SaskPower is being sued by a subcontractor on the Chinook Power Station as the next step in a lengthy payment dispute worth roughly $2.3 million.
The statement of claim was filed in Swift Current’s Court of Queen’s Bench by Alberta-based subcontractor Solid Industrial Solutions. The claim names SaskPower and the plant’s engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor, Missouri-based Burns and McDonnell (B&M) as defendants.
Solid and B&M have been in a payment dispute since early 2019. Solid says they have not been paid $2.3 million for work done on the power station. B&M says Solid failed to complete the scope of work they were hired to do.
A chemical clean, performed by Solid, did not get the desired result. Solid says they followed B&M’s instruction on the job.
As the dispute drags on, Solid says they have been unable to pay their 64 subcontractors on the project. They are owed a combined $1.8 million.
This includes Swift Current-based septic company, Liquid Assets. Owner Ronald Kissick says he did about $90,000 worth of work on Chinook between November and January.
“It’s just hit a wall — court is not a cure. It’s just a way of postponing things and it’s inevitable that we will have to get paid, but if there’s no company to send the cheque to, who does the cheque go to?” Kissick said.
Kissick says he’s been working 14 to 16 hour days in order to pay bills associated with leasing equipment and other expenses from the Chinook job. In a prior interview, he said if other Swift Current companies weren’t helping him out Liquid Assets likely would have folded in March.
There are rumours around Swift Current of other Chinook contractors facing bankruptcy, according to Kissick.
In a statement, Solid says they are moving forward with court action as it appears negotiations with B&M have broken down and they remain committed to seeing their subcontractors paid in full.
Both B&M and SaskPower said they cannot comment because this matter is now before the court.
Back in May, the Saskatchewan government passed “The Prompt Payment Act.” The goal of the legislation is to make sure contractors are paid, based on similar legislation created in Ontario.
Saskatchewan’s law will take effect once regulations are complete, however. The Saskatchewan Construction Association anticipates this will take until summer 2020 at the earliest.
Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan said there are “relatively strong” mechanisms in place to solve issues like Chinook.
“The purpose of prompt payment was to try and get a quick summary dispute on resolutions that are there. Whether it would be used for something as large as Chinook or not, I’m not sure it was intended to do that,” Morgan said.
The Opposition’s jobs and economy critic, Trent Wotherspoon, said companies that sign onto work on a publicly owned and funded project should be paid in a timely manner.
“We see the Saskatchewan government that’s shirking any responsibility here, which is wrong. They need to get to the bottom of this,” Wotherspoon said.
Wotherspoon said this issue also highlights issues with the procurement of major infrastructure projects. The NDP has long said current rules put Saskatchewan companies at a disadvantage.
A 2016 press release from B&M says the Missouri-based company teamed up with SaskPower engineers to put together their winning bid as the EPC contractor for the 350-megawatt power station.