Merger of Hamilton and Oshawa port authorities would be good for local jobs, mayor says

The federal government plans to merge the Hamilton and Oshawa port authorities.

Another councillor worries a merger would see Hamilton 'in competition with ourselves'

The Port of Hamilton is Ontario’s largest port. The federal government plans to merge Hamilton's port authority with Oshawa's. (Hamilton Port Authority)

Hamilton's mayor says a federal government plan to merge Hamilton's port authority with Oshawa's would likely be good for the local job market. But another councillor worries Steeltown might be taking on a struggling neighbour.

Fred Eisenberger, a former Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) board member, says he has few concerns with the plan transport minister Marc Garneau announced Tuesday. 

Oshawa fits, Eisenberger says, because it's one of the closest port authorities nearby. It also has more room for expansion, he says, while Hamilton's port is full. A merged port authority would have more space to offer potential job creators. 

Whatever happens, he says, the port is important. HPA numbers show the port is home to 130 companies, which employ a combined 2,100 people.

Much of what Hamilton manufactures is with material imported and exported through the port, Eisenberger said.

"It's an employment opportunity," he said. "It always has been and will continue to be."

Garneau said Tuesday a merger would make both ports more competitive.

"The combination of the two port authorities would allow the new entity to boost growth and improve southern Ontario's access to global markets," he said in a media release.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, shown in this 2017 photo, says he has no concerns with a potential merger. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The merger, the government said, "is expected to stimulate investment, expand market opportunities and contribute to Canada's overall competitiveness."

When asked why Oshawa and Hamilton, instead of Oshawa with the closer Toronto authority, the ministry said the two serve similar clients — both carry commodities such as steel, fertilizers, asphalt and grain — and are in close proximity.

The Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) was established in 2001, as a successor to the Hamilton Harbour Commission. The Oshawa Port Authority was established in 2012. 

Public can comment

The public has until March 11, 2019 to comment. 

The HPA supports looking at a merger, spokesperson Larissa Fenn said in an email.

"We believe it makes sense to reflect on the structure of maritime assets in southern Ontario to ensure they are sustainable, and able to meet the needs of the growing GTHA economy," she said.

Gary Valcour, chair of the Oshawa port authority, said everyone there is still processing this.

"This is very new news to us," he said. "Really, we haven't had a proper opportunity to digest its meaning."

But Chad Collins, Ward 5 (Centennial) councillor, wondered aloud Tuesday if this merger would be bad for Hamilton. At his urging, city staffers are preparing a report about what a merger could mean.

Who would get the new jobs?

HPA's 2017 financial statements say the authority's assets that exceed its liabilities by nearly $10 million. Oshawa, by comparison, had a net loss of $230,306 that year, and its liabilities exceed its assets by $5,862,735.

If Hamilton "takes on a struggling neighbouring port," Collins said, does that mean it will end up subsidizing Oshawa?

And if both areas are trying to attract waterfront job creators, "I guess you can start to ask whether we're not in competition with ourselves."

Hamilton's port had a banner shipping season in 2018. The highest volume of cargo was handled through the port in more than a decade, the HPA said in a January media release.

More than 11.6 million metric tonnes of cargo was imported or exported through the Port of Hamilton, the HPA said. That was an 18 per cent increase over 2017's total.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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