North Coast MLA worried sale of Ridley Terminals Inc. could mean more Canadian resources in foreign hands
Gary Coons is concerned the sale belies Harper government's promise that the sale of Canadian assets won't become a trend.
The sale of Prince Rupert’s Ridley Terminals Inc. could put more of Canada’s resources in foreign hands, said British Columbia MLA for the North Coast Gary Coons.
“I’m a bit suspicious with the Harper government, that they’re selling it at a time just because they’re short of money federally, and they seem to be hell bent on selling out Canadian resources at low prices.” Coons said he’s surprised the government would sell a crown asset that was making good money, adding that Ridley brought in $34 million last year.
Coons is critical of the federal government allowing the sale of both private and crown corporations to foreign companies, citing the recent sales of private energy companies Nexen to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Progress Energy to the Malaysian state-owned Petronas.
Despite Prime Minister Harper’s declaration that the Nexen deal was the end of a trend, Coons is concerned the sale of Ridley is an indication that it was only the beginning.
Neither Ted Menzies, Canada’s Minister of State for finance, nor Minister of State for transportation Steven Fletcher was available for comment. Press secretaries for both said the sale is consistent with the government’s commitment to using public resources efficiently.
“Private ownership of the terminal could allow it to reach its full potential and maximize its contribution to economic growth, jobs and new investments in Prince Rupert and surrounding communities,” they said via identical emails.
There’s significant public mistrust of the government when it comes to selling off assets, Coons said, and response to BC companies bidding on the terminal indicates the government has little interest in keeping the property in under local control.
The Ridley Users Group, a legal entity made up of coal producers and shippers, has put together a proposal to take over operations.
This isn’t the first time the group has tried to take over the terminal. In 2005 when the Liberal government considered selling, a coalition of western mining groups wanted to turn RTI into a co-op. Coons supported the coalition and fought on its behalf, saying the process was skewed in favour of a single operator. The front-runner was an American company, though the government decided not to sell.
In 2010, Coons and several other MLAs met with the user group to put together another proposal to run the terminal as a co-op, and the proposal was again rejected.
The sale could also put more of British Columbia’s coast in the hands of global energy companies.
One potential buyer for the coal-shipping terminal is Brookfield Asset Management, owners of Island Timberlands, the company currently embroiled in a dispute with the residents of Cortes Island over logging old-growth forests.
Another big name to appear on the list of potential buyers is Kinder Morgan, already a household name in BC thanks to the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
The announcement came as a surprise to many people, and Coons said the apparent secrecy around plans to sell is also a red flag for him. He was not invited to the December 13 press conference, but attended anyway.
“It was such a surprise that it came out of nowhere it seems.” Coons said the appointment of Byng Giraud as acting Chair of the Board at RTI also came as a surprise to him and to the local media. It happened in early October, but Coons said he didn’t find out about it until very close to the press conference, where Giraud stood up in support of the sale.
He said he doesn’t want to speculate about the reasons for the apparent secrecy, but said the lack of openness undermines the government’s assertion that the bidding process will be fair. Giraud, who was previously the chair of the Corporate Affairs committee of Ridley’s board of directors, was unavailable for comment.
Prime Minister Harper has stated that the sale, whoever it’s made to, will come with a clause that says the terminal must remain open access, but Coons said he doesn’t have much faith in the prime minister’s word.
“There are a lot of things I thought were going to hold up with the Harper government. I thought our Environment Act would hold up, that our Fisheries Act would hold up. With a stroke of a pen and ramming through of legislation, we’ve seen them gutted.”