DCN ARCHIVES

September 28, 2004

Quebec/Ontario mediators negotiating

Labour mobility issue drags on

Ontario Labour Minister Chris Bentley was interviewed recently about issues related to the construction industry. This is the first in a four-part series from that interview.

BY GRANT CAMERON

STAFF WRITER

Labour Minister Chris Bentley says a law that bans Quebec construction firms and workers from bidding on contracts in Ontario remains in effect, although a court ruled recently that one company has found a legal loophole in the legislation.

“It’s still the law,” he said referring to the Fairness is a Two-Way Street Act passed in 1999. “The (court) decision, as I understand it, is about a specific issue.”

The act was passed after negotiations failed to end a simmering feud between construction companies, workers and unions in Ottawa and Hull areas over who would be allowed to work where.

Chris Bentley

It was enacted by the previous Conservative government because Ontario residents who wanted to work and do business in Quebec construction faced many roadblocks.

The dispute was highlighted by demonstrations on bridges across the Ottawa River, construction site violence between enemy camps and a war of words between government and labour officials in both provinces.

The act was thrust into the limelight again recently when Ontario’s high court upheld a lower court ruling that Quebec-based Regulvar Canada Inc. has found a loophole in the act and can legally operate in Ontario.

The ruling was the result of proceedings that first started in 2003 when the City of Ottawa, acting on the advice of the province, refused to accept Regulvar’s bid on a contract because it was a Quebec firm, and therefore not employable in Ontario under the act.

Bentley wouldn’t comment on whether lawyers for the Ministry of Labour intend to appeal the ruling.

“That is a matter still before the courts so I don’t want to go there,” he said.

On the court’s decision, however, he said:

“It was a specific decision about a specific instance and the instance was whether a subsidiary set up by a Quebec-based company in Southern Ontario fell within the purview of the act and I understand the court’s decision to say it did not.

“That doesn’t change the existing structure of the act.”

The goal of the Fairness is a Two- Way Street Act is to level the playing field for Ontario construction workers and contractors.

It came about after the Quebec government refused to remove barriers for Ontario workers and contractors.

Under the act, firms from Quebec are shut out from bidding on Ontario government construction projects, including municipal, school board, hospital or other broader public sector projects.

Contractors and construction workers from Quebec working or wishing to submit a bid to the private sector are required to register with an Ontario’s Jobs Protection Office and provide proof of competency and fiscal responsibility.

The requirements are similar to those faced by Ontario contractors seeking to work in Quebec.

Earlier this year, the two provinces took steps to resolve the dispute by appointing two negotiators to work out a resolution.

Christopher Bredt, a partner with the law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, was chosen to represent Ontario and Réal Mireault, a former deputy minister, was chosen to represent Quebec.

Bentley said the premiers of the two provinces have expressed an interest in resolving the dispute.

He said there has been an ongoing issue over labour mobility between Ontario and Quebec for years and, while successive governments have taken a run at it, nothing appears to have been successful in putting it to rest.

“Premier McGuinty and Premier Charest, when they had their initial meeting, said: ‘It would be nice to increase labour mobility between our two provinces. Let’s sit down and talk and figure out how to do that.’

“And so there have been ongoing discussions and negotiations between representatives of both provinces since that time,” said Bentley. “Those discussions are still going on out of the glare of television lights. I think everybody is hopeful.

“We’d all like to achieve increased labour mobility but part of the discussion process is becoming aware of all the issues and figuring out resolutions to the issues.

“So, what I think you need to know is that those discussions are going on.”

Bentley wouldn’t comment on whether the discussions are proving fruitful.

“No, I won’t comment,” he said. “I mean they’re going on. They are ongoing. I never think it’s helpful for negotiations to sort of give a minuteby- minute commentary, suffice to say that they are ongoing and that talking is always a good thing.”

No deadline has been set for negotiators to resolve the issue.

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