Sunday November 23, 2014

Mixed response to P&H

Reaction to sale:
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Many of those who opposed the sale of the Weyburn Inland Terminal were “disappointed”, but some are also ready to move on and see how the company of Parrish & Heimbecker will handle moving into the Weyburn area.

One of the leaders of the dissident group of shareholders of WIT, Dale Mainil, is “very disappointed” that the locally-owned and operated terminal has been sold, but he has no regrets for opposing the sale.

The sale of WIT to the grain company Parrish & Heimbecker was approved by just under 80 per cent of the shareholders at a special shareholders meeting on Friday afternoon, with 88 per cent of company shares, or 4.84 million shares, represented in person or by proxy.

“Our group was very disappointed. Our polling showed us the numbers would be closer than the result. We were very upset — but we would not do anything different,” said Mainil, adding that he believes in time the decision to sell will be shown to be the wrong one.

Asked if any challenge might be brought forward today, when the vote results are brought before a justice of Court of Queen’s Bench in Regina, Mainil replied, “We’re weighing all our options. It’s costly; we don’t have the $700,000 budget that WIT has available to fight us.”

Of his fellow members of the WIT Shareholders Group, Mainil said, “I’m proud of each and every one of our colleagues; we believe we fought a good clean fight. … It was a David-and-Goliath scenario, where we knew we’d have a tough battle.”

He added of the dissidents’ group, “That’s the future of agriculture in southeast Saskatchewan. I was proud to work alongside all those young men and women, it was an honour.”

In regard to the fight itself, Mainil said, “We were definitely disappointed with the process, with how they gave us so little time to engage with the shareholders.”

He noted that in the fight to save WIT in 1999, that process began at the annual meeting in 1998, so nearly a full year, compared to 21 days for this year’s battle; the 1999 fight “was a very close 49-51 vote back then; they definitely have things stacked to their advantage this time. We’re very proud of the effort we put forward, considering how the process was presented to us.”

One issue Mainil had with the way the vote went down is that the firm used to solicit proxies, Shorecrest, also did the scrutineering for the vote count itself. The advisors that the dissident group hired to help them indicated they had never seen a company do this in the 15 years they had been working with private firms.

Shareholder Mark Bratrud also expressed disappointment, but said he would try to live with the results and move on as a producer.

“I’m disappointed, but at the same time we knew when we got into it that it was an uphill climb. It was going to be very difficult to change the course of what was happening,” said Bratrud. “I accept what the shareholders decided and it’s time to move on.”

He said he’d like to see P&H perhaps try handling a few more commodities from what is grown in the local area, like soybeans.

“Hopefully we’ll get a chance to benefit from some of the value-added processing they have with the flour mills,” added Bratrud, noting P&H was described as Canada’s second-largest miller of flour.

“We’re going to give them as much  opportunity as any of the players in town to have the business from our farm. Hopefully the personnel at the Terminal won’t change too much,” he said, adding the hope that P&H will support the local sports teams and community 4-H groups and provide student scholarships the way the Terminal always had.

“Hopefully this will be a positive move,” he added.

Shareholder Dan Cugnet noted he was also disappointed with the results, but added he would like something positive come out of this situation.

With the freed-up capital that will be available once the sale goes through, Cugnet is hoping to see that capital being used either to create new opportunities or new companies in the Weyburn area, or to support one of the worthwhile causes in the Weyburn area, such as the Weyburn and District Hospital Foundation, or one of the service clubs of the city and area.

Creelman-area producer Marcel Van Staveren said he was “very disappointed”, and wished their group “had three months to come up with a solid rebuttal or plan to address the challenges that seemed insurmountable to the board.”

He added there simply wasn’t enough time to come up with an educated business plan.

On the other hand, said Van Staveren, “I would say P&H is a reasonable alternative to WIT. They are a well-run and responsible company; I just think we could’ve done it better.”

He felt of the local area producers who were in the room for the vote, “we could’ve run WIT, even with the more recent challenges we had had.”

From where he farms in the Creelman area, said Van Staveren, he has nearly equal access to competing firms including Louis Dreyfus, Viterra or Pioneer.

“Being Canadian-owned, the directors made a very good choice putting them on the short list (to buy WIT),” said Van Staveren.

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