Nova Scotia

Port of Sydney board chair quits over strategic plan vote

Lucia MacIsaac, chair of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation, says she is resigning after Cape Breton regional councillors displayed a lack of confidence by approving only parts of the port's new strategic plan.

Lucia MacIsaac says CBRM council failed to fully support the port board's new strategic plan

Lucia MacIsaac, chair of the Port of Sydney, says she is resigning after Cape Breton regional councillors showed a lack of confidence in the board at its annual general meeting. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The chair of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation is resigning after Cape Breton regional councillors delayed full approval of the port's new strategic plan.

At the annual general meeting on Tuesday evening, council expressed concerns about the potential cost of the plan and voted to approve only parts that are mandated under the port's articles of incorporation or are already underway.

Board chair Lucia MacIsaac then read a prepared statement, saying the board was "extremely disappointed" and that she would be resigning after the meeting.

"As a board, we see this as yet another delay and as non-supportive of our capabilities and our efforts," she said.

"Each board member will make a determination if they wish to remain on this board following this meeting. But I will tell you, I will be resigning."

MacIsaac, an engineer and president of LearnCorp International at Cape Breton University, said the strategic plan had been sent to the municipal council three times over the last 18 months, but there had been no feedback or questions from the municipality.

No confidence

"I'm not going to continue to work as chair of this board when it looks like the mayor and council doesn't have the confidence in what we're doing," she said.

The annual meeting had started out as an upbeat affair.

Those in attendance heard the port had generated a surplus of about $190,000 last year and is on track to make financial gains again this year.

MacIsaac said the financial boost came from increased cruise ship passengers and careful spending controls by the port board and staff.

However, when it came time to approve the board's strategic plan, CBRM councillors balked.

Among other things, the plan promised to make the port a multi-modal hub and a supplier to the marine industry, said MacIsaac.

It also called on the port to build or acquire infrastructure and help private companies develop around the harbour.

Mayor Cecil Clarke says as the port's only shareholder, council was concerned about the potential cost of the strategic plan and is being cautious about expanding the port operation. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Mayor Cecil Clarke said in light of the recent viability study that called into question CBRM's financial sustainability, council is concerned about the cost of the plan and is being cautious about expanding the port operation.

He said the strategic plan calls for investments that could be beyond the municipality's capacity.

For example, Clarke said, taking over the harbour from the federal government could be a huge environmental liability.

"Under the viability study, we have to be very mindful of the things that we can control and, more importantly, sustain into the future," he said.

"We have been a significant and major champion of the port and development, and at the same time there are realities we have to look at."

Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher says if not for the pandemic, the port's current finances would be at least as good as last year's, when the organization recorded a surplus. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Clarke said he is disappointed the chair chose to resign, but he said the port will move forward on projects already approved.

Marlene Usher, CEO of the port, said MacIsaac will be missed.

"She's a hard worker and she's done a great job and obviously I'm very disappointed that she won't be chair," Usher said.

The board will have to meet soon to figure out its next moves, she said.

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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.

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