Nfld. & Labrador

Marine Atlantic HQ review on hold while search continues for CEO

A consultant was quietly hired in August 2018 to analyze the business case for moving the headquarters from St. John's to Port aux Basques.

Analysis of business case for relocating from St. John's to Port aux Basques was to be completed in December

Don Barnes was appointed president and CEO of Marine Atlantic in 2018, following nine years as the corporation’s vice-president of customer experience. His term expires in May. ( Marine Atlantic )

The uncertainty about the location of Marine Atlantic's headquarters and the fate of its 20 employees is being prolonged, with a review of whether to relocate to Port aux Basques put on hold while the search for a president and CEO continues.

"The report will not be completed without input from the individual appointed by the Government of Canada. As a result, there is no firm deadline for the completion of the report," a Marine Atlantic spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC News.

The board of directors with the federal Crown corporation quietly hired a consultant in August 2018 to analyze the business case for moving the headquarters from St. John's to Port aux Basques, reigniting a delicate issue that has been debated for years.

Marine Atlantic has declined repeated interview requests on the issue.

Delay won't add cost to review

CBC obtained a copy of a contract with the Corner Brook office of HDR Corporation through an access-to-information request. The study is being led by HDR economist Dennis Bruce, and was scheduled to be complete at the end of December at a cost of nearly $53,000.

Marine Atlantic is a federal Crown corporation that operates a ferry service between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. (Marine Atlantic)

The review is examining how a possible move to Port aux Basques might impact factors such as recruitment, cost and productivity, and is part of a broader discussion on "how best to move forward with ensuring the organization best meets the needs of those who depend on this vital ferry service."

But the process has temporarily been dry-docked because the contract for president and CEO Don Barnes expires in May, and the federal government is in the process of filling the top post.

The delay will not add any cost to the headquarters review, according to a statement.

No prior experience with Marine Atlantic

Marine Atlantic says Dennis Bruce was hired to do the review because he has a "strong knowledge of the provincial economy and understands Marine Atlantic and its importance to the province."

"As the report will be one component in the decision-making for this important topic, the board of directors opted to identify a consultant who had no previous work experience with Marine Atlantic and deemed to be an independent party."

The headquarters is currently located at the Baine Johnston Centre in the downtown St. John's, with an annual leasing cost of $420,000.

But the reason for its very existence is on Newfoundland's southwest coast, where Port aux Basques serves as the main hub for Marine Atlantic traffic to and from mainland Canada. Hundreds of Marine Atlantic employees, including some executive level positions, are already based in Port aux Basques and North Sydney, N.S.

There are plans to build a new administrative building in Port aux Basques. A site has been selected, but final approval and funding is not yet in place.

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