Snowball fight in the capitol

by Carroll McCormick

GATINEAU, Que. — A dozen rigs blocked Ottawa’s Champlain Bridge this summer as part of a fight by the Greater Ottawa Trucking Association (GOTA) to restrict Quebec dump truck access to Ottawa snow removal work this winter.

The GOTA is frustrated with two things: First, what it feels is restricted access to snow removal work by Ontario companies in Quebec. Second, having Quebec trucks removing Ottawa snow, even as some of its own members go without work. The GOTA has about 180 members and about 95% of them do snow removal.

Of the 310 snow removal companies that currently work for Ottawa, 10% of them are from Quebec, according to GOTA CEO and general manager Ron Barr. “We have enough guys here. When they come in, some of our guys are not working.”

Snow removal companies from the Quebec side of the Ottawa River can get on the list of companies on-call to remove snow in Ottawa, yet GOTA members find it extremely difficult for Ottawa-based companies to do the same thing in the city of Gatineau, according to Barr.

“There is nothing to stop a Quebec-based company from bidding on City of Ottawa snow removal,” Barr says, yet his members report problems working in Gatineau. “I have members who are compliant in Quebec who have been stopped up to seven times in a single day. It is common knowledge that enforcement is fierce over there. The situation is boiling over. It is not fair.”

For the record, the City of Gatineau explains that Ontario companies may apply to remove snow there.

“All of the companies who are interested in obtaining a contract may apply, including companies from Ontario,” writes the city’s communications service.

The GOTA has demanded an interpretation of the Discriminatory Business Practices Act, which it feels is being used to allow anyone from anywhere to come into Ontario and work.

“Ottawa has told us that if it refuses to put a Quebec company on the snow removal list, Quebec could sue the city. We say ‘Let an out-of-town company test the act in a lawsuit’,” Barr declares.

Barr says he wants to see the Discriminatory Business Practices Act challenged.

“I want to challenge it, vehemently. I have asked the Minister of Labour for a proper interpretation of the Act. I want to know if it is reciprocal in Quebec. If not, we have to work like hell to get it changed. I will expose the fact that Quebec could sue us. I won’t stop at that, and I will most certainly make it an election issue. I am going to insist that Ottawa has to protect Ontario first. If not, I have a lot of billboards – the sides of our dump trucks – and I will expose anyone in an election who is not interested in protecting our jobs. What I would really like is to have the door slammed on Quebec trucks and equipment. You have your side, your playground, and we have our own side.”

The GOTA had hoped that a bill introduced this year by Conservative Party MPP Jack MacLaren would help regulate the imbalance. Called the Fairness is a Two-Way Street Act, Bill 80 was described as “An Act respecting labour mobility in the construction industry aimed at restricting access to those taking advantage of Ontario’s policy of free mobility.”

MacLaren stated in the House that, “This bill is in response to Quebec’s unfair practice of effectively stopping Ontario construction contractors and workers from working in Quebec by creating a mountain of red tape, permits, fees and harassing inspections and fines.”

Bill 80 passed first reading this May, but it died in a second reading vote this Sept. 23-25. (As a historical footnote, after years of complaints, including a lot of noise from the GOTA, Ontario passed a bill with the same name in 1999. It was repealed in 2006.)

Despite this setback, Barr reports that there is considerable government support for his cause. First, he cites an Ottawa city council motion that “Supports the principle of unrestricted labour mobility for construction contractors, truckers and haulers between Quebec and Ontario …” and “Supports the elimination of any unfair or discriminatory enforcement practices that single out Ontario truckers and haulers.” Second, he notes that Liberal Party MPP and Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi supports finding a solution to the problem of unequal access to the Quebec market.

Further discussions were scheduled for mid-September between Barr and the government, but so far, Quebec snow removal companies appear free to ply the streets of Ottawa this winter.

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