Victoria News editor Keith Norbury was fired today, Public Eye has exclusively learned, two days after one of his senior reporters - Brennan Clarke - resigned. The firing follows an advertiser complaint about an article published earlier this month by the newspaper. In an interview, Vancouver Island News Group president Mark Warner confirmed Mr. Norbury's forced departure was, in part, connected to the complaint. "There were a number of issues," he said. "But that was certainly one of them." Mr. Warner declined to say what those other issues may have been. Nor would he elaborate on how the complaint was connected to the firing.
The article, authored by Mr. Clarke, discussed the case of a Broadmead resident who saved $13,000 by purchasing a Mercedes ML350 in Portland rather than from a local dealer. The woman, Rebecca Schevenius, and her friend are "planning to publish an 18-page how-to pamphlet entitled 'How to Import a Car into Canada' for others interested in testing the cross-border used car market."
In a interview with Public Eye earlier this afternoon, Dave Wheaton Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. dealer principal Dave Wheaton said, "I was upset with the paper for doing it because it was one person's opinion" - referring to Ms. Schevenius. "And they are by no stretch of the imagination an expert at it. And why that was news I don't know."
"From a customer's perspective, the risk of buying a U.S. car over buying a local Canadian car is just not worth it. The declaration of history and accidents and ownership and state registration is just not the same as it is in Canada," he explained, adding most cross-border car shoppers don't get "as much of an edge" in price as Ms. Schevenius.
As a result of the article, Mr. Wheaton said, "I barked at them. But that's normal. They have a responsibility to their readers. But they also have a responsibility to the business community as well. And that was a poor article. And it's just not true."
And did he get a favourable response to that barking? "Oh absolutely. Oh sure. They understand. I just don't know how that gets past an editor's desk. I think they know perfectly well, if you read it, it's one person's experience. It's just not right." Mr. Wheaton confirmed the news group offered to publish a follow-up piece. "But I just feel it adds more fuel to the fire. So I'd just as sooner (the story) fades away."
Asked whether he had pulled or would pull any advertising dollars in the future, he responded, "No. I'm a quiet protester. No." He later added, "I don't have a contract with any of the medias - none. I am a by-the-day business. Somedays I advertise and somedays I don't. I don't run a very sophisticated business from that perspective. So I do it as I see fit."
For his part, Mr. Warner declined comment on the specifics of his conversation with Mr. Wheaton. "I'm not going to discuss that - about what I talk to with a client," he said. Mr. Warner said he didn't know whether Mr. Clarke's resignation was connected to Mr. Wheaton's complaint.
Update: In a subsequent interview with Public Eye, Mr. Wheaton stated, "I never did complain about the article until I was asked (about it by a news group representative) and it was several days after it had run. My opinion was solicited and I gave it to them in an honest, straight-forward manner, in a meeting, at their request, in my office. They phoned me. I never called them."
The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned article.
Strong Canadian dollar encourages car buyers to cross the border
Rebecca Schevenius has always been willing to go that extra mile for a good bargain.
Or, in the case of the Mercedes ML350 she purchased last month, an extra 300 miles.
Schevenius, a Broadmead resident, says she saved about $13,000 by shopping for the vehicle on the Internet and then flying down to Portland to pick it up.
Prices for quality used cars in the U.S., historically lower than in B.C. to begin with, have become even more attractive due to the strong Canadian dollar.
"With the foreign exchange rate the way it is, it really is on the purchaser's side to go down to the states and buy a car," Schevenius said. "I love a good bargain."
The Mercedes, listed at $22,000 in Portland, would have cost closer to $38,000 north of the border. Even after the taxes were paid, the savings more than justified the time and airfare it took to bring the vehicle back.
Vehicle importers do not have to pay duty on car made within the borders of the North American free Trade Agreement, she said.
Schevenius and a friend are planning to publish an 18-page how-to pamphlet entitled "How to Import a Car into Canada" for others interested in testing the cross-border used car market.
She said it's important to sign a purchase agreement ahead of time stipulating the vehicle must pass a mechanical test. If the deal in Portland fell through, Schevenius had a list of other possible vehicles to buy in the area as a back-up plan.
Peter Tolsma of Sussex Insurance in Langford said the rising Canadian dollar - sitting at 95 cents US as of Friday - has piqued interest from cross-border buyers of in both new and used cars.
"There is way more interest and it's probably not as difficult as most people think," he said.
"A lot of it is just sheer number. Take California, it has about 25 million people and there's just a lot more cars available."
However, new car dealers say the market isn't big enough to have an impact on them.
"I haven't really come across that many because we're on the Island so it's a bit different, but I know some of the dealers near borders are conscious they are losing a few deals to that," said Saunders Subaru sales manager Edie Foster. "Most of those people are going down for really exotic or expensive vehicles."
Industry Canada estimates that Canadians purchased more than 112,000 cars from the U.S. in 2006.