Leaving No One Behind: Building a Stronger Ontario

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April 13, 2023 Leaving No One Behind: Building a Stronger Ontario
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13 Apr 2023
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April 2023
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April 13, 2023

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Leaving No One Behind: Building a Stronger Ontario

Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada

Sabrina Maddeaux, TBC, National Post

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Marc Arsenault, Business Manager, The Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario
The Honourable Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Government of Ontario
Megan Telford, Chief Energy Transition Officer, Hydro One

Head Table Guests
Gianni Agozzino, President, Metropolitan Plumbing and Heating Contractors Association
Chris Conway, CEO, Food and Beverage Ontario
Tim Hudak, CEO, OREA
Annie McNaughton
Sal Rabbani, President of the Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Rick Roth, Secretary, Empire Club of Canada, Vice-President, Ontario Global Public Affairs
Marsha Seca, Director, Empire Club of Canada
Adrian Sharma, President &Chairman, Career Colleges Ontario
Jordan M. Teperman, Executive Vice-President & General Counsel, HAVEN Developments
Kelly Jackson, Past President & Board Director, Empire Club of Canada

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon. Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. To our in-person attendees joining us at the Royal York in Toronto, I'm delighted to be here with you today. And to our virtual audience joining in live or on demand, thank you for your participation and support. This incredible community of colleagues and peers is a driving force behind our mandate to engage, debate, educate, and advance the dialogue on issues of importance to Canadians. Welcome. My name is Sal Rabbani, I’m the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada.

To formally begin this afternoon, I want to acknowledge that we're gathering on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.

This season, the Empire Club of Canada strives to bring you divergent and thought-provoking perspectives on politics, healthcare, technology, business, arts, and culture. Today we have the privilege of hosting and hearing from the Honourable Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, to talk about the rights of workers in Ontario, and the Ontario Working for Workers bill. The bill aims to improve working conditions, increase minimum wage, and provide better benefits to employees. These proposed laws are a step towards building an Ontario that leaves no one behind, where workers are treated with dignity, and respect, and have access to fair wages, safe working conditions, and equal opportunities. The Working for Workers bills are an important initiative towards building an Ontario, a more equitable society in Ontario, by providing better protection to workers and improving their rights. I believe the government is working towards a future where everyone can access work and fair wages. By prioritizing the needs of workers, Ontario can create a more prosperous society where no one is left behind.

Turning to today's program, I want to recognize the Empire Club’s distinguished past presidents—my dear friend, Kelly Jackson is here, sitting at the head table—board of directors, staff, and volunteers. Thank you for your contributions to making this event a success.

The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and we would like to recognize our sponsors who generously support the club and make these events complimentary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, Bruce Power, and Hydro One; and thank you to our VIP reception sponsors, the Metropolitan Plumbing and Heating Contractors Association, and the United Association Local 46; and thank you to our supporting sponsors, Career Colleges Ontario, the Electrical Power Systems Construction Association, Food and Beverage Ontario, and the Ontario Real Estate Association. And thank you, also, to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, Hydro One, and TELUS.

For those of you joining us online, if you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We're accepting questions from the audience for our speaker, you can undertake to scan that QR code found on your program booklet, for those of you in the room, and online through that Q&A under the video player.

It is now my pleasure to invite Marc Arsenault, of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario to welcome our guest speakers on behalf of Bruce Power. Marc, welcome.

Opening Remarks by Marc Arsenault, Business Manager, The Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario
Good afternoon, and thank you, Sal. The people represented by the Building Trades Council take great pride in not only building the infrastructure our economy depends on, but on the quality and craftsmanship of their work. As an ironworker, I can tell you that it is a very special feeling to be driving along a highway, pointing out various landmarks that we've built with our brothers and sisters in the trades. Every single bridge, hospital, industrial plant, or place of worship brings back memories among the tradespeople who helped build them.

Our entire business model is based on an earn-while-you-learn model of apprenticeship training and knowledge transfer from journeyperson to apprentice, paving the way for the next generation of construction trades professionals to hone their skills in building our great province. The success of our industry depends on strong partnerships that we've established with our owner and employer community. These partnerships have endured many changes and pressures over the years. But the basic commitment to building projects on time, on budget, and most importantly, safely, has endured; so, too, has our desire to collabourate with government. Our keynote speaker today is always eager to meet with the trades workers to learn about the dozens of unique career opportunities that are out there, and to showcase those opportunities to all Ontarians. Not just from construction, but from every sector of the skilled trades.

It is my distinct honour to introduce the keynote speaker today. He needs little introduction to most in this room, but I would like to say that through the minister’s leadership at the cabinet table, we have seen a proactive approach to rejuvenate public interest in the skilled trade sector of our economy, precisely at a time when it is needed. In short, Minister McNaughton gets it. He understands that young people entering the skilled trades can have a safe, long, and prosperous career, which is why he is a passionate champion of the sector. He is also leading the charge in helping diversify our industry to attract more women, new Canadians, Indigenous people, veterans, and other underrepresented communities. Ladies and gentlemen, addressing the Empire Club of Canada, please join me in welcoming Ontario's Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development, Minister Monte McNaughton.

The Honourable Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Government of Ontario
Well, thank you very much, Marc, for that really kind introduction. It's great to be with everyone here today; what a what a packed room. Hopefully, I can keep everyone entertained over the next 15 or 20 minutes before we get to the Q&A session. Marc, I can't tell you just how I've enjoyed working with you. You're building trade unions and employers—in fact, I think one of the proudest accomplishments since I've been the Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development, is partnering with the building trades to fund projects at the De Novo Treatment Centre in Huntsville. I visit there every summer when my family and I take a holiday up there, just to see the great work that they do. This is a treatment centre to treat mental health and addictions for Ontario's construction workers, supervisors, owners, contractors. So, Marc, to you and the building trades unions, thank you for your leadership.

Now, I do also have to tell a story—and Marc reminded me of this, because he is an ironworker—so, four years ago, when Premier asked me to become the Minister of Labour, I went out in the first one hundred days, met with over a hundred different labour leaders, to really open a dialogue with labour in the province of Ontario. Well, that Christmas, I went to an iron workers Christmas party. So, there were about a thousand people in the room. Husbands and wives, and I think Fred was a business manager at the time. Fred got up to the microphone to call me up to say a few words. And he said, “ladies and gentlemen,” probably said, you know, “fellow brothers and sisters, I'd like to welcome out of the podium the Minister of Labour, Monty McGuinty.” So, Marc, I have to say you did a lot better today at your introduction. I appreciate that.

It is great to be with all of you here today and to see so many people, industry leaders, labour leaders, community leaders, just such a cross-section of Ontario's economy here today. I also want to thank in advance, Sabrina, who's going to be leading the questions and answers after this, and the chat that’s going to follow. And everyone else who's being essential to making today happen, Rick Roth and Marsha Seca, the Empire Club, all of the sponsors, and I think, most importantly, the staff here at the Royal York Hotel. I also want to mention probably the most important thing to me today, I'm so touched to have my daughter Annie joining us. My wife Kate is working today, so I asked Annie to be my lunch date. To those who know me, my pride and joy in life is our daughter, Annie; we spend a lot of time together. From building a tree house to visiting the Little Beaver restaurant in Komoka, to watching the odd Leafs game together, to going on bike rides. Annie, I wouldn't change a thing. We share a lot of time together; you make your mom and I very proud.

Today, I want to talk about the next chapter in our government’s Working for Workers Plan, and really, all about the road that brought us to this stage here today. Almost four years ago, as I mentioned, Premier Ford asked me to serve as his Minister of Labour. I really approached the role with the mindset of doing things differently. Being pro-worker, working with private sector labour and employers, and bringing a new working-class and blue-collar conservatism to Canada. But most importantly, with the mindset of identifying problems and fixing them as quickly as possible.

In the conversation Premier Ford and I had at that time—and in our many conversations since—the premier shared his belief, a belief that we share together, that the issues of working people have not been given the same attention from governments of all stripes, as issues faced by business and academics. I think part of the challenge is that the vast majority of people who live and work around government—you know, civil servants, C-Suite executives, academics, some journalists, and yes, politicians like me—live, professional and personal lives surrounded by friends, neighbours, and colleagues, who also come from the business and academic classes. No matter where we came from, like it or not, the majority of us in this room are leading lives that shelter us from the reality facing many of the workers who keep our great province and country moving. Once you see it, you can't unsee it. But that doesn't make their issues less important. In fact, it means we need to work even harder to bring them into light.

Anybody who knows Premier Ford knows how hard he works to stay connected to working people. God knows, he gives his mobile number out to thousands of people—I'm sure everybody in this room has Premier Ford's cell phone number. It's part of why I work to stay grounded and remember where I'm from. Working in a family hardware store in Newbury, Ontario, and the value of knowing how to get your hands dirty to get the job done. I should add that, as Minister of Labour, I can't actually say at what age my dad had me working in the hardware store; I think we had rules against that. But it was a good experience.

Now, in my nearly four years as Labour Minister in a Conservative government, the biggest misconception I've noticed is the argument that Conservatives aren't the party of blue-collar workers. And look, there may have been some truth to that critique 30 or 40 years ago, but it sure isn't true now, especially under the leadership of Premier Ford. If it were true, I wouldn't have announced a few weeks ago that Ontario's minimum wage is set to increase by 1.05 dollars an hour, and that we’ll be North America's first jurisdiction to bring in portable benefits to millions of workers that don't have health benefits today. I believe that the future of Conservatism is a working-class future; the last election in Ontario proved that. And it's just the beginning, if we push forward an agenda that involves a genuine and lasting shift of power to working people.

Here's something I've learned over the course of the past five elections, whether it's in Ontario and Canada, I'd argue right across the Western world. It's rapidly changing. Most of the downtown elite and corporate classes decamped to the Liberals a long time ago. And these days, it's likely fair to say it's probably a lot easier to bump into a Liberal than bump into a Conservative on Bay Street; a complete reversal where things were just a decade or two ago. And the NDP, traditionally a party of workers, are in the midst of an identity crisis, tying themselves in knots trying to be woke, instead of focusing on the real issues impacting workers, like jobs with pensions and benefits, so people can build stronger families. This means there's a lot of people in this country, good people, hardworking people, including private sector union members and their leaders—who never saw themselves working with or supporting a PC government—who sometimes, with good cause, never trusted Conservatives; but who maybe, just maybe, are now prepared to give us a fair shot. But only if we treat them with the respect that they deserve. And it's a shot I don't want to miss, which is why my door has been open from day one. If you have a problem, let's fix it. It sounds crazy, but this simple approach has been the key to our success.

I've heard from people who have problems most of us never think about. How many of you here today—I want a real show of hands—who are taking your time between work meetings to join us for this lunch and listen to me speak, who are concerned about whether the bathrooms at this event are clean or safe, or if the doors in the stalls lock, let's see those hands. A few construction workers. Look, that's my point. If this was a room full of truck drivers or construction workers, there'd be a lot more hands shooting up if I asked a question about their workplaces. The reason I'm illustrating this point is because it's important for our government to listen to the voices of people who haven't been listened to for many years, many who have been forgotten by politicians and governments of all stripes. It is why, in our first Working for Workers legislation, we made it the law that truck drivers and app-based delivery drivers get to use washrooms along their routes. Common sense.

So, while I hear about a lot of problems, my job, and our government's job, is to find solutions quickly. These problems can be solved by all of us working together, government, labour and business. Under the leadership of Premier Ford, we passed bills full of Working for Workers measures back in 2021 and 2022. Washrooms for truck drivers, as I mentioned. We banned non-compete clauses; we brought in the right to disconnect; we recognized international credentials for immigrants by eliminating the Canadian work experience requirement; we hired a hundred more health and safety inspectors; we brought in the right to privacy so employers couldn't monitor employees; we mandated Naloxone kits in workplaces; and brought in, for the first time in Canada, foundational rights for gig workers, like a minimum wage.

Our third bill is now making its way through the legislature. I want to talk about some of those common-sense, practical ways we can make life better, make sure there's a path for people to get ahead, and give working families some breathing room. These changes are also important for employers as we work to retain and attract workers to fill historic labour shortages. I'll give you an example. As part of our Working for Workers bill that's in front of the legislature, we recently announced we'd be making changes to ensure that all firefighters, whether they're a full-time volunteer, First Nation firefighters or fire investigators, if any of these people fall ill or die from pancreatic and thyroid cancer, they're going to be compensated by the WSIB. And we're making that retroactive to January 1st, 1960. Both these cancers are linked to the job—it was, clearly, the right and decent thing to do.

Still, I remember walking at Queen’s Park, I had a journalist from one of the prominent papers stop me and ask me, why are we moving ahead with this change? And I said, “because they told us it's been a problem for decades, and no one has listened to them.” Sometimes politics isn't rocket science; it really is about listening to people. It's about listening to people, like Lori Ray. Lori's story moved me to act and act quickly. Lori's husband, Larry, was a firefighter, he spent his career serving the community in Cambridge. Sadly, back in 2018, Larry passed away from pancreatic cancer. Lori has been the voice of spouses for firefighters right across this province, who passed away from work-related cancers. She's a fighter, and she's made a big difference for firefighters and their families here in Ontario and made a lasting impact, in memory of Larry.

And while it pains me to say it, we are regulating washrooms, yet again. This time, for construction workers. It's a basic necessity, but one that is all too often forgotten. And it's important for our 600,000 people working in construction. These are the people who build Ontario for generations and continue to do so today. There are plumbers, electricians, iron workers, labourers, carpenters, welders, crane operators; the list goes on and on. They do it all. They get up early every day, put on their gear, and travel to job sites to build the homes, factories, hospitals, and other projects our families need. That is why our new rules would require washrooms to be private and completely enclosed, adequately lit, and have hand sanitizer where running water is not possible. All our construction workers, both those entering the industry today and those who have been putting in in an honest shift for decades, deserve the basic dignity we all get to experience in our workplaces, access to a clean and safe washroom.

I'm a girl dad through and through, and when I think about our daughter Annie, and the way she lights up when she gets talking about building things, I think about these job sites. I think about the stories I've heard from women. I know we need to do better. That's why we're doubling the number of washrooms on job sites and requiring sites to have at least one women's-only washroom, because we're focused on tearing down barriers to entry for everyone who wants to work in the skilled trades. And what I hear from women is this is one of the reasons they don't pursue that dream. Nobody should have to leave their workplace and search for a washroom. When we talk about a Conservative approach to working for workers, this is what it looks like.

Now, another show of hands—and I think everybody's getting the hang of this now, hopefully—I want to ask you another question. How many folks in the room here wear a uniform to work every day? And I don't mean a suit and tie. Not very many hands up; a couple. Well, for women in construction, having access to proper-fitting gear isn't always a guarantee. In fact, women often wear PPE manufactured for men. That stops now. Everyone should have uniforms, boots, and safety harnesses that properly fit. Our Working for Workers proposals will ensure PPE fits each body type. The days of “pink it and shrink it” are over. We need all hands on deck to build our future, and that means attracting more women to the skilled trades.

Joining us today are two more everyday heroes, Mackenzie Gillen, a power line apprentice, who is the first female to place at the 2022 Linesman Rodeo International Competition in Kansas—I hope I have that right—and Brooke Fraser, a customer operations manager, who was instrumental in power line restoration after last week's big storm hit our province. They both work at Hydro One. We're making changes for Mackenzie for Brooke, and the other workers working in the trades and trades-related careers. So, I'd like Mackenzie and Brooke to please stand up so we can recognize your service. And I also understand that there are a number of female apprentices in the trades at your table, too, so please stand up and be recognized. Thank you. You are an inspiration to the next generation of women in Ontario.

Next, I just want to take a few moments and talk about our work to protect vulnerable workers in our province. Right now, there are workers in precarious jobs who are literally being held hostage by predatory employers. It's obviously not right. It's not legal. But for too long, it's been out of sight, out of mind. My message to these vulnerable workers is that you are not invisible anymore, we're listening. We're protecting vulnerable workers, including foreign workers who may be exploited by recruiters or employers. Our new legislation will bring in the highest fines in Canada for taking or withholding a passport or work permit. My message to those immoral people out there abusing migrant workers is this: you can run, but you can't hide. We will find you, fine you, and put you behind bars. Labour trafficking has no place in the province of Ontario.

And finally, we need to do more to welcome newcomers and help them build a better life here in Ontario. We need to listen to people like Clarence. Clarence came here back in 1987, and like many other immigrants who sacrificed so much to find a better life, faced all kinds of barriers to working in a career he was trained for. Thankfully, for all of us in this room and millions of others, he persevered, and today is playing a leading role in ensuring Pearson International Airport is running smoothly and safely. Clarence, please stand up so we can recognize you. Thank you for your hard work, Clarence. Thanks for sharing your story with all of us, and recently joining Premier Ford and our team at a press conference last week at Pearson to share your story, and to make some changes to improve lives of new Canadians. So, thank you again.

Because of and for new Canadians like Clarence, we're building on our previous work to ensure faster recognition of foreign credentials, and ban unnecessary Canadian experience requirements, so skilled immigrants can work in their fields faster. Premier Ford and I have been working with the federal government. And just last month, I was able to stand at a podium with Minister Fraser to announce that Ontario is doubling the number of skilled immigrants we can select every year to over 18,000.

Now, I know I covered a lot today—and we're going to cover some more things, I think, momentarily—but you can't truly work for workers unless you are also prepared to work hard. The measures I've outlined today are about putting a Conservative workers-first vision into practice. They're the result of listening to workers, and people from all walks of life, and all backgrounds. They build on our previous two bills and set the stage for more to come. They're about focusing on real problems; problems ignored for too long. And creating solutions that make a real difference in the lives of people. They're about leaving no one behind. If you can and want to work in Ontario, we need you. There are endless opportunities. We need all hands on deck to meet these challenges. And working together, all of us in this room and others, we can and we will build a stronger Ontario. Thank you.

Sal Rabbani
Amanda mentioned for the page. Yes, thank you very much, Minister. I'd now like to invite Sabrina Maddeaux, columnist for the National Post, who's going to moderate the discussion.

Sabrina Maddeaux, TBC, National Post
Thank you. Our time is going to fly by, so I'm going to get right into this. I want to start by touching on something you mentioned in your speech. It boggles my mind that, basically, until now, there was no guarantee of a washroom on a construction site, a clean one, safe one, and that women weren't even entitled to proper gear that was safe. How did this first come to your attention, and what type of stories were you hearing from workers?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Well, great, great question. And I think really important one for construction workers in Ontario, especially as we're trying to recruit people into the trades, more women into the trades, and just people from all backgrounds. I heard about this because I visit a lot of job sites in Ontario. I go to union training centres, I go to colleges, I’m out on the ground listening to workers. And I was at an iron workers training centre, actually, up in Ottawa, and two female apprentices came up to me and said, “we're constantly going to Tim Horton's to use the washroom on job sites.” And because of that, in February, I launched—for the first time in the Ministry’s history—an inspection blitz of washrooms on job sites. In the month of February, the Ministry of Labour Inspectors went to 1800 job sites, found 244 violations. And the overwhelming majority of the violations weren't because the washroom’s dirty, or you know, not sanitary. In a lot of the cases, there weren't actually washrooms on job sites at all, or there were doors missing, there were sides of Porta Potties missing. I mean, to me, these are heroes building our province. They should be treated like heroes. And I do just want to reference from a political angle—because I can't help myself on this one, because I'm so passionate about the washroom situation and improving those facilities for construction workers—we introduced this at Queen’s Park. I was asked a friendly question from a colleague of mine during question period, and it was the NDP heckling me when I was trying to give an answer...

Sabrina Maddeaux
Oh wow.

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
...but essentially, mocking the government for bringing forward these changes. So, it just show, highlights, you know, what's happening in Ontario from a political standpoint.

Sabrina Maddeaux
That is fascinating. You also mentioned your daughter Annie’s influence when you were coming up with these changes. How else has having a daughter impacted your political outlook and your priorities?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Well, I know there's lots of dads out there that have daughters. And there is a special bond between daughters and fathers, for sure. I mean, I think, in every aspect of life, my life is, and my views are shaped by having a daughter. I referenced it in my speech, but a few years ago, it was actually during the first summer of the pandemic, my neighbour—who’s been in the skilled trades for decades, he's an insulator—he, my daughter Annie, and I built a tree house. And it really was seeing the pride in Annie’s eyes, you know, carrying the lumber, carrying the tools, having safety goggles on, a hard hat. That really, just, you know, sent a message that we have to ensure that everybody in Ontario sees themselves in the skilled trades. So, that's one aspect.

You know, as I said, we spend a lot of time together. You'll notice on social media that I often talk about the Little Beaver restaurant; I talked about it in my remarks. You know, we spend time there with those frontline heroes who are cooking people food and serving us in restaurants. These are people that have been forgotten about in Ontario.

Sabrina Maddeaux
You know, unfortunately, we're starting to see layoffs and especially in the tech sector. Especially in the States, where we've seen some pretty, I would argue, inhumane treatment of remote workers. You sought to address this in the Working for Workers Act. Tell me about that.

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Yeah, I didn't mention that one in my remarks, but a really important one, I would say, especially in places like Toronto and Waterloo, where there's a lot of tech jobs. We're seeing, you know, via social media, many workers finding out that they've been laid off via Twitter, which is ridiculous in my mind. It's not the way you treat workers anywhere. So, we brought in changes in this Working for Workers three that, if passed, essentially, remote workers would be considered the same as those that work in an office.

So, for example, if you are a company in Ontario today and you have 40 workers in an office building, and you have 20 working remotely, then you would not have to pay the severance pay to workers. So, this legislation will close that loophole. Anyone who works for a company, whether you're working remotely or working in an office building, will be considered, you know, all working under one roof.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Well, this is an example of something that was made urgent by the pandemic. How else has the pandemic impacted your role and your priorities?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Well, certainly, health and safety for sure. I mean, health and safety was really under the microscope during the pandemic, in every workplace, in every sector of the economy. Again, I have to give a shout out to those employers in this room who really stepped up during the pandemic, in particular those construction employees, and our labour partners as well. Because we were under intense pressure to close construction down. And I'm proud of our government. We reached out, made calls to employers, made calls to labour leaders, and said how can we keep the construction sector open and to keep 600,000 people working during the pandemic. So that was a big focus for us and, you know, we had a great track record in construction during the pandemic.

Other changes, though, I mentioned the future of work and some of the changes we've done around this. Certainly, the pandemic accelerated changes from that perspective. I've been critical of government in the past of all different stripes. I mean, government laws really haven't kept up with the changing workplaces. That's why we formed a committee, literally, months into the pandemic, to go out and look at the future of work. That's why we brought in the right to disconnect, we brought in privacy legislation. I mean, people were working from home during the pandemic. They were working in their kid’s bedroom. They had no idea that employers were recording their devices. So now, in Ontario, it's the law that workers have to know when employers are actually tracking their devices. I mean, to me, it's common sense. But it's also about ensuring that labour laws keep up with changing workplaces.


Sabrina Maddeaux
Well, I have audience questions coming in, so I'm going to ask you one now. The feds recently announced immigration level spaces for the OINP. How will you decide how to allocate those spaces, and which industries will be prioritized?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
That's an easy one. We've been working for two years with the federal government to give Ontario more of a say over the immigrants that we select, to really bring in skilled immigrants to use strategically to fill labour shortages. I mean, when you think, in March of 2020, 200,000 jobs were going unfilled in Ontario. Today it's around 350,000. So, it's mission critical that we're re-training, and upskilling people, we're getting people off social assistance, into training programs, to get them into the labour market, and using immigration strategically. So, through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program, we pushed the federal government. And to their credit, to Minister Fraser's credit, he announced a couple of weeks ago, as I said, with me there, that we're going to select 18,000 immigrants annually. I think that will be a minimum; we expect it will actually be considerably more than that. We're going to bring in skilled trades workers, truck drivers, tech workers, and healthcare workers. Those will be the priority groups.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Actually, a related audience question. Newcomers keep facing challenges on getting foreign credentials recognized, especially in healthcare. What will you do to speed up foreign credential recognition, and when will you implement changes?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
You know, one of the biggest surprises I got when I became the Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development is the fact that 25 percent of the immigrants in Ontario today are actually working in fields that they've studied. So, it means 75 percent of new Canadians are driving taxi, are driving Uber, are doing things that that's not what they studied in their home country. It's a huge injustice. And I know governments in the past have talked about this. But I'm proud to say we are, we're moving on this. Eighteen months ago, we banned the Canadian work experience requirement. And just to highlight what that means to those in the room that don't know what it is, I had a colleague—he's now an MPP—he came to Canada. His background was in engineering. And the regulatory college has, I think it’s a five-year work experience requirement. And it wasn't that he had to come here to work for an engineering firm. He worked at Tim Horton's. And as long as he fulfilled that requirement, then he could go and challenge the regulatory college and the competency. I mean, it's ridiculous to think, after all these years, that the Canadian worker experience requirement was in place. So, Ontario became the first province in the country to have gotten rid of that.

Now, in this latest Working for Workers legislation, we're hearing that some of the regulatory colleges may create the Canadian work experience requirement by another name. So, we're going to ban whatever else they come up with, to ensure that when newcomers come here, they go, they challenge the competency, and they can start working in fields that they've studied as quickly as possible. Minister Jones, the Minister of Health, a couple of weeks ago, already announced doctors from certain countries and other healthcare professionals can come to Ontario today and start working in healthcare tomorrow, which is great news.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Fantastic. Now, a lot of the things we're talking about, they're obviously good for workers. But how are they also good for the broader economy?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
You know, a lot of these issues that we're addressing has support by employers and labour and workers across the province. Again, one of the greatest economic challenges we have today is the labour shortages. I mean, every sector is really feeling the impacts of this. It's not just construction, it's retail, it will be the Royal York Hotel, it's every company out there. So, it really is about making Ontario the best place to live, work, and raise a family. And that's our mission, is to have policies that ensure that we're making Ontario that place.

I think this week of what we did. We were up in Sudbury on Monday and Tuesday, and I stood with the Steel Workers Union. I mean, when in the history of the province did the steel Workers Union ever stand with a Conservative minister of Labour? But we stood together with the Ontario Mining Association, all the mine companies, to announce that we're bringing in regulation to lower diesel exhaust particulate in mines. Supported by labour, supported by employers, and obviously, supported by our Ministry. Miners, to that, tto the reason why we're doing it, I mean, miners are one-and-a-half to two times higher than the general population of getting lung cancer, bladder cancer, in heart disease. So, again, this makes sense. And it's coming up with those ideas that improve the lives of workers. But I would argue that there's an economic benefit to every policy that we're bringing in for the broader economy.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Now, one of the biggest issues right now is the housing crisis. And I know that's not your portfolio, but the lack of skilled trades workers that contribute to the lack of supply is. How are you working to address that?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Well, it's a, it's a huge issue. I mean, we're talking about immigration. We're going to be attracting 18,000 immigrants per year, and the federal government’s is going to be in the hundreds of thousands of new Canadians coming here on an annual basis to the province of Ontario alone. The housing crisis is obviously a big, big, big challenge. That's why we've introduced many pieces of legislation to get homes built faster, to cut through the bureaucracy and the red tape in communities across the province. The skilled trade shortage, obviously, is a key component to getting those 1.5 million homes built over the next 10 years. Today, in the skilled trades and construction, we need about 70,000 or 80,000 workers. That's why we've announced many changes recently. I mean, in September, for the first time in the history of Ontario, we're introducing the skilled trades in grade one.

Sabrina Maddeaux

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
A year ago September, I sent dozens of recruiters into every high school across the province, to really compete head on with university recruiters. We need to stop telling all young people, all parents, all guidance counselors, that the only way to be successful in life is by going to university. That is simply not the truth. I don't have to tell many people in this room about people in the skilled trades making six figures, with the defined pension and benefit. These are great careers that you can build families around. So, we're making a lot of changes. And one thing, we're making huge progress because of government, labour, and business working together. Year-over-year, we've increased apprenticeship registrations by 23 percent in Ontario; for female apprenticeship registrations, a 28 percent increase. Literally, thousands and thousands of more women are signing up for the skilled trades. So, we are making huge progress. I mean, today in the province, we have about 85,000 active apprentices in the province. And that's up, over 12 months ago today, by well over 10,000. So, it is making a difference. But we’ve got a hell of a lot more work to do.

Sabrina Maddeaux
That actually connects with another audience question. Minister, could you speak to your plan on increasing job opportunities for young people and recent graduates?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Great, great question as well. One of the other announcements that we made—we're doing so much around the skilled trades, and really getting people trained for in-demand jobs. But a few weeks ago, I joined with the premier, we're going to begin consultations on building pathways into some of the trades starting in grade 11. So, you would complete grade 10, and some of the trades you could start in grade 11. If you complete your apprenticeship system or you complete your apprenticeship, then you would be able to get your high school diploma after the apprenticeship is completed. So, that's one of the things we're working on.

But I would say we're doing a lot on this front. I mean, I think of what we're doing around Employment Ontario transformation. We have today in Ontario almost 850,000 people on social assistance. About 250,000 are on Ontario Works—or what was called welfare a couple of decades ago—and then the rest on Ontario Disability Support Program, or ODSP. And we're reforming the system in Ontario. We've created a competitive process. And for the first time in Ontario, we have different regions, there's 15 in the province, that are really incented to get people off of social assistance, into jobs. So, under the old system, we would work with some agencies and partners across the province. And if somebody on social assistance came in and said we want to, you know, get a job, and the agency got them a job, they got paid by the government, the agency, for this person having a job on day one.

We're transforming the system. And we're now buying work boots, we're giving training programs, we're helping write resumes, we're sitting in job interviews with people on social assistance to get them into jobs. But the exciting thing is we're actually paying the agencies providing the service, based on that person's income. So, if you have a job one month from now, they're going to get paid some money. If they have a job a year from now, they're going to be paid two years from now. So, it's really incentivizing the agencies to keep people employed that are on social assistance. And we've launched this in 3 of the 15 regions 18 months ago, and it's been an overwhelming success; 23,000 people have left the social assistance roles in Ontario and are now working meaningful jobs across the province, which is great news.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Fantastic news, absolutely. Something else you mentioned in your speech was a portable benefits program. And that's interesting to me, because I was a freelancer in my 20s, and all of my friends—most of them, anyways—were either contract workers for large corporations, or worked for small businesses without healthcare plans. And basically, none of us could afford to go to the dentist for 10 years. Why is this important to you, and any details we can get?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Yeah, sure. I can tell you what I can tell you now. I said we are moving forward as quickly as possible with a portable benefits plan. We've been working on this, now, for 18 to 24 months. There's no blueprint in the world for this. I mean, a lot of people have said that governments in different jurisdictions should create portable benefits that actually follows the worker. So, I mean, this really is about helping working-class workers across the province. There's many people today that work two and three-part time jobs, and have no benefits so. This will, obviously, improve the lives of those workers and their families. This will be really important from an economic perspective, because if we want to talk about retaining and attracting workers, this will certainly go a long ways to do that. This will help freelancers, as you mentioned, gig workers who, you know, sometimes drive for two or three apps. Portable benefits will help those types of workers. So, I am proud—we will be the first place in all of North America. We'll have a report back in the summer, essentially, telling us how to bring this in. But we expect a pretty quick turnaround. We've been doing lots of consultation with small businesses, with worker groups, to ensure that we can do this as seamless as possible. But I think this is really exciting, and yet another area where Ontario is leading the way.

Sabrina Maddeaux
And connected to that, an audience member wants to know, you mentioned jobs with pensions and benefits. What's the action plan for creating more of those?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Look, I—skilled trades. I mean, the skilled trades is one area where, in many cases, there's jobs with defined pensions and benefits. You know, visit one of the local unions, visit an employer, visit Employment Ontario, or a college. I mean, that's the pathway into these jobs. Everything around the skilled trades we've been doing is really built around three principles. One is ending the stigma around the skilled trades, which I talked about a few moments ago. Secondly, is to simplify the apprenticeship system. So, we wound down the former government’s Ontario College of Trades. We launched a Skilled Trades Ontario. That really is a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in the skilled trades. Talks about the different pathways to get there, they will support all the young people, or others, looking to change careers to get into the trades. Thirdly, is to encourage employers to bring on apprentices. Employers play a really important role in the skilled trade system, because they need to bring on apprentices. So, we're offering substantial investments, up to 17,000 dollars per employer that brings on an apprentice.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Great, great. Unfortunately, we're almost out of time, so I'm going to ask one final question.

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
It's always that last question.

Sabrina Maddeaux
I know. It's not a bad one, I promise. It's been almost a year since the last election. What has to happen in the next three years for you to say this was a really successful term, and what comes next for you?

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
I mean, it's continuing to do what we've been doing. It's getting out there, it's listening to people, and it's identifying those problems, and finding the solutions, and making the change as quickly as possible. I mean, we ran our last campaign on getting things done. And my team and I, in our office, and in our government, really has that mentality to identify the problems and fix them as quickly as possible.

Look, it's no doubt one of the biggest accomplishments I think we've done as a Conservative government—probably for the first time in the history of the province—is the dialogue we've opened with private sector unions. And we're going to continue to do that. Build on, you know, working together to fill labour shortages, to get people into these meaningful opportunities, whether it's in the trades or other careers in Ontario.

And I just want to highlight, I mean, two probably more unique relationships that have been built in Ontario. One is with the firefighters. I mean, again, for many, many years they wanted—and rightly so—coverage through the WSIB for pancreatic and thyroid cancer. I mean, the science overwhelmingly shows that firefighters—and we're not talking just about full-time firefighters, but we're talking about our volunteers in our small towns, and part-time firefighters—are at risk of cancer, four times higher than any of us in this room. So, it was the right thing to do. So, we're working closely with the firefighters, which is a public sector union. And then, of course, I said most recently with the steel workers. Again, it's about doing the right thing for, for these workers in the province.

Sabrina Maddeaux
Well, with that, thank you so much for your time, and for answering both mine and the audience’s questions today.

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
Great. Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Thank you.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. Thank you very much, Sabrina and Minister McNaughton, very much appreciated the discussion today. I'd also be remiss if I didn't make mention of the fact that we both served as legislative pages. And perhaps that’s the impetus, among other things, the spirit of collaboration, and....

The Hon. Monte McNaughton
A long time ago.

Sal Rabbani
A long time ago. About working together across all lines to make progress and prosperity for people. I'd now like to invite Megan Telford, Chief Energy Transition Officer at Hydro One, to deliver the appreciation remarks.

Note of Appreciation by Megan Telford, Chief Energy Transition Officer, Hydro One
Wow, Minister. I mean, those were inspiring and incredible remarks. And I think what we all appreciate is how they spoke to common sense and removing real barriers for real people. So, thank you for your approach. And when I think about that, of course, it makes us think about the future of work. And like many of you, I had way too much time to think about that during the pandemic. During the pandemic, my children were in grade two and three—so Annie, I feel like we have some things to talk about there—and when they got back to work, they had a very interesting assignment, which was what do your parents do? And would you want to do their work? And my son answered, “my mom talks to people on the computer.” Would you want to do that? “No.” Why? And I did write this down, “she is boring.” Now, I took that to mean the work is boring, but there might have been some feedback there for me as well. But the most interesting thing is when they were asked, what do you want to do? And at the time, they had just come from a Hydro One family event—and I'm so glad, Minister, that you mentioned it, our Grid Games, you heard about Mackenzie and our incredible team at Hydro One, competing and showing off the work they do for the province of Ontario every day—and James drew a picture of himself as a linesperson. And the profound thing that he wrote that stays with us, like, why do you want to do this job? And he said, “because building stuff is cool.” Building stuff is cool.

And when I think about, through the eyes of children, I just think that is the government's economic policy at work. When he talks about it—and Marc, you mentioned this in the opening remarks—when we go around the province of Ontario and we see the sort of policies you're putting in place to build what we need built in Ontario, that is economics and government policy coming alive.

So, I just want to comment on three things about what you're doing that we're so happy to partner with you on. First, we are so excited to see the private sector and government working together. And Minister, we appreciate everything you're doing, and your government’s doing, to help companies like Hydro One, first of all, deliver more critical infrastructure projects, bringing economic growth to this province. Second—and we mentioned this—bringing more well-paying and stable jobs into the province, protected by fair and strong collective agreements. And with that, I would like to mention our Union partners who are here with us today. We would not be able to do what we can do without great relationships with labour. So, thank you for that.

And the most important part is not that you are paving the path, but that you are thinking deeply about the experience of workers. It's not just about building hospitals, roads, schools, and transmission lines, but you're thinking about their experience. And I just want to talk about that for a minute. Because employers out there, we get asked all the time, what about recruitment? What about people leaving? And I'm going to suggest that what you're doing is, that's the easy part. It's what happens when you bring someone on, when you bring women on, when you bring people of Colour on. What happens when they get to your workplace, and they don't feel included? That is the real power of economic impact and change, and what your government is doing. You mentioned several times the washroom example, and bringing fairness. And really, also, you know, working together with Indigenous communities to develop long term, meaningful, partnerships, and build talent. So, Minister, on behalf of myself, Hydro One, my children, James and Sophia, thanks for helping us build cool stuff. Thanks for building the right stuff. And most importantly, thanks for putting workers first.

Concluding Remarks by Sal Rabbani
Thanks, Megan, and thanks again to Bruce Power, Hydro One, and all our sponsors for their support, and to the Honourable Monte McNaughton, and everyone joining us today in person or online. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand on our website. The recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered will receive an e-mail with the link. Thanks again for joining us today. Please enjoy the opportunity to connect over lunch—and I usually adjourn the meeting at this point, I won't—thank you. Thank you all for being here. Enjoy your lunch.

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Leaving No One Behind: Building a Stronger Ontario

April 13, 2023 Leaving No One Behind: Building a Stronger Ontario