This last week, there has been a lot of talk in the news cycles about the Liberal Government’s desire to “save” SNC Lavalin, a large Canadian employer. But that desire to invest in business is nowhere near equal across the board. Instead, its about who you know, and how do you get the inside track?
When we started out in 2013, we did everything right and we were a fast growing, Metis female lead construction company. Our team is family based, and we worked hard to get a solid foothold in the industry as a builder across many fronts.
The problem started in Nelson House, MB. We were awarded a project to build a raw water intake – and we did. This project was directly with the Province of Manitoba through the Department of Indigenous Municipal Relations (IMR) – no one in between. But we were never paid for our contract. The problems started almost immediately. We had a lack of engineering support, incorrect design elevations, overland flooding.
Normally, all of this is addressed through your contract. You file notices for change orders, negotiate, and move ahead. But not in this case. In this case, the department just put their head in the sand and refused to move forward or accept their responsibility for the problems. They forced me to continue to work, get the job done, even though I protested as per my contract and in writing. And then, they left me holding the bag on all of it. They have cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct costs – and they have not even come to the table to talk in over three years.
In addition to the above – they have left the community of Nelson House without a long term water solution.
Since April of 2016 – we have not been paid anything on this project.
Our project was insured and bonded. We engaged the insurance company from the beginning of the project, and they tried for two years to get the Province to follow their contract, and make a decision. The Province has ignored them and we have that backed up in writing. We filed numerous notices of claim under our contract, and no response. Not even an acknowledgement. In every single one of their letters to me – they specify a timeline to respond. But when I reply, or send in a claim, we are ignored. From May of 2016, until now both the insurance company and I have done everything possible to help the Province find a solution to the issues on site. We brought in outside engineering, surveying and outside independent expertise. These issues are truly a no-brainer and ones that I have faced on other projects with other companies. On January 4th, 2019 – Intact Insurance threw in the towel and walked away because the Province will not engage in the process laid out by the contract we both signed.
We have gone to the media, we have gone to the Manitoba Ombudsman, we have gone to opposition leaders for both parties, tried physically connecting with the Minister for IMR. Nothing.
As a citizen, and business owner – what do you do when the Government does not pay their bills, does not follow the rules, does not follow their own contract, breaks environmental legislation, professional legislation in regard to engineering and more? What do you do when your insurance company – Intact Insurance cannot even get a response from the Government?
Members of the department indicated that they had the resources to wait me out – and bankrupt our company. Since when is level of Government allowed to take action to put a company out of business? Apparently – any time they want unless you can fight. And I am one hell of a fighter.
In Canada – we have laws which state that government has “a duty of care to the taxpayer”. It means that when government prevents a business from operating as per usual, when it causes a business to lay off people, prevent a business from paying suppliers and sub-trades – they are liable for all of it. They become liable for the impact to my business, my family and my livelihood. Right now – they are telling me that they don’t care. I need to make them care because I have employees, and their families as well as my own to look after.
I did what so many others in this country work hard to do – I built a business on my name, and on my ability to do the work. I am a design-builder and I have proven time and time again that we can do great things across the Province. I have lead and successfully completed millions of dollars’ worth of construction projects throughout my career. I did not work off of government grants, even though I am both Metis and female – I built this business from the ground up with my own hands and work and that of the fantastic people that have worked with me.
No government agent, or department should ever have the ability to destroy a successful and competent business through non-payment and inaction. As taxpayers, we need to see every small business succeed and grow. Because this is not just about my company – it is about my community, my employees, their families, and local businesses that are directly impacted by what happens to our business.
Most departments I have worked for with the Province have good people, and they run well. I have worked for the Manitoba Water Services Board, Manitoba Housing, Manitoba Hydro – and they all are professional and well run. I don’t understand what has happened with this Department (IMR) and why there is no desire to even see a resolution.
On the federal side – I experienced almost the exact situation with INAC and a General Contractor from the Interlake. We were subcontracted on a bonded and insured project, and in the end (October 2016), the GC simply decided not to pay us. Well – now we were out the door with another $208,000. In this case, we sued and wait for our day in court. But again, it was unnecessary. A contract was in place, language in place to ensure an Owner (INAC) pays subs out trust monies, progress payments, and the big one – GST. None of that happened. In our case, the engineer on the project, and the consultant for INAC decided to ignore the language of the contract. What does this mean for the Canadian taxpayer? It means that they slid all of the liability from the General Contractor and passed it up to the Government of Canada. Again – the requirement of “a duty of care to the taxpayer” was simply ignored.
One level of government (the federal government) green lights non-payment to our company, and the Provincial Government of Manitoba physically drains my company of over $500,000 in direct costs, non-payment on a contract, and indirect losses of over 1.7 million to date.
The irony of all of this – CRA has bullied and intimidated our company during this time to see funds for which government has never paid us. During my last conversation with an agent on the business side – he told me that he doesn’t care what has happened and that these “monies” belong to the Government. I could understand those statements if it were someone other than the government that owed us money. But in our case, the government pulls from one side in not paying – and from the other side in demanding taxes, GST etc. I am not sure if I could ever adequately describe the level of rage and disgust I felt at that moment. Government wants a fight – well game on! The Metis Nation has been fighting government since before this Province was formed. It’s in my history, in my blood – and I will fight until I have nothing left to fight with.
I am starting a go fund me account to set up a legal defense fund to take the fight to them, and to get my story out there.
Our company is well run – and we have always made the money we needed to run a successful business. But when a client like the Province of Manitoba does not pay the bill – and runs up our costs – we have to find another way. Right now – both indirectly and directly, the Province has sucked out 2.3 million dollars from our company over three years. They have taken our savings, our retirement, and every penny we put into this business. Our suppliers and subs needed to be paid so we did everything in our power to get them looked after. How do we explain the impact this has had? Imagine your employer had withheld your pay cheque – AFTER you had done the work to earn it, and had the money set aside to cover the monthly bills like a mortgage, utilities, or car payments. The money that the government withheld was all of that and more to us only on a much bigger scale.
Each day, we find a way to keep making things right for the people, and businesses that we are responsible to. It’s just the way life is supposed to work when you are a part of a community. So, in spite of it all – I find a way and we fight.
UPDATE DECEMBER 2022:
So where did we end up after 2019? We survived, we re-tooled and we kept fighting. Through Covid, we stayed open and kept building within the area.
Today, we are now being slow walked on another project, our approved housing subdivision. And like the previous projects, the Province of Manitoba is doing everything in their power to try and prevent our success.
As in the previous fight (which is now finally getting to the point of discovery), we are not backing down. Our pending homeowners have rallied alongside our team, and our family – and we have drawn a line in the sand. We are not backing down from the fight.
For those of you that have followed our fight, thank you. Many of you have become a part of our extended family and I will never forget those that held us up when I did not know what the next step was going to be.