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Peter Pocklington

Pocklington after his defeat at the 1983 leadership convention. Photograph by Alasdair Roberts.
Born November 18, 1943 (1943-11-18) (age 66)
London, Ontario
Occupation entrepreneur

Peter H. Pocklington (born November 18, 1943) is a Canadian entrepreneur who has dabbled in politics.

He made his initial fortune as the owner of one of the largest auto dealerships in Canada, and later took over a meat packing company involved in a high-profile labour strike.

Pocklington is best known as the former owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team as well as several other baseball and soccer teams in Edmonton.

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Early life and career

Pocklington was born and raised in London, Ontario, Canada, developing an entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age. A dyslexic, he dropped out of high school and began selling cars. He eventually bought two Ford dealerships in Ontario (first in Tilbury, Ontario and then in Chatham, now both part of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent) before moving to Edmonton, Alberta in 1971 after acquiring a third Ford dealership in that city.

By the mid-1970s, Pocklington had purchased Gainers Food, Palm Dairies, Canbra Foods and other companies, eventually building a diverse business empire.[1]

Pocklington acquired the Edmonton Oilers in the late 1970s. During their final year in the World Hockey Association, he bought Wayne Gretzky from the Indianapolis Racers and later signed him to a 21-year contract. After the team moved to the National Hockey League, the team enjoyed tremendous success, winning 5 Stanley Cups 1984-85-87-88-90 in a 7 year span.

Pocklington also became involved in other sports. He was the long time owner of a baseball team — the Pacific Coast League's Edmonton Trappers. He also owned soccer teams, such as the Edmonton Drillers in the North American Soccer League, Edmonton Brickmen of the Canadian Soccer League, and a later reincarnation of the Drillers in the National Professional Soccer League II.

By the early 1980s, Pocklington, or 'Peter Puck' as he was affectionately known, become a colorful, popular and beloved figure in Edmonton, and was one of the wealthiest men in Canada.

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Hostage victim

In 1982, Pocklington and his wife, Eva, were the victims of a hostage taking at his Edmonton home by a man in a failed kidnap scheme. Ironically, police wounded Pocklington during the rescue.[2]

Politics

Pocklington ran as a candidate at the 1983 Progressive Conservative leadership convention finishing sixth. His policies were about strict adherence to the principles of free enterprise, with the main proposal being the replacement of progressive income tax with a flat tax. Pocklington fell far below his predictions of delegates, the only advisor close to predicting his number had jokingly guessed "99", a reference to the jersey number of Oilers' star Wayne Gretzky. He supported Brian Mulroney after the first ballot.

High-profile controversies

Gainers strike

After he took over Gainers Foods in Edmonton, Pocklington moved to bust the trade union and reduce the wages of his employees. During a 1986 strike, picketing workers attacked police who were attempting to protect buses carrying replacement workers to the Edmonton plant. Although the strike was eventually settled after six months and for a deal nearly identical to what Pocklington offered before the strike began, Gainers never recovered and was eventually placed in receivership.

Stanley Cup

Basil Pocklington's name on the Stanley Cup

After the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup in 1983–84, Peter Pocklington included his father, Basil Pocklington, on the list of people and players who were to have their names engraved on the trophy. The NHL did not check the validity of the names on the list, and the Cup was engraved as usual. After the mistake was discovered, NHL executives, via the Hockey Hall of Fame, had the engraver strike out the name of the senior Pocklington by engraving a series of Xs over his name. Of the two dozen engraving errors that appear on the Stanley Cup all but one are spelling errors. Basil Pocklington is the only name that is covered. When the junior Pocklington was confronted with the issue, he protested that it was the engraver's fault, not his, that the engraver had mixed up the people who were actually technical members of the team (Basil was not one of them) with a list of individuals who were to receive miniature replica Cups (Basil was one of them). After this error, the NHL and Hockey Hall of Fame adopted policies to confirm the roster and the relation of the people on the engraving list to the championship team.

Gretzky trade

On August 9, 1988, Pocklington shocked hockey fans by trading Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million cash, and the Kings' first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993. One member of the Canadian House of Commons demanded the government block the trade, another man burned Pocklington in effigy, and Gretzky's bride, actress Janet Jones, was branded hockey's Yoko Ono.

There is debate as to whether Gretzky "jumped" or was "pushed." A book by former Kings owner Bruce McNall quotes Pocklington as saying Gretzky had become impossible to deal with since he began dating Jones, who let it be known that she was not going to live in Edmonton after they got married. Pocklington claims he has had only nice things to say about the couple, yet he has repeatedly defended the trade as being a sound business decision that he would not hesitate to make again. However, he would later admit the trade to be a difficult decision, but necessary to keep the team financially afloat. [4]

Sale of the Oilers

By the mid-1990s, the Edmonton Oilers were a lacklustre team with a dwindling fan support and financial hardships who were unable to afford or retain top players. Pocklington threatened to move the team to the States several times if season ticket sales remained low. Pocklington did not endear himself to fans, as he paid himself around $2 million CAD annually in management fees out of the Oilers' funds.

Meanwhile, Pocklington became bankrupt, owing millions of dollars to Alberta Treasury Branches. ATB forced Pocklington to sell the Oilers in 1998. Businessman Leslie Alexander almost bought the team, planning to move it to Houston, but at the deadline the club was purchased by the Edmonton Investors Group consortium which kept the team in Edmonton. [5]

Move to the United States

In 2002, after divesting himself of all of his holdings in Canada, Pocklington moved to Palm Springs, California. There, he involved himself in various other ventures, including Golf Gear and Naturade.

It was reported in November 2007 that Pocklington was seeking U.S. citizenship. On his website, Pocklington wrote he loves the U.S. because "they admire people who get out of bed early and make it happen."

Arrest on bankruptcy fraud

United States Marshals have raided Pocklington's home in Indian Wells (California) three times to satisfy creditors who have received judgments in breach of contract and fraud actions against Pocklington.[3] Pocklington filed for bankruptcy, claiming $20 million in debts but assets of only about $2,900. Since then, several creditors (including the Province of Alberta) have filed a motion alleging that Pocklington has concealed assets. Pocklington was arrested in Palm Desert, California on March 11, 2009 and charged with making false statements in bankruptcy and making false oaths and accounts in bankruptcy. He is alleged to have failed to disclose the contents of two bank accounts and two storage units[4]. On March 13, 2009 bail was set at $1 million, which was soon posted by Glen Sather[5].

References

External links


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