WSCA Insists on Seat at Woodworker’s Lien Act Revision Table

The WSCA is continuing to press the BC Minister of Forests and his Parliamentary Secretary to include the silviculture industry in ongoing talks to rewrite the antique Woodworkers’ Lien Act.

Provincial regulation to protect forestry contractors from losses when their license-holder clients go bankrupt was promised by Premier Campbell more than a year ago. But the process has yet to produce results. Meanwhile the WSCA has been told by those inside the negotiations, little is on the table that would protect firms that provide seedlings and silviculture services.

Last year prior to the 2009 election the WSCA met with Minister Pat Bell who stated he was sympathetic to the silviculture sector’s concerns. “You’re pushing on an open door,” he said referring to the WSCA’s pressing him for action. But for reasons unclear to the WSCA, the negotiations—which Bell said then were to be led by the Ministry of Forests and Range—have proceeded without the organization’s input. As far as the WSCA can tell talks have only included harvest contractor groups, licensees and the government.

Over the last years three tree planting companies have gone unpaid for planting the Province’s seedlings on Crown land for licensees who went bankrupt. Just recently creditors for the defunct Pope & Talbot have written letters to some contractors demanding they pay back money they were paid by P&T prior to its November 2007 bankruptcy. The Pope & Talbot bankruptcy might have driven dozens of forestry contractors out of business two years ago. But the Province was able to extract concessions in exchange for P&T being allowed to sell off its private land included in its Tree Farm License. The Pope & Talbot situation, however, was unique, due to the private land involved. That circumstance offered a rare chance for the Province to get around prevailing federal bankruptcy laws; a case that is not likely to be repeated.

Being there are no logs or related commodities to place a lien on when it comes to silviculture services and seedlings the reforestation side of the ledger poses a different set of problems in need of a general remedy. Nevertheless, some precedents have been set. In 1996 following the Evans Forest Products bankruptcy numerous contractors were left unpaid including tree-planting firms. Forest Renewal BC and the Community Futures Development Corporation of Revelstoke set up a loan fund that kept creditor contractors afloat until the license was transferred. With that transfer went the liability for the unpaid silviculture work. The idea that unpaid silviculture services could become a liability transferable with the license might provide some protection in certain circumstances. It is one of the notions the WSCA wants to see considered by having it at the table; something that is obviously overdue.