Nova Scotia

Commissionaires lose Halifax airport security contract

The Halifax International Airport Authority opened the contract to competition earlier this year and Commissionaires Nova Scotia was one of six losing bidders.

Commissionaires Nova Scotia provides airport with 161 security guards, 95 of them full-time

Commissionaires have provided security at the airport for 56 years. (CBC)

After 56 years of providing security at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, the commissionaires are being replaced.

The Halifax International Airport Authority opened the contract up to competition earlier this year and Commissionaires Nova Scotia was one of six losing bidders.

"It comes as a shock that we didn't maintain the contract," said commissionaire Gary Toohey, a veteran and the Public Service Alliance of Canada president for local 85100. "They'll lose the experience and the skill set that us as veterans and the other personnel bring," he said.

Toronto company taking over

Commissionaires Nova Scotia provides the airport with 161 security guards, including 95 full-time employees. They patrol the parking lots, monitor gates and keep watch over the security camera monitors.

Toronto-based security firm G4S Canada will take over on Jan. 1.

Bruce Belliveau, CEO of Commissionaires Nova Scotia, said he doesn't know why his not-for-profit group lost the contract.

Cost a possible factor

"They didn't give us a formal debrief on why we weren't the successful bidder but I assume it's cost," said Belliveau. "It could come down to the fact that we have a policy of trying to provide pay that's appropriate for veterans. These are people who have served their country."

Belliveau said its policy at Commissionaires Nova Scotia is to offer new hires $12 per hour instead of the $10.60 minimum wage.

Toohey said the pay range among commissionaires at the airport ranges from $13 to $20 per hour.

Ashley Gallant, a spokesperson for the airport, said she can't comment on why the commissionaires lost the contract. 

"It really came down to an internal business decision," said Gallant. "We were told by G4S that they're going to keep as many staff on as they can."

G4S plans to hire commissionaires

A key part of G4S's bid was a plan to re-hire as many commissionaires from the airport as possible. Katie McLeod, national director of Communications G4S Canada, said the plan is to hire them all.

The practice of poaching staff from competing bidders is "very typical in the guarding industry," said McLeod. "We consider hiring veterans to be extremely important."

Toohey said none of his members have been offered work yet.

"We don't know as of yet if we're going to be offered a job from the new company," Toohey said. 

Commissionaires have 'red pass'

The Halifax International Airport Authority requires all security staff to have a so-called "red pass": Transport Canada clearance to enter most areas of the airport property.

It can take from four to six months for a guard to get such clearance so "patching over" or "re-shirting" the commissionaires — who already have a red pass — is a key priority for G4S Canada.

Belliveau said he wishes them well.

"I think it'll be a huge challenge for the new provider to be up and ready to go for Dec. 31," Belliveau said.

About the Author

Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.