Tuesday, October 25, 2005

John Weir_Spinning the Web

Pondering Politics

I am amazed and curious as to how very ordinary individuals engineer their way to the inner core of political parties, government and business. These people apparently have at least one skill you just have to admire and that is their success at working the system. How they do it is a mystery I have never solved.

Please consider the case of John Weir. It is my understanding that he first landed in Ottawa in 1980 as a research assistant to a Progressive Conservative M.P. from Winnipeg. When Grant Devine became Premier of Saskatchewan in 1982 John Weir made contact with an individual in Saskatchewan about employment with the Devine administration. The contact delivered and Weir became employed with one of the Devine government ministers.

Weir played it smart and became close to Dave Tkachuk, now Senator Tkachuk, and Don Pringle who were two of Grant Devine’s closest advisors. This landed him the initial position of assistant principal secretary and later principal secretary to Grant Devine.

The Grant Devine government was defeated in the 1991 provincial election, but John Weir landed on his feet. He was then apparently compensated by the Progressive Conservative caucus to fend off the pending Tory fraud scandal. The exact value of the compensation may never be known. What we do know is that he failed in this task. Numerous conservatives were charged, convicted and sentenced in what became the largest political scandal in the history of Saskatchewan.

Stay with me. Follow the trail. John Weir then ran for elected office in the 1995 provincial election as a conservative candidate in a Regina South constituency. He had no hope of winning, but he didn’t run to win. He ran to pad his resume and it worked as shortly thereafter he was hired as executive assistant to the Minister of Education in the Mike Harris government in Ontario. John Weir continued to work the system and landed a position as director of caucus relations as a member of Premier Harris’s office staff. He went on to become principal secretary to Premier Harris.

Now consider the following quote from the Hill Times.

“Mr. Weir, who currently is president of Enterprise Canada Consultants in Toronto, started to advise Ms. Stronach recently. He started his political career in the early 1980s when he came to the Hill to work as a research assistant, but soon moved to Saskatchewan to work for the provincial minister of education and the premier's office at that time. In 1995, Mr. Weir was hired as chief of staff to the Ontario minister of education and in 1997 joined Mr. Harris's office first as director of caucus relations, but later on was promoted to the position of principal secretary.”

John Weir has spent his life spinning his political web across this county. Belinda Stronach is the latest to get tangled in his web. He apparently succeeded in convincing her that he is now an expert on national politics. Why is he not advising a conservative like Stephan Harper? Harper needs all the help he can get regardless of their qualifications. Why not John Weir?

Now here is the kicker. Remember when Harper refused to let Weir’s former boss, Grant Devine, run in the last federal election and later stripped him of his conservative membership. It was many of Devine’s former confidants that urged him to run for the conservative nomination in Souris-Moose Mountain that is now represented by a conservative Member of Parliament, Ed Komarnicki.

The latest speculation is that Weir may now hold the key for Grant Devine to again run in Souris-Moose Mountain, but this time as a liberal. Keep in mind that Grant Devine was a liberal before being dragged into Saskatchewan conservative politics. If Devine were (Weir) to face off against Komarnicki I would bet on Devine to win as a liberal in a right wing riding.

The success achieved by the likes of John Weir is a mystery. He was never elected, but has admirably achieved the art of winning on the success of others. John Weir, I congratulate you on your success, but I am still amazed and curious. What a web, what a story!

Note: John’s wife has her own web. She is now CEO of the Whitby, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. What a team!

Larry Birkbeck

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Weyerhaeuser Closing

Pondering politics!

Today was devastating for Prince Albert and for the Province of Saskatchewan. The news that Weyerhaeuser was shutting down their Prince Albert pulp and paper mill operations and displacing the jobs of nearly 700 employees is a devastating announcement. Yes, it is an economic blow to the area and to the province, but more important is how families will cope with the news that their jobs are lost.

The Premier responded favourably by appointing a committee to consider the ramifications of this loss. Hopefully the committee will consider all possible options for salvaging something positive out of what, at this time, seems to be a hopeless situation.

The most positive response was from the statement made by Prince Albert’s Mayor. He just bit the bullet and confidently proclaimed that Prince Albert would persevere in the same way our pioneers persevered when tough times hit them. His comments were absolutely courageous and gave Prince Albert a line, however thin; to hang on to as his city begins to grapple with Weyerhaeuser’s decision.

It should be noted that Weyerhaeuser purchased the Prince Albert pulp mill, along with a chemical plant and sawmill, from the government of Saskatchewan in 1986. At the same time Weyerhaeuser announced their intention to construct a new fine-paper mill in Prince Albert. This project was completed in 1988.

Ironically, in 1998, Weyerhaeuser invested $315 million in a project to, among other things, dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The project, for the most part, was intended as an environmentally sound corporate move for Weyerhaeuser to comply with the principles of sustainability outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.

To add to the irony, the government of Saskatchewan issued a Press Release on May 19, 1998 congratulating Weyerhaeuser on this major upgrade to the Prince Albert plant. One of the key Ministers quoted in the News Release at the time was Economic and Co-operative Development Minister Janice MacKinnon. Mackinnon was quoted as saying, "Weyerhaeuser Canada is declaring its confidence in the future of our province and the Prince Albert region by investing $315 million in this project," MacKinnon said. "The announcement also confirms that for many years to come, Prince Albert Pulp and Paper will be a major source of jobs and economic activity in our important forestry sector." How wrong was Mackinnon on this statement?

Energy and Mines Minister, Eldon Lautermilch was also named in the Press Release congratulating Weyerhaeuser. He now is apparently going to head up the Premier’s committee to investigate Weyerhaeuser’s decision to shut down the Prince Albert plant. How effective will that be?

Weyerhaeuser could have handled this decision with more compassion and concern, but they didn’t. The reality is that the free market and lack of demand for pulp and paper has changed drastically since 1998. Both the NDP government Ministers and Weyerhaeuser failed to read an unpredictable market future and as a result nearly 700 jobs are expected to be lost. It is sad and tragic, but a harsh reality of world economics.

Positive attitudes like the comments by Prince Albert’s Mayor are encouraging. This was unfortunately offset by the simplistic and negative position taken by the SaskParty in their statement that the Weyerhaeuser announcement was reflective, in part, due to the poor business climate in Saskatchewan under the NDP government. Are we to believe that Weyerhaeuser would not have shut down in Prince Albert under a SaskParty government? Not likely, and it is little comfort for a city that is currently reeling from Weyerhaeuser’s decision. The SaskParty should be joining all stakeholders that are moving in to support Prince Albert as opposed to their sad attempt to gain political points.

I am hopeful that the resilience of the people of Prince Albert will prevail. They have strong leadership. Solutions will not be easy. The livelihood of families has been uprooted and it is devastating. We can only hope that positive stakeholders will find the necessary positive solutions.


Larry Birkbeck
Regina, SK