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    Bell directors: key meeting  
    The Canadian Press  


    December 02, 2008  

Board members of Bell Canada (BCE) will have to put Humpty Dumpty together again if -- as now seems all but certain -- the plan to privatize Canada's largest telecommunications enterprise collapses.

Iain Grant of technology consultancy SeaBoard Group says that directors who might have thought their jobs would end next week must now dig deep and look at running the business for the long term.

That requires a self-examination since the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan initiated its $52-billion takeover bid a year and a half ago because it saw large room for improvement in Bell's performance.

"The company was not being as aggressive as it ought to be to drive value, and so if the board is going to retake the driver's seat I think they might want to take some lessons from what the Teachers taught them," Grant said in an interview.

Among the decisions the directors will likely have to start tackling when they meet today is whether to return unpaid dividends to shareholders or invest $2.8 billion of cash to advance the company.

"This is not going to be an easy meeting; the issues are real," Grant said.

Bell officials declined to discuss the agenda of the meeting -- or even confirm its date.

Unencumbered by the $32 billion of debt the Teachers-led group would have taken on to complete the takeover, Bell Canada Enterprises may have the financial room to finance fibre-optic network upgrades and expand its wireless business, Grant said.

Dithering, however, must be abandoned.

"They ought to have some firmness of purpose and some steel in their spines."

BCE shares lost another $1.52 or 6 per cent to close at $23.43 on the Toronto Stock Exchange yesterday.


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