The Ontario College of Trades, which has been both hailed and hated for years, will wind down next year.
So, too, will the province’s longstanding emissions test program, Drive Clean.
With the back-to-back announcements, made over the course of a few short days, automotive professionals in Ontario were reminded just how easily governments can alter the operating conditions that govern an entire industry.
The question on everyone’s mind, of course is how the changing political tide will affect business.
It’s hard to believe the demise of OCOT will come as anything but good news to the vast majority of technicians who saw their fees jump overnight from $20 a year to $120. The increase was meant to finance a vast army of bureaucrats hired to manage registrations and enforcement officers to police work sites. There was also some talk of developing professional standards that would ensure that our trade was well-equipped to handle the latest automotive technology.
If the college had been able to make good on its promises – including to rid the province of back-yarders who dilute profitability in a super-competitive industry – it might have been heralded as a success. But over nearly 10 years, OCOT scored precious few victories and managed only to alienate its members with poor communication skills and a shocking level of disregard for the industry’s true needs.
So no great loss there.
The demise of Drive Clean, on the other hand, is more troubling.
The program, which was established at the end of the last century to ensure that gross polluting vehicles were either pulled from the road or fixed, has seen a lot of changes in nearly two decades of operation.
The test used to require the use of a dynamometer to allow tailpipe emissions to be accurately read. So thousands of Ontario shops dropped $80,000 on new equipment. In 2014, many those dynamometers became boat anchors when the province switched to using the OBD-II port to analyze vehicle performance.
There were continual questions about the accuracy of the tests. And, to keep the fickle electorate happy, the fees were first reduced and then no longer collected at the shop. Instead, they were reimbursed out of government coffers.
So, Drive Clean had its share of challenges too.
But unlike OCOT, it did score some very important victories. One of them was to bring the owners of older vehicles into an automotive repair and service bay at least once every two years. Technicians were not supposed to go looking for ancillary work to sell, but in many cases even a cursory look revealed the most dangerous vehicle conditions and incidents of neglect.
More importantly, it painted our industry in a positive light. We were not only protectors of the environment, but we ensured public safety. We were the good guys.
If Drive Clean business brought potential customers through the door and revealed the occasional work, well, we’re now going to have to find new ways to do those things.
Perhaps one lesson here is that shop owners should not rely too heavily on government programs to help build their businesses. Public initiatives are all too often fleeting and are subject to the whims not only of politicians but bureaucrats and voters too.
These are not people you want as silent partners in your business.
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