Boating in Canada Archive

Hamilton Port Authority


by Randy Desnoyers

To the Editor:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Hamilton Port Authority's letter Step right up folks and see the shell game, is it in this hand or the other?

First you will note a couple of things in the HPA's response, not a word about anti-competition or, as they call it, gratitude charge! Not a word! Simply put, the HPA has no business eliminating competition or people's rights in the industry. In Keith Robson's response he doesn't say they are doing this, but doesn't answer to it either.

Whatever way you look at this, either they hold a federal government office or their is a private sector business. It can't be both. The government has certain obligations and trust issues it must uphold. Anti-competition behaviour and predatory practices are not part of any government office that I know of. The conduct is clearly abuse of dominant position in the market and should be dealt with. If theirs is a private sector, then take away their government protection and involvement. Let's see how long they last with the private sector before a federal investigation is called.

This happens every time the government gets the brain storms of how to merge private sector and the government. Take Hydro, look how well that worked...a good 50% of your hydro bill is to pay down a debt, whose debt? And how did that become our debt? Was it because they did market evaluations on their salaries! (I couldn't stop laughing at this one!)

Let's break down the response by Mr. Robson the CEO of HPA.. In his view "not excessive!." Most Canadians would love to set their own salaries. On travelling the HPA Web site, I wonder why their salaries aren't made public? Are they? Next is the issue ofPILTS and stipends. Let me suggest that if the HPA weren't there, the public sector would be. Any revenue would support these people and they would pay taxes on the revenue.

The port has monopolized the industry. In order to ship and deal in these waters you have to do so, in one way or another, with the HPA. If they weren't here, let's say, if Joe's dock service wanted $50 to tie up and Mike down the shore wanted only $40, Joe would have to adjust his fees or he would soon be working for Mike.

The HPA is surviving on in-kind dollars that would have normally gone to the private sector. But, HPA has the benefit of government shelter with exclusive rights under the marine act. To say they are "governed under their patents" falls short of the full truth. For years they operated a sailing school "outside" of their patents.. In fact, I have a copy of the said patents and can't seem to find, specifically, either marine sales or repairs.

The HPA is a federal body and as such can use resources of Say you saw it in'Gam the government that are not available to us.. They have the trust issue and government guide lines, right? If you come to customs needing a passport, the customs officer can't refer you to his printer buddy because it is not allowed. Corruption at that level of government would lead to an overall corrupt system. To head this off, there are rules in place. Yet, I note that in Robson's response there is no comment on the issue of charging a percentage on work performed by outside contactors. Further, tenders to services are not offered to the industry, but just to the ex-employees of the HPA? Remember they govern the waters on your behalf and then get to charge you for it. Just explore the concept as to what else could be going on!

Let's not forget the fuel dock. As motorists in Canada, a percentage of our fuel cost is road tax, to go toward fixing our roads. When you pull up to the HPA to get fuel, not only do you pay that tax but the fuel is hiked another 10 to 20 cents a litre. They don't pay higher cost for this fuel. If some of the money went to cleaning up the waterways, I don't think you would get a boater kicking about the issue. But, the fact is we are charged the road tax plus being hit again. Doesn't the government call this price gouging? They do this because theirs is the only game for local fuel..

They also tell you "no fUeling up your boat at your dock with your ownfuer' (probably a good policy if just for safety.) Let's say Joe now wants to put in a fuel dock. Well, that opens all sorts of problems with the environment. Let's not forget who could have the final say on that! Yes, the HPA, because they manage the waterway.

You might ask MacDonald Marine and Maccassa Bay Yacht Club about doing things under the HPA control. They can't remove weeds since it destroys fish habitat. Yet the port dredges the area around the Burlington Bridge and back-fills land at Windameir with no questions asked.

A winter or so ago, a 55 foot Ferro sailboat sank at the dock. Think ofthe environmental issues!! Imagine the cleanup; fuel, sewage and battery acid. The HPAjust pumped it overboard and re-floated the boat. Calls went out to the environment-spill people but, strangely; no one showed up. Do I have to tell you why?

HPA is accountable to whom? In an email Andrea Findley tTom Transport Canada, the government body that oversees the port, writes, "As you are aware, the Hamilton Port Authority is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the port of Hamilton. As such, we have suggested that you discuss this matter with the port operator directly. " She also suggests we contact the Minister of Transport if we feel she helped. We did and, to date, not so much as a peep.

We look at the board. Most are well-connected people who, through one committee or another, know each other-mayor wannabe's to just people climbing up the political pole.

Don't be surprised, when you look into their histories, to see that all the committee and political pals cross paths. Try to get any of them to deal with this and they all seem to follow the groove. I tried contacting these people and yet here we are...

They plan to grow the marine industry but, with anti-competition behaviour, they will only grow. "THE DOMINANT CONTROLLER!"

What next? A fee to sail your boat in the harbour area? You'll have to pay, let's see, they set the rate of slips, ramps and what else? Any time a government office can allow users' fees, it allows for corruption at the lower levels. As the organization grows, there is more danger of it getting out of control. Let's not forget, as tax payers, that it's our lands and they should answer to US!

After reading the response by Mr. Robson I can see why he is the CEO, In fact, I can see him having a future in politics. When I met Mr. Robson for the first time he appeared to be well educated and comfortable in his position at the port. The meeting carried an aroma of arrogance on behalf of the port.

You have the CEO and their lawyer and the marina manager all saying the same thing, "We don't like you and you don't like us, so stay out." As with so many captains in the past, arrogance has a way of catching up. Look at the "Titanic" or at the skipper of the sail boat in "Perfect Storm. "He sailed those waters for thirty years, but the fool left all sails up!!! Thirty years ago that type of behaviour was tolerated in the port since no one stood up to it for fears of some type of retaliation. The ruling of our waterways with this arrogance is going to come to an end, perhaps not today but some time soon. Mr. Robson have you got your lifejacket on? Make sure it's an approved PFD

Keith Robson writes "with the City but they have final say." It's too bad people can't be fired for misleading the general public. Imagine the unemployed politicians! >From the contract lease between the City and the port, under the "Non-Competition clause," I quote "The Landlord (city) agrees that it will not operate (or permit any tenant to operate), on any lands transferred by the Tenant (the port) to landlord under the settlement agreement, any marina or sailing school operation that "COMPETE" with the tenants operation at the demised Premise." A further clause spells out what the port has to offer on their lands, etc..

Now a strong supporter of fights against the port, "Chad Collins" a councillor for Hamilton, tells me that once the lease expires the city takes over control of all assets at the marina, including the marina itself.

However he can't confirm that there will be a marina. He hopes there will be with the city of Hamilton doing a study of the area called "Setting Sail" Those watching this think it's a matter of money. Will the city invest millions into a new marina when the port is trying to do so at the other end of the harbour? Being a taxpayer, I'd feel rather upset knowing the city closed the marina only to develop those lands and then put another marina there. And at what cost? Let's not forget who will compete with that marina for slips? Or will it be a cozy agreement on price fixing the slips?

One only has to look around the bay over the years to see that as port rates went up others followed. The port says its fees are fair and went up more than marginally only when the city took over. I guess they forgot they raised rates and cut away a winter storage credit for boaters. So, in fact, the City will have the final say, but for the next II years oftheir domain there will be no competition!! Sorry Mr. Robinson you are right on the issue of final say. . . but wrong in every other way!!

I have an email suggesting that I get to the point. It's time for all boaters, or Canadians, to voice their concerns. We need to have a formal investigation into the conduct of ports, set up a safety net that will protect individual and private sector interests and make organizations accountable to it.. We would be foolish as absentee landlords to allow these people to continue ruling waterway domains.

For as many years as I, and my father before me, could remember, there has been no marine industry growth in Hamilton port.. One doesn't need to look too far ITom this article to see why! Hamilton's doors are closed to ITee enterprise! !

Is the Minister listening?

I urge all to sign comments on our online petition
Randy Desnoyers
March 2005

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