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Quebec to Revamp Volunteering Rules After School Beautification Gets Messy

Канада / Canada
The mayor of a small Quebec town and a group of parents had to deal with the construction inspector over their volunteer initiative to paint a local school in March. Now provincial authorities seek to conduct a legislative overhaul.

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So you live in Canada, and you hate seeing your kids going off to a really old and ugly school every day. You and some other parents go talk to the mayor, and together you decide to take matters into your own hands and give the building a fresh coat of paint, for free. Sounds reasonable, right? Not so fast!

Martin Thibert, the mayor of Saint-Sebastien in Quebec province, had a very unpleasant meeting with a local construction inspector, after he and a group of concerned parents decided to give their kids' school a bit of a facelift earlier in March.

The school has not been painted in 33 years, Thibert said, and money to do renovations from the school board did not appear to be forthcoming. So the group bought $3,500 worth of paint and decided to get to work.

They had almost finished painting the whole interior of the school when a Commission de la Construction du Québec (CCQ) inspector showed up and told them that painting a school without a license is illegal in Quebec. She also demanded the volunteers hand over their IDs.

"At first I refused but then she threatened to call the provincial police," said Thibert, mayor of Saint-Sebastien. "My wife went home to get my ID because she didn't want me getting arrested over painting a school."

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The CCQ stopped the rogue painting operation and threatened the volunteers with a $200 fine for painting without a certification or license. CCQ also demanded that school authorities hire professional painters and pay in full, which amounted to around $120,000, according to Thibert's estimations.

Germain Belzile, an economist at HEC Montreal business school and senior researcher at the right-leaning Montreal Economic Institute, says union rules regulating construction in Quebec are "byzantine." For instance, Quebec has 26 categories of construction work for which people must be certified, and union membership is mandatory, according to the National Post.

In response to the situation in Saint-Sebastien, the Quebec government announced it would soon loosen the rules in order to allow volunteering on some construction work. This decision has already been criticized by FTQ-Construction, Quebec's major labor federation.

According to FTQ general manager Yves Ouellet, only skilled and experienced workers should be called upon to perform repair and renovation work in schools. Ouellet said union members are trained to recognize issues such as mold and mildew, whereas a parent may end up painting over a problem area, only to have children in the school fall ill years later.

Quebec Labour Minister Dominique Vien said the draft legislation has been approved by the cabinet and is expected to be introduced soon, according to a report by CJAD.

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