Harbour authorities threaten to quit in face of federal cuts

Hundreds of harbour authorities around the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are considering resigning in the face of federal government cuts to people and services that support the program.

Situation affects hundreds of N.L. harbours, Gerry Byrne says other provinces unaffected

Fisheries Broadcast host Jamie Baker explains why harbour authorities across the province are threatening to quit 3:08

Hundreds of harbour authorities around the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are apparently considering resigning in the face of federal government cuts to people and services that support the program.

Harbour authorities are mostly volunteer driven, and carry the responsibility of operating, managing and maintaining upwards of 300 harbours around the province.

Larry Butt is the chair of the Harbour Authority Association of Newfoundland and Labrador and also serves as harbour master in La Scie.

I asked the question from Ottawa right back to St. John’s, and the answer I get is there's no reason. They can't justify it.- Larry Butt

He says cutting harbour authority support services would put more pressure on already overburdened volunteers.

"We're meeting Jan. 29 in St. John’s and at that meeting we are going to be asking our people, a volunteer organization, to pull all their services if this continues," Butt told CBC Radio Fisheries Broadcast.

"Then I would estimate to say [the federal government] would have to hire 200, 300 or 400 people just to pull off the harbour authority program," Butt added.

"We are already a fatigued group when it comes to getting volunteers. But we’re saving — by their own estimates — $30 million to $50 million a year annually."

Reduced areas, managers and program officers

Butt says harbour authorities were first informed about the cuts at a meeting in St. John’s with Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officials in October.
The harbour authorities around the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are considering resigning in the face of cuts from DFO. Harbour authorities operate wharves in communities like Catalina, pictured above. (Submitted by Mick Feehan)

He says the cuts include changes to the area structure for the province’s harbour authorities. Essentially, he says four areas will be cut down to two.

Also, the the number of area managers would be reduced accordingly through attrition or retirement.

Seven program officers would also be reduced to six, and annual harbour authority seminars would instead be held every second year — and only one representative of each harbour authority would have travel costs covered to attend.

"I asked the question from Ottawa right back to St. John’s, and the answer I get is there's no reason. They can't justify it," Butt said.

"Right now, if you have 335 harbours with two area manager… that’s just not adequate. It didn't work with four area managers, it's definitely not going to work with two."

Other provinces unaffected: Gerry Byrne

Liberal Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte MP Gerry Byrne was was the executive assistant to the federal minister of Fisheries when the current harbour authority structure for Newfoundland and Labrador was established.
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne says the cuts to harbour authorities is only happening in Newfoundland and Labrador, and not the other water-bordered provinces. (CBC)

He says the cuts are particularly galling because, in addition to this province having more harbour authorities than all the other maritime provinces combined, no other Canadian province is seeing similar cuts to its harbour authority support programs.

"This is not happening in the rest of the country," Byrne said, referring to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia.

"They’re not losing their area managers for the small craft harbour program. It’s only in this province. If these volunteers quit, it's going to cost the government tens of millions of dollars in lost opportunity."

Byrne also questioned whether or not cutting expenses under harbour authority support services was done for another reason.

"The truth is senior executives at DFO get big bonuses when they cut costs," he said.

"I think they just found it was difficult to cut somewhere else, so in order to get that bonus they just said, 'maybe [N.L.] won't really kick up too much of a stink.'"

CBC News contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for a response, but the department had not done so prior to publishing time.

About the Author

Jamie Baker

Fisheries

Jamie Baker hosts The Broadcast each weekday on CBC Radio.

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