Sunrise over the Nanaimo boat basin. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

Port of Nanaimo, private marinas will wait and see what port modernization brings

Port authority and marina association disagree on governance as feds conduct nationwide review

The Port of Nanaimo, refreshed with a new board of directors, isn’t expecting it will need to change its tack as part of a federal review process.

Nanaimo and 17 other port authorities await the results of Transport Canada’s ports modernization review, but those participating in the process don’t foresee major changes to the port governance structure.

The federal review process sparked duelling press releases last month as the Nanaimo Marina Association publicly released a submission criticizing the Port of Nanaimo’s “troubling errors and decisions” and “deep-seated, structural issues,” and the port responded, saying the marina association’s submission contained “a number of blatant misrepresentations” and “misinformation.”

The Nanaimo Marina Association’s submission to Transport Canada notes that “common trends impact different ports differently, which means a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to port governance does not work.” The report criticizes the Port of Nanaimo’s economic performance, asset management, working relationships with the Snuneymuxw First Nation and landlord-tenant dealings with private marina operators.

RELATED: Transport Canada will review all port authorities, including Nanaimo’s

Odai Sirri, president of the Nanaimo Marina Association, said he thinks the public release of the report puts some pressure on the federal government during the ports modernization review.

“They have to show that this year-long process meant something, goes somewhere,” he said. “But we’ll see. It’s in the federal government’s control now and it’s up to them to decide.”

Ian Marr, Nanaimo port authority CEO, said the Port of Nanaimo worked with the Association of Canadian Port Authorities on a joint submission as part of the process, after a “unified perspective” was determined through meetings, round-tables and surveys. Asked about the Nanaimo Marina Association’s report, Marr said “everybody’s entitled to make their submission” for the federal government’s review.

“You probably can’t determine what they’re going to do; you just hope that when you make your points, they’re understood and clear,” he said.

The Nanaimo Marina Association report suggested small ports, following large-scale federal infrastructure investment, don’t have the same capacity to then manage those assets, pointing to cruise ship terminal maintenance as an example.

Marr acknowledged that asset management is “a challenge,” but said the port’s goal is to extend the useful life of its assets.

“You’ve got to replace infrastructure and you try to do that on an ongoing basis, you upkeep it … and I think we’ve done that successfully here, especially in relation to how the market has flowed and what levels of business have been,” he said.

Marr said the ACPA’s ports modernization review submission requested streamlining of government processes around legal documents, facilitating multi-modal transportation linking water ports, and asking for continued infrastructure funding and support.

“That regime for funding and capital payback for the federal government was extremely important in relation to keeping not just national trade, but keeping local, regional trade and local, regional economies supported,” he said.

The Nanaimo Marina Association’s report reiterated previously expressed concerns about lease rates, noting that “while the NPA is effectively the landlord for marina operators in federal waters, it is also their competitor.” The report pointed to alternative port governance models, including the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority not-for-profit society.

“I’m not expecting huge changes, because change takes time, but I think we’ve made an excellent case for change,” Sirri said. “We know the port can’t sustain itself. The status quo’s not working.”

Marr said the Port of Nanaimo has seen “growth in our business and diversification” and is eyeing opportunities to further complement trade operations through Vancouver. He doesn’t know what the federal review will bring, but doesn’t think it will change governance structures.

“They’re dealing with port modernization and looking at improving efficiencies in the whole logistics chain, and so I don’t see any changes to port models,” Marr said.

A Transport Canada statement to the News Bulletin noted that “review outcomes will guide the consideration of potential policy, legislative and regulatory responses” and did not provide a timeline for the review’s completion.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said earlier this spring that the ports modernization review process is “nearing completion” but it’s not quite there yet.

“That work is now being analyzed with respect to what possible changes we may do in terms of governance and other factors,” Garneau said. “That hadn’t been done in a long time. We felt it was a good thing to do.”

In other port authority news, the Port of Nanaimo board announced this week that Donna Hais has been elected as the new chairwoman. Hais was previously the vice-chairwoman and had been acting chairwoman. Fred Dunning was elected vice-chairman. Also, Douglas White III has been appointed to the board by the provincial government.

RELATED: Port of Nanaimo presents plans for marina redesign

RELATED: Community talks about what replacing port authority would look like

RELATED: Snuneymuxw will lead public dialogue in push to replace port authority

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