Tibet Train Draws Flak
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/06/08; June 8, 2005.]
Hot Bombardier shareholders meeting. Protesters attack railcar contract with China; ex-CEO's farewell package under fire, too
MONTREAL, June 7, 2005 -- After posting a decent first quarter amid signs its rail and aerospace businesses might be back on track, Bombardier Inc. might have expected a relatively quiet annual meeting yesterday.
Instead, management was confronted with a demonstration outside the hotel, and once inside, faced a barrage of reproaches and hostile questions about two highly contentious issues: the $5.8-million severance doled out to former president Paul Tellier, and the company's involvement in an increasingly controversial railway project in Tibet being built by China.
Critics of both issues were warmly applauded by many shareholders at a meeting interrupted by two false fire alarms and at which about 40 protesters denounced the company with bullhorns outside the downtown hotel.
Bombardier will supply cars valued at $76 million U.S. for a train line to be built in Tibet, which critics say will reinforce the economic, political and military stranglehold Beijing has on the country it overran in 1949.
The communist dictatorship has ruled Tibet brutally, historians say, crushing several bloody rebellions, including killing 87,000 Tibetans in a 1959 uprising.
Tenzin Dargyal, a St. Laurent businessperson whose software company employs 50 and who is a Canada Tibet Committee representative, said shareholders "don't want to be complicit in a genocide."
Bombardier has a "moral duty" to pull out of the consortium building the line, he added.
Chairperson Laurent Beaudoin replied that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual - and de facto political - leader of Tibetans at home and abroad, approved of the project, as well as other economic development deals in Tibet.
"Completely false," replied Dargyal to reporters, adding he personally organized the visit of the Dalai Lama to Canada.
"He omitted one crucial aspect of what His Holiness the Dalai Lama said: that he favours economic development in Tibet as long as it does no harm to the Tibetan people."
He said the railway would do untold damage to Tibetans who will never abandon their fight to free themselves from Beijing, which insists Tibet is a province of China.
"Bombardier can't just say they're only supplying trains," Dargyal said.
"Their actions have broader implications."
He added that he did business in China for four years, and "there are very few profitable projects in China. ... (Bombardier) will have cost overruns."
Beaudoin ended the debate by answering that "we don't think it's our responsibility to settle the political differences between China and Tibet."
Shareholders' rights activist Yves Michaud called the payout to Tellier, who left Bombardier last December after two years at the helm, "the height of indecency and provocation ... after only two years' work."
He said it was not a golden parachute, "but a whole squadron of parachutes."
Michaud said the payout came "at a time when the company's stock is reduced to junk status ... workers have made concessions ... and shareholders are deprived of dividends."
"Everyone made sacrifices except Mr. Tellier, who left with his pockets bulging."
Tellier "resigned, he wasn't thrown out, he wasn't fired," Michaud said. "So if there aren't any legal obligations (to pay him severance), why did the board vote to pay an amount so astronomical, Himalayan, stratospheric, pharaonic?"
With his now familiar rhetorical flourishes and extravagant turns of phrase - referring yesterday to Savonarola, the 15th- century excommunicated political and religious reformer - Michaud insisted that Beaudoin send him a copy of the employment contract Tellier signed with Bombardier.
Beaudoin said he would - but the two kept sparring, with Beaudoin insisting that if Michaud did not withdraw the legal notice he sent Bombardier, the company would defend itself vigorously. Michaud sent a legal notice to Bombardier seeking a copy of Tellier's employment contract.
Beaudoin stressed that the payments, including $120,000 for an extra year's pension for Tellier, were proper and legal. Tellier held the top position at CN Railway and needed incentives to jump ship, he added.
"In no way do we intend to reimburse these sums," he said. "He did some good things for this company."
Tellier did not respond to an e-mail. His secretary said he was travelling and would not be available for comment.
Pierre Beaudoin, president of Bombardier Aerospace, said later he is confident the company will find a new engine supplier for its proposed CSeries aircraft.
Two engine-making consortiums pulled out of talks last month to develop a new engine, critical to the program.
Bombardier is now negotiating with individual companies, which would have to spend about $1 billion U.S. to develop a more efficient engine.
"It's a question of convincing them that the market is there, and that our business plan makes sense for us and for them," Beaudoin said.
Laurent Beaudoin repeated his defence of the company's two-tier share structure that keeps control with the Bombardier family through multiple voting shares.
"That (system) has helped to create several profitable Canadian companies," Beaudoin said. "We've had a few bad years and now everybody is calling into question multiple-voting shares."
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