Island Ferries calls for fairness advisor

City and port authority representatives are confident the process has been fair.

ISLAND Ferries is concerned a process to find a foot-ferry operator has been “unduly influenced” in the wake of council allegations about an agreement the mayor had with another ferry company.

Island Ferries has asked the city and its partners, currently in a process to choose a foot-ferry operator for Nanaimo, to immediately suspend Clipper Navigation Inc. from consideration and hire a provincially appointed fairness advisor who would audit the procurement process to date and oversee it going forward.

But it was announced last Thursday that Clipper Navigation has pulled out of the competition and representatives from the city and port authority are confident the process has been fair.

A committee made up of the City of Nanaimo, Nanaimo Port Authority and Snuneymuxw First Nation are in a process to find a passenger-ferry operator and appointed a technical advisory group last July to do financial and operational assessments of three proposals from Island Ferries, Clipper Navigation and Riverside Marine. A report on the advisory group’s findings was presented to the committee last week, but hasn’t been released.

Island Ferries’ press release came on the heels of a council statement that alleges Mayor Bill McKay entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Clipper Navigation to begin discussions to bring a foot ferry to Nanaimo and accepted a trip to the U.S. to do business.

At the time, the city had leases with Island Ferries and was party to a memorandum of understanding with the ferry company.

Island Ferries says council’s allegation calls into question the extent to which “the current request for expressions of interest process is being conducted on a level playing field and in an open, transparent and fair manner.”

The company had asked Clipper Navigation be suspended, prior to the announcement the company had pulled out.

“We are very concerned that the process adopted by the city and the port authority may have been unduly influenced,” said Stewart Vinnels, Island Ferries president, in a press release.

For Dave Marshall, Island Ferries’ director of operations, the issue is the timing of the allegations, which came as the technical advisory group was supposed to make a report to the city, port and SFN and raised concern about the fairness of the process at the start of the procurement. Marshall said Island Ferries advised the city and port it was funded before the parties embarked on a competitive process and claims it was after the mayor allegedly made connections with Clipper.

Coun. Gord Fuller, however, has said they “got nothing” from McKay, which is why there was concern. He said there’s nothing suspect about the timing of the council statement and doesn’t believe there was wrong doing on the part of the city based on information it had from everyone at the time.

“I think the mayor was a bit negligent in signing the thing that he did with Clipper Ferries, he was not authorized to do so, but as to the process itself, I think this process has been totally fair. The EOI went out, everybody had a chance to apply for it. Nobody was getting special treatment,” Fuller said.

According to Tracy Samra, city chief administrative officer, as a result of a legal notice served to the city by Island Ferries, all parties “have gone out of their way to put in safeguards” to ensure privacy, confidentiality and commercial propriety was well protected. The number of individuals handling the information has been limited and using a technical advisory group to come in and assess the materials with no oversight or anything from any of the parties “really was a fair system,” she said.

Moira Jenkins, chairwoman of the Nanaimo Port Authority, also said she’s confident in the process, adding it’s been completely fair and transparent and David Gudgel, chief operations officer with Clipper Navigation, told the News Bulletin there’s no basis for what Island Ferries said in its statement.

“I think they made claims that there was some deal between ourselves and the mayor which has no basis at all. We were asked if we were interested in the service or not,” said Gudgel, who added that a non-disclosure agreement is typical for any of Clipper’s transactions and McKay had approached the company.

He said Clipper Navigation looked at the opportunity and backed out in September because it didn’t think there was a good business case.

Samra plans to respond to Island Ferries. The city, Snuneymuxw First Nation and port authority announced in a press release they will continue with their due-diligence process and take the advisory group’s report to their respective board and councils.

news@nanaimobulletin.com

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