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Weston apologies; Veniez withdraws lawsuit

Conservative campaign distributed information that Liberal candidate misappropriated pension fund



Anyone who attended the local leaders' debate in the last federal election saw that there was no love lost between Conservative Party incumbent John Weston and Liberal candidate Daniel Veniez. While the two parties were at odds over the issues of the day, the campaign had already become personal.

At issue was a YouTube video accusing Veniez of misappropriating the employee pension fund when he was the head of Skeena Cellulose Inc. Weston's campaign team sent a link to the video as part of a mass email to voters, posted a link on a campaign website, and handed out printed information with the link at all-candidates meetings on the Sunshine Coast.

Veniez replied by filing a defamation suit against Weston in the final week of the campaign, which was resolved this week when Weston issued a written apology, and Veniez agreed to drop the suit.

Weston said he didn't personally verify the accusations in the video, posted anonymously by "Dale5775" on April 17, just over two weeks before the May 2 election, and apologized for not contacting Veniez for more information before sharing the link to the video.

"I apologize for not asking for your comment before the distribution of the YouTube (link) and email were made," wrote Weston. "I know of no basis for a suggestion you acted unethically, dishonestly or unlawfully in your work with Skeena Cellulose Inc."

While Veniez has agreed to withdraw his defamation suit, he is continuing to pursue the matter at Elections Canada after filing a formal complaint last year. The elections commissioner has yet to rule on that complaint.

In a statement that was published online by the Vancouver Observer, Veniez said the accusations were offensive.

"When in the last days of the last general election campaign, Mr. Weston's campaign distributed an email and YouTube video that suggested that I somehow personally misappropriated pension funds from union and staff employees, I felt sick to my stomach," he wrote. "This was a profound affront and deeply offensive to my family, the memory of my late partner and dear friend, George S. Petty, and me. It was also an insult to the people who had worked so tirelessly to reconstruct Skeena Cellulose Inc."

Veniez said he was cleared of any wrongdoing through bankruptcy protection, and the fact that the company was operated under court supervision for almost a year. Every aspect of Skeena's operations was examined, including anything that would have allowed Veniez to take money from the employee's pension fund.

"Had the allegations and inferences made by Mr. Weston and his campaign had any validity whatsoever, they would have been divulged, uncovered, and made public through the CCAA (Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act), and later bankruptcy court process... Had anything untoward happened with employee pensions, they would have known and alerted the court. Moreover, employees themselves would have done the same."

Veniez said he requested an apology from Weston during the campaign, but did not receive one at the time.

"While I doubt that Mr. Weston and his team's actions affected the outcome of the election, they certainly reflect a cheapness and cynicism that should have no place in public life," wrote Veniez. "Furthermore, as a lawyer, Mr. Weston should have known better.

"For some politicians, smearing an opponent and telling lies is just another day at the office. Willful ignorance is no less excusable and both are shining testaments to their essential character."

Weston won the election with 45.5 per cent of the popular vote in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding, which includes Whistler, while NDP candidate Terry Platt and Veniez finished with 23.5 per cent and 22.3 per cent of the votes respectively.