Q&A: BC electrical contractors seek to ‘keep the pressure on’ for prompt payment

Prompt payment remains a significant issue in the construction industry in British Columbia.

With legislation implemented or underway in other provinces, many BC construction stakeholders are lobbying their legislators to achieve a similar outcome in the West. While government officials have said they are making progress on the issue, Deborah Cahill, president of the Electrical Contractors Association of BC (ECABC), says her group and members intend to keep the pressure on.

Why is prompt payment legislation important to ECABC and its members?

For every day late, our members have to spend valuable time and resources seeking payment for the work they have already done. This means they might not be able to fund their next job or have to stop before hiring new employees, limiting job creation to support the family. Prompt payment legislation will help strengthen relationships throughout British Columbia’s construction industry, as evidenced by the efforts of my colleagues at the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC and the BC Construction Association who advocate also for this legislation to be made public.

Beyond finances, there is also a human cost to this problem – sleepless nights worrying about whether you have enough money for payroll after an unpaid bill can really affect a person and their family.

What have you heard from members about the impact of late payments?

The impacts can be huge, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. From having to take on additional debt to fund their next job because they haven’t been paid since the last one, to our members having to lay off staff because their last bill hasn’t been paid. For every dollar spent on unnecessary financing or hiring lawyers to chase payments, there is a dollar that cannot be reinvested in their business. This adds additional costs to publicly funded projects, such as schools or hospitals. Our members deserve to be paid promptly for the work they have done and we hope there will be legislation to ensure this happens soon.

What has ECABC done to make progress on this issue?

We have been working with our industry partners for a number of years on this issue. From town halls to letter-writing campaigns to meetings with decision-makers from past and current governments, we have come from almost every angle to try to move this important piece of legislation forward. It wasn’t easy, but we got some momentum in the last few moments and hopefully it carries over to the finish line.

Are you satisfied with the province’s approach to prompt payment?

We were told that they were mainly looking to see how the legislation unfolded in Ontario. I admit it was a little frustrating to hear that, because we feel we did our best to let them know that the model in Ontario was working. I will say, however, that it was nice to hear that they recognized that there was a problem and that the Attorney General agreed in principle that a solution was needed. That said, our members are still struggling to keep waiting. Every missed payment day increases their costs.

We hope that with the missing pieces that Dan Leduc (a partner of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP) and our members can provide, we can move forward quickly and get it done as soon as possible.

What is your response to government officials who have said at recent town halls that progress is being made on prompt payment legislation?

Frankly, we have to keep the pressure on. It was great to hear that they understand there is a problem and they want to fix it, but every day of inaction makes it harder and harder for our members to do business in this province.

How would prompt payment legislation impact your members?

This would allow our members to focus their time and resources on what they do best: building British Columbia. If our members were consistently paid on time for work already done, they could better plan their next job, invest in employee training, and simply sleep better at night knowing they won’t have to chase payment. it is theirs.

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.