Nfld. & Labrador

Moving Marine Atlantic HQ to Port aux Basques would boost all of rural N.L., says town's mayor

A recent report concluded most current employees would leave their jobs if a new headquarters was established in a port community like Port aux Basques, N.L., or North Sydney, N.S.

Marine Atlantic says move to Port aux Basques would be 'too significant'

Port aux Basques Mayor John Spencer says he was disappointed by a recent report from Marine Atlantic that suggests the corporation would lose too many employees if it moved its headquarters into the community on Newfoundland's west coast. (Town of Port aux Basques website)

Port aux Basques Mayor John Spencer says he hopes Marine Atlantic will reconsider its decision to keep its headquarters in St. John's, following a recent report's suggestion employees would leave their jobs if the corporation moved it.

The report, released in February 2020 and obtained by CBC News through an access-to-information request, concluded most current employees would leave their jobs if a new headquarters was established in a port community like Port aux Basques, N.L., or North Sydney, N.S. 

As a result, there will be no changes to the current structure, according to Marine Atlantic president and CEO Murray Hupman, who said the risk of making the move would be "too significant."

While Spencer said he wasn't necessarily surprised by the report, due to the politics of the situation, it was still disappointing to see.

"It's been a quest of our community to have the head office here since, I guess, back in the '90s when it was recommended by the government," Spencer told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning. 

"They felt the best place for the head office would be in Port aux Basques. So I'm disappointed."

On top of strengthening the local economy, Spencer said he believes a west coast headquarters would be a boost for all of rural Newfoundland, serving as a piece that could attract other investment.

"You'd have the corporate headquarters for what is the gateway to this province … right at the pivotal point where the service is busiest," he said.

"We can say it's a testament to rural Newfoundland that we don't need to be on the inside of the overpass to be able to function in this province."

A Marine Atlantic ferry is seen here tied up in Port aux Basques in 2019. (Submitted)

The report also concluded that there could be challenges in recruiting and retaining highly qualified executives in port communities, and Spencer said there are enough qualified people who would be willing to make the move.

"I think the candidates are out there. I think the people are out there," he said. "I was very fortunate to be able to work in my community, and I'm very fortunate to be able to enjoy what this community offers to me."

"There are lots of people looking for the rural lifestyle. We have a lot to offer."

If Marine Atlantic were to permanently keep its headquarters in St. John's, Spencer said, he would like to see the corporation consider additional parts of the operation in Port aux Basques that could help both parties.

For example, Marine Atlantic spends $460,000 on office space in St. John's, and could save $200,000 annually on travel costs by moving to Port aux Basques, according to the report. The corporation's lease in St. John's is set to expire Aug. 31.

"Going into a half-a-million-dollar lease agreement doesn't work for me financially. If Marine Atlantic's about saving money, let's put the operations and the table and say, 'Where do we need to be?'"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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