17 May 2019
An Open Letter to the Nanaimo Port Authority
We, members of the Nanaimo Marina Association (NMA), write this open letter to the Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA) in response to the NPA’s press release on 14 May 2019. The NPA press release replied to a report that our association submitted to Transport Canada’s Ports Modernization Review in December 2018. Our report answered a series of questions put to the public by Transport Canada during their review process. We made that report publicly available last week; it can be downloaded and read in its entirety here.
Through their press release, the NPA makes a number of peculiar claims which we feel a duty to publicly respond to. First, the NPA states unequivocally that they were previously unaware of the NMA’s concerns around port governance that we raise in our report. Second, the NPA also states that the claims we make in our report are “inaccuracies and misrepresentations.” Finally, in their press release the NPA instrumentalizes their working relationship with a local boating club (the Nanaimo Yacht Club) in order to suggest that the NPA maintains a “good working relationship” with community groups more generally. We respectively address each of these claims below.
One, the NPA is well-aware of the NMA’s long-standing grievances. The NPA’s own records, like meeting minutes and email traffic, document how NMA members have for years sought to address a number of problematic issues related to port governance, issues that our report outlines in great detail using evidence and case studies. For example, our report highlights how NMA members were engaged in months of discussions with the NPA’s former CEO Ewan Moir about the NPA’s discriminatory lease-rate structure for local marinas (pg. 20 of the report). Mr. Moir was “terminated without cause” from his position last year. The NPA staff that took over from him – Ian Marr and Mike Davidson, both quoted in the NPA press release – have spent more than three decades combined employed by the NPA. To suggest the NPA’s not-so-new leadership was unaware of the NMA’s long-standing grievances is stunning. Such a claim raises the prospect that either NPA leadership is misleading the public about what they knew and when, or the NPA’s governance mechanisms, like institutional memory, are far more concerning and inadequate than even our report highlights.
Two, our report detailed a number of troubling errors and decisions that trace back to the NPA’s governance structure. For example, since opening in 2011, the $25 million Nanaimo Cruise Ship Terminal has failed to fulfill the promises NPA staff made around economic benefits the Terminal would bring Nanaimo. As we show in our report (pgs. 18-19), such poor asset management decisions are facilitated by a broken port governance model that actually incentivizes bad decision making. Given that our report is backed up with evidence from community partners, as well as academic studies that explicitly point to the persistent financial failings of the NPA, it is strange the NPA would claim that our report is inaccurate and misrepresenting reality. It would be far more constructive for our community if the NPA actually addressed the evidence-based arguments our report makes.
Three, by instrumentalizing their “good working relationship” with a local boating club, the NPA aims to convince the local public all is well and good at Nanaimo’s port. This, unfortunately, is hardly the case. We are pleased that some community partners are able to work well with the NPA; our grievances are not with them. Instead, as our report outlines, there are deep-seated, structural issues with the port governance model as practiced and embodied by the NPA. For example, an astonishing 40% of the NPA’s gross revenues goes to personnel costs, like staff salaries, honoraria for its board of directors, and travel expense budgets. That number is more troubling still when compared with the more financially successful Port of Vancouver, whose revenue-to-personnel ratio is a much lower 15% (pg. 19). Ironically, it would be a better use of staff time if NPA personnel actually sought to address the troubling governance trends and challenges we highlight in our report rather than spending time garnering rhetorical backing from one or two or a handful of local supporters.
It is unfortunate that the NPA sought to use their press release to attack the very local community partners it purports to want a dialogue with. We urge the NPA to actually read our comprehensive report. Our members spent a great deal of time and care outlining our grievances and backing them up with hard evidence, much of which comes from the NPA’s own budget numbers, documented meetings NPA staff had with our members over a number of years, and robust academic studies from experts studying port governance locally and globally.
Our report lays out in great detail, and by way of numerous examples, how the governance model is structurally flawed, negatively impacts community growth, and does not adequately serve local partners like Snuneymuxw First Nation (pgs. 7-11), small marina operators (pgs. 20-22), and ordinary residents concerned with environmental protection, water access, safety and a healthy harbour (pgs. 12-16). We believe these problems require reimagined solutions around port governance, solutions that we also outline and consider (pgs. 22-24).
We sincerely hope that NPA staff take the time and care to review our report in order to re-familiarize themselves with our long-standing grievances. Such a review may lead to more constructive engagement from the NPA rather than attacks on our members; we too are residents in the community the NPA claims to care so much about.
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