Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dan Veniez removed at Ridley Terminals

You can't quit... You're fired!
Stating that he was not acting on the governments agenda for Ridley Terminals, the Government of Canada fired Dan Veniez, the President and CEO of Ridley Terminals yesterday.
Rob Merrifield issued a statement yesterday that outlined the government's position that Mr. Veniez had “been pursuing a corporate strategy and debating options for the future of Ridley Terminals Inc., in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the government's expectations of your role as chair.”

An interesting background item to yesterday's letter of dismissal is that Veniez himself had previously offered his resignation, on June 23rd to take effect at the end of August, instead it seems that the Minister chose to set the timing of Mr. Veniez's departure, which it seems is immediate.

The Globe and Mail outlined the hectic and dramatic events leading up to the dismissal of Mr. Veniez, the letter by letter exchange is highlighted in a piece posted to their website today.

The fast moving events come but one day after Veniez heralded a new arrangement with local First Nations of the Coast Tsimshian, what now becomes of that agreement signed on Thursday without Veniez at the controls remains to be seen. It like many of Mr. Veniez's other intitiatives may come under review once the new CEO is appointed and has a chance to see what he or she has inherited.

The termination of Mr. Veniez's time at Ridley brings to an end for now the rather public attempts by Mr. Veniez to bring Ridley into the private sector away from it's current Crown Corporation status.

Over the last few months, Veniez had become a fixture on the pages of the national newspapers and local media, offering up his vision of where he wanted the coal terminal to go, a vision that seemed to run counter to just about everyone else that had a stake in the terminals future.

From Conservative power brokers such as Jay Hill, to the local NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who had just begun an investigation into Veniez's handling of the Ridley file, to politicians and community leaders across the northwest, few it seemed shared his thoughts on the privatization plans for Ridley.

In fact it seems that the opposition that he generated to his plans may have contributed to his demise at Ridley, in his letter to Merrifield he in his traditional bombastic nature outlined how he had become a “regional political toy and hostage to special interests”.

The Government clearly had taken notice of the outcry over his plans and rather than suggesting they were of special interests, perhaps believed that the groundswell of public opinion and interest was turning against him.

As his public appeal for privatization become the thing of a religious fervour, it seems that there were far more people against his privatization plan than were on his side of the argument, and most importantly, his bosses decided that his public campaign had become an impediment to their plans for the coal handling facility on the West coast.

In short, he no longer had the confidence of the Government to run their Crown Corporation, in the end he seems to have forgotten that it wasn't his company yet.

We'll update the breaking news as we discover more items on Mr. Veniez's departure.

June 28-CBC--Fired head of B.C. coal-handling terminal says he was let go because of politics
June 28-- Vancouver Sun- Ridley Terminals chief fails to kowtow, is fired
For archival purposes, below is a transcript of today's Globe story.

Ottawa fires head of B.C. coal-handling terminal
Patrick Brethour

Globe and Mail
Saturday, Jun. 27, 2009

The federal government has fired the head of Crown-owned Ridley Terminals Inc., in Prince Rupert, B.C., after he publicly proposed privatizing the bulk shipping operation, with Ottawa saying he was not acting on the government's agenda.

But Daniel Veniez, the former forestry executive recruited by the Harper government to turn around the floundering operation, said he was simply doing what he was asked to do – and that the real reason he is being fired is that the Conservatives are unhappy that he has forced coal companies to pay higher rates for shipping.

Mr. Veniez wrote to Rob Merrifield, the Minister of State for Transport, that Ridley has become a “regional political toy and hostage to special interests” who have complained to Mr. Merrifield and to government House Leader Jay Hill, who represents a B.C. interior riding with significant coal production. “The heart of the matter is this: RTI has upset certain users who are constituents of yours and Mr. Hill,” Mr. Veniez wrote in a June 23 letter, in which he offered his resignation effective Aug. 30.

Mr. Merrifield rejected that resignation, issuing a letter yesterday to Mr. Veniez that terminated his appointment immediately. He gave no explanation, but in early June, Mr. Merrifield wrote in a letter that Mr. Veniez had “been pursuing a corporate strategy and debating options for the future of Ridley Terminals Inc., in a manner that appears to be inconsistent with the government's expectations of your role as chair.”

In late May, Mr. Veniez spoke to The Globe and Mail about private-sector offers that Ridley had secured that could have generated $131-million for the government. He also talked about concerns that complaints from coal producers were derailing efforts to build Ridley's revenues.

Mr. Hill said he had met with coal producers and passed on their concerns – and that it was part of his job as an MP to do so. A senior government source acknowledged that Ottawa did not intend to pursue privatization of the facility, although the government has committed to selling $2-billion in government property this year. Shortly after that, Mr. Veniez issued a bluntly worded message as part of Ridley's official annual report.

If the government continues to operate Ridley, Mr. Veniez said, it will have to spend between $200-million and $250-million over the next five years to maintain and modernize the aging facility.

Over its three-decade history, Ridley has continually struggled, and had to turn to the government several times for loans. In 2005, Paul Martin's Liberal government decided to sell the troubled asset to an Ontario-based coal-mining firm for a comparative pittance – just $3-million, far less than the $400-million that the federal government has sunk into Ridley over the past 27 years.

One of the first acts of the newly elected Conservative administration in 2006 was to cancel that deal.

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