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This article was published 11/1/2018 (701 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Manitoba Sen. Don Plett says he feels betrayed by the Liberals’ handling of a bill he tabled, which would compel timely payment for contractors working on federal projects.
But the government insists it will soon bring to fruition Plett’s years-long push to reduce the economic risks for tradespeople such as himself.
In April 2016, Plett introduced Bill S-224, called the Canada Prompt Payment Act.
The bill aims to solve a dilemma in the pyramid structure of construction contracts, where a government department tenders a contract to a general contractor, who then hires and oversees sub-contractors to do the actual work. While the government almost always pays the general contractor on-time, some sub-contractors wait months and years for their cut of the pie.
The bill would force general contractors to pay the tradespeople they hire within a month of them completing the work, and allow those sub-contractors to suspend work when they aren’t paid on time.
Industry groups told the Senate the current system is causing entrepreneurs to lose their jobs, because those with the least money are often the last to get paid during construction projects. These sub-contractors are often entrepreneurs who can’t afford to sue for unpaid work.
The bill is personal for Plett, whose father started a family business as a plumbing, heating and ventilation contractor in 1957, employing Plett and eventually his own sons. Just recently, his sons waited a year for payment from a general contractor (outside of federal jurisdiction), who then decreased payment by a quarter and challenged them to sue him.
The Senate passed Bill S-224, after an extensive committee study, passing it onto the House of Commons in May 2017. It’s since sat still.
"I think it's absolutely bogus," Plett said Thursday. "They are playing politics on the backs of trade-contractors across the country."
Senate bills require an MP to sponsor them, shepherding the legislation through the Commons.
Plett asked Toronto MP Judy Sgro to do so, because the two had discussed the issue before the 2015 election brought the Liberals into government. The Conservative senator figured choosing a Liberal sponsor would cut the risk of partisanship derailing the bill.
But the bill has since sat still. "It's unheard of. You hear a critic try to hold up legislation, not its sponsor," Plett said.
Last year, Sgro told Plett either his bill or a similar government bill would be coming last October. In letters Plett provided to the Free Press, he asked Sgro why nothing happened that month, and then asked in November she drop the bill so another MP could move it forward.
"The government is stalling; they are boxing Judy Sgro in. I have asked Judy Sgro to move forward with it, or back off," said Plett.
He believes the government is trying to stall the bill because he has been outspoken on unrelated Liberal legislation. "It speaks volumes to the pettiness of our federal government, in saying 'Well, it wasn't one of ours.’"
But Sgro said the delay was to allow the government to learn from the Senate hearings and consult with industry groups, before tabling its own legislation, all thanks to Plett. Government bills are more likely to pass Parliament than senator’s private bills.
"I know Sen. Plett is very frustrated, and I don't blame him, because I would be exactly in the same position he was in. But it is moving forward in a government bill," she said. "We were able to convince the government that this is a necessary piece of legislation."
Sgro’s office responded to Plett’s Nov. 6 letter Jan. 10, hours after the Free Press requested an interview with Sgro. (She said the two had a telephone call prior.)
Last October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tasked Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough with "ensuring prompt payment of contractors and sub-contractors who do business with your department," in his letter outlining her responsibilities as minister.
Qualtrough’s spokeswoman noted her department started posting the dates it paid its contractors, to help sub-contractors know whether their own payment is late under what their contract stipulates.
"Our government will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders to find a solution that will encourage prompt payment of contractors in the construction industry," wrote Ashley Michnowski. "We look forward to announcing next steps on this file in the coming weeks."
Plett just hopes the announcement is actual legislation, and not another consultation, especially with Ottawa starting to dish out billions for infrastructure builds.
"You can have working groups until the cows come home and get nothing done; you need to do this with legislation."