Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Everyone it seems is talking about Mr. Veniez!

Dan Veniez's departure from Ridley Terminals is proving to be a topic that has provided for no shortage of commentary both from those responsible for his forced march out of office and from those on the sidelines observing the happenings that impact the local operation.

Thursday's Daily news provided some interesting insight into the developments and where things may be heading towards in the future.

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Pages one and two

Amalgamating Ridley Terminal Inc. under the Prince Rupert Port Authority is certainly an option for the federal government.

According to the minister of state. for Transport, Rob Merrifield, the federal government is not discounting the possibility of marrying the two operations together.

But the minister was dismissing Veniez's ability to lead RTI because he believed the former chair did not live up to his post under the mandate he was given.

"The board and the chair have an actual mandate to fulfill and it was obvious that in the meetings I was having with [Dan] Veniez that the direction he was going was not actually following that," said Merrifield.

Veniez's pursuit of privatizing RTI for a sum of $131 million did not sit well with the Conservative government, and as outlined by the Daily News earlier. in the week; it was reported that the feds were not particularly pleased with the public discourse presented by Veniez.

Merrifield downplayed that aspect of the equation'

"As far as the media, we can't control the media," he said. "We just work on the best interests of the taxpayers at all times and that's been my focus always has been and always will be."

Instead of Veniez, whose prior history in Rupert also includes a period of time earlier this decade when he owned the mill, Merrifield and Transport Minister, John Baird, have named PRPA board of director, Bud Smith, as the new chair for Ridley Terminals.

"He is a very respected individual. I have talked to the rest of the board members and they are pretty excited about having him as the chair and I'm looking forward to great opportunities for the port as they move forward," said Merrifield.

Smith has extensive experience serving on the boards of Crown corporations, having been a director of the British Columbia Development Corporation (BCDC), Canada Post Corporation, and Prince Rupert Port Authority.

His BCDC Director service took place during the time Ridley Island lands were being assembled for development.

"Mr. Smith brings extensive experience from his time as a provincial cabinet minister, and corporate director," said Baird.

"His proven leadership in both the private and public sectors will be a real asset to RTI and its objectives."

Jay Hill, MP for Prince George-Peace River, who had spoken out against the idea of privatization, said he was not going to discuss the details of Veniez's dismissal but was happy with his replacement.

The federal government House leader told the Prince George Citizen that he had full confidence in Smith to take the helm of the bulk-handling facility in Prince Rupert.

“I’m comfortable he shares my vision for Ridley Terminals," said Hill

On whether or not naming Smith as the new chair is to be seen as a precursor to the PRPA assimilating RTI, Merrifield said that it was something Smith would be doing some work on over the summer.

"The board is going to get back to me with a plan and we'll make that decision in due course if that is the appropriate decision to make," said Merrifield.

"What is most important to me is that Ridley provides good quality service for its customers and looks after taxpayer interests."

Asked what is the long-term strategy for the terminal and if that included subsidizing the coal industry, Merrifield said that its mandate is to provide good service in exporting products.

"Not only coal but sulphur, potentially potash - commodities to international markets and there is a tremendous potential there. People in Prince Rupert should be excited," said Merrifield.

With files from the Prince George Citizen

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Page two

Reaction Monday to the federal government's decision to remove Dan Veniez from his role as chairman of Ridley Terminals Inc. was rather swift.

North Coast MLA, Gary Coons, was pleased that the idea of privatizing RTI appears to be off the table for now and was complimentary towards the North Central Municipal Association, who had condemned the move.

"It's very intriguing that the day or so after the historic signing of the protocol economic agreement (between Ridley and the Coast Tsimshian) and the drumming in to the port AGM tthat1 the mastermind of the deal is burnt blacker than coal," said Coons.

"What's intriguing with the Ridley tale is the action of the 49 community leaders and mayors from the NCMA region and the Northern Development Initiative Trust.

"Their opposition to the privatization of RTI was strong and forceful and based on the premise that privatization of crown assets with profit interest would be disastrous and not in the public interest."

Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem, was one of the signatories on the NCMA opposition paper.
He said that he wasn't sure that Veniez had expertise in coal export shipping and that there had been questions in regards to the why and the how of the release of RTI's annual report that advocated for the privatization of the crown corporation.

Mussallem felt that Veniez had not promoted his idea of privatization in the most appropriate way.

"There are ways that you can share that information rather than having all of the communities and mining companies between here and [Prince George] read about it in the media," said Mussallem.

Coons drew a connection between Veniez and the provincial government by saying that RTI was important to the northern economy.

Coons also felt that the decision to keep _ RTI in the hands of the government spoke highly of governmental control.

[That] public assets are more efficient and cost effective is a powerful statement," said Coons.

According to letters exchanged between the ministers of state responsible for transport, Rob Merrifield and Veniez, Veniez believes that his term as chairman ended in part because he raised the public specter of privatization and partly because he raised fees for coal shipments.

But Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, Nathan Cullen, was less impressed with the federal government's handling of RTI at a time when the terminal was starting to turn around and do quite well, he said.

"We are trying to get some answers on what is the government's plan for this terminal?

'Do they want to privatize it or do they want to subsidize coal producers? What kind of investment is the government committing to over the years? They have made this into a real mess," said Cullen.

Cullen said one of the things he and his staff were preparing was to call Veniez and Merrifield in front of the transportation committee in Ottawa, "to come clean."

And he promised to continue his investigation into the operations of RTI.

"It feels like we don't know the whole truth about what is going on here," said Cullen.

"This is a public asset and ultimately the government is accountable to the public."

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