E-letter: On the backs of small business

Many people will recall that back in 2012 Wood Industry polled its readers as to whether the Wood Manufacturing Council should be further investigated, following a series of refusals to communicate about WMC’s undertakings by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). Unfortunately, under the burden of many projects, a small staff and other pressing issues, the issue of the WMC moved to Wood Industry’s back burner.

Kerry Knudsen

However, in January of this year we came upon a “study” published by the WMC with the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC). That study claimed that 64 percent of women in our industry felt harassment and discrimination at work and 49 percent felt there had been an unwelcoming atmosphere.

As most readers understand, it is the job of a good magazine to be skeptical, especially in areas of money, and areas that are libelous to the industry, and our reaction was skeptical. It simply did not ring true. We have been visiting Canadian wood-industry shops for 20 years and we know the manufacturers as a group better than anybody. Most of our manufacturers are family owned, small- to medium-sized businesses and have a strong family and employee orientation, and we have never heard a whisper of an indication that sexual harassment even exists in our industry, let alone 64 percent. From our perspective, it seems if sexual harassment is or was endemic among our manufacturers, Wood Industry would know about it. In fact, the most offensive case of sexual harassment in our industry that we know of involved a former, non-manufacturing board member of WMC.

 

The subreport on sexual harassment, Advancing Women in the Advanced Wood Processing Sector, was part of the larger CBoC/WMC survey, Advancing Wood Manufacturing in Canada, and the subreport was credited in a footnote to Sable Ridge Consulting – an Ottawa-based company listing Anne Lipman as its principal. This is germane, as Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council.

As we have reported elsewhere, Richard Lipman refuses to talk to Wood Industry magazine, has rejected a direct Access to Information request from Wood Industry, and the WMC’s governmental oversight, HRSCD, in the person of the Hon. Diane Finley, P.C., MP, on Feb. 22, 2012, said in a letter to Wood Industry, “Sector Councils, such as the Wood Manufacturing Council, are autonomous industry-led organizations….”

We responded that autonomy in the governmental environment cannot mean “accountable to nobody,” and remarked because of the “tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars” the WMC was funneling to our competitor while rejecting our readers, that the general principle at issue seemed to be the same as the federal Sponsorship Scandal of 2004 – 2006. That is, the government was trying to pick media winners by directed funding.

When we saw the study regarding reported harassment and were stymied in our efforts to learn more, we contacted the CBoC. After applying some pressure, including demanding to know the methodologies of the survey, we finally had a meeting with the CBoC, and we were informed that the sexual harassment part of the report had not been part of CBoC’s report, that they did not know Lipman’s wife was commissioned to provide the harassment report.

Why is this important? First, it’s a slap in the face to our already small and relatively undefended industry. If there is a survey out there that indicates the wood industry in Canada is populated by the low-grade gigolo class we see in politics, and films, I’d like to see it, along with the survey claimed by Sable Ridge.

 

Our clan of family businesses does not look, talk or act in the manner of the broader economic sector – a fact of which we are specifically proud – and we do not harass women. Even the WMC report was forced to concede in the narrative to its “study” that it found, “… a majority of female workers feel their current employers offer good places to work (91 per cent) and provide equal opportunities for training (77 per cent) and advancement (71 percent).

For the record, “91 percent” is not a “majority.” It is substantial unanimity.

Also, it’s a matter of money. The WMC is taxpayer-funded. For over 12 years, the wood industry has laboured to find out the level of WMC’s funding, including petitioning our local MP, to no avail.

But it is a sector council, if its own website is accurate. So, lacking any information from the government, the situation is this: WMC may be funded at $600,000, as a guess, but that guess seems low. Or it may be funded at $60 million, but that guess seems high. Or maybe it’s funded at $6 million. Let’s say it is.

If it’s funded at $6 million, then $6 million a year is being allocated by a sector council that is not accountable to anybody, if we are to believe the Hon. Diane Finley, P.C., MP. Therefore, apparently President Lipman and a board of directors picks and chooses which consultants, which suppliers, which “alliances” and which schools get “support.” That is, a small and unaccountable club gets to disperse $6 million a year, to continue our hypothesis.

There are two ways to judge the relative value of a governmental, taxpayer-revenue distributor. First, how have its expenditures benefitted you? Second, do the same sets of names keep popping up in areas where the unearned bounty is distributed?

The WMC board is composed of Jim Deslaurier, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets; Pierre Fournier, president of Triangle Kitchens; Mike McClements, the retired executive dean of the School of Engineering and Information Technology, Conestoga College, Ont.; Peter Mate, president of Planit Canada; Iain MacDonald, director of the National Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and Design, Oregon State University; Carla Coyle, director of C2 Custom Furnishings; Joe Gushue, operations manager of Prestige Homes; Adam Hofmann, West Bros. Furniture; and Sandra Nigro, executive director of the Modular Housing Association for the Prairie Provinces.

Of note: Pierre Fournier is the son of Roger Fournier, the former president of Triangle and a WMC board member; Mike McClements is retired; and Iain MacDonald has been on the WMC board as administrator of the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing at UBC. Since this indicates that board memberships are passed from father to son, follow members into retirement and cross international boundaries, it raises other questions as to value and propriety.

 

One of the questions we have been trying to answer is where the money goes. We know some goes to office expenses because it has to. Some goes to the CBoC for at least one study. Maybe more. Some apparently goes to Sable Ridge Consulting.

Some may go to the Canadian Kitchen Cabinet Association for its certification program. It looks as if it does, because the CKCA’s certification page displays the WMC logo, among others. However, in a series of calls and e-mails this year, the CKCA has indicated it does not wish to discuss the matter with Wood Industry, and says it does not receive any government money.

In other cases involving taxpayer money, a shell council can be set up to receive and distribute money among people and programs that may or may not directly affect the alleged sector served. As noted elsewhere, it is common anywhere a revenue stream is set up, a range of potential recipients will follow, and some of those recipients, as in the case of the Sponsorship Scandal, are corrupt.

 

Normally, the way this kind of corruption is avoided is by a series of checks and balances called “accountability.” And, since corrupt organizations have a way of both insinuating themselves into any income stream, but particularly tax money, the media is often relied upon to find out such mundane questions as how much money is allocated and how much goes to projects benefiting the intended recipient sector.

By extension, it is always pertinent to wonder why any publicly funded sector resource refuses to talk to the only independent magazine in the sector, and specifically rejects Access to Information requests specifically asking about money. After all, it’s not the council’s money.

By way of this letter, Wood Industry is inviting Richard Lipman and all WMC board members attending WMS to set up a time for a private interview during the show in Mississauga this week to discuss these and other concerns surrounding WMC. And, of course, failure to cooperate will trigger the need to report back to the industry that the invitation was not successful.

Richard Lipman at the WMC was asked to provide information for this review, and refused to answer. The WMS booth number for the Wood Manufacturing Council is 1326.

 

Also at WMS, Wood Industry is presenting its first-ever Manufacturers’ Roundtable from 9:00 to 11:00 Saturday morning, leaving plenty of time for participants to return to the show on Saturday. Each participant will receive a nice memento of the event, thanks to the participation of our sponsors Axalta, Akhurst, Grass, Precision Drive Systems, Super Thin Saws, Taurus Craco, Weima and White Oak Custom Woodworking.

Attendance at the Roundtable is limited to registrants, only. There is no cost, but you must register. Advanced registration is available by e-mail to la4k@wimedia4inc.ca. (Delete the 4s. They are there to confuse AI bots swimming around in the internet.) Or you may register at our booth #1537.

Also at WMS, be sure to register at our booth or the Italian Trade Commission’s booth, 2212, for our sixth joint biannual Italian-trip giveaway. In cooperation with Xylexpo, the Italian Trade Commission of Canada and Machines Italia, Wood Industry is giving away two free trips to Italy in May to attend the show. The draw will occur at the Wood Industry booth at WMS on Saturday, the last day of the show.

 

 

 

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