Monday, June 8, 2009

Grassroots Group Short on Grass Long on Roots to Coal-Industry

As the debate heats up over whether or not to sell Ridley Terminals in B.C., a well organized protest group has emerged, that as Terrence Corcoran of the National Post points out, is a little too well organized.

Their campaign to keep the facility public has more to do with helping the coal-industry, and less to do with helping the grassroots, who will be paying for it.

Mr. Corcoran believes that they are being financed by the coal-lobby, who play a large role in the political debate, with all levels of government, especially the federal Conservatives.

Two prominent cabinet ministers have weighed in, Jay Hill and Rob Merrifield, each with a personal agenda. You can also be sure that Stephen Harper is listening them ... not us. I(Jay Hill was one of the Tory MPs complicit in the 'In and Out' scandal and has recently turned his back on the forestry workers)

Following are stories from both side of the debate.

Podunk Below the Masthead,
June 2, 2009

The ongoing war of words over I who should own Ridley Terminals Inc. continued Tuesday, as a band of municipal brothers and sisters joined together to voice their strong opposition to privatization of the coal terminal.

A group of 49 elected officials from Haida Gwaii to Mackenzie have said that any move to privatize Ridley Terminals would be disastrous for the coal mining industry and that the Prince Rupert Port Authority, under current President and CEO Don Krusel, would be best placed to take over.

Vice President of Communications, Barry Bartlett, said that as far as he was concerned, nothing has changed from the PRPA's point-of-view."The relationship between the Prince Rupert Port Authority and Ridley Terminals is strictly a commercial landlord-tenant relationship. Any references that the PRPA have made about RTl in discussions with the Federal Government have been in this context,' said Bartlett.

It is inappropriate for the PRPA to publicly comment on Ridley Terminals. Any questions should be directed to Transport Canada. Brad McNulty, a Transport Canada representative, added that no decision had been made as of yet by Conservative Minister John Baird and that the day-to day running of the port remains the responsibility of RTI management.

Dan Veniez, Chairman of Ridley Terminal Inc., floated the privatization balloon out last week when he gave possible scenarios for the future of RTI. Federal MPs Jay Hill and Nathan Cullen attempted to shoot that balloon down last week, speaking against the idea.

And now municipal leaders are taking their turn. Many elected representatives in town and across Highway 16, who are talking about the Port Authority's ability to run RTI, have taken up the issue on their own."The issue is very prevalent right now because Dan Veniez, who is a federal government appointment [to the board of directors) has advocated that it be sold to private holdings," said opposition signatory, Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem, whose has been joined by the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District Director, Des Nobels, and by all of district council in Port Edward.

"Everybody within the coal-catchments area, thinks there is a concern that if it goes to a private company, there could be a monopoly situation (not true. they have competition) and that some would be allowed to ship and some would not," added Mussallem.

When asked why he thought that way, the city's top official said that many coal concerns had contacted him about their thoughts on privatization.

But the question to be asked and answered is why would the PRPA be suited to take over RidleyTerminals? As a port it works as a landlord with tenants such as Fairview Terminals (Maher) Prince Rupert Grain and RTI all paying for use of the site.

According to Veniez, privatization should be considered for RTI because the PRPA would like to take the company over so that it has more leverage to borrow capital from private lending markets.

He cites a report from back in October 2006 which points to comments made by CEO Don Krusel at a House of Commons Finance Committee meeting,"There is a crown corporation in Prince Rupert called Ridley Terminals, Inc. It's a coal shipping facility owned by the federal government. We would like to see that amalgamated with the operations of the Port of Prince Rupert. It would provide the Port of Prince Rupert with funds that could be directed to this Pacific Gateway strategy initiative. It would also provide the Port of Prince Rupert with the leverage to borrow even more money in the public sector so we can fulfill this initiative." (and yet they said "it is inappropriate for the PRPA to publicly comment on Ridley Terminals")

Krusel expressed this interest in taking over RTI as one of three possible scenarios to expand its borrowing base at that time.

Bartlett would only say that the PRPXs mandate is to facilitate and expand the movement of cargo and passengers through the Port of Prince Rupert.

"Our mission is to develop and grow the Port of Prince Rupert in an aggressive, economical, safe and environmentally sound manner. The PRPA is responsible for the overall planning, development, marketing and management of the commercial port assets within the Prince Rupert Harbour.

This includes ensuring competitive, efficient and timely responses to customers' needs and business opportunities," said Bartlett.

However, if taking on Ridley Terminal is what Krusel does want to do, he has his supporters. According to Association of Mining BC president and CEO Pierre Gratton, there is synergy in PRPA taking over the terminal because keeping it in government hands would allow there to be one management structure instead of two.

"It would be managed by people who are on the ground in the region, who understand the region and have the region's interest at heart," said Gratton.

Mussallem concurred with Gratton."I don't think anybody argues with the fact that the coal terminal pays for itself, but certainly all of the coal terminal customers would feel more comfortable if it was held by an entity rather than a private company," said Mussallem.

Privatizing Ridley Terminals the Wrong Thing for Northern British Columbia
Communities Letter to the Editor
May 27, 2009

The only thing correct in Mr. Dan Veniez’s recent media commentary regarding Ridley Terminals is that the Conservative government did the right thing in canceling the previous government’s divestiture plan for the terminal.

Again as before, during this time of extreme economic hardship for our region, privatizing the terminal would be disastrous to Northern communities including Houston. Since Dan Veniez was appointed Chair of the terminal, we have had serious concerns with the direction he is taking.

The terminal was never intended to be a profit centre for government but was supposed to be an enabler of economic growth in our region. We are shocked with the apparent lack of understanding Veniez has with the importance of this strategic asset.

Houston, like many communities along the CN line in Northern British Columbia, is dependent on the economic development and job creation of customers utilizing the terminal.

Forest products, mining and other development projects create significant employment in our region and ship their products to RTI.

By increasing rates to unreasonable levels, these customers cannot compete against international markets and thus will reduce their capital investments in our region. Ridley Terminals’ mandate to ensure rates are competitive against these international markets is absolutely critical to our region’s overall ability to employ.

Privatizing the terminal risks finding an owner with profit intent which is against the original purpose of the facility.We agree with Dan Veniez that a decision is required by the federal government concerning the future of Ridley Terminals. The decision should be to keep it in public sector hands and return it to its original intent.

Bill Holmberg
Mayor of Houston, British Columbia

Privatizing Ridley Terminals is not the core issue, says Veniez

By Shaun Thomas - The Northern View
June 04, 2009

The day after the North Central Municipalities Association (NCMA) and the Northern Development Initiative Trust outlined their opposition to the proposed sale of Ridley Terminals in Prince Rupert, board chair Dan Veniez reiterated his stance that selling the facility is an important step in ensuring the future of the company and its workers.

"In the past decade, RTI's been run into the ground. That's not acceptable. No one is talking about that central problem. We are.

How should that be reversed to secure RTI's place for the future? That's the real issue," he said, adding that "government has been bad at running RTI" and has invested $400 million into the terminal."

[The core issue] is not to privatize or not to privatize. The core issues are who is going to take care of RTI, and do it justice as an important part of the gateway? Who is going to pay for it? Should the taxpayer continue to subsidize foreign owned coal producers

As a board, we are doing this as a public service because we care about Prince Rupert and the region. Our job is to protect RTI. What the government decides to do is entirely within its purview. We don't get a vote on that whatsoever."

The NCMA opposition, which included the mayors of 25 communities and 20 regional district representatives, said keeping Ridley Terminals public was important for the northern economy."Ridley Terminals is key to the continued expansion of family by supporting jobs in our mining, forestry and bioenergy industries.

Efficient and cost effective export means that Ridley Terminals must remain a public asset to ensure there is growth and diversification in the wealth creating rural regions of British Columbia," said the NCMA.

"This region will be further insulated from a future recession as long as it has a diversified resource base with the most efficient and least congested public port system in western North America. A publicly operated Ridley Terminals is critical to that vision."Look for more on this story in the June 10 issue of The Northern View.

He’s been best known over the last month as perhaps Prince Rupert’s most published author, as Dan Veniez’s thoughts on the need to privatize Ridley Terminals has been widely recorded across Canada.

From the National Post to the Globe and Mail to the Vancouver Sun, his oped pieces have become the mainstay of the debate over the issue that has jumped to the top of the list for local discussion these days. Now, with the communities of the Northwest and Northern BC weighing in on the topic, the issue and Mr. Veniez has gone local. From the CBC to the Northern View and the Daily News, the privatization issue has become one of the leading stories of the moment.

Podunk Below the Masthead,
June 5, 2009

As Dan Veniez continues his big city media campaign to sell the merits of a privatized Ridley Terminals, the backlash against the idea continues to grow. As we began relaying on the blog on May 20th, Mr. Veniez has been quite vocal over his plans, a move which has resulted in a fairly broad coalition growing to try and keep the current situation as it is, as a public venture.

Wednesday's paper outlines the efforts of a group of Northern Mayors and Directors of Regional Districts across the north, an item which we provided details about on Tuesday.

Not to be left out of the debate, the Mayor of Houston, Bill Holmberg has taken to the editorial pages of the region's newspapers, providing his concerns over the potential privatization of the coal terminal. His thoughts mirror much of the debate of other community mayors and leaders, which he has shared with the Daily News, the other regional newspapers and in a correspondence with this blog.

This is not a crown corporation like Canada Post, that benefits all Canadians, but a crown corporation that is heavily subsidized and benefits only a few. It is also a crown corporation that competes with private companies. I agree with Mr. Veniez. If there is a buyer, then we should sell it. It belongs to us, not Jay Hill, Rob Merrifield or Stephen Harper.

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