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Seeing red

An old Tory loyalist, Daniel Veniez has turned on the party


 

Seeing redIf the speculation among Ottawa insiders that a general election will be called for Nov. 9 proves to be correct, the Liberal party will be tested as never before. Early indications are that the election campaign will be fought according to the smack-down rules of the wrestling world. Last man breathing wins. Will it be the urban cowboy from Alberta whose approach to governing is not so much pre-Keynesian as Precambrian? Or will it be the Count from Petrograd whose many careers deserve the same designation as his jazz equivalent, Stan Getz, the high-strung saxophone virtuoso, who was once described as being “a swell bunch of guys”.

For the first time this decade, the Liberals are firmly united behind their leader and plan to wage a campaign that will eradicate the memory of Stéphane Dion’s nightmarish stewardship. As Liberal leader, he behaved like a debutante who had strayed into an abattoir and never regained consciousness—until he vanished into a void of his own devising, otherwise known as “the Coalition.”

Still, there is one glaring gap in the Liberals’ plans for returning to their accustomed roost as the country’s natural governors: a constellation of star candidates who will create a buzz and can deliver regional votes. Those who qualify must be tough enough to survive Stephen Harper’s character assassins and become keepers of the flame that burns for the golden ages of Laurier, Pearson and Trudeau. We already have enough bush-league Tarzans loose in the House of Commons, beating their chests, playing the great conciliators, and accomplishing nothing.

Among the worthy candidates who qualify as the kind of practical idealist the Liberal party will need to win the election is Daniel Veniez, 47, a senior corporate executive and former Harper supporter, who is being wooed to march under the rouge Liberal banner.

Originally a Montrealer, Veniez, who has lived in British Columbia for the past eight years, has yet to declare himself. He is being tempted by Grits to try for the nomination in several ridings. Veniez is a thoroughly political animal with a problem. His political hang-ups are, in ascending order, that he is an incurable idealist who believes that the Canadian future should be built on dreams as well as appetites. But he’s an activist who has laboured in several vineyards—but without ever finding his long-term Camelot.

Veniez’s background has all the politically correct prerequisites except for not having been born in a log cabin. He was raised in the separatist working-class suburb Pointe-aux-Trembles on the east side of Montreal where his father was an Anglophone truck driver while his mother was a pure laine Québécoise who worked in the local paper-sack plant as a labourer and volunteered as a provincial Liberal party worker. As a kid, Veniez attended the federal party’s national convention in 1982 and was appointed vice-president of organization for the Young Liberals. The following year he worked on John Turner’s leadership campaign but became disillusioned with Turner’s transformation from being a fiscal conservative to a hard-left nationalist, and switched to the Tories as an admirer of the youthful Brian Mulroney, then about to form his first government. He worked in the offices of three Progressive Conservative ministers and was an avid backer of the Meech Lake accord but couldn’t stomach the Charlottetown smorgasbord that followed.

He left politics to become a senior vice-president of Repap Enterprises, a lively pulp and paper company, and became a Stephen Harper supporter in 2006. “I wanted him to succeed,” says Veniez. “He was from the West, obviously smart, while the Liberals had become like the PC party that I left in 1992—tired and intellectually bankrupt. While I admired Harper, like many Canadians I didn’t trust the Reform crowd, their social conservative bent, and their dogmatic theology on economics, social and foreign policy. But I also thought that the party was maturing and that they had renounced their populist and evangelical impulses.”

Veniez became a successful West Coast entrepreneur and in 2007 was appointed by the Harper government as chairman of Ridley Terminals Inc., a Crown corporation that operates a Prince Rupert, B.C., bulk commodity hub. Tories had been suggesting that he run in one of three Vancouver ridings but by then his hopes for the Conservative Prime Minister had evaporated. “The PM’s policy of incrementalism was inconsistent with my vision of responsible governance and leadership. It’s really the mindset of big “r” Reform—his small-tent western and rural populist base, and its Christian fundamentalist core. And that’s anathema to my essential DNA.

“The Conservative party and its leader are permanently angry,” he goes on. “That’s an ingrained part of who they are and what they represent. On a visceral level, they remain a protest party and have turned themselves into a protest government. They manage by negatives and are genetically incapable of inspiring hope or thinking big. They attack, assassinate character, tell lies, lower the bar on public discourse, and engage in tactical and divisive wedge politics and governance. The tone, strategy, and culture for this government are established by Harper, a cheap-shot artist and cynic of the highest order.”

That harsh judgment flowed directly from Veniez’s experience trying to run Ridley Terminals according to the terms of reference he was given that he never exceeded or disobeyed, but which were decisive in forcing his abrupt dismissal on June 28. He had been doing exactly what he was hired to do and his annual salary for chairing—and, in effect, running—the multi-million facility was only $12,500. His managing abilities were never in dispute, but his insistence that all customers had equal call on the terminal’s rates and services became the deal-breaker. That infuriated the multinationals who expected a continuation of their special treatment, including highly subsidized rates. They were backed by regional Conservative MPs. Veniez was summarily fired without even a day’s notice; his severance was $1,563. (No cents.)

Veniez is proud of what he accomplished at Ridley Terminals. “We replaced the management team, ratified a long-term collective agreement with our union, forged new partnerships with First Nations, improved governance and accountability, and recalibrated the economics of the enterprise by asking our customers—among whom are highly profitable multinational giants—to pay fair and reasonable market rates for our services.” He points out that “in the past year, productivity has increased over 150 per cent, efficiency is up over 65 per cent, and costs have come down. I was fired by a Conservative government—no less—for building value, and leading the turnaround of a largely discarded public asset that the taxpayer had poured $500 million into over 30 years.”

Daniel Veniez’s search for the ideal political leader has landed him in the Michael Ignatieff camp. “Studying his body of work,” he says, “has convinced me that I am in lockstep with the Liberal party under his leadership.” Brian Tobin, the former Liberal cabinet minister who now advises a Bay Street legal firm, describes Daniel Veniez as, “a successful businessman, powerfully articulate, a commanding presence on a podium and a passionate Canadian.” That’s a valid summary. May he find his ideal at last.


 

Seeing red

  1. NEWFLASH!

    Socialists are not Conservatives.

    Good riddance.

    • "Permanently angry."

      Says it all, really.

  2. "“The Conservative party and its leader are permanently angry,” he goes on. “That's an ingrained part of who they are and what they represent. On a visceral level, they remain a protest party and have turned themselves into a protest government. They manage by negatives and are genetically incapable of inspiring hope or thinking big. They attack, assassinate character, tell lies, lower the bar on public discourse, and engage in tactical and divisive wedge politics and governance. The tone, strategy, and culture for this government are established by Harper, a cheap-shot artist and cynic of the highest order.”"

    If any quote best describes Harper and the Conservatives, it's that one. I've never heard of Veniez, but he seems like quite the individual.

  3. "For the first time this decade, the Liberals are firmly united behind their leader."

    Not from where I sit. Read Liberal blogs.

  4. This guy sounds like an opportunist.

  5. Never heard of him, but I hope he injects the Liberals with some verve and after the Liberals are back in the governing seat, may he cross the floor to the NDP.

  6. “The Conservative party and its leader are permanently angry,” he goes on. “That's an ingrained part of who they are and what they represent. On a visceral level, they remain a protest party and have turned themselves into a protest government. They manage by negatives and are genetically incapable of inspiring hope or thinking big. They attack, assassinate character, tell lies, lower the bar on public discourse, and engage in tactical and divisive wedge politics and governance. The tone, strategy, and culture for this government are established by Harper, a cheap-shot artist and cynic of the highest order.”

    Telling it like it is.

  7. The guy Veniez sounds like a wishy-washy opportunist, and nothing more. Most of what he says makes no sense.

  8. 1. Utilizing Ridley Terminals has long been the dream of northern BCers but until the BC and Alberta governments fabulously ironed out the many at-odds regulatory differences involving inter-provincial labour and transportation issues, Ridley was only a hope and dream in the Asian Gateway shipping container and commodity strategy. Newman is giving this fellow far too much credit for what has been accomplished, ignoring the significance of the feds and the two provinces on the Ridley Terminal. Container traffic is actually worrying Tacoma and Vancouver.
    2. Veniez has never ran as a Conservative and he worked for both sides of the political spectrum more in a bureaucratic fashion. Viniez is by no means a BC "Tory" and has no profile in his 8 years in BC. Good luck anyways Mr. Viniez.

  9. Seems like Maclean's has taken a page from the Globe & Mail and torqued the headline. This guy was never a loyalist, as the headline states, and never ran for the Conservative party. In his own words:

    " “I'm not a professional politician by any stretch. I've never run for anything in my life. And I'd like to give it a shot,” said Mr. Veniez, who has asserted he was fired by the Harper government because he was forcing coal companies to pay higher shipping rates."

    I voted for Chretien in '93, then switched to Reform in '97. Does that make me a Liberal loyalist?

    • You live in Saint-Maurice Champlain?

  10. Unbelievable whitewash of a thoriughly sooty character. It would do one good to review his actual entrepreneurial activities as Head of the NewSkeena pulp mill before judging how golden or perhaps gilded hir character is

  11. Good description of Harper.

  12. Talk about a perfect description of Harper and his bobbleheads.

    Sounds to me like the guy is an independant and supports what he feels is good for Canada.

    We need more like that.

  13. Pretty much how I fell into the Ignatieff camp, as well. I wanna meet Veniez.

  14. Veniez is just a bitter man. He should fit in well with the Ignatieff Liberals as he is a similar opportunist. Flitting from Liberal to Conservative and back to Liberal as he percieves the winds of change are blowing.
    He may find himself disappointed as Harper and the Conservatives will likely surprise hum this fall

    • "Permanently angry."

  15. So he gets canned for 'forcing" the BIG GUYS to pay their fair share and plans to run for the Liberals who have made their chops for a century and a half giving free rides to insiders and BIG GUYS. I'm thinkin' there may be a little more to this story…especially given the fact that Rob Merrifield is one of the more decent and intelligent MPs I've ever met

    Am I missing something? Thank God its Friday, I'm going for a beer.

  16. Ask the people of Prince Rupert, B.C. what they think of Daniel Veniez, they won't be saying anything nice.

  17. Switching back and forth between Liberals and Conservatives smacks, to me, of political opportunism: Whichever way the wind blows. On that basis, he's a close match the current Libeal leader. He'llfir right in, or a while; until the wind changes…

  18. This guy is a major opportunist – The only person he has ever been loyal to is George Petty. Ask the People in Northwest BC that he screwed over how they feel. Dig a little deeper into his past and I don't think any of you will be impressed.

  19. This man seems to be a good catch for the liberals. You have to admire his lack of greed, with salary of about 12,000 a year. What a change from your average CEO. $1653 in severance pay., wwwOW that is like a real working stiff.

  20. It seems he disagrees more with reformers than with conservatives.
    He thinks Harper is a Reformer at root, while Reformers think Harper is turnig into a liberal

    • I think that observation -if true – is pretty telling in and of itself.

      A leader with two faces is sure to foster distrust in his leadership.

  21. Trippy Peter C. Newman article. "Count from Petrograd" stuff worthy of Dr. Foth at his drunkest and then an uncritical platform for a guy with no reporting into his background. Makes me worry a bit about the veracity of all those Hudson's Bay Company books I enjoyed reading so much. Or maybe the greek fisherman's cap was on a bit tightly

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