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Torstar among final bidders for CanWest papers

CanWest headquarters in Winnipeg

JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

The owners of the Toronto Star have emerged as the latest bidder for the newspaper chain being sold off in the financial restructuring of CanWest Global Communications Corp.

Torstar Corp., which owns the Star and 97 other newspapers in Ontario, is one of about six potential suitors that were invited Friday to take part in final bidding for the CanWest papers.

Torstar, which is believed to be backed by Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., will now compete with a group of other bidders that is said to include several industry heavyweights. B.C. newspaper proprietor David Black, and newspaper executive Paul Godfrey backed by Onex Corp. and Alberta Investment Management Corp., have been mentioned as bidders so far.

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Former CanWest chief executive officer Leonard Asper, with support from a division of Australian bank Macquarie Group and the Serruya family of CoolBrands International Inc., have also attempted a bid.

The auction, which is expected to be complete by April 30, involves the country's largest chain of papers, including 11 big city dailies and 35 community newspapers. Among the assets are some of Canada's larger papers, including the Ottawa Citizen, the Vancouver Sun, the Calgary Herald and the National Post. The newspapers' creditors, which include Canada's five biggest banks, are selling the newspapers to recoup about $950-million they are owed.

Some players thought to be favourites have not been asked to take part in the final round of bidding. Vancouver-based Glacier Media Inc., which owns dozens of community papers in Western Canada, is believed to have submitted a bid for the 35 community papers owned by CanWest. However, bids that were only for part of the CanWest chain were excluded, which also eliminated a bid by former Liberal senator Jerry Grafstein, who was leading a push to buy the National Post and a few other titles.

The short-list of bidders will now conduct site tours of the newspapers over the next several weeks and will be given presentations by management.

Also Friday, CanWest said the head of its newspaper division, Dennis Skulsky, resigned from his post at CanWest LP. The move came after reports surfaced that Mr. Skulsky was set to become the new president and chief executive officer of the B.C. Lions football team.

In addition to the Aspers' bid for the newspapers, the family that founded CanWest is also attempting to hang on to CanWest's TV operations in a separate process. However, Shaw Communications Inc. won court approval last month to buy a controlling stake in the broadcast assets once the company emerges from restructuring.

The Aspers failed in a last-minute bid along with New York investment bank Goldman Sachs and Toronto firm Catalyst Capital Group Inc. to attempt to block the Shaw proposal. Now those two firms have filed an appeal, asking the court to reconsider the Shaw bid and to examine other deals.

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On Friday, Catalyst filed court documents in support of the appeal, which was launched by Goldman on Wednesday.

In those documents, Catalyst complained that it was left out of the bidding process for the broadcast assets because it refused to sign a confidentiality agreement that also would have prevented the firm from having discussions with Goldman. New York-based Goldman still holds roughly 65 per cent of the lucrative stable of specialty channels CanWest bought in 2007.

If the appeal succeeds, the group will ask for its bid to be considered again.

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Senior Writer

Grant Robertson is an award-winning journalist who has been recognized for investigative journalism, sports writing and business reporting. More

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