Nova Scotia

Executive members of Sydney port board quit en masse

The rest of the executive board members for the port authority in Sydney, N.S., have followed the chair's lead and resigned over what they see as a lack of confidence from Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Board members say CBRM council's failure to fully support the strategic plan was vote of non-confidence

The executive board members at the Port of Sydney Development Corporation have resigned after Cape Breton regional council failed to fully support the board's proposed new strategic plan. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

All of the executive board members for the port authority in Sydney, N.S., have resigned over what they see as a lack of confidence from Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Port of Sydney Development Corp. chair Lucia MacIsaac quit last week after the port's annual general meeting, saying council's failure to fully support the board's strategic plan was essentially a vote of non-confidence in the board.

On Monday morning, vice-chair John Khattar, treasurer John Anderson and secretary Owen Fitzgerald also resigned.

Fitzgerald said the problem is a lack of communication.

"I'm hoping that something positive can come from this, that maybe CBRM mayor and council will sit down and rethink their engagement with the port and the board," he told CBC's Mainstreet Cape Breton.

"That board, when you have citizens willing to step up and work hard as volunteers, then value them and take their input."

Restricted to cruise terminal

CBRM created the port board several years ago, requiring it to be made up of community professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, and business and marketing personnel.

The municipality also restricted the board's mandate to include only the cruise ship terminal and its docks.

At the port AGM last week, the board sought to extend its mandate to cover the rest of the port and infrastructure, but several councillors and the mayor voted unanimously to accept only those parts of the proposed strategic plan that form part of the board's existing articles of incorporation or projects that are already approved and underway.

Fitzgerald said when the board was established, it was the members' understanding that council didn't have the desire, capacity or expertise to manage the port.

"We all feel that the port is very important to our community and economic growth," he said. "Here's a lot of potential, but they made it clear now they don't really want to take the advice that we're presenting.

"It's unfortunate, but hopefully when they rethink this in the future with a new board, maybe things can work out much better."

The board doesn't intend to run the Marine Atlantic ferry system or a proposed container terminal. But the port needs services such as tug boats and a railway, so the question is who is responsible for those things, said Fitzgerald.

Mayor Cecil Clarke, right, attends the port annual general meeting last week. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"I don't think you need a board of this professional nature to run the cruise pavilion," he said. "You need a good management team, but somebody has to be an advocate for the whole harbour.

"Ultimately, CBRM is the boss and they've led the charge as far as the second berth and they're leading the charge as far as the container terminal. We thought we were there to advocate for the whole port."

The port had pretty good results over the last year, providing $57 million in benefits to the community and 2,500 direct and indirect jobs, Fitzgerald said.

Negotiations with the federal government over control of the harbour bottom can be an opportunity to raise revenue, he said, but there are liabilities, too.

Council has final say

Fitzgerald said he hopes council believes the board is professional enough to assess the benefits and the risks before making any decisions,

Council has the final say, anyway, he said.

The board only makes recommendations to council, "but they don't want us doing any of that, so they don't need us," Fitzgerald said.

Mayor Cecil Clarke said he is sorry the executive members decided to resign, but council is not ready to expand the board's mandate.

He said the board members signed on knowing they would be looking after the cruise ship terminal, not the entire port.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality and its Port of Sydney Development Corp. are at odds again, this time over appointments to the port's board of directors. (CBC)

"Sometimes you have to agree to disagree in terms of where people would like to go, and I appreciate the fact that people are looking at a much larger, ambitious opportunity for our port," Clarke said.

"We are very confident about the future of our port. The decision of council is to stay within what we can control right now, what we actually own, and that's the Sydney marine terminal."

Clarke said the board should not view council's decision on the proposed strategic plan as a vote of non-confidence.

The municipality, which is the port corporation's only shareholder, will simply start looking for new members to fill the board and move on, he said.

"I'm very confident that we will have no shortage of applicants towards filling those vacancies," said Clarke.

"Again, I regret that that is where we found ourselves in terms of not coming to a just general understanding of what the expectation of the shareholder would be."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

With files from Mainstreet Cape Breton

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