Port Board Minutes: Nav Aids, New Digs & Wage Hikes

The Port of Sydney Development Corporation posted minutes from two more board meetings on its website recently. (I can’t say exactly when, because I don’t check the site every day and the Port doesn’t seem to feel the need to notify me when it’s about to post a batch of freshly vetted documents.)

The minutes are from meetings on 1 March 2017 and 18 January 2017. (Prior to this, the most recent minutes posted were dated 21 February 2017. Why the January minutes were posted after the February minutes is anyone’s guess.) I’ve written at length (in that little way I have) about one item from the March meeting elsewhere in this issue. Here, I’d like to do a highlight reel of some of the other items discussed.

MS Rotterdam of the Holland America Line docked in Sydney.

MS Rotterdam of the Holland America Line docked in Sydney.


Articles of Association

During the January meeting, the only lawyer in Sydney made a cameo appearance:

Articles of Association: (Copies Circulated). A review of the Articles was led by Mr. Jim Gogan of Breton Law, to identify the suggested modifications to accommodate a permanent board of directors. Mr. Gogan referenced the Memorandum of Association, describing it as a guide for the new board. The discussion led to additional changes to which [sic] Jim Gogan agreed to complete in a timely manner.

I like the implication that these “modifications” almost suggested themselves — the minutes provide no hint as to who did the suggesting, although that’s precisely the kind of information citizens should know. Especially since “accommodating” the permanent board meant relieving it of responsibility for the greenfield site (read: the container terminal project), which reverted to the CBRM.  It would be helpful to know what was said in defense of this “modification” of the original Articles of Association but alas, the minutes are mum on the subject.


Lease payments

CBRM chief financial officer Marie Walsh attended the March meeting of the Port board and was there as Port CEO Marlene Usher (her sister) circulated a lease payment schedule:

The schedule proposed a lump sum payment of $200k in April of 2017, with $174K paid annually over a period of ten years.

It was then moved by Councilor Jim MacLeod and seconded by Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald that the lease payment schedule be accepted as submitted.

Which is all well and good, but given the CBRM is the Port’s landlord and the entity to which $1.9 million is owed, shouldn’t this repayment schedule have required the approval of Council, too?

Instead, Councilors received an email outlining the repayment schedule.


Navigational aids

Buoy and Sir William Alexander icebreaker, Canadian Coast Guard

Buoy and Sir William Alexander icebreaker, Canadian Coast Guard

During the March meeting, Usher:

…commented on the negative impact existing due to not having the navigational aids placed in the harbour following the dredge. Clarification was provided to Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald that contrary to his understanding, it is not mandatory for left over funding from the dredge transferred from ECBC in trust to the PSDC, be used for the placement of the navigational aids but rather funds may be used for port projects.

Chairman, [sic] Michael Merritt went on to explain that a legal opinion was acquired to confirm it is the Federal Government and the Canadian Coast Guard which have this responsibility. Ms. Usher advised that the approximate cost to placing the navigational aids in the harbour, was $3.4 million. Pressure for the Coast Guard to put the navigational aids in place continues from the Province with letters of support from Nova Scotia Power and the Kline Group (Donkin Mine.)

The minutes also note that Merritt arrived late for the meeting — perhaps he was putting the finishing touches on his acceptance letter to Olds, Alberta. By this point (March 1) he must have known he would be leaving.

The problem with the “clarification” provided the Deputy Mayor (and kudos to him for at least asking about the navigational aids) is that it’s not true. First, ECBC did not transfer the leftover dredge funds “in trust to PSDC.” ECBC imploded in 2014 and PSDC was established in 2015. ECBC transferred the funds to the Sydney Ports Corporation and the terms of the assumption agreement governing that transfer are clear: navigational aids are one of three items the money is to be used for.

Second, Merritt may have acquired a legal opinion stating that the federal government and the Canadian Coast Guard are responsible for the navigational aids, but that flies in the face of a July 2014 memorandum of understanding between the Canadian Coast Guard and ACOA which stated that SPC would be responsible for upgrading the navigational aids in Sydney harbor. The exact wording is:

SPC shall have complete control and responsibility for the delivery of the Project. CCG may, upon request, provide advice, guidance or support to SPC.

I wrote about the situation in greater detail here and here.

If there is a new MOU between ACOA and the PSDC or a revised version of the assumption agreement, no one has produced them yet.


Wage increases

The March minutes include the information that “all employees” at the Port:

…received a 2% increase with the exception of three which required a higher percentage in order to lessen a gap recognized when comparing same positions to the industry standard. [Usher] also advised that these particular employees, even with the increase, are still below standard but efforts will continue to increase over time.

Does it really make sense that employees of the Port of Sydney, which barely breaks even and handles little business outside the cruise industry, should be paid the same as employees in similar positions at the Port of Halifax? Or the Port of St. John? Or the Port of Norfolk, Virginia? (I mean, who knows how they’re establishing these industry “standards?”)

I find the idea rather ridiculous — but the Port board didn’t. Councilor Jim MacLeod moved the wage and benefit schedule for 2017/18 be accepted and Clarence Prince seconded it and the motion was carried.



Sydney, N.S. harbor, aerial view

Sydney harbor. (Photo by Abebenjoe, own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

Also during the January meeting, this happened:

Economic Impact Study: Having been previously circulated to the Board, [dangling modifier alert!] Marlene Usher advised of her comfort in the report submitted by [InterVISTAS], explaining estimates had been based on the best numbers available from stakeholders to determine the impact from the development of a container terminal and logistics park.

In other words, Usher is comfortable with the made-up numbers that were used to generate the other made-up numbers.

Mayor Clarke then requested that InterVISTAS be invited to brief council (in person or by video conference) on the report. It was moved that Usher should make that so.

During the March 2017 meeting, Usher reported that she had “negotiated a lower fee” for the firm to present at this year’s Port Days conference. No mention is made of the presentation to council. It is not specified whether InterVISTAS will present in person or by video conference.

For the record, Usher had reported to the board in February 2017 that InterVISTAS would charge $3,300 plus HST to present by video conference or $12,000 to present in person. We are, apparently, not allowed to know which option she went for or what the negotiated price was.


New digs?

During the March meeting, the agenda included these items:

Capital Budget: (Copy Filed) The CEO, Marlene Usher, informed the Board of the Port’s decision to withdraw the $600,000 item for office space until it can be confirmed on [sic] whether the second berth project can accommodate the flexibility desired as to where the office can be located. In addition, Ms. Usher referenced the notes on the capital spending schedule, which are pending the success of attracting ACOA funding. If not successful, adjustments to the applicable projects will be made.

I would like to know more about the “flexibility desired as to where the office can be located.” It sounds like they want it smack dab in the middle of the second berth, which would be interesting. The subject came up again later in the same meeting but the minutes don’t provide much in the way of clarification:

Office Space: As per discussions at a previous meeting, and considering Marlene Usher’s withdrawal from the capital budget of the associated costs for a new office space, continued discussion did not confirm a plan as to where the office should be located or what the port office space should entail. Based on the options to have the office space in the pavilion, build new or move into a privately owned building, it was decided that a credible business plan be developed to aid in the decision. Such a plan could be paid for through the CBRM Budget (Professional Fees), and would consider the feasibility for the office space to integrate related organizations…

I love that they have to specify the business plan be “credible.”


Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of “InterVISTAS,” which was spelled “InterVista” in the meeting minutes.


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