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Amalgamated port for Oshawa, Hamilton is now a reality

Effective June 18, Oshawa’s port authority will merge with Hamilton’s. (Oshawa Express file photo)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Effective June 18, Oshawa’s port authority will no longer stand on its own.

Last week, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announced the merger of the Oshawa and Hamilton port authorities was moving on.

The decision was published in the government’s official newspaper, The Canada Gazette, Part I.

Of the amalgamation, Garneau said, “The Government of Canada remains committed to improving the country’s competitiveness in international trade and promoting employment opportunities for the middle class. The new Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority will optimize the economic growth of the southern Ontario region.”

The Liberal government first announced a potential amalgamation  in February.

After that, a 45-day public consultation period took place.

Despite this, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie believes the government was always set on moving in this direction.

“To me, it is a huge disappointment that they would be pushing this through… they are giving us absolutely no details on the future of Oshawa’s port,” Carrie said.

Local port users and other stakeholders weren’t given enough of a voice in the process, according to Carrie.

“It’s just another shot at Oshawa”, Carrie stated, adding the Trudeau government also let down the city by “doing nothing” when GM announced plans to close its Oshawa plant in November.

According to the certificate of amalgamation in The Canada Gazette, Part I, the government’s objective is to “ensure the long-term sustainability of port operations and strengthen the Canadian supply chain in Ontario.”

The government document states there is no expected environmental implications or changes to either port authority in terms of land, infrastructure or development.

The move is not expected to lead to any job losses.

The board of the new organization will be made up of seven directors.

The cities of Hamilton and Oshawa, in consultation with Burlington, will appoint one director, which concerns Carrie.

“Burlington and Hamilton are pretty close to each other. I didn’t know Burlington would be given a vote on who would be running our port… this could definitely be a two-on-one situation,” he said.

The Governor in Council will appoint an individual nominated by the Minister, as well as four other directors nominated by Garneau in consultation with port users, also selected by the Minister.

The Province of Ontario will appoint the final director.

It is unknown whether any current board members of the Oshawa Port Authority will be nominated, and what their roles will be moving forward with the new entity.

Founded in 2012, the Oshawa Port Authority spun off from the former Oshawa Harbour Commission.

Over the past several years, a few residents and councillors have questioned the financial assurance of the organization.

The port’s 2017 financials showed its liabilities at the time exceeded its assets by nearly $6 million.

In the financial statement, auditor Deloitte LLP declared these conditions, along with other factors, indicate “the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the Port Authority’s ability to continue as an ongoing concern.”

As previously reported by The Oshawa Express, the port was ordered to pay FarmTech Energy a $4.19 million arbitration award after the cancellation of a planned ethanol plant.

In a report to the city’s council earlier this year, Hamilton staff also raised concerns about the Oshawa port’s financial security.

However, in December, Oshawa port board chair Gary Valcour said 2018 had been a rebound year for the port.

“We had a good year this year. We’ve had some great tonnage,” he told The Express.

The amalgamation may lead to the conclusion of a contentious issue between the city and port that started last fall.

Before the merger, the Oshawa Port was pushing for an extension of Harbour Road.

In September 2018, the departing city council declined a proposal from the port to build an extension of Harbour Road.

The port had proposed a driveway, but several councillors wanted the port to convey a 120-metre strip of land to serve as a buffer for the nearby Second Marsh.

In response, the port indicated the federal government was not looking to part with that land.

After council declined the original proposal, the port authority triggered a 1976 agreement that binds the city to build a full-extension of Harbour Road.

Under the agreement, the city must also pay for half off the costs, with estimates at more than $1 million.

However, after Garneau announced plans to amalgamate, the matter was tabled by the city and remains so.

Carrie questions why this is being now, before the government has even completed its own Port Modernization Review.

“The frustrating part is I fought to modernize the structure of our port with local representation,” he said. “It’s an extremely sad day for Oshawa.”

Even if there is a change in government this fall, Carrie believes it would be extremely difficult to reverse the amalgamation by then.