Woman of means: Canadian Tire's Martha Billes is locked in a legal battle with her ex-lover. It's not the first time. In business and in love, she takes a controlling interest
Copyright Saturday Night May 13, 2000
IT WAS THE VERY MODEL OF THE modern marriage breakup. Paul, forty-one years old, told his wife, Pamela, forty-two, and their three children that he had fallen in love with another woman, Martha, and wanted to marry her. Paul and Martha were soon engaged and Pam and Paul separated amicably, splitting the custody of the kids, and living a block away from one another in Calgary's Mount Royal neighbourhood to better facilitate the sort of social intermingling that modern divorcees consider civilized. Pam, a brisk, blonde public-relations consultant, sent a Christmas letter that year, 1999, explaining just how civilized it was all going to be: "After twenty fairly wonderful years together as husband, wife, and the best of all possible friends, we're separating as man and wife, though planning to stay the best of all possible friends (and neighbours). 'Why?' you ask. The short answer is that Paul is going to marry Martha. 'Who's Martha?' Well, she's a fine person, whom many of you in the east will no doubt get to meet in the near future as she and Paul will be spending quite a lot of time in Ontario. The rest of you will no doubt get to meet her closer to home, as they've bought a house just a few blocks away and will be spending the rest of their time in Calgary. This will make it much easier for the children, who seem quite comfortable with the idea of having two homes, a new friend, and a mom and dad who still love them and one another.... We've never lived particularly conventional lives, so why worry about that now. (In all seriousness, when we look at the total picture, it seems not only right but somehow quite destined. In our minds there are no bad guys and no victims and we believe that all three of us will develop new and very positive relationships.)" The intentions were good, the hopes high and - who knows? - it might have all worked out splendidly had it not been for a few variables like jealousy, avarice, suspicion, and a lousy economy. And the fact that Martha is Martha Billes - the controlling shareholder of Canadian Tire, one of the most powerful women in corporate Canada - and that Paul and Pam went into business with her. With these factors in the mix what might have been the model modern divorce became a sordid, convoluted melodrama involving equal measures of financial arcana and romantic pathos. Paul and Martha were eventually estranged, the business collapsed amid accusations of bad faith and exploitation, and lawsuits and countersuits began to fly. And so in the dry Calgary spring of 2000, we found the protagonists sitting in Court of Queen's Bench Courtroom 503 as a platoon of black-robed, $300-an-hour lawyers dragged it all out for everyone to see. Paul McAteer, by then, had discovered what a trail of other men - lovers, brothers, and business adversaries - had learned the hard way: Martha doesn't like to lose, and she has no qualms about grabbing the hammer and taking on the boys. FIFTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD MARTHA Billes, who lives in Calgary. Toronto, and Barrie, Ontario, with her latest lover and her prized Lakeland Terriers, controls 61 percent - about $110-million worth - of the voting shares of the Canadian Tire Corporation, that big red icon of boreal life. The company rules over 432 stores, placing an outlet within a twenty-minute drive of 85 percent of the country's population; 40 percent of Canadians visit "the Tire" - as its 40,000 employees refer to it - at least once a week. [Graph Not Transcribed]
Martha - the indomitable Mistress of the Tire - presides over all the hockey sticks and snow blowers, rearranges the aisle-end displays at her local Calgary stores, and enjoys giving speeches in which she rhapsodizes about the "smell of the tires." When it's time to impose her will on...
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