A Message From The President & CEO

ARA Reaches Closure on ICBC Competition Bureau Issue

All things worth having are worth fighting for, and the ARA has done a lot of fighting.

After eight years, over $250,000 dollars in related costs, endless hours, and many lost opportunities, the ARA now has closure regarding the opinion ICBC received from the Competition Bureau.

In 2010, due to changes in federal competition laws, ICBC filed a request for opinion from the Competition Bureau regarding how it worked with suppliers—not solely the ARA—to establish rates of remuneration for products and services. ICBC received an opinion from the Bureau and acted accordingly, which resulted in the corporation no longer talking with suppliers about rates.

When the ARA asked to see the information exchanged between ICBC and the Competition Bureau, ICBC sited confidentiality of content and declined to share the documents. The ARA then filed a freedom of information request, which was subsequently granted, but ICBC appealed that decision. What ensued was a protracted legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, ICBC’s position prevailed.

The next course of action was to solicit donations from members to establish a legal fund. Using this fund, the ARA retained a lawyer with an expertise in competition law to draft the ARA’s own request for an opinion from the Competition Bureau. The ARA’s description of the relationship with ICBC may or may not have been the same as the way ICBC described it.

The ARA then met with the attorney general, Minister David Eby, who committed to looking into the matter. Minister Eby later responded in a letter to the ARA that “it would require a change in legislation” for the ARA to discuss rates on behalf of members directly with ICBC and no change in legislation was under consideration.

In light of the communication from the government and the decision by the Supreme Court of B.C., it became clear that the documents held by ICBC were never going to be made available to the ARA, nor were they ever going to be made public.

It is important to note that the goal of freedom of information request, the court battle, and challenge to the government, etc., was only to see the documents held by ICBC. There was no legal remedy by which to force ICBC to negotiate with anyone. The best possible outcome would have been only to see the documents.

Minister Eby, in his letter, encouraged both the ARA and ICBC to work together to find a solution to the Competition Bureau issue—simply put, we did.

The solution, built on trust between the ARA and ICBC, was achieved with the help of Nicolas Jimenez and Vito Albanese, as well as many other supportive ICBC team members, and Paul Schwartz, the ARA’s long-time legal counsel, stakeholder, and supporter.

As a result of this trust, Mr. Schwartz was permitted to access the documents held by ICBC. After reviewing and reflecting on them from a legal perspective, he reported his conclusions to a five-person subcommittee at the ARA. The committee concluded, “ICBC’s position is simply and sincerely held by ICBC and unlikely to change.” The committee recommended taking no further legal action at this time.

The committee further recommended that all remaining money in the legal fund should be refunded to the donors. Although the ARA is confident that it can work collaboratively with ICBC, as a precaution, it is placing $150,000 into a restricted fund for any future action on this file. The funds will only be used in the event of new information emerging that convinces the ARA board that further legal action may be successful. However, all parties involved have agreed that the issue of direct rate discussion is off the table and it is time to move forward with progression to benefit everyone.

We have arrived at a better solution, spending less time and money than we would have by perpetuating the legal approach.

So, where does that leave the ARA and its members? Far from being shutout in the cold, we now are in the room, working with ICBC under a new culture of alliance. We are now able to discuss the far more relevant issue of the financial reality of running an automotive-related business in British Columbia. The goal is to build a model to supply data to ICBC so fair rates of compensation for the services our industry provides are established. ICBC and the provincial government recognize the need for an independent automotive industry and are working with the ARA to build a robust and viable aftermarket industry.

The ARA is now focusing its attention on the future of our industry. Zero-emission vehicles are a priority for government and our industry must be prepared. We know there is a shortage of skilled trades people and by many accounts and this will only get worse. The ARA is already working on solutions.

Minister Melanie Mark is passionate about mandatory trades. She spoke at the recent AGM in support of the ARA’s request for mandatory trade certifications. She made it clear that the ARA and, in particular, our members, need to talk to their local MLAs to make them aware of the need. I have engaged our government consultants and we are developing a plan to do just that.

I am also talking with ICBC, BCIT, and other stakeholders about a program to attract students to the automotive industry. We will tie this to our foundation to help fund students.

There is a lot to do. Let’s all work together to ensure a viable economic future for our industry. This is what a strong association does.