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95 Years of Promoting, Strengthening, and Representing the Electrical Industry in Ontario

In 1921, a committee was formed to promote the “showing” of two electric homes in Toronto. In 1922, the committee was officially incorporated as the Electric Home League, and was the start of what we know today as the Ontario Electrical League (aka, the OEL). 

Images are courtesy of Lorne Babiuk. This home is still located in Kelvin Park.

Mr. George W. Austen served as the League’s first manager. During his tenure, he established the Red Seal Plan for inspections of residential wiring. This was the standard that was used for wiring of houses. At the time, the Electric Home League was the authorizing body for 120 hydro inspectors. As the Red Seal Plan program broadened, so too, did the League’s responsibilities, and in 1923, the name was officially changed to the Electric Service League, moving from the roots of just home wiring to the services provided by the inspectors who represented the Red Seal Plan. In 1946, the League was expanded to incorporate the whole province and was again renamed to reflect this shift, The Electric Service League of Ontario.

Twenty years later, in 1966, the Electric Service League of Ontario and the Electric Heating Association of Ontario amalgamated as one corporation under the name The Ontario Electrical League. Today, the OEL operates as a member-based, not-for-profit organization servicing the electrical industry.

Passionate members make up the OEL’s diverse membership, which comprises electrical contractors and key industry partners such as electrical manufacturers and distributors, regulators, and related associations.
Led by a Board of Directors that represents all segments within the electrical world, the OEL is invested in making sure the playing field is fair for everybody in the industry by staying on top of issues that affects, or could affect their members.

“Our long-standing members include second and third generation electricians and contractors, who have, and continue to be strong supporters of the OEL and its activities,” states OEL’s President Stephen Sell.
For example, ESA’s Contractor Advisory Council (CoAC) was established back in 2003 in response to OEL’s request for a forum to raise contractor concerns and issues. OEL members have been actively engaged since its inception.

“Our members are empowered with a collective voice, because they know they’re not alone,” says Sell, “And it’s their convictions, and these relationships, that allow us to stand up and be heard.”
Over the past 95 years, the OEL has harnessed that voice, through discussions with various government councils and regulators. Our members are business owners who support and contribute to their local economies, and they have been, and still play an instrumental role shaping the future of the electrical work force in Ontario.

OEL’s Contractor Government Relations Committee (CGR)e has worked with various Ontario ministries on a broad range of issues and legislation facing contractors today. Most recently, we’ve worked with the following ministries on behalf of the interests our members:

  • The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services regarding privacy practices of its Designated Approving Authority (DAA), the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA); 
  • The Ministry of Labour regarding its oversight of the WSIB and recently the Ontario College of Trades; 
  • The Ministry of Energy and Bill 112 (Strengthening Consumer Protection and Electricity System Oversight); 
  • The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills on a proposal that will address the current obstacles faced by Ontario’s youth entering the electrical trade, while at the same time helping employers better manage and access quality apprentices; and 
  • The Ministry of the Attorney General regarding the current review of the Construction Lien Act.

Advocacy for our contractors at Queens Park, is one of the key benefits to the OEL members, and is completely supported by donations, and fund the efforts made by OEL’s GR Committee not only help represent our members’ interests, but also keeps government accountable for their actions. The GR Committee plays a key role in allowing our association to continuously promote, strengthen and represent the electrical industry in Ontario.

Some of the intangible key benefits associated with being a member, is the ability to rub-elbows with like-minded contractors.
OEL members recite, over and over again, that the networking opportunities are the #1 benefit of belonging to the OEL, with one member even expressing “Awesome!” as the one word they would use to describe this organization.

“You need to make the membership work for you”, says Cathy Frederickson, OEL’s Member Services Manager.

OEL benefits and discounts, if used fully, can save contractors more money annually than their membership fee. For example, a Level 2 contractor with 8-19 field employees can save $800 per year in gas discounts; $3,000 in insurance discounts annually; $10-11,000 on the purchase of a new work truck or van; $2-5,000 annually with our free monthly legal advice. Not to mention that attending meetings and keeping up with OEL communications, keeps you up to date with industry issues.

“You still can’t put a price on the personal networking experiences at our local chapter meetings and the relationships you build with your industry peers,” adds Frederickson.

“Being part of the OEL means you’re never truly alone,” says Louie Violo, OEL member since 2008 and the President of OEL’s GTA West Chapter. “The strong network of my peers, those who I’m very proud to call my friends, have helped me through what was a difficult and challenging year. And while the fight continues, I know that without them, I don’t know where I would be,” expresses Violo. “I can tell you that being a member has its benefits. The fees you pay annually is nominal in comparison to the rewards. But for me, it was knowing who to call, having like-minded individuals to talk to, and the support of my friends. This is truly the benefit of being part of an organization like the OEL. You are part of something more!”

Material and monetary gains aside, nothing beats the ability to discuss business issues and industry concerns when you’re going through it.
The dedication and care of the OEL member’s time is what makes our organization so strong. We will always be a member driven association because what matters to them, will matter to those working in the electrical industry, no matter what segment. We are very proud of the influence our members have infused into the industry. We span almost a century old, but our members continue to drive change and challenge the status quo. We continue to find ways to improve the electrical trade and give back to the community.

This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Dialogue by Huong Nguyen and Cathy Frederickson.