By Dana Taylor, MCABC executive vice president
I am often asked, what is the status of prompt payment legislation in British Columbia? My answer: stalled.
Elsewhere on this issue, we have lately received an update from MCA Canada on the federal prompt payment bill’s progress in the Canadian Senate (resting), the release of the Reynolds’ Report on the Lien Act and Prompt Payment in Ontario, and an announcement from the Alberta Trade Contractors Coalition regarding procedural changes in payment for provincial projects. In BC, we have had a roundtable discussion at the BC Public Construction Council (PCC) quarterly meeting.
Other Jurisdictions Making Progress on Prompt Payment
While other jurisdictions are making progress on this issue, I feel that we in BC have dropped the ball, content to let others do the heavy lifting. We have lost whatever momentum we gained from the Council of Construction Trade Association’s (COCTA) efforts of two to three years ago.
Meanwhile, we have a government that, by and large, seems oblivious to the issue. It’s only action was to issue a report a year or two ago that the minister responsible will request a review, similar to that in Ontario, assigning the BC Law Institute to look at payments in conjunction with amending the Lien Act.
The Deputy Ministers Industry Infrastructure Forum (DMIIF) is doing something, we hear, to incorporate guidelines for ‘prompter payment’ for government-purchased construction work. How we’d know this, except by coincidence, is part of the mystery of our diverse and disconnected industry. Forum members – at least two of whom are representatives of MCABC member companies – operate under a gag rule whereby “Any member wishing to communicate Forum business must have it jointly approved by the co-chairs prior to release.” How this restriction supports the forum’s mission of improving construction industry-government relations is anybody’s guess.
While some argue that being ready to mobilize and act on this issue is difficult when the leadership driving the issue is so far removed at the federal (Ottawa) and Ontario provincial (Toronto) levels, other Western jurisdictions manage to make progress. During the time BC has sat on its hands, Alberta created the Alberta Trade Contractors Coalition (ATCC) which includes mixed associations such as the Alberta Construction Association and others. A recent ATCC news release announced changes to Alberta Infrastructure (AI) payment protocols that “oblige AI to approve and pay invoices within set periods of time, plus carve out deficiencies to be resolved and pay undisputed portions of an invoice according to their protocol. They also post online when payments have been made, so the trades and sub-trades know when they can expect payment.”
ATCC laments “these protocols only apply to AI projects and while AI is a significant owner of construction projects and has some influence, their protocols are voluntary and do not have to be applied beyond AI projects.” Here in BC we are led to believe a similar arrangement has been achieved but no one can tell us because of a prohibition “to communicate Forum business.”
What is MCABC Doing on Prompt Payment?
Over the past two years or so I have met with three government MLAs (two of them, twice) and one provincial minister on the prospect of moving legislation forward, and all of the them delivered the same message: If you want government to move on this request, the BC construction industry must be on the same page and show a united front. And that has been our Achilles’ heel but we can get back on track.
So moving forward, MCABC will call together the members of COCTA – the trades associations – to gauge interest in and energy for this endeavor. It’s time for the membership to again stand up and shout out the need for this legislation. We need champions within the association, like those mechanical contractors who stood up with MCA Canada to lead the National Trade Contractors Coalition of Canada (NTCCC) to its present stage of having legislation positively debated in the Senate, and members of parliament speaking optimistically of a good outcome when it reaches the House of Commons.
BC mechanical contractors, come out and help champion prompt payment for our industry!