Saturday, April 12, 2008

links between Canada and Poland

links between Canada and Poland

Fri. Apr 11 - 2:06 PM

IS THERE a link between NATO and the travails of a Halifax investor in Poland?

No, there isn’t – except in a travel route way.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to Bucharest, Romania, a week ago to attend this year’s NATO summit.

After it ended, he moved on for a visit in Poland, a fellow NA­TO member, for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. More on that later.

Canada’s relations with Poland have not been as good as they could have been over the years. In the past, many Poles saw Canada as indiffer­ent to, maybe even tolerant of, communist thuggery; and Grit and Tory governments alike treated Poland as marginally interesting, at best.

Perhaps it took the tragedy of Robert Dziekanski, the Pol­ish traveller Tasared to death at Vancouver’s airport last October, and Canada’s desper­ate need for helicopters to take Canadian soldiers off Afghan­istan’s ambush-ripe roads to press Ottawa and Warsaw into a closer engagement.

Fierce indignation in Canada and Poland over the Vancouver death may have speeded up Ottawa’s decision to lift the visa requirement on Polish visitors. And of all the NATO allies, Poland alone offered Canada some of its helicopter fleet.

But Mr. Harper can do much more. He can open up a big, promising investment vista for Canadian capital in the Eu­ropean Union’s biggest and most dynamic of the new mem­ber countries.

There has got to be room at the top. Canadian investment in Poland, the Globe and Mail reported the other day, has been increasing, “hitting" $237 million in 2005.

Hitting is not the word I would have used when talking about modest sums. Poland is attracting some big bucks these days, but Mr. Tusk has it in his hand to attract far more.

All he has to do is clean up corruption.

He can start with making his own government’s Ministry of the Treasury curb the lawless­ness of the people running state-owned enterprises. The case in point here is Dessaport International Corp., a Halifax-­based private holding company.

Dessaport is 40 per cent own­er of Europort Inc., the stalled state-of-the-art grain terminal in the Port of Gdansk – proper­ty of the Polish Treasury.

Europort Inc. holds the lease on arguably the choicest deep­water pier anywhere on the Baltic and started work on its grain terminal soon after fi­nancing had been secured. It sank $34 million into concrete and equipment before the Port of Gdansk – the dear landlord – harassed and strong-armed it to a standstill – at gun point on one occasion.

Donald LeBlanc, a Haligo­nian, is president of Dessaport and Europort’s technical ex­pert. He joined the Europort enterprise as junior partner of Joseph D’Andrea, a Scranton, Penn., builder, industrial devel­oper and venture capitalist.

The partnership, formed a decade and a half ago, endures as the two visionaries fight for their property rights with Poland’s – let me put it politely – less than transparent govern­ment bureaucracy and expen­sive legal system.

Joe D’Andrea and Don Le­Blanc sank $40 million into the endeavour. I imagine they would want to complete it because the grain trade is sound business that will never fade.

Joe D’Andrea and Don Le­Blanc were hailed as the mod­els of a better future when they got Europort off to a flying start in the late 1990s. By 2002, a particularly brutish and corrupt post-communist gov­ernment took over in Warsaw and the American-Canadian duo soon faced nothing but obstruction, deceit, demands for bribes and, on one occa­sion, armed thugs with guns drawn trying to force them off their pier.

Poles have elected two gov­ernments since. In 2005, the ferociously anti-communist Law and Justice party pledged to purge corruption. That gov­ernment collapsed in chaos and corruption, and was swept out of office by the pro-busi­ness Civic Platform led by Mr. Tusk.

The Canadian prime minis­ter can do much to redress the wrongs inflicted on Europort.

He can press their case directly on Mr. Tusk – and he wouldn’t have to strain. Donald Tusk knows all about Europort. He is a Gdansk native. Gdansk is his political base. He would know all the players in this nasty situation and where all the bodies are buried.

Canadian diplomats in Po­land see Europort as “the big­gest irritant" in Ottawa’s rela­tions with Warsaw and briefed Mr. Harper prior to his dinner meeting – in Gdansk – with Mr. Tusk.

Mr. Harper, it seems to me, has made a good start on a link Canada never had in Central Europe. If he persists, he could end up creating a market Cana­dian businesses have hardly looked at in the past.

Poland too stands to gain.

Canada is both a good market and a good source of invest­ment capital. But confidence is crucial for that segment to develop, and fair treatment of Europort’s Canadian and American backers might just be the ticket.

Bogdan Kipling is a Canadian jour­nalist in Washington.