Feds Giveth, Feds Taketh Away

Don Procter

January 2007

It is a rare day when a construction trades training association has words of praise for the Canadian federal government. Why should they? The feds have done little to help finance apprenticeship training centers.

There is an exception, however. Last year the Interior Finishing Systems Trade Centre was the recipient of a $45,000 federal grant that went toward the acquisition of a swing stage, zoom boom and scissor lifts. The equipment helps train more than 300 drywall apprentices annually at the new center in suburban Toronto. It’s been much appreciated.

Here’s the sad part: The grant was under the auspices of the Training Centre Infrastructure Fundprogram that got axed this past fall, much to the surprise of training center administrators across Canada. A number of them had spent months preparing applications for grant money only to get a phone call from the feds telling them that the program was deep-sixed.

The TCIF offered matching grants of up to $500,000 (Cdn.) to union training centers for equipment, but the $25 million program was shelved after the first of its three-year format because the feds saw it as a "low priority initiative,” government spokesperson Peter Larose says. "The government feels that they have addressed apprenticeship and infrastructure needs through other mechanisms.” He says examples include apprenticeship incentive grants, job creation tax credits, tools tax deductions and a $1 billion infrastructure trust for the provinces.

The problem is none of those federal initiatives target training and education needs, says Eddie Thornton, executive director, Carpenters Local 27 Joint Apprenticeship & Training Trust Fund Inc. Local 27’s training center applied for a $145,000 grant for mobile training equipment to take to local area high schools. He says, "99.9 percent of high schools have closed down their tech shops. The only means of training is to bring training equipment to the schools.”

Taking away training initiatives like Local 27’s, is like taking away seeds in a garden—nothing will grow. Thornton asks, "How are we going to do the work (construction) if we don’t have incentives and funding programs to train people?”

Another loser was the Carpenters & Allied Workers Loc 18 training center in Hamilton, 30 miles from Toronto. The union had applied for a TCIF grant of more than $100,000. The money was for a new forklift, an all-terrain lift-truck and scissor lifts for drywall and carpenter apprenticeship training.

Without that seed money, Barry Walker, business manager of Local 18, says the center will have to get by with old tired equipment and whatever the facility can afford to rent. "We can’t depend on the government,” he says. "They seem to piss so much money away on other things.” Local 18 is the third largest training center in Ontario. About 60 drywall apprentices go through its doors annually.

Hugh Laird, executive director of the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario, says he feels badly for the two Locals because they wasted time and money preparing applications for TCIF grants. "The feds give us a little crumb like that, and then they take it away. It’s just an insult,” Laird says.

Vic Bodnar, provincial training coordinator for Local 27, says the federal government didn’t give the program a chance to show its merits. Bodnar, who is the union’s national training advisory chairman, says the union saw significant strides in the one year that the TCIF operated.

"It made no sense to end it,” he says.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.