Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mr. Veniez, for the defence of Mr. Veniez!

He has taken a bit of time to work through his thoughts, and in what has been his favourite form of communication of late, Dan Veniez takes to the editorial pages again, this time weighing in on the pages of the Daily News, outlining his take on the recent developments at Ridley Terminals, developments which resulted in his dismissal as the President and Chairman of the facility.

In his piece for the Daily News, Veniez goes back over some of the recent history at the terminal and offers up his thoughts on the way that events developed. In among his accounts is a call for a public airing by Parliamentarians of the recent developments at Ridley, providing for some direction for the federal government as far as for the future of the terminal.

And while many may suggest that his call is just more of the bluster that has made him famous around these parts, perhaps in this case it may not be such a bad idea to get a better understanding as to what is happening with RTI and where it's future may be for the north coast.

Mr. Veniez of course brings a fair amount of baggage with him whenever he weighs in on matters of interest to the North coast, from his past days with New Skeena through to the most recent tempest at RTI, he has been front and centre in some of the most controversial events in the area over the last ten years.

When the Skeena efforts fell apart, there was no review of things, no sense of closure for the community on a most controversial issue. And while many may not take his recent concern for the area at face value, he has raised a few items of interest in his letters of late and in this editorial to the Daily News to warrant a bit more of an investigation into RTI than seems on the horizon.

Prior to his forced departure at RTI, there was talk from NDP MP Nathan Cullen of a detailed investigation into Mr. Veniez's plans for the Terminal, perhaps that venture can continue with obviously a different intention but with an expanded mandate.

Considering the political nature of the events over the last few months, perhaps it's time for taxpayers and residents on the North Coast to be provided with a full accounting of what has gone on at RTI in the past and where the government plans to take the facility in the future.

A good start into the investigation might be a read over of Mr. Veniez's interpretation of events, it might be of interest to know if his is a close to accurate review or just a handy bit of spin on a nasty situation. You can read it below and form your thoughts on the issue.


Editorial page contribution

By Daniel D. Veniez

The Daily News

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Page 4

Jay Hill, MP for Prince George-Peace River, and I agree wholehearted_ ly that Ridley Terminals is a vital link in the Northern Pacific Gateway. My board and I have promoted that notion since our appointments, including our 2007 and 2008 annual reports (both are available at

We believe that a better and smarter management of Ridley Terminals Inc. (RTl) is the way to secure its future.

The company has fallen behind in capital investments for at least a decade. Tens of millions must be invested to ensure that RTI is equipped to properly service its customers and protect jobs. The government of Canada has not done that.

There are several examples. One is a deal that Mr. Hill championed that would grant a large U.S. trading company with free access to RTI and free use of a $25-million sulphur facility on our property. Another was providing a $2.5 million interest-free loan to a user that RTI had not collected on for three years, In yet another case, Peace River Coal, whose single largest single shareholder is Anglo American, is one of the world’s largest diversified mining and natural resource groups, reporting an operating profit of $10.1 billion US in 2008. These were the very same people complaining to Mr. Hill about paying fair market rates for services that RTI provides. They have also withheld over $2.5 million in payments to RTI, as a result the taxpayer had to fund RTI’s operating deficit.

Our point is - and has been – simply this: Either Ottawa give RTI a clear mission and public policy purpose and fund it accordingly, or attract a partner that will make sure that happens. But doing nothing makes no sense and imperils jobs.

The Financial Administration Act, the law that governs RTI, says that the board is responsible to run the business on a commercial basis. Mr. Hill has strongly advocated providing rich subsidies to some of its users.

We simply decided to put the question to the government: Subsidize and fund appropriately so you don’t run RTI into the ground, or run it on a commercial basis and possibly look at some form of partnership with private-sector terminal operators.

This past spring Mr. Hill invited them into a meeting of B. C. caucus where they proceeded to trash our management and board. As you might expect from Mr. Hill by now, we were not invited to that meeting. Nor were we invited to present the facts.

Last week, Mr. Hill stated that the newly appointed chairman of Ridley Terminals Bud Smith, by all accounts a good man and smart businessman, "shares my vision." Hill should explain to taxpayers precisely what that "vision" is. He certainly never told me or the rest of us on RTI's board what that might be. Despite over a year of trying to meet and talk to him about that, he never could bring himself to calling or meeting any of us.

I was appointed as chairman of RTI in December 2007. Notwithstanding formidable challenges, I am very proud that our team - union and non-union alike - has exceeded our goals for an operational turnaround of this longtime drain on the taxpayer. We put a world class management team in place, productivity is way up; efficiency is way up, costs are down, a new seven-year collective agreement has been ratified, and so too are landmark agreements with First Nations - all of which we have concluded within a year.

We could have done a great deal better for RTI and the Canadian taxpayer had we not been undermined by Mr. Hill and the highly-paid lobbyists and multinational companies on his team. The politicization of the business has not helped deal with issues head-on. It has become a regional political toy and hostage to special interests. We could have proceeded as has been the custom in the past - do nothing. Instead, we took our roles seriously and went about fixing Ridley and creating value for the taxpayer.

Contrary to what's been reported in the media, we are also not privatization zealots, either.

I advised the government that a private sector solution - which could take many forms such as a dire4ct investment, minority interest, majority interest with continued government ownership _ is something we encourage the government to thorougWy investigate, especially since it had told us that major and needed investments to modernize RTI was out of the question.

The heart of the matter is this: If RTI is in the business to subsidize users that should be made clear. Such a decision will require a major annual cash appropriation from Transport Canada to RTI. If RTI is not in the business to subsidize its users, then RTI's board and management should exercise its judgment in managing the company on a commercially sensible basis.

When special interest groups find advocates in ministers like Mr. Hill and Mr. Merrifield, and when those ministers do not hesitate to intervene on behalf of the special interests, accountability breaks down and Crown performance suffers. Our mandate as cabinet appointed trustees of a public asset is to secure, protect, and enhance it for all Canadian taxpayers, not the interests of lobby groups aggressively promoting special favours.

We simply would not have taken on this assignment had we known that special interests would trump the national interest or the interests of RTI and its people.

As chairman, I have led a board that was appointed to serve the public interest, and that is exactly what we have done. We have been creating value, building meaningful relationships with our employees and First Nations, recalibrating a poorly managed asset so that it can have a future, and defending a public enterprise from attack and exploitation by private interests acting direct1y and through lobbyists.

Neither Mr. Hill nor Rob Merrifield have not provided me, our board or the general public for reasons for my termination. All Mr. Hill has said is that I have gone beyond my mandate. That mandate is laid out clearly in the law governing crown corporations - it is called the Financial Administration Act.

If anything, we have gone over and above the call of duty as volunteers to promote and protect the interests of RTI and the taxpayer.

None of the points I raise are "allegations" as a recent Citizen editorial stated. They are all facts, and can be easily corroborated. This entire matter deserves a full public airing. The standing committee of the House of Commons on transportation is the right place for that. Let witnesses be called under oath. Let documents be presented. Then let's see who was protecting the taxpayer, and who was looking out to protect their pals at the expense of the people of Ridley and the Canadian taxpayer.

Daniel D. Veniez was the chairman of Ridley Terminals Inc. until June 26.

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