Commercial Litigation

Nova Scotia to increase fines, step up enforcement around skilled trades


HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is increasing fines and stepping up enforcement measures around the skilled trades in order to ensure a more level playing field in the construction industry.

Proposed amendments to the Apprenticeship and Trade Qualifications Act would give Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency inspectors the authority to inspect sites at any time, and make it an offence to breach their orders.

The maximum fine would also be raised from $5,000 to $10,000 for a first offence and from $10,000 to $50,000 for a second.

Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis says the enforcement measures are aimed at a ``small subset'' of companies who are trying to work around the system by hiring cheaper labourers when they should be using skilled tradespersons.

He says the changes come at the urging of the sector.

In an interview with, Toronto commercial litigator Jeffrey Silver says time will tell how strict the courts in Nova Scotia will be in imposing the maximum fines.

“It will also depend on whether there are sufficient inspectors in place to make an adequate number of inspections,” says Silver, principal of Jeffrey C. Silver Barrister.

Like Nova Scotia, Ontario also has a problem with unqualified labour being used in the construction industry, he says.

The Ontario College of Trades, which regulates and promotes 156 trades, has a duty to serve and protect the public interest in carrying out its objectives and purpose under the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, Silver says.

“To this end, the college has identified the underground economy in the trades as a primary area of risk. The regulator understands it as a business environment designed to avoid the oversight of public authorities,” he says.

Ontario has a number of enforcement procedures to address the underground economy, Silver says, adding that a person who presents himself as a tradesperson, but does not hold a certificate of qualification can, for example, be charged with a provincial offence under the Act.

“There have been charges brought and convictions made,” he says. “In 2017 there were 11,730 inspections made which resulted in 238 provincial offences charges and 59 Notices of Contravention. This increase in 2017 comes from amendments made to the Act in December of 2016.”

From a legal standpoint, Silver says issues of non-compliance with the Act could be raised in a lawsuit brought by a homeowner against a contractor arising from problems in a home renovation gone wrong.

However, he adds it’s important to recognize that not all construction work is governed. Silver references something an Ontario judge pointed out in a recent decision involving a dispute between homeowners and their contractor.

“The regulation of construction trades in Ontario is complex,” wrote Justice Calum MacLeod in his decision. “While all of the recognized trades have standards of training and membership, membership in the College is voluntary for some trades while for others it is compulsory. In the case of voluntary membership, it is not necessary for a person holding themselves out as a tradesperson to be a member.“

The judge noted that while many trades are part of the national “red seal” program that provides interprovincial recognition of qualification, carpentry as a trade has a broad scope of practice.

“It is not the case however that only journeymen or red seal carpenters may perform carpentry work and there is no legal impediment to having general labourers perform tasks such as framing,” MacLeod wrote.

Duncan Williams, president of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, says the black market is costing companies that do invest heavily in safety, training, apprenticeship and equipment.

– with files from

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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