Tough times in oilpatch mean busier civil enforcement agencies, auction houses

As Alberta’s oilpatch slows down, John Shortridge is bracing for an onslaught of work.

CALGARY — As Alberta’s oilpatch slows down, John Shortridge is bracing for an onslaught of work.

He runs Allied Shortridge Civil Enforcement, one of eight agencies in Alberta that work with bailiffs to carry out court orders and seize property, among other things.

Shortridge has been in the business for more than three decades — first with the Alberta Sheriff’s Office and then on his own after those functions were privatized in 1996. So, he’s seen enough booms and busts to know what’s coming.

“What we’re probably going to have by September is there won’t be enough bailiffs in the province to get all the work done,” he said.

“The work will get done, but everybody will be working like a dog. You’ll be able to work seven days a week.”

Steven Low, chief operating officer at Consolidated Civil Enforcement, said vehicle repossessions are keeping his agency the busiest these days. Car payments are usually the first to be missed in an economic downturn, he said.

“Later on in a downturn cycle, you’ll start to see numbers increase in the evictions, some of the other types of seizures, whether it’s the sale of land or bigger assets,” he said.

Based on his workload, Low said he can get a sense of the unemployment picture before Statistics Canada comes out with its official numbers.

Low said most of the vehicle repossessions he’s working on are under the Personal Property Security Act, or PPSA, process. That means a bank, for example, could repossess a truck if payments aren’t being made, without having to go to court.

According to the Alberta Sheriff’s Office, which now oversees the civil enforcement industry, there were 14,273 PPSA files opened between April 2014 and February of this year. For the entire 2013-2014 fiscal year, there were a total of 12,584 PPSA files opened.

Kastner Auctions in Edmonton has been hiring more staff to keep pace with the surge in work that’s expected, said CEO Dave McLachlan.

Lately, the auction house has been working with bankruptcy trustees and bailiffs to sell a lot of sporting equipment and RVs from retail outlets that have fallen on hard times.

“I’m predicting, in about three months from now, we’re going to find that the prices are going to drop but our inventory is going to explode,” he said.

Bruce Maclennan, president of Century Services Inc., said appraisals of machinery and equipment have been in higher demand as companies run into debt trouble.

“I would say we’re substantially more busy than we were at this time last year,” he said. “Oil and gas service companies seem to be right now particularly challenged.”

Maclennan said compared with 2008 and 2009, the current crude downturn appears to be more painful and prolonged.

“Our own view is that we’re still on a downhill trajectory, sadly.”

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