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Bidders for Canwest papers emerge; CEO Skulsky quits, said to be next Lions boss

Dennis Skulsky, who was publisher of the Vancouver Sun and Province before taking the reins of Canwest’s publications division in 2006, announced his resignation today as reports tap him to be the new boss of the BC Lions football organization.

The news comes a day after the Globe reported that six finalists will bid for the Canwest newspaper chain, estimated to sell for $950 million or more. Two of those finalists are Victoria-based David Black and Vancouver-based Glacier Media, which, like Black, owns many publications in B.C. and beyond.

Also bidding is a group led by Leonard Asper, who will attempt to reclaim the nationwide newspaper holdings his father assembled. Control of Canwest’s newspaper and broadcasting empire was forced from the Asper family’s grasp by creditors and Leonard resigned as CEO last Thursday.

When Skulsky was elevated to CEO of Canwest’s publishing operations in 2006, the company’s stock was selling at more than $15 dollars a share. But crushing debt, a recession and, some observers say, bad management decisions contributed to the downward spiral of Canwest’s fortunes, its stock slipping to well under a dollar a share before trading was halted and the company sought bankruptcy protection in October of 2009.

As the man in charge of Canwest’s print and online operations, Skulsky’s annual salary and bonuses reportedly topped a million dollars a year. Industry observers were keen to know if Skulsky might play a role in a bid for the Canwest newspapers, either teaming with Asper again or, perhaps, with the now approved bid headed up by Paul Godfrey, an executive at the Canwest-owned National Post.

Today’s press release says: “Mr. Skulsky will continue to lead Canwest LP’s newspaper and other publishing operations and actively participate in Canwest LP’s ongoing financial restructuring efforts until April 30, 2010” and that for four more months after that he remain as an advisor to the people running Canwest, assuring a “smooth transition of leadership”.

But according to a report today in the Globe that has Skulsky helming the Lions: “Sources said a row has arisen between Skulsky and [Canwest] over his pension, believed to be worth more than $1-million, which was not protected in the company’s bankruptcy filing in January.”

Two of the bidders for the Canwest chain, which includes the Vancouver Sun and Province and Victoria Times-Colonist as well as dozens of B.C. weeklies, already own many newspapers throughout the province.

David Black’s company publishes 17 community papers in the Lower Mainland, 18 on Vancouver Island and 36 in the rest of B.C., as well a dozens of publications outside of B.C. and Canada. Torstar owns a 20 per cent stake in the company, whose profits are not made public because it is privately owned.

According to a backgrounder published by the CEP 2000 union in June, “In 2008 Glacier had revenues of $249.1 million from newspapers and other publications in B.C. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Its gross profit was $94.2 million, a 10.7% increase over 2007. Among its dailies across Canada are the Lethbridge Herald, Medicine Hat News, Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal and the Sherbrooke Record. Among its properties in B.C. are the Nelson Daily News, Cranbrook Daily Townsman, Kimberley Daily Bulletin, Kamloops Daily News, Prince George Citizen, Alaska Highway News, Dawson Creek Daily News, Prince Rupert Daily News, the Real Estate Weekly and Kodiak Press. It owns a minority interest in Kelowna’s Daily Courier and the Penticton Herald. Glacier’s newspaper and trade publication group has 2,228 employees, including many Local 2000 members across B.C. The company is controlled by a private company, Madison Venture Corporation, whose principals are Sam Grippo, Jonathon Kennedy and Bruce Aunger.”

Last year The Tyee ran this story about Glacier’s fast rise as a publishing powerhouse in B.C.

In addition to the Asper, Black, Glacier and Godfrey bids are two others by parties so far undisclosed.

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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