Nfld. & Labrador

Marine Atlantic board chair resigns amid turmoil at Crown corporation

Kristopher Parsons has resigned less than three years into a five-year appointment, for "personal reasons," according to a spokesperson for the Crown corporation.

Kristopher Parsons leaves board less than three years into five-year posting

Kristopher Parsons has resigned as chair of the Marine Atlantic board of directors. (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Kristopher Parsons has resigned as chairman of the Marine Atlantic board of directors, less than three years into a five-year mandate, at a time of change and some turmoil inside the federal Crown corporation, and amid growing frustration from municipal leaders in Port aux Basques, N.L.

Another board member, Gary O'Brien, has replaced Parsons on an acting basis, a spokesperson for the federal Crown corporation confirmed Thursday.

Parsons' departure became effective Nov. 18 and was for "personal reasons," said Marine Atlantic spokesman Darrell Mercer.

Parsons is originally from Port aux Basques and is the brother of Burgeo-LaPoile MHA and Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Parsons. He lives in the St. John's area and was named chairman of the board in March 2017.

Marine Atlantic operates four ice-class vessels, including the MV Leif Ericson, the MV Blue Puttees, the MV Highlanders and and the MV Atlantic Vision. (Marine Atlantic)

Marine Atlantic operates the constitutionally mandated ferry service between the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador and mainland Canada, with year-round terminals in Port aux Basques and North Sydney, N.S., and a seasonal terminal in Argentia, N.L. It also operates administrative offices in North Sydney, Port aux Basques and St. John's.

Sources say Kristopher Parsons was a leading advocate on the board for relocating the Marine Atlantic headquarters from St. John's to Port aux Basques, and spearheaded the commissioning of a study in the summer of 2018 to determine its feasibility.

The results of that study are now long overdue, though Mercer said it could be completed this month.

Workers on the move

Meanwhile, there's ongoing upheaval for Marine Atlantic employees in Port aux Basques, with dozens of workers preparing to temporarily vacate the administration building on Marine Drive for health and safety reasons.

Marine Atlantic has leased roughly 5,000 square feet of office space in two separate buildings in the southwest coast town to accommodate some 40 employees while an eight-to-12-week renovation is carried out at the administration building.

While this is ongoing, uncertainty remains on the status of a proposed new administration building in Port aux Basques. 

A highly publicized sod-turning for a new building took place in the summer of 2018, but the process has since stalled. And that's raising concerns among community leaders in Port aux Basques.

"Where did we come from in 2018 when we were ready with the shovels to dig?… All of a sudden it's been put on the shelf," Mayor John Spencer told CBC News Thursday.

John Spencer is mayor of the Town of Port aux Basques. (Submitted)

Mercer said the corporation is completing its "due diligence" with the federal government, and remains committed to a new administration building, to be built on land purchased near the town's hockey arena.

Mercer could not provide a timeframe on when the building might get approval, but Mayor Spencer is hopeful that funding will be included in the next federal budget.

"The building is critical for Marine Atlantic's presence within our community, but also critical for the workers that are here," he said.

And the Port aux Basques council continues to voice frustration about the number of Marine Atlantic jobs located in the town.

Spencer said seven senior postings were recently advertised, with five located in North Sydney, and the other two given the option of locating in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland.

My own personal view is we have empire building, whereby the jobs are being located for the convenience of senior members that are already living in Nova Scotia.- John Spencer

"This is the Newfoundland ferry service and we're saying these are senior administration jobs. They should be in Newfoundland," said Spencer.

"My own personal view is we have empire building, whereby the jobs are being located for the convenience of senior members that are already living in Nova Scotia."

Mercer said it's often up to the successful candidate where they choose to locate, but admitted, "Our commitment is senior leadership will be accommodated for both ports."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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