The WSCA has asked Minister of Forests and Range Pat Bell to find a way to compensate three B.C. silviculture firms owed money after planting trees on Crown land for license holders who later went bankrupt.
Two of the planting contractors became unsecured creditors after the 2007 collapse of Lytton Lumber and the other following the failure of a coastal NRFL holder in 2005. The amounts owed to each contractor range from $40,000 to $80,000 in payment for planting a total of 386,000 seedlings on 350 hectares of public land.
Over the years the individual contractors and the WSCA have asked government for payment arguing that the Crown, being the owner of land, the grantor of the license and the ultimate benefactor of the planting should rightfully be obliged to pay for the improvements if their license holder fails and the work is completed. But ministry officials have dismissed those petitions insisting the unpaid contractors are involved in a ‘business-to-business’ problem that does not involve the government.
However, the ministry does not appear to be consistent in this position. Recently it took an active role in brokering a 2008 deal leading to the payment of unsecured creditor forestry and logging contractors after Pope & Talbot foundered. Just whether a precedent has been set in that case is likely to be refuted by the ministry. But the P&T action does show that the bureaucracy can be moved away from adhering to its general rules in particular instances where there is some political will.
The WSCA is hoping the minister will provide that will and not only treat these few contractors fairly, but also indicate that it is not the role of small businesses, such as brushing and tree planting contractors, to be guarantors of the province’s silvicultural liabilities. That obligation resides properly with the owner, the Crown.
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association