MNP threatens to sue Merritt-based electric vehicle maker over kickback allegations

MNP threatens to sue Edison

Accounting giant MNP has threatened to sue a Merritt-based company that blew the whistle on an alleged government kickback scheme that’s now being investigated by B.C.’s auditor general.

Edison Motors co-founder and CEO Chace Barber said he received a letter from MNP's lawyer on April 12, about a week after he went public with a viral post on social media laying out his allegation — that MNP was administering provincial government grant processes while also soliciting grant application services to would-be grant applicants.

According to Barber’s post, the electric-vehicle maker was denied a grant by MNP, then offered an MNP service that would charge a 20 per cent “success fee" for another application.

Barber called it a clear conflict of interest, and his April 5 TikTok post was enough to prompt an investigation by B.C.’s auditor general.

Company can't afford legal fight

In an interview Thursday with Castanet, Barber said he feels like he’s in a tough spot.

“The letter basically said, ‘Hey, you said some things, we don’t like that you said those things and we’re thinking about suing you,’” he said.

“Which I cannot afford a legal battle with a billion-dollar company. I live in my parents’ basement.”

Barber said his issue is not with MNP specifically, but with the way the provincial government has structured its grant application process.

“My issue was never with MNP — I am sure MNP was following the rules that they had to follow,” he said.

“My issue is that this potential conflict of interest is out there, it’s with the government program. They seem to be just wasting tons of dollars and they seem to be funnelling money to companies somehow. I don’t know whether that’s intentional or if companies are taking advantage, but the program is fundamentally flawed.”

Might second-guess whistle blowing

Barber said the letter from MNP, which Castanet has reviewed, might make him think twice about blowing the whistle in the future — but he has no regrets.

"I’m glad we brought some light to it, but when I’m just trying to build trucks and trying to grow a business, getting involved in that kind of legal battle is not something I want to do,” he said.

“But I could see why other people would be nervous about doing it — I could see how a business would be very nervous about it.”

Barber said he was happy to get his concerns heard by government, but he could do without the drama.

"Would we do this whole thing again? I don’t know,” he said. "It’s turned into a big thing and we can’t afford the legal battle.”

MNP denies wrongdoing

When contacted by Castanet, an MNP representative said the company stands by an April 8 statement in which it denied any wrongdoing.

“These allegations are false and misleading,” the statement reads.

“Many firms provide grant administration and grant writing services to assist clients. Professional services firms that provide these services, including MNP, have policies and procedures to address potential conflicts of interest.”

MNP said its policies prohibit employees from providing grant writing services on grants administered by the company.

“MNP is committed to full transparency and accountability for every public program we administer, and we welcome a government-initiated program review,” the company said.

Focus still on building trucks

The potential legal battle with MNP is not the only sideshow currently dogging Edison Motors. The mayor of Merritt has said the city is trying to sweeten the pot to keep the company from moving to Terrace, which Barber said he plans to do.

He said it’s been a challenge to keep the drama out of the company’s day-to-day operations.

“Luckily we’ve got some really, really great guys that have been working super hard in the meantime, but it’s definitely a distraction we don’t need,” he said.

“Morally it felt like the right thing to do, but you shouldn’t have to put your business on pause and be distracted away from business to do the thing that’s morally right.”

Barber said he’d like to see the government do a better job of managing its processes.

“They should be doing these things, not me,” he said.

“The government should be looking at their own programs. It shouldn’t be up to businesses that are unhappy to bring these issues to light.”

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