ANALYSIS: Has fire safety improved in Ontario since fatal blaze? Fire at Muskoka Heights Retirement Residence claimed four lives

Have fire safety measures improved in Ontario in the decade since a deadly blaze erupted at an Orillia retirement home?

The arrival on Jan. 1, 2019 of a regulation mandating sprinklers in care facilities suggests the province is moving in the right direction, said veteran fire chief Ralph Dominelli.

There are loopholes that need to be closed,” Dominelli told


As he approached his April 30 retirement, Dominelli recalled vividly the January 2009 fire that killed four people and left several others critically injured.

“It has affected many members of the department and it is still in the back of their heads,” he told

The retirement home did not have automatic sprinklers, which were not required at the time despite the effectiveness of such devices in reducing damage and loss of life.

“We know it probably would have saved lives if this regulation would have came into effect earlier,” Dominelli said.

Automatic sprinklers were among 39 recommendations made by a coroner’s jury following the Muskoka Heights inquest.

It was the fourth coroner’s jury since 1980 to call for sprinklers in nursing and retirement homes.


Only now are they mandated, the province having allowed facilities time to retrofit after regulations changed to reflect the recommendations of the inquest.

(Sprinklers aren’t required in a building of three stories or less and with sleeping accommodations for no more than four people, so long as there are interconnected smoke alarms.)

Orillia care facilities were ahead of the curve in adapting prior to the change coming into effect, with one alone investing more than $100,000 in its system.

“A lot of the homes, they are old and to retrofit them, it’s not just installing the sprinklers,” Dominelli said, adding the upgrade may require a larger connection to the municipal water main.

In addition to sprinklers, a dozen other recommended measures have since been adopted, while several others have been partially implemented.

Homes must now have sufficient supervisory staff at night and conduct annual evacuation drills under the watch of their local fire department, along with monthly fire drills.

“Muskoka Heights, the night of that fire, there was only one person on for 21 residents,” said Dominelli, adding the staff member “did the best she could with the situation she was faced with.”

The sprinkler regulation applies to ‘vulnerable occupancies’, including long-term care facilities and retirement homes.

While these changes are needed and welcome, Dominelli and others are urging the province to look beyond care facilities to keep Ontarians safe.

All new residential homes should be equipped with sprinklers, they argue.

“Most of our fatalities in the province right now are in residential homes, with approximately 35 per cent with no smoke alarms or non-working (alarms),” Dominelli added.

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs continues to advocate for mandatory sprinklers in new home construction, said president Cynthia Ross Tustin.

Until then, prospective buyers should consider asking builders to equip their homes, she argues.

“Quite frankly, the average person would rather think about having a nice bathroom or granite counter tops than the chance that they could not escape a horrendous fire,” Ross Tustin added.

Modern building materials, while more economical, burn faster than materials in older homes, she added.

“In new-construction homes, you’ve got between three and four minutes to get out of them,” Ross Tustin said.

Dominelli acknowledges that incorporating sprinklers into a new build comes at a financial cost ¬— estimated at between $1 and $2 per square foot.

Yet he views it as a relatively small expense given the life-saving potential.

“You could get your sprinklers done for less than upgrading to hardwood,” he said.

Joe Vaccaro, chief executive officer for the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, said cost isn’t the only factor.

“Conceptually, everyone jumps at it,” Vaccaro said. “But when you do the technical work around it there are questions that have to be answered, which (are): What’s the right design? What are we trying to achieve with the implementation?

“Are we talking about a sprinkler system that knocks down a fire, or are we talking about a sprinkler system that simply provides a pathway to exit the building?” he added.

Whenever the issue is examined within the industry, “generally, the decision is not to bring them forward, because there is lots of other fire safety improvements that we have made in the last 10 years,” he added.

The requirement for hard-wired smoke detectors is one such advancement, he said.

Vaccaro suspects the debate around mandatory sprinklers will become a national discussion as Ottawa moves to harmonize building code regulations across Canada.   

“It’s a technical discussion around that table to say, what is going to give us the best benefit on the issue of fire safety?” he added.

Ontario Closes the Book on Cap and Trade Carbon Tax Era

Ontario’s government is working for the people in taking the final step to end the cap and trade carbon tax once and for all in a way that puts people first and respects Ontario taxpayers.

The government has finalized the compensation for the eligible participants of the former program, which amounts to a total of $5,090,000. This is consistent with the government’s initial estimate of the final costs and commitment to wind down the program in a responsible way that minimizes impacts to hardworking taxpayers.

“This closes the book on the cap and trade carbon tax era in Ontario. But in one week, the federal government will impose a brand-new job-killing carbon tax, punishing the hardworking people of Ontario,” said Premier Doug Ford. “Our government remains part of a growing coalition of provinces across Canada that oppose this cash-grab, which raises the cost of essentials like home heating and gasoline.”

“While some cited that the wind down of cap and trade would cost taxpayers billions of dollars, we are delivering on our commitment to an orderly and transparent wind down of the cap and trade program that respects taxpayers,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. “This will be the final chapter in our promise to Ontario families to eliminate the ineffective cap and trade program, putting up to $260 per household back in the pockets of the people of Ontario.”

Notices of the final compensation were sent to participants who applied under the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018.

“Ontario remains committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fighting climate change and protecting our environment without a carbon tax,” said Phillips. “Solutions such as our proposed emissions performance standards, a key part of our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, will help us achieve Ontario’s share of our emission reduction targets, while recognizing the unique circumstances of our economy. After all, you can fight climate change without a carbon tax.”

Quick Facts

  • On October 31, Ontario passed the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018 that officially removed Ontario’s cap and trade program law from the books.
  • The total compensation amount is $5,090,000 for a total of 27 participants.
  • The federal carbon tax will cost a typical household $258/year in 2019 and will rise to $648 by 2022.
  • The federal carbon tax on fuels takes effect in April. It will increase the price of gasoline in Ontario by 4.4 cents per litre. This will rise to 6.6 cents in 2020, 8.8 cents in 2021, and 11.1 cents per litre in April 2022.
  • The federal carbon tax will increase the price of natural gas in Ontario by 3.9 cents per cubic metre. This increase will rise to 5.9 cents in 2020, 7.8 cents in 2021, and 9.8 cents per cubic metre in April 2022.
  • As outlined in Ontario’s environment plan, Ontario is committed to meeting its share of Canada’s 2030 target. From 2005 to 2016, Ontario reduced its emissions by about 22 per cent.

Additional Resources:












Attracting Young People to Skilled Trades

Addressing labour shortages in Ontario’s construction industry. Tuesday, March 26, 2019 By Zandile Chiwanza

As the demand grows for skilled labour throughout Ontario, recruiting and retaining young people in the trades is a topic at the forefront of key stakeholders’ minds. Earlier this month the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) and the Ontario Residential Council of Construction Associations (ORCCA) hosted an event in downtown Toronto to examine the issue of the skills shortage in the construction industry.

Setting the tone for the event, Ontario’s Education Minister Lisa Thompson reinforced the government’s commitment to supporting students and guiding them into successful careers in the trades sector.

“We need to build a foundation for guidance counsellors and students so that they know there are opportunities ahead when they embrace construction,” Thompson said in her keynote speech.

Promoting a culture shift
“What I hear from our members in the construction sector is that the number one challenge that they have is a shortage of talent,” Janet De Silva, Toronto Region Board of Trade president and CEO said in the panel discussion.

In order to harness the full potential of skilled trades, Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini told attendees that key players in the industry need to have the courage to implement a real “culture shift.”

“If we don’t act we’ll have over 5,000 jobs that will go unfilled by 2021,” Piccini warned.

According to a report Retaining Employees In The Skilled Trades (REST), prepared by Job Talks and Q.I Value Systems Inc., the trades boast high job satisfaction levels. Yet, recruitment remains a challenge. The research finds that many construction workers and industry stakeholders agree that the industry has a marketing problem.

Here are some of the recommendations highlighted in the REST report to attract young people to the skilled trades industry:

  • Leverage the industry’s massive network in recruitment;
  • Integrate construction early in the education system;
  • Invest in high-quality media production; and
  • Mobilize companies and associations to address retention.

The panellists added to these suggestions when Janet McFarland, a Globe and Mail reporter who served as moderator of the panel discussion, polled them on how the industry can overcome the stigma that trades are not for straight A students or the academically inclined.

“Challenge the ingrained bias against the trades from a grassroots level,” De Silva urged.

Lindsay McCardle co-author of The Behavioral Economics (BE) approach to recruitment report, agreed. Aside from stigma, negative parental influence is a major deterrent for young people considering a career in skilled trades.

“Having the general public including parents have a better understanding of what is involved in these jobs can change the misconceptions that employees in the trades industries lack intelligence or problem-solving skills,” said McCardle.

Co-written by James Stewart, this report highlights steps guidance counsellors, career development organizations and training institutions can implement to attract young people to the skilled trades through eight best-practice examples.

McCardle said BE principles can be applied to recruitment in construction in a tangible way by getting the community to think “trades first”. This kind of pre-commitment will have a big impact on students.

“Get into schools as early as the elementary stage to enhance access to information,” agreed Patrick McCanus, director of government relations and communications at Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association and chair of Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance. “And put more direct information into the hands of guidance counsellors.

“There are more options than plumbing, carpentry and electrical. There are hundreds of trades and were not advertising them well enough,” he added.

The next steps in closing the skills gap in the trades industry
“The crux of the skilled trades gap issue is that we’ve lived with the mantra that wage will draw growth in our sector,” McManus said.

In his opinion, the industry needs to find more innovative approaches to attract young people to skilled trades.

“I’m sure most people in this room go home and continue to work; that’s become more common,” he pointed out. “Promote that there is true work-life balance in the construction industry.”

McManus also emphasized the importance of moving towards stackable and modular training and competency-based training to continue to remove barriers of entry into the trades.

McCardle noted that guidance counsellors are strapped for time and don’t get to do a lot of career guidance because they’re focused on supporting mental health and handling crises for example. She calls for a distinct type of guidance counsellor, solely focused on careers.

“Separating those two roles and responsibilities could help to place more emphasis on professional development,” she said.

The youngest panellist, Julia Zahreddine, site supervisor, Bridgecon Construction Ltd, recalled that the careers class in her high school didn’t highlight any skilled trades. She was drawn to the industry when the Heavy Construction Association of Toronto came to her class for a school visit.

“I’m here because I had the opportunity to apply for a scholarship,” Zahreddine said.

As a recent graduate and a young person who has worked in the heavy civil construction industry for more than a year now, she insisted investment in scholarships, co-op programs and active marketing will influence and attract a diverse group of young people to the industry. As one example, she cited an interview series profiling careers in the skilled construction trades, produced by Job Talks, in which she appears.

Currently, the average age of an apprentice is 27. As a wave of retirements looms, it’s important to help people interested in the trades find the applicable career pathways much sooner,  at 18 or 19 years old.

Panellists explored several ideas on how to continue to introduce trades to young people as a viable career option. As a final thought, they all agreed that pathways into the industry need to be improved and simplified by focusing and centralizing information in order to successfully target millennials and ensure a future workforce.

Zandile Chiwanza is the online editor of Facility Cleaning and Maintenance and Canadian Property Management. 

Photo courtesy of Aonghus Kealy, director of communications, RESCON. Tags:













OCOT and labour reforms urgent, Tory MPP says

Daily Commercial News (Don Wall) /November 7 – The parliamentary assistant to Ontario’s Minister of Labour Laurie Scott said recently the Doug Ford government did not shirk in consultations with stakeholders before it announced Bill 47 on Oct. 23, which will simplify trades apprenticeship ratios and see the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) folded by the end of next year.

And even if some stakeholders felt blindsided by the announcements, Thornhill MPP Gila Martow suggested at a recent construction sector event, it is imperative that the government move quickly to ensure companies looking to invest in Ontario don’t spend their money elsewhere.

“The rules and regulations we are talking about are really red tape, a lot of it, that is hampering business development,” said Martow during an interview while attending the Ontario General Contractors Association safety awards breakfast held in Mississauga Oct. 26.

“Obviously we want as many people as possible to be aware of the initiatives we are working on. I think we all understand how fast we have to work and how desperate we are to get that investment because every day we wait, there are companies looking elsewhere to invest. “Sometimes when moving so quickly, the message has trouble getting out as far and wide as you’d like. I am sure the minister would like to share the message as much as possible.”

Besides the decision to institute a 1:1 journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio across the board for construction trades and to scrap OCOT, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act will stop the certification of compulsory trades, roll back a planned $15 per hour hike to the minimum wage and undo worker benefits and working conditions approved by the previous government.

The Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario said it was given no advance warning of the impending moves and the council invited OCOT CEO and registrar George Gritziotis to make a presentation on future College directions at its annual convention in early October.

Ian Cunningham, president of the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, said his council had advocated on workplace scheduling and similar issues with the new government but he knew nothing of the plan to axe OCOT.

Patrick McManus of the Ontario Skilled Trades Alliance said his group had an idea of the government’s direction but not the specifics. Sean Reid of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada said the PCA has had conversations with the Ford administration regularly since it took office.

The previous Liberal government spent 13 months consulting with stakeholders on reforms to OCOT through the Tony Dean review beginning in October 2014 and then it was another 13 months after Dean submitted his report until the reform legislation was passed, in December 2016.

The Ford government, elected in June, marked its first 100 days in office Oct. 6.

Martow commented that with labour, cannabis and education consultations all taking place in recent months, “People have actually joked with me, you are consulting and consulting, are you actually doing any work because it sounds like all you do is consult.

“All I can say is we have had roundtables with businesses in every riding across the province, that we have all done our best, including myself, to invite as many business community stakeholders to those roundtables.

“I would advise anyone who feels they are not getting the messages to let the minister know they’re disappointed and on behalf of the ministry I apologize if they weren’t told of something but on the other hand, that is always the challenge in government.”

OCOT and labour reforms urgent, Tory MPP says

 New economic minister says scrapping Ontario College of Trades is good for business

Global News (Darryn Davis)/November 7 – Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, who took over as Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development after Jim Wilson resigned, made his first appearance in his new role at his home riding on Tuesday.

Smith travelled to a new Belleville subdivision to trumpet the government’s Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act.

Holding his media conference in a partially built home, Smith said the government will eliminate red tape for builders. “A big part of that is ending the Ontario College of Trades, which has been so restrictive.”

Smith said the move will eliminate taxes businesses have to pay to the college. “It was costing businesses to pay a fee to the Ontario College of Trades and really they were getting nothing for that.”

Another component of Bill 47 is an adjustment to the journeyman-to-apprentice ratio. When the bill passes it will be one journeyman to one apprentice. “We’ve got small businesses that want to hire an apprentice but they need three journeymen electricians,” Smith said.

Eric DenOuden, president of Hilden Homes, built the subdivision where the media conference was held.

DenOuden says the move is necessary to address the expected shortage of skilled trades workers.

“We know that we’ve got about 85,000 tradespeople retiring in the next 10 years and they have to be replaced we also know that there’s an increased population and more houses are needed.”

Smith takes over as the portfolio after his predecessor Wilson resigned on Friday. A statement from Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s communications team indicated that Wilson resigned “to seek treatment for addiction issues.”



Your Board of Directors has been working since the spring 2018 in association with our colleagues at BILD Simcoe Chapter on the proposed increase of the Simcoe County Education Development Charges (EDC).  As initially presented the proposed new charge of $5,050 per residential unit represents a 187% increase over the current charge of $1,759.  The result of our collective efforts the Ministry of Education filed a regulation that amends O. Reg 20/98 which effectively freezes EDC’s at the rates that were in effect on August 31, 2018.  Accordingly, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and the Simcoe County District School Board passed their Education Development Charge By-Laws on October 25, 2018 which effectively retains the current rate structure at $1,759 per residential unit.  The Ministry is conducting a review of EDC Policy and we will continue to monitor the situation and keep our membership informed.  This is a significant positive development beneficial to our membership and their customers. 

Business, labour groups split over changes to Ontario apprenticeship system

Globe and Mail (Saira Peesker)/October 28 – Business groups are praising proposed changes to Ontario’s apprenticeships system, saying it will ease labour shortages, but labour advocates say businesses will shift work onto apprenticeships as a way of reducing costs.

The provincial government on Tuesday unveiled the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, a bill that scraps many employment reforms introduced by the previous government. The new law would eliminate paid sick days, freeze the minimum wage for two years and allow companies to pay temporary or part-time workers less than full-time staff doing the same work.

The bill will also change the apprenticeship system. It would increase the ratio of apprentices to trained workers, or journeypersons, allowed on a job. This change affects 33 trades in which apprenticeship ratios are required and set by the Ontario College of Trades after independent reviews that involve industry and public consultations. The bill also proposes eliminating the College of Trades, the regulatory and enforcement body for tradespeople created in 2009.

“There have been persistent challenges in how the skilled trades in Ontario are regulated, the amount of College membership fees that apprentices and journeypersons are subject to and the complexity of the rules,” stated a release from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Stephanie Rea, the ministry’s director of communications, said the bill’s intent is to reduce regulatory burdens on all parties and to encourage more people to become apprentices. The province has promised to release a plan in early 2019 for phasing out the College of Trades.

Business groups such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) applauded the apprenticeship system reforms. They said the changes would make it easier to hire apprentices and address a growing labour shortage.

“For more than a decade, both apprentices and employers alike have been urging the provincial government to remove barriers to apprenticeship training,” Plamen Petkov, CFIB’s vice-president for Ontario, said in a release. “Reducing artificial ratio restrictions, which were eliminated in most other provinces years ago, will allow more young people to enter the trades and pursue a meaningful career.”

Many manufacturing companies have long been asking for these changes, said Ian Howcroft, chief executive of Skills Ontario, a non-profit that promotes trades careers to young people. He said there was “quite a bit of controversy” when the College of Trades was created.

“Many felt it was too unnecessary and bureaucratic while others felt it would professionalize the trades,” he said, noting Skills Ontario doesn’t take a position and will work with whatever structure is in place. “In my personal view, it was off to a rocky start from the beginning … it had a complicated governance structure and it became a partisan issue.”


Vic Fedeli: We’ll fix Ontario’s fiscal mess without deep cuts or tax hikes

Financial Post (Guest contributor, Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli)/October 26 – Last month, I had to deliver the sobering news to Ontario families and businesses that the previous government left us with a $15 billion deficit for the year 2018-19.

It’s a difficult number for many people to comprehend, but it signifies an urgent need to address a dilemma that is both fiscal and moral in nature.

Our public debt is a whopping $338 billion. The fourth largest line item in the Ontario government budget remains the interest payments on that debt, currently to the tune of $11.9 billion annually.

Debt-servicing costs are crowding out spending on our cherished public services, not only for our generation, but also for future generations. Our interest payments represent a fifth of our healthcare budget; almost half of our education budget, and nearly $1 billion more than what we spend on post-secondary education and training in this province.

Ontario’s debt amounts to more than $24,000 for every man, woman, and child.

Given the reality of the province’s situation, there are those who suggest the only options before us are deep cuts to public services or tax increases. Both approaches would be unacceptably harmful to Ontario families and businesses.

There is another way — a way that is modest, pragmatic and reasonable.

Premier Doug Ford and our government have said time and again, we believe in efficiencies, not cuts. We believe in investing in our frontline workers. We believe in transforming government by spending smarter, working smarter, and respecting taxpayers’ dollars.

Rather than raising taxes, we can find ways to deliver programs more efficiently and find four cents on the dollar to balance the books without hurting taxpayers. We can fund programs based on evidence and measurable outcomes to make sure Ontarians see value for their money and corresponding improvements in how they receive public services.

Here’s a case in point: OHIP+. Our government fixed the universal program to cover only those who did not have existing prescription drug benefits and to cover any outstanding eligible costs after the private plans are billed. We will save hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars, while ensuring all children and youth under-25 are covered — and this was done without a single job being cut.

Here’s another: the Ontario College of Trades. Created in 2013, the college added another complex, unnecessary layer of rules and bureaucracy for skilled tradespeople. Our government is introducing legislation that, if passed, will wind down the college and modernize the current apprenticeship system, while still enabling the Ministry of Colleges, Universities, and Training and the Ministry of Labour to certify and oversee the trades as they did effectively before the college was established.

Creating a culture of efficiency and innovation will be key to our path to balancing the books. Through our Red Tape Reduction roundtables, our Big Ideas Challenge, and the Planning for Prosperity consultation, we received countless ideas from people across the province on how to make government work better for them. We’ll have more to say on those ideas soon.

In order to address our challenges and start Ontario down a path toward fiscal sustainability, it will take a team effort and a lot of hard work. Everyone across the province will need to pitch in so we can protect our cherished public services for this generation and future generations.

We have a monumental job ahead of us, so we need to focus on modernizing and re-inventing government to work better for taxpayers, and begin the proper management of public finances.

Vic Fedeli: We’ll fix Ontario’s fiscal mess without deep cuts or tax hikes

OREA says a more open real estate bidding process benefits everyone

Global News (Linda Nguyen)/October 28 – When Vanessa Witkowski and her husband were tasked with selling his grandmother’s home, they both knew they didn’t want to do it the traditional way.

What they wanted was to have a more transparent process and to avoid wasting time “playing games” with potential buyers.

So, they decided to put the house up for auction.

“We really didn’t like the traditional process. My husband and I would rather see the home sell to someone that truly loves it and values it, and not just have someone lose out on the bid because of any undisclosed information,” said 47-year-old Witkowski.

The east Toronto home will be posted next month with a starting bid of $650,000 through On The Block, a Toronto-based brokerage that specializes in online real estate auctions.

Currently, in the majority of real estate transactions, interested buyers are asked to submit a bid through a blind offer process not knowing if there are other bids, or what those bids contain.

Through this method in a hot housing market, buyers often can blindly offer more than what they initially planned on spending in hopes of beating their competitor, and sellers often come out on top.

Although Witkowski wants the home to be sold for a fair price, she wanted to ensure all those interested can make serious, informed offers, so she chose to have the house sold in an open, online auction.

In Ontario, realtors are permitted to share the price of a competing offer with another buyer, but only if all parties involved agree to the auction process. Although allowed, the practice is rare, especially in a market where demand still outstrips supply.

The Ontario Real Estate Association, the industry group which represents more than 70,000 realtors, is taking it one step further.