new inspectors. 
These new inspectors are currently being trained in an accelerated training program. They will begin their first field visits accompanied by a mentor within five weeks of their start dates and will be fully trained and deployed by July 1, 2021. With these new additions, MLTSD will have a total complement of more than 500 inspectors visiting workplaces and enforcing the Occupational Health and Safety Act.   
Financial Accountability Office Reports on 2020-21 Spending to Versus Plan 
The summary below are the highlights copied from the Financial Accountability Office’s “Expenditure Monitor 2020-21 – Q3” report published on March 11, 2021.   

“This report provides an update on the Province’s 2020-21 spending plan and reviews actual spending by the government over the first three quarters of the 2020-21 fiscal year, from April 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020. 
There was no change in the Province’s total spending plan in the third quarter. However, the Province made $7.1 billion in budget reallocations from its unallocated funds to program sectors. 

  • The  health sector  received a $4.5 billion (7.1 percent) spending plan increase in the third quarter, primarily for the operation of hospitals and long-term care homes. 
  • The  ‘other programs’sector  spending plan increased by $1.6 billion (5.2 percent), including an additional $0.6 billion operating subsidy for Metrolinx and $0.6 billion for the Property Tax and Energy Costs Rebate Grants program, which supports businesses required to restrict services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • The spending plan for the  education sector  increased by $1.0 billion (3.2 percent), due to phase one of the federal Safe Return to Class Fund ($0.4 billion), the Support for Learners program ($0.4 billion), and federal funding for child care under the Safe Restart Agreement ($0.2 billion). 

Third-quarter spending plan increases to the program sectors were funded by transfers from the COVID-19 Health Sector Response Fund (Health Fund) ($4.2 billion drawdown), the Support for People and Jobs Fund (SPJF) ($1.3 billion drawdown), and the Contingency Fund ($1.5 billion drawdown). 

  • As of December 31, 2020, the combined remaining balance in the Health Fund, SPJF, and Contingency Fund was $4.7 billion. This represents a 60 percent drawdown in the three unallocated funds in the third quarter, compared to the remaining balance at the end of the second quarter (September 30). 

The Province spent $116.7 billion over the first three quarters of 2020-21, which is $3.1 billion, or 2.6 percent, less than planned. 

  • Excluding the  education sector, which temporarily spent $1.5 billion more than planned,[1] all sectors spent less than planned, led by  ‘other programs  ($2.4 billion or 12.0 percent under plan), interest on debt ($0.8 billion or 8.7 percent under plan),  postsecondary education  ($0.6 billion or 11.6 percent under plan) and  health  ($0.5 billion or 1.0 percent under plan). 
  • Spending information for all of the Province’s programs by ministry is available on the FAO’s website at

Spending through the first three quarters of 2020-21 was $10.3 billion, or 9.7 percent, higher than during the same period in 2019-20. 

  • Health ($5.6 billion or 12.7 percent increase) and  ‘other programs’  ($2.7 billion or 17.6 per cent increase) had the largest year-over-year spending increases compared to 2019-20. 
  • For context, the 12.7 percent  health sector  increase significantly outpaces the health sector’s average annual growth rate of 3.6 percent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. 
  • Spending on  postsecondary education  ($0.3 billion decrease),  justice  ($29 million decrease) and  interest on debt  ($0.3 billion decrease) was lower through the first three quarters of 2020-21 compared to the same period in 2019-20.” 

The full report can be accessed by clicking on the following link: 
Mollenhauer Elected to CCA Board 

Toronto Construction Association President & CEO, John Mollenhauer, was elected to the board of directors of the Canadian Construction Association at the national organization’s virtual annual general meeting on March 11, 2021. Mollenhauer will bring the interests of the chief operating officers of the CCA’s partner associations to the attention of the recently reformed 20-member governing body. In addition to his more than 15 years at the helm of Canada’s largest construction association, Mollenhauer, a Queen’s University civil engineering grad, brings more than 20 years of direct construction experience to his new position. 
COCA friend, Ray Bassett, was elected as Chair of the CCA. Readers will remember that Bassett,  who is Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer at Travelers Insurance Company of Canada and a 37 year veteran of the construction surety industry, was a member of the Bruce Reynolds and Sharon Vogel expert advisory panel that was responsible for the development of Ontario’s new Construction Act that included prompt payment and adjudication.   

Both Mollenhauer and Bassett are outstanding individuals who will provide strong governance over the national association.   
Coyne Proposal for Campaign Finance Reform  
Bill 254, Protecting Ontario Elections Act, 2021 was introduced in the Ontario legislature on February 25, 2021 and is now in second reading debate state of the legislative process. If passed, it will:  
  • Double the amount an individual can donate to candidates, constituency associations, leadership contestants and political parties to $3,300 per year amount.  
  • Shorten the time period that a political fundraiser must be advertised publicly online in advance from seven to three days 
  • Eliminate the per-vote subsidy that political parties receive from the public treasury effective December 31, 2024 
  • In the meantime, increase the per-vote subsidy which the Tories promised to eliminate from $1.81 to $2.54 per vote annually. That works out to about $5.9 million annually for the PCs; $4.9 million for the NDP; $2.9 million for the Liberals; and $672,000 for the Greens. 
  • Allow Independent MPPs to raise funds outside of the writ period 
  • Limit the amount of money that can be spent by third party organizations 
  • Ensure that third-party organizations operate independent of political parties and do not coordinate their messaging with political parties 

Andrew Coyne presented an interesting proposal in his March 6, 2021 column in the Globe and Mail.  It went something like this: 
  • Give everyone an annual global maximum to spend on politics including spending with third parties.  Put third parties like Ontario Proud and the Working families Coalition on equal footing with political parties.  Coyne noted that Alberta has an annual global limit set at $4,200 that doesn’t include third parties but he recommends a much lower amount of $1,000 that does include third parties.   
  • A right-leaning voter could allocate his/her $1,000 spending limit or portion thereof however he/she chooses, maybe $400 to support the local PC candidate, $300 for the provincial PC Party and $300 for Ontario Proud or some other combination.   
  • Similarly, a left-leaning voter might allocate his/her maximum allowable spending limit or any portion thereof however he/she chooses among the political parties, candidates, and third parties 
  • Coyne calls this approach self-regulating 

In my mind, it is worth considering.   

Latest Poll Shows Ford’s Approval in Decline 

According to a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute published on March 10, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s approval rating is at 50%. This is not terrible standing for Ford and the Tories, a little more than a year out from the next general election and a middle-of-the-pack rating among provincial premiers. However, Ford swept to victory in June 2018 with the Tories winning 40.5% of the popular vote across Ontario (well ahead of their closest rival, the NDP with 33.59% and 19.57% for the Libs) and 76 of the 124 seats in the provincial legislature. 

The PC’s first year in government was a disaster (remember Dean French, buck a beer and the defective blue license plates) and their polling numbers plummeted into the dumper. When they hit the reset button in June 2019, Ford’s approval rating steadied. Then along came the pandemic and his popularity rocketed up to 69% in June 2020. But it has been in a slow and steady decline ever since, 66% in August 2020, 55% in December 2020, and now 50%. 

The Tories' greatest asset though is the weakness of their opposition, the Liberals with a new and little-known leader and the NDP with one who may have already seen her “Best Before” date.   But a lot can happen in the months ahead. 
NDP Announces Environment Platform 
In an effort perhaps designed to regain some of her fading lustre, NDP leader Andrea Horwath recently released her party's “Green New Democratic Deal”.  Highlights of the environmental election platform promise that an Ontario NDP government will:  
  • Implement a fair carbon pricing system that will see large corporate polluters pay for their emissions. Low- and middle-income Ontarians will not be called upon to shoulder the cost of fighting the climate crisis. 
  • Be informed by traditional Indigenous knowledge, as well as respecting our solemn treaty responsibilities, and will be rooted in true government-to-government relationships In the transition to a net-zero economy. 
  • Train and support the next generation of workers, as well as workers at all stages of their careers whose industries are being displaced by newer technology. The NDP will open community-run recruitment centres for the skilled trades, employing workers transitioning from legacy industries. 
  • Ensure the manufacturing sector thrives, with workers producing the goods we’ll need, including batteries, solar panels, turbine components, lighting, and insulation 
  • Restore the auto manufacturing sector and bring back tens of thousands of good jobs, ensuring that auto assembly and parts manufacturing workers can once again thrive in Ontario. 
  • Implement an ambitious building retrofit program, retrofitting at least five per cent of Ontario buildings per year to be more energy-efficient and will ensure new buildings meet international energy efficiency standards. 
  • Create Ontario’s first Cleantech Bank, funded by the proceeds of cap-andtrade, to support, export and adopt products, services, and ideas that will lower our emissions, increase equity, and generate job and GDP growth in Ontario. Ontario’s Cleantech Bank will be advised by a nonpartisan board of directors — experts in the cleantech field who will ensure investment is transparent and forward-thinking. 
  • Establish Ontario’s first Youth Climate Corps. 
  • Electrify all municipal transit by 2040 

The full 27-page report can be accessed at the following link:  

Tal and Frum Deliver Keynotes at OCS Symposium 

The Ontario Construction Secretariat held its 21st State of the Industry and Outlook Conference virtually on the morning of March 4th.  Of particular interest were the keynotes delivered by CIBC Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal and Canadian-American political commentator David Frum. Here are some of the points they raised in their presentations: 

Benjamin Tal: 
  • $1.9 trillion is about to be injected into the US economy 
  • In the next few years another $2.1 trillion will be injected into the US economy with investments in infrastructure, roads and green; Canada must be part of the supply chain 
  • The US now has an “open gate” immigration policy; that means that Canada will have to compete with the US once again for immigrants 
  • Two trading blocks are forming in the world: i) USA and friends; ii) China 
  • The manufacturing of about 20% of what the US now buys from China will be brought back home 
  • In January 2021 the US gained 50,000 jobs while Canada lost 200,000 
  • Because of the challenges in accessing vaccines, Canada is moving too slowly with vaccinations; is slowing our economic recovery; the economic damage is already being felt 
  • Q3 and Q4 2021 will show strong economic growth; the pandemic has taught us to be more productive and more willing to take risks 
  • The recession has been very narrow and very deep; it has impacted few industries, limited mainly to service industries, hospitality, tourism and small retail to a great extent; the goods-producing industries have been very strong; all of the jobs that have been lost are low paying jobs and there has been growth in high paying jobs; the speed of the recovery will be very fast 
  • For every dollar of wages lost in the pandemic, the government has injected $7 into the economy 
  • There has been a decline in spending during the pandemic; as a consequence, high-income individuals are sitting on about $90 billion in cash that is pent up demand that will be utilized in the service sector 
  • The debt to GDP ratio has increased from about 30% before the pandemic to about 50% after 
  • At some point the government will have to remove stimulus as inflation will begin to increase to 2 ½% - 3%; in about two years there will very likely be tax policy changes/increases, perhaps capital gains or HST 
  • Low-interest rates have been good for the housing market; those who lost their jobs are renters; housing prices have increased because of low inventories; prices in the Toronto suburbs and areas more remote from Toronto have increased at a faster clip than Toronto 
  • The economy has not suffered scarring from COVID19; the pandemic has been an accelerator; the economy is being transformed; capacity hasn’t been lost, nor has demand 
  • Construction costs (labour and materials) will not ease in the near future 

David Frum: 
  • Canada and the US are divergent on energy; Canada remains a petroleum exporter; Canada is not on the same pace as the US to transition; the Keystone pipeline, if it hadn’t been cancelled, would have carried oil from the oil sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas where it was bound for export markets, not for consumption in the US 
  • The US economy will be hot and the demand for labour from South and Latin America will be strong; Canada will have to be a competitor for labour 
  • The election of Joe Biden as President will not bring about the end of political extremism in the US; political extremism on both the left and right remains strong at the state and local levels; over the next several years the US will have to determine how democratic it wants to be 
  • Huge permanent deficits have been created; from 2010 to 2017 the US was moving closer to balance; then the Trump tax cuts and then the COVID deficits 
  • We could be seeing the beginning of cost-push inflation; food prices are rising; labour costs could rise as many states and local governments increase their minimum wage to $15/hour and President Biden is supportive of unionization and has given his full-throated endorsement to a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama  
  • Existing trade agreements including the USMCA do not address the digital economy; there are many hard problems and important differences in this regard, but President Biden has no interest in proposing changes to the USMCA; Biden, who since the time of his first election to the US senate in 1972 supported every trade agreement, changed his tune in 2005 and has voted against every trade agreement since 
  • Canada must negotiate a “carve out” from Biden’s Buy America policy  

The conference also included: 
  • A discussion with an expert panel that included Prevention Council Chair Erin Oliver, Chief Prevention Officer Ron Kelusky, Brian Callender of Bass Installations and the Afro-Canadian Construction Association and Carmine Tiano of the Provincial Building Trades moderated by IHSA CEO Enzo Garritano.   
  • Highlights of the OCS’s 2021 contractors survey from OCS Research Director Katherine Jacobs 
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