BC stalls while others in the country move ahead with Prompt Payment

For more than a dozen years, MCABC, myself and the Council of Construction Trades Associations (COCTA) have presented governments – both Liberal and NDP – with solid arguments as to why Prompt Payment legislation is good for workers, trades, general contractors, suppliers and the provincial economy in general.  Yet no sitting government has embraced, championed or perhaps even understood the importance of such legislation.

Progress is happening elsewhere

Meanwhile, other provinces across the country continue to move forward.  First was Ontario, after several years of determined effort.  Across Canada everyone in industry said: ‘Let’s wait until Ontario gets theirs and the rest of the provinces will follow suit.’  Well shortly thereafter, a private member’s bill was introduced in Manitoba, then last fall in Saskatchewan, then two weeks ago Nova Scotia jumped on board.  Governments of both liberal and conservative stripes elsewhere in Canada somehow saw the wisdom of approving this long sought-after legislation.

In a previous Informer I asked the question, ‘Where is BC?’ I reported that last summer, our Attorney General responded to an industry letter advising that he wished to “monitor” the implementation of the Ontario legislation before moving forward with ours. This came after several MLAs including the Premier and several senior bureaucrats had indicated they were willing to do everything necessary to make this law.  To their credit, the NDP government was the first to even give the subject a hearing as their predecessors – the Liberals – barely gave the subject the time of day beyond polite private meetings lauding its merits.

Various ironies mark BC’s current circumstances. While we were the first province to act following Ontario’s lead, several obstacles delayed our progress.  Despite numerous public meetings with sister trade associations and communications with special interest associations, it took BC’s industry until June, 2018 to get on the same page to promote our shared interest.

Apart from MCABC’s initiative to fund efforts and meet with government officials and politicians, no other organization stepped up to assist.  Some cited fatigue with the issue, others showed indifference and still others had to navigate internal issues of their own.

Issue is now on back burner

Then along came a booming economy. Trades and trade contractors are now being paid promptly due to the high demand for their services. The issue has simply disappeared…for now.

Wait.  Everyone knows that construction is cyclical.  At some point, work will dry up and once again payments will slow to their usual trickle.  And trade contractors will likely again be clamoring for – guess what? – Prompt Payment legislation. Other jurisdictions will be implementing the legislation they’ve achieved while BC contractors will be scratching their heads in wonder.

Politics keep getting in the way

In my opinion, our experience in advocating for Prompt Payment highlights a fundamental problem with our governance system. As long as there are adversaries on opposing sides of a political spectrum, every act of government is viewed through the political lens of each party’s core constituency. The system overlooks what might constitute ‘good governance.’ Prompt Payment legislation is an example of good governance. With jurisdictions around the world – the majority with governing models similar to ours – having had this legislation, sometimes for years, there is simply no excuse to put it on the ‘will monitor’ back burner.

Our system needs to change to the point where elected officials have the freedom of choice to decide issues based on soundness of principle, and not simply to become the toadies of party solidarity and election financiers.

Down the road, perhaps Prompt Payment will become law in British Columbia, but it will be the result of an accident of fate or, more likely, recognized as a good idea to encourage people in the construction industry to vote for the party that introduces it. Almost certainly, it will not be the product of good government.

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