While he was British Columbia’s forests minister, Rich Coleman was directly involved in a plan to sell TimberWest to two public sector pension funds, according to documents filed in provincial court.
One of the pension funds was the B.C. Investment Management Corp., an arm’s length provincial government body that is mandated to manage pension funds free of political interference.
“In or about May 2008 Mr. Coleman solicited bcIMC on behalf of TimberWest to purchase TimberWest,” says a notice of application filed in the B.C. Supreme Court last week.
The notice is part of a civil lawsuit that dates back to 2013 between plaintiffs Ted and Rebecca LeRoy and defendants TimberWest Forest Corp., two associated companies and three senior TimberWest officials including former CEO Paul McElligott.
“On May 8, 2008 Mr. Coleman reported back to TimberWest on this solicitation and sent an email to the defendant Mr. McElligott stating: ‘Have a green light. Need to meet on implementation. Made the sale, not sure they understand what they bought but they did. The roll out will be critical. Also have a reluctant partner in the east. They will play when pushed. Rich.”
Media contacts for the BC Liberal caucus didn’t respond to a request for an interview with Coleman.
Nor did spokespeople for the bcIMC and TimberWest return The Tyee’s calls.
The day after receiving the email from Coleman in 2008, CEO McElligott forwarded it to TimberWest’s board of directors. Within a couple months it led to an offer from bcIMC to buy the company at $15.25 per share, an offer the board rejected.
But later that year the board agreed to a $100 million loan from bcIMC that could be converted into an ownership stake in the company. And less than three years later bcIMC and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board bought the rest of TimberWest through a jointly owned numbered company at a price of $6.48 a share.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants deliberately drove Ted LeRoy Trucking Ltd., a major contractor for the company, into bankruptcy as part of a plan to reduce costs and raise the value of TimberWest. None of the allegations have been tested or proven in court.
In 2007 Ted LeRoy Trucking employed about 530 people, had assets worth more than $80 million and brought in revenues of about $70 million a year, according to court documents. Some 72 per cent of its revenue was from work it did for TimberWest, a company with which it held what’s known as a Bill 13 contract intended to provide stability to contractors harvesting for licence holders on public land in the province.
Ted LeRoy Trucking was one of three large contractors working for TimberWest. One of the others, a company known as Munn’s Lumber, went bankrupt in 2008, leading to a judgment against TimberWest for negotiating in bad faith.
The third was, as a filing in the LeRoy case puts it, “an operation run by Mr. Lyle Newton, a person previously banned from working for TimberWest because he was a member or former member of the Hells Angels.” Newton’s company accepted lower rates and continued contracting for TimberWest.
The Public Sector Pension Investment Board that now co-owns TimberWest invests the pension money for federal public employees including those working for the RCMP and the Canadian Forces.
The LeRoy lawsuit alleges that TimberWest was seeking savings because it was in financial difficulty and struggling to meet a legal requirement to pay significant amounts of money to the owners of its shares.
“The financial obligations to TimberWest unit holders was not sustainable and by approximately 2007 it was paying out approximately $90 million dollars annually to the unit holders,” it said. “To make these payments it was and had been resorting to one or more of: the sale of assets, borrowing monies, and issuing new stapled units.”
The plaintiffs want Coleman examined under oath as he may have knowledge relevant to the case. “As early as May 15, 2007 it appears that Mr. Coleman may have been working on ‘other initiatives’ to assist TimberWest and other forest companies,” it said. Coleman was sent a letter in April requesting a meeting “to discuss material evidence relating to matters in this action,” but did not respond.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General did not confirm by publication time whether or not Coleman had sought or received an indemnification that would have the government cover his legal bills related to the case.