John Weston issues apology to Daniel Veniez

John Weston, the Conservative Member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country issued a written apology to Liberal opponent Daniel D. Veniez for his campaign’s distribution of "misleading" material relating to Veniez’s role as President and Chief Executive Officer of Skeena Cellulose Inc. 

After Veniez filed a defamation suit in B.C. Supreme Court against Weston last April, Weston sent a letter to Veniez dated May 11, which stated: “I know of no basis for a suggestion that you acted unethically, dishonestly, or unlawfully”. The Vancouver Observer contacted Weston for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.  

In response to Weston's apology, Veniez issued the following statement:

When in the last days of the last general election campaign, Mr. Weston’s campaign distributed an email and YouTube video that suggested that I somehow personally misappropriated pension funds from union and staff employees, I felt sick to my stomach.

This was a profound affront and deeply offensive to my family, the memory of my late partner and dear friend, George S. Petty and me. It was also an insult to the people who had worked so tirelessly to reconstruct Skeena Cellulose Inc. (SCI). 

The history of Skeena is well known in the forest products industry. The company was a carcass that was left for dead. Through our company, NWBC Timber and Pulp Limited, George and I were the only investors who were ready, willing and able to attempt to resurrect SCI. We poured three years of our lives into this effort – and a great deal of our money.

We attracted a world-class management team, streamlined and refocused the business, secured marketing and sales contracts, and successfully concluded three ground-breaking collective agreements withthree of our four unions.

However, on the crucial missing piece of attracting the $100 million we required to modernize and restart operations, we failed. There were a variety of reasons for this. The attacks on September 11, 2001, a significant weakening of capital markets, and an unexpected BC Supreme Court decision on “Consultation and Accommodation” with First Nations, all were factors. Skeena’s notorious history and reputation, in addition to the unyielding demands from municipalities for oppressive property tax charges made attracting investors incredibly challenging.

But we came extremely close, despite these obstacles.

To give us more time, my partner and I made the difficult decision to place Skeena into bankruptcy protection (CCAA). For almost a year, we were under court supervision. The remarkable Donald Brenner, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, presided over this process, and did so with his usual finesse, insight, sensitivity, and knowledge. Monitor’s reports were issued, and all facets of our operations were under the close scrutiny of the court, as is customary in these cases. When it became clear to us that we could not raise the $100 million, I had no choice but to assign Skeena into bankruptcy.

This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Literally thousands of people had been depending on me and I felt that I had let them down. To this day, I am pained at the thought of what might have been, and the hope that was lost for so many in a region and people that I love.

Had the allegations and inferences made by Mr. Weston and his campaign had any validity whatsoever, they would have been divulged, uncovered, and made public through the CCAA, and later bankruptcy court process. Two Court appointed monitors (PricewaterhouseCoopers) were involved, as was the receiver in bankruptcy, Larry Prentice, a well-regarded partner and nationally respected receiver, from Ernst & Young.

Had anything untoward happened with employee pensions, they would have known and alerted the court. Moreover, employees themselveswould have done the same.

Neither of these had ever occurred. Not once, and not even close.

When I was first made aware that Mr. Weston and his campaign team was distributing false materials, I publicly asked for an apology. Not only did Mr. Weston and his campaign ignore that request, Mr. Weston said that “This is the action of someone about to lose”.

It took over a year - and the court action that I initiated - before I finally received the apology.

While I doubt that Mr. Weston and his team’s actions affected the outcome of the election, they certainly reflect a cheapness and cynicism that should have no place in public life. Furthermore, as a lawyer, Mr. Weston should have known better.

For some politicians, smearing an opponent and telling lies is just another day at the office. Willful ignorance is no less excusable and both are shining testaments to their essential character. 

Until the Canadian public declares that this kind of cheap and gutter politics is unworthy of those that offer to stand for office, it will continue. And people like Mr. Weston will be able to get away with issuing an apology a year after the damage is done. That’s what the calculation is: Destroy your opponent, win the election by any means necessary, and hope that people forget about it – until next time. And finally, if we citizens allow it by voting for people who engage in this kind of behavior, the kind of qualified and exceptional people that we need in public life will simply refuse to subject themselves and their families to elected public office.

As a result of Mr. Weston’s apology, I have agreed to withdraw the legal action I initiated in May 2011 against him in BC Supreme Court. However, I will pursue the complaints my campaign and I have filed last year with Elections Canada.    

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