Ontario legislators have defeated a bill that would made it impossible for Quebec-based construction firms to work on provincial and municipal projects.
© Cole Burston
Protesting Ottawa truckers shut down the Champlain Bridge last month.
By Jacob Serebrin
Members of the provincial Liberals and New Democrats on Thursday voted down the proposed legislation, which Ottawa-area Progressive Conversative member of provincial Parliament Jack MacLaren introduced as a private member’s bill earlier this year.
The Fairness is a Two-Way Street Act was meant to replicate a law which the Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives introduced in 1999 but was later repealed by the Liberals in 2006.
The new legislation would have barred Quebec-based construction companies from bidding on government contracts in Ontario and made it more difficult for contractors from Quebec to cross the provincial boundary.
The two provinces signed a labour mobility agreement after the last bill was reversed but Mr. MacLaren said that hasn’t worked out as it’s supposed to.
He said it’s opened the door to Quebec firms and workers in his province, while Ontario firms looking to do work on the other side of the border still face a massive amount of red tape.
Several organizations – including local company Power-Tek Electrical Services and the Greater Ottawa Truckers Association – came out in support of the bill. The two groups shut down the Champlain Bridge for several hours earlier this summer to draw attention to the issue.
However other business groups and unions were opposed.
The law didn’t work the first time and wouldn’t work again now, said Richard Hayter, director of community relations for the Building Trades Council in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
“What is currently being proposed is going back to 1999,” said Mr. Hayter, whose group represents over 32,000 unionized works, in an interview earlier this week. “It will bring on the full impact of a blockage at the border.”
Mr. Hayter said there’s a “huge” number of workers from both province who work on both sides of the border in the Ottawa area.
According to Mr. Hayter, Ontario members of the Mechanical Contractors Association alone have performed over $180 million worth of work in Quebec.
“Before the law was repealed, there wasn’t really a huge benefit to Ontario,” said Mr. Hayter, “the benefits didn’t accrue.”
And he said the proposed law would hurt construction workers who started their careers in Ontario but have moved to Quebec, looking for cheaper housing and to take advantage of the province’s subsidized daycare program.
According to Mr. Hayter, because of the large amount of construction in Ottawa, the proposed law would have a bigger impact here than in other parts of the province.
“Ottawa has more construction than many U.S. states,” he said.
While Mr. Hayter acknowledged that there may be problems in some industries, he’s calling on the provincial ministers of labour from both provinces to sit down and discuss those specific problems, within the framework of the current labour mobility agreement.
–With files from Mark Brownlee.
See also: Cross-border construction conflict: a primer.